Armstrong’s Refusal to Fight is an Admission of Guilt

American cyclist Lance Armstrong giving a talk...

Lance Armstrong giving a talk in 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and – once and for all – put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance. But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair. Lance Armstrong’s Statement, August 23, 2012.

Based on his statement released through his website, Lance Armstrong wants the public to believe that he is innocent of the doping allegations brought by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (“USADA”) and that his refusal to participate in arbitration is due to his belief that he will not receive a fair fight.  In other words, Armstrong’s message is: “I know I can’t win, so why try?”  Such a pronouncement seems to conflict sharply with Armstrong’s “Live Strong” mantra and the public persona he has cultivated over the last decade.  How can one reconcile the Armstrong who battled testicular cancer and fought the odds to become the world’s most prominent cyclist with the man seen yesterday shrinking away from a fight?  The answer is that you cannot.

The fact that Armstrong is unwilling to participate in arbitration is telling.  By refusing to participate and, instead, simply accepting the sanctions, Armstrong is able to maintain his innocence to the public:  “No one has ever proved that I was doping.”  Armstrong’s decision can be likened to the all-too-familiar decisions by other athletes to plead “no contest” to criminal charges.  In such cases, the athletes will receive a punishment but they never have to actually admit to doing something wrong or – perhaps more importantly – they never have to be confronted with all of the evidence against them.  Similarly, by refusing to participate in arbitration, the evidence the USADA intended to utilize to support its case (including sworn testimony from at least ten former teammates) will not be presented.  Such evidence and testimony will now just hang out there in the ether, and Armstrong can characterize such evidence as “unsubstantiated” and “unproven.”  Armstrong hopes that, given enough time, such evidence will slowly decay into whispers and eventually fade away altogether.

The decision not to fight is a calculated move by a person with a lot more to lose than his Tour de France trophies.  Armstrong recognizes what type of impact a written ruling by the USADA arbitrator would have on his reputation, his charity, and – most notably – on his ability to make money in the future.   By refusing to participate in the arbitration, Armstrong can continue to claim that he has been tested hundreds of times and that no one has ever legitimately proven that he was doping.  Armstrong can paint the USADA as crackpots harboring personal vendettas and explain away its ruling as a de facto default judgment; one entered against him solely because he was just too tired to challenge it.  The inherent problem is that Armstrong’s decision simply does not mesh with his continued pronouncements of innocence.

If, as Armstrong contends, he truly is innocent and the USADA’s indictment is a “charade,” then prove it.  If the USADA’s arbitration process is unfair, then take this opportunity to demonstrate how it is unfair.   Having been denied his chance in federal court, Armstrong should have waged battle against the USADA in the only court that really matters anyway:  the court of public opinion.  Instead of pleading nolo contendre, Armstrong should have seized this moment to prove his innocence to the public and to show just why the USADA’s arbitration process is unfair and violates his due process rights.  Instead, Armstrong is running away and will “no longer address the issue.”

Armstrong’s decision can be juxtaposed with a legal battle involving another public figure from eighty years ago:  the court martial of General William “Billy” Mitchell.  Mitchell was a general in the United States Army and, while serving in France during World War I, recognized that air power would be crucial for homeland protection and any future wars.  At a time when naval power was considered to be paramount, Mitchell advocated for the unpopular notion that developing an air force must be the ultimate goal.  When he eventually accused Army and Navy leaders of incompetence, official charges were brought against Mitchell.  Although it was almost a foregone conclusion that he would be court martialed, Mitchell used the proceedings as a soapbox for stating his opinions and proving his points.  Although Mitchell was ultimately found guilty, he succeeded in presenting his case to the public and is now recognized as the father of the United States Air Force.

Armstrong could have used this opportunity to pull a “Billy Mitchell.”   He could have confronted his allegations and challenged the purported hypocrisy of the USADA head on.  He could have stood up, made his case to the public, and demonstrated, once and for all, why the USADA was wrong.  Moreover, if the USADA’s methods are as unfair as claimed, this battle would be important not just for Armstrong, but for any other athlete accused by the USADA in the future.  Instead, he chose to plead “no contest” and punted away the opportunity to state his case.

His refusal to confront the allegations must be seen for what it is:  an admission of guilt.  This conclusion is the only way to square the “never give up” Armstrong with the Armstrong seen yesterday issuing a written statement and rolling over.  The only reason why Armstrong would choose not to challenge the allegations lodged against him would be if the USADA had legitimate proof that Armstrong was doping.  Clearly, Armstrong did not want to go to arbitration because he did not want the USADA lining up all the evidence it has against him for the public to see.

The sad reality is that, despite what many believed, Armstrong was not the exception; he doped in order to gain an advantage and, consequently, fame.  Lance Armstrong was a cheat, and when future generations look back at this time period, he deserves to have his name placed next to Marion Jones, Ben Johnson, and the other athletes who were caught using performance enhancing drugs.  Although Armstrong issued a nearly 900 word press release yesterday, it is Armstrong’s refusal to fight that actually speaks volumes about the legitimacy of his accomplishments.