Lance Armstrong is innocent. He should have his international cycling victories reinstated and be allowed to compete in any athletic event he chooses to enter. How can I say such a thing? Haven’t I read all the front page stories about his scandalous behavior? Haven’t I read the sordid story of his long history of doping in the now public report of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (“USADA“)? Where was I when his former wives and teammates castigated him on television and in every gossip magazine on the grocery shelves?
My answer is simple. The bedrock of our American justice system is – the presumption of innocence. The undisputed facts are that Lance Armstrong finished first at the Tour de France seven times against the finest cyclists in the world and each time was declared the champion. He was tested for drugs before, during, and after each championship and never failed to pass the test. He accomplished this feat after overcoming testicular cancer in 1996. He won his first Tour de France in 1997.
But what about the report, the testimony of his teammates, and all the evidence relied on by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an independent non-profit organization? For the moment set-aside the fact that the report ignores statutes of limitations that ordinarily apply in such cases and relies heavily on accounts from riders who are not being subjected to the same treatment. Not one piece of evidence against him was subjected to cross-examination by a lawyer representing Mr. Armstrong. Not one teammate was cross-examined or had his credibility scrutinized by a jury of discerning and impartial individuals. Not one finding in the report was held to a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no standard. The agency creates its own, responsible only to its own board of directors, with no judicial oversight.
Didn’t Lance Armstrong admit to doping? No. Didn’t he agree to the findings of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency? No. After years of fighting charges he simply gave up fighting what he called an “unconstitutional witch hunt.” Tucked away in most articles about Armstrong is the fact that for two years he was investigated by federal prosecutors on the same charges of doping and no charges were brought. Federal prosecutors are bound by standards such as substantial evidence to warrant prosecution and ultimately have to present a case that meets U.S. Constitutional protections. Failure to bring such a case leads us to accept that Lance Armstrong is innocent, because he wasn’t proven guilty. He wasn’t even prosecuted.
Why does the media accept the findings of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as gospel? The answer is simple – guilt sells. You simply accept the findings of an unregulated agency. Why should you bother to hold the agency to any standard of truth? You simply place the burden on the accused to rebut the charges, and if the accused fails to comment you’re home free to feed him to the wolves. Result: shocking headlines and increased ratings or sales.
Why am I so skeptical about the findings of the U.S. Anti -Doping Agency? First, the charges concern conduct that goes back over ten years. Not one blood sample or other test they rely on has been subjected to even the minimum scrutiny that similar evidence would undergo if this were a criminal investigation for a DUI. Their primary witnesses are individuals who have failed to pass blood tests themselves or have been so intimidated by the process they have no choice but to be cooperative. Can you imagine a prosecutor basing his whole case on the testimony of witnesses who are convicted felons or who have been promised immunity for their testimony? A good attorney would create reasonable doubt in a heartbeat. Added to the lack of credibility is the passage of time. Any reasonable person knows that memories fade and change over time, and physical evidence is compromised.
In the movie Speed, bad-guy Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) snarls to hero Jack, “A bomb is made to explode. That’s its meaning. Its purpose.” What is the purpose of an agency that was created to investigate doping but to target high profile athletes and use any means possible to destroy their reputations? The US Anti-Doping Agency’s investigators worked closely with federal prosecutors in their investigation of Armstrong. But when their work and the evidence didn’t come up to the minimal standards to bring criminal charges, much less get a conviction, they bulldozed right ahead until they destroyed Armstrong and caused him to be stripped of every honor he ever won. Not satisfied with taking his medals away, they published their report and with the cooperation of the New York Times and other media participants they “kicked the dead dog.”
When Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer, doctors gave him less than a 50 percent chance of survival before surgery and brutal cycles of chemotherapy saved his life. Armstrong’s riveting victories, his work for cancer awareness, and his gossip-page romances with rocker Sheryl Crow, fashion designer Tory Burch and actress Kate Hudson made him a figure who transcended sports.
His dominance of the Tour de France elevated the sport’s popularity in America to unprecedented levels. His story and success helped sell millions of the “Livestrong” plastic yellow wrist bracelets, and enabled him to enlist lawmakers and global policymakers to promote cancer awareness and research. His Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised nearly $500 million since its founding in 1997.
Now Armstrong finds himself vilified and attacked daily, with no avenue to overcome the media’s presumption of guilt and a non-profit agency’s Jean Valjeans’ like obsession. When you repeat an allegation enough it becomes the truth; when you give power to destroy an individual to an agency with no safeguards, oversight, or restraints; when you don’t require allegations to rise to the level of admissible evidence in a court of law — good people are destroyed and justice is perverted.
Today, it’s Lance Armstrong, tomorrow it will be the next person put on a pedestal. The only way we can prevent this cycle from repeating itself over and over is to believe in the bedrock that serves our society pretty well – a person is innocent until proven guilty. That’s why Lance Armstrong is innocent.