Lance Armstrong may confess to doping during his career as a professional cyclist. You or I may win the lottery. Which is more likely to occur? For the moment, my money is on the lottery.
And yet, Juliet Macur, who has followed the doping in sports beat at the New York Times for six years or more, published an article that suggests Armstrong may actually be considering some sort of admission that he doped during his racing days.
Macur’s article cites anonymous sources who are “several people with direct knowledge” of the dethroned Tour winner’s discussions with various associates and anti-doping officials. No one is going on the record at this point to say that the story is correct. But there are some curious clues, among them, this:
When asked if Armstrong might admit to doping, Tim Herman, Armstrong’s longtime lawyer, said, “Lance has to speak for himself on that.”
That’s the kind of non-denial that almost suggests Armstrong might actually be considering such a move. Perhaps he is. Or perhaps someone close to him is trying to convince Armstrong that this would be the best move. The story, as Macur presents it, has all the hallmarks of someone — or several people — leaking a story to “run it up the flagpole” and see what reaction it brings. The source(s) could be Armstrong, Tim Herman, or a number of others close to the cyclist.
Lance Armstrong is a cagey fighter. When he raced, he thought about what tactics would best benefit his chances — especially in the major events, such as the Tour. It stands to reason that if he were contemplating a confession — ostensibly so he could begin to compete again (more about that in a bit) — he will figure out the best tactics for presenting his case to the anti-doping officials and to the general public.
If he were to admit to doping, I would expect that admission to include the bare minimum of information so that he could get his life ban reduced, while not harming the interests of sponsors he might seek to further his triathlon or running ambitions. And like Michael Vick, who regained some of his sponsors after he came out of prison and rejoined the NFL, Armstrong might similarly hope to regain contracts with Nike and Oakley and Trek, to name three of his longest-term financial benefactors.
If he were to attempt such a deal, Armstrong would be asking USADA to do something that it has rarely — if ever — done before. Namely, to reduce a ban after a case was already concluded. Tom Zirbel got some consideration for helping USADA out after his own case ended, but that was for help in a supposedly unrelated anti-doping case. The time for cutting a deal such as Armstrong may be seeking would have been before the case was decided. Like when USADA was collecting testimony from a bevy of witnesses who had the knowledge that could (and did) sink Armstrong’s reputation.
Be that as it may, if Armstrong could cut a deal, the question to consider is this: What information could he give that would be worthwhile to USADA? Admitting to what was in USADA’s “reasoned decision” wouldn’t cut it. That’s old news. And it doesn’t further any prospective cases that I can think of.
The only information that I think would be of value would likely be information Armstrong might be reluctant to divulge. For example, from Tyler Hamilton’s book it’s clear that the US Postal Service squad had an organized doping program before Lance Armstrong arrived. Armstrong could name names as to who organized the program and who funded it. But that might entail spilling the beans on people such as Tom Weisel, an owner of the team who has also helped Armstrong with various businesses, business deals and investments. If Lance Armstrong is truly worth the $125 million that has been cited in various news stories, Tom Weisel probably has a hand in helping Armstrong amass such a fortune.
Armstrong could also provide information about how the UCI allegedly swept one or two positive test results under the rug. And that could entail dishing dirt on Hein Verbruggen, Pat McQuaid and possibly others within the governing body’s organization. Those people might be expendable to Armstrong, as it’s doubtful that he would seek to come out of retirement from bike racing again.
So Armstrong might have some valuable information to trade for a reduced suspension. But even if he does, what would his suspension be reduced to? Most likely an eight-year ban, which would mean he would be close to 50 when he could return to triathlon competition or running in various marathons or other events. If he cut the best possible deal, he might get it reduced to four years — which means he would have about three-and-a-half years to go before he could compete again. And of the possible outcomes, a reduction to a four-year ban is the least likely from my perspective.
Who would benefit from all this? Well, Lance Armstrong, for one. Especially if he could regain his former sponsorship income. The Livestrong Foundation might benefit, as an admission might be seen as a sign of humility on its founder’s part, and that might help with fundraising and other activities.
Would the sport of cycling benefit? Hard to say. If his confession were to bring about changes at the UCI, then perhaps it might benefit the sport.
There are a number of variables at play here, including whether or not USADA would be willing to cut a deal with Armstrong after the fact. The lawsuits Armstrong is currently embroiled in will factor into any decision to come clean. A confession might have negative consequences in those cases. One, he could be out a whole heck of a lot of money (not that he doesn’t have enough for several lifetimes). Two, he could face potential criminal prosecution.
Armstrong testified under oath at times in the past, vehemently denying that he doped. With a confession, that testimony would have the stench of perjury about it, for which Lance could be prosecuted and potentially serve jail time.
Given the legal and financial downsides to a confession, I find it hard to believe that Lance Armstrong would admit to doping during his racing career. Nothing is impossible. And if he were to find ways to settle the current lawsuits, and to secure a guarantee that he wouldn’t be prosecuted for perjury, maybe Armstrong would confess.
Without those two things happening, I can’t imagine Lance Armstrong will confess to what he did in the past. Then again, someday one of us might win the lottery. The odds are slim in either event, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.