The Lance Armstrong case on doping
Why the USADA is out of line legally and morally, and why it’s bad for marketing.
By Brian Cristiano
UPDATE: If you even bother to decide to continue reading further then you have to keep in mind that this was written before Lance Armstrong admitted to doping. This was before my eyes were opened to the truth of how Lance Armstrong got his TDF wins, and was before I truly realized how tainted the sport had become. The sad truth was that I wanted to believe so badly that Lance Armstrong was super human that I was unwilling to see what others saw as obvious. I wanted to believe in the incredible story, and to think that it was fake was beyond my ability. Since the truth has come out I have changed my stance on Lance Armstrong as well as the way I view top performing athletes in all sports. I ask more questions, I don’t ignore the obvious, and I take a few good looks before taking any stands. I have not given up my passion for cycling or the sport of bike racing. I still believe it is an incredible sport and one I personally enjoy to get my ass kicked in. I just hope that the light of this Lance Armstrong debacle helps bring light to the dark side of PEDs in all sports and helps to bring back the true competitiveness of simple human nature. Thank you. (If you continue reading, you are a brave soul)
Whether you think Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs or not is irrelevant. This case is about something else: a lack of Due Process.
I recently spent two weeks traveling throughout Italy and spent a lot of time learning about the country’s history and ancient policies. I was fascinated by the Lion’s Mouth postboxes in Venice.
Dating back to the 14th century, these postboxes were a place where residents could leave anonymous notes proclaiming they saw another man (or woman) breaking the law. These letters were then taken as fact and could convict a person resulting in a prison sentence or death. The accused were never able to face their accusers and punishment was decided by a predetermined committee.
As a society we like to think we have come a long way from those days, but we have not. The Lance Armstrong doping case brought on by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has incredible similarities to that of 14th century rule.
Some will argue that this case is different because it is about a sports governing body trying to clean up cycling. But here is where the problem begins. USADA is funded by US tax dollars, and from my perspective makes it a State Actor (a person who is acting on behalf of a governmental body) and is therefore subject to regulation under the United States Bill of Rights.
Even though USADA can only impose sanctions that affect Lance’s participation in sports, it would directly affect his ability to compete as a professional athlete and generate an income, and it could also affect prize money associated with previous title wins. Under the Fifth Amendment, a person shall not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
USADA’s chief executive officer, Travis Tygart is pursuing this high-profile case without the presence of hard evidence. The case is built solely around the testimony of 10 anonymous people. If Tygart truly had hard evidence against Lance Armstrong, USADA would have already leaked it to the press and destroyed Lance’s credibility. Instead it continues to operate in the shadows hoping negative public opinion will continue to grow.
If we were able to remove the pomp and circumstance surrounding this case and replaced Lance Armstrong with a regular Joe, the public would be up in arms about USADA’s procedural process. How is it that in this day and age, the public opinion and anonymous accusations could force a man out of sports, sponsorships, titles, and money?
Let’s take a step back and put ourselves in a similar situation. Imagine 10 people said they saw you doing something illegal, but there were no photos, no evidence, no positive tests, no video, no finger prints, no shred of evidence—only their words. You didn’t get to know who these people were, and they didn’t tell you their exact claims. There was a predetermined committee that would decide your fate, and if convicted you would lose your job, your money and your reputation, and you would take the proverbial walk across the Bridge of Sighs. Scary thought.
Lance Armstrong may be a prominent public figure, but it does not take away his 5th and 14th Amendment rights (the right to due process of law).
Did Lance Armstrong dope? We know that cycling has been riddled with cheating athletes and that many of his competitors later admitted to doping. However, that alone does not make the man guilty. We do know that he is a fierce competitor and that he passed more than 500 drug tests in the process. Passing the tests also does not mean that he was not using PEDs, but it still remains a fact that he passed.
If USADA truly believes that Lance manipulated tests, or found ways around them, then Travis Tygart should be spending his time implementing better tests and focusing on current athletes who may be cheating.
As an amateur cyclist myself, I would like to see the sport cleaned up. I don’t like cheaters, and I think they should be punished. But if the tests are easily rigged, then the governing bodies should spend the time and money fixing the tests, and not crucifying a man based on hearsay—especially if they are going to use my money to do so.
So how does this tie into marketing? Whether you love or hate Lance Armstrong, you can’t deny that he has brought more attention to cycling, Ironman triathlons, and cancer than any other American athlete. Lance Armstrong is a brand, and wherever that brand decides to put its focus lots of money, sponsorships, and attention go with it.
Cycling continues to be more popular overseas than in America. But prior to Lance Armstrong’s seven-year domination of the Tour de France, the average American wouldn’t have been able to name one professional cyclist. Now I dare you to find a person who doesn’t know who Lance Armstrong is. Lance brought an incredible amount of attention to the sport, which in turn increased sponsorships, television coverage, advertising revenues, and participation in cycling.
Maybe it is just coincidence, but NBC Sports Network only began broadcasting the Tour de France in 1999—the same year Lance Armstrong won his first tour. I can only assume that the network’s decision to begin coverage was linked to the incredible story of an American athlete overcoming cancer and being a top contender in the sport. It was an amazing story, but more importantly a great time for Americans and cycling.
As Lance Armstrong continued to win the Tour year after year, American viewership of the sport continued to increase. As viewership was on the rise, so were sponsorship dollars and ad revenues. This shift in the sport was great for advertisers, broadcasters, and cycling related companies.
This was highly evident in 2005 when the Discovery Channel became the main sponsor of Lance’s team. Discovery turned out cycling-related programs and documentaries, and funneled money toward research and development for cycling gear. This had a large impact on the sport from many angles including television exposure and equipment development.
Lance’s return to cycling in 2009 had a direct impact on the number of cyclists registering with USA Cycling in that same year. USA Cycling also reports that it saw a steady increase in licenses issued between 2002 and 2008 directly related to Lance’s exposure. You can read the article here: cyclingnews.com.
Fast forward to 2012: Lance Armstrong is retired from professional cycling, but is focused on competing in the Ironman triathlon series. His presence has immediately increased awareness and interest in Ironman competitions. NBC, which typically broadcasts the Ironman World Championship in December on a delayed basis, made an announcement to show the coverage in October. Additionally, NBC said it would expand the show from 90 minutes to two hours.
Currently Lance Armstrong is banned from competing in the event and all other Ironman events because of a clause that does not allow athletes to compete while under a doping investigation. It is not yet known if he will be able to compete or if NBC will decide to shorten its coverage of the event. Either way the charges by USADA will affect ad revenue for the broadcast on NBC and, if Lance does not compete, the ratings during its show time.
It is clear that the Lance Armstrong brand is good for marketing on a major scale. I am not suggesting that USADA should not pursue an athlete because of his positive impact in a sport or the economy. I am simply saying Travis Tygart’s pursuit of Lance Armstrong has had, and will continue to have, a negative impact on the sport of cycling, Ironman competitions and the attention Lance has brought toward cancer.
If USADA has hard evidence that Lance doped, then fair enough—let the proceedings begin. However, we must remember that these allegations are nothing more than 10 notes left in the lion’s mouth. In 21st century America, you are innocent until proven guilty, and hearsay does not a guilty man make.