Opinion: Liar or victim?
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The Express-Times (of Pennsylvania) on Lance Armstrong's guilt or innocence:
OK, downshift hard and hit the brakes. Nothing has really changed in the whole Lance Armstrong "did-he-or-didn't-he?" debate.
Think about it. All those who "know" Armstrong cheated his way to seven Tour de France titles have the weight of healthy skepticism on their side. No one has performed at such a nonpareil level for so long, in a sport notorious for doping. "Everybody does it" is a fair suspicion, even if it indicts the entire peloton. The champions are those who stay one step ahead of the testers — and so many have failed blood and urine analyses that we know how prevalent cheating is.
So when Armstrong refused to contest new sanctions by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency — stripping him of his accomplishments back to 1998 and banning him for life — many of us felt vindicated in the belief he is guilty.
So now he's the greatest athletic cheat and boldest liar of all time.
Step off, Barry Bonds.
Breathe a bit easier, Floyd Landis.
If anyone's buying this, we have a bridge to sell. It's not because there's incontrovertible evidence of his innocence. It's because there's no scientific evidence that he's dirty, and probably will never be.
Like all people in professional and Olympic sports, Armstrong has opened a vein or emptied his bladder into a cup whenever it was demanded. Whether we choose to believe his denials or not, the body fluids don't lie. That's not absolute proof of innocence — it's the standard by which he and others were judged.
But now, many will say, his refusal to challenge the USADA sanctions is the best proof we'll ever have of his cheating. The USADA says a dozen former teammates are ready to testify that Armstrong doped.
Yet almost everyone who goes against the USADA and the arbitration panel set up for this purpose loses. Alberto Contador, the 2011 Tour champ, was found to have an insignificant amount of a banned substance in his blood, which arbitrators said wouldn't have helped him and probably got into his body without his knowledge, without intent to cheat. Still, the omnipotent doping gods stripped him of his title and banned him for two years.
Would Armstrong get a "reasonable doubt" trial in such a court?
Earlier this year, a federal investigation into Armstrong ended without charges. Last week U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks decided not to join the case against Armstrong, saying "the deficiency of USADA's charging document is of serious constitutional concern." He questioned the agency's "apparent single-minded determination" to go after Armstrong without regard for due process.
Again, that doesn't answer the core question. But it does suggest the people determined to see Armstrong vanquished might be acting out of vanity and vengeance as much as a quest for truth.
This we know: Armstrong is a courageous cancer survivor and a magnificent athlete. His Livestrong Foundation has raised more than $500 million for cancer research. His activities and personal example have inspired many patients and families.
Did he cheat? Did he make a mockery of the best scientific sleuthing available? Did he give up the latest fight because he'd finally be exposed — or because he knew he couldn't win a "he said, he said" showdown?
Few of us can answer that with certainty. Even as the record books are being de-Lanced, it looks like we'll have to choose whom to believe. Millions "know" he was juicing or doping. Millions of others see the charitable work he's doing, and don't really care.
Nothing has changed.