Jeff Jacobs: No Sympathy For Lance's Tour de Fraud

No Sympathy For Lance Armstrong

  • Pin It

Nobody on Earth could tell Lance Armstrong's story better than Lance Armstrong. Nobody on earth is less morally and ethically qualified to tell it than he is.

Armstrong is a liar. Armstrong is a cheat. Armstrong is a bully. In the famously foreboding words of three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, whose own bicycle business crashed in the face of Armstrong's personal attacks: "If Lance's story is true, it's the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If it's not, it's the greatest fraud."

Let the history of sport show it is the greatest fraud.

Keep that in mind Thursday and Friday nights as Armstrong desperately tries to regain control of his narrative while admitting to the use of performance-enhancing drugs in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Keep that in mind as Oprah, keen on bringing attention to her own struggling network, serves as Armstrong's conduit to a nation's heartstrings.

If Armstrong's goal was a full and total confession, he would subject himself to a "60 Minutes" interrogation or to ESPN "Outside the Lines" with Bob Ley and a panel of cycling experts. His goal isn't a full confession. His goal is the manipulation of millions of people to rehabilitate his image, protect his estimated $125 million worth and, oh yeah, get back into elite triathlons. His goal is to reclaim the keys to his redemption. If he has to surrender some truths along the way to meet that objective, Lance undoubtedly will consider it collateral damage worth incurring.

At this point, only testimony under oath to international doping and cycling officials would open the road to again competing in triathlons. But, really, how many of us care about that? The general populace knows he doped. There were 1,000 pages of meticulously gathered facts by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. He has been stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles. So following years of denial, he confesses to Oprah the way Pete Rose finally confessed to gambling on baseball to Charles Gibson of ABC. Maybe it is fitting that two of the most committed competitors in the history of sport would also be two of its most committed liars.

Too often we don't fall for the little lies. Too often, we fall for the big lies. Armstrong is the biggest liar of 'em all. Say what you want about Barry Bonds, but he never marketed his home run chase as a victory of the human spirit. Say what you want about Marion Jones, but, as The New York Times documented in recent days, her business interests and celebrity never became so intertwined with a charity like Armstrong's did that it grew difficult to determine which was feeding which.

Still, some of Lance's cultists and sycophants are only coming to grips this week with his doping. And no matter what he says or does, many more will point to his work with Livestrong, the charity he founded, as a justification for his cheating. They will insist that his good works more than outweigh his bad and because cycling has been overrun by cheats, he shouldn't be singled out. Still more will insist that the way he overcame testicular cancer long will stand as inspiration to other cancer patients. There is real merit in some of the arguments. Some also is pure bunk.

And some of it is too much for his army of loyalists to bear. Armstrong told Oprah, according to USA Today, that he began taking PEDs in the 1990s before his cancer. How many of the cultists want to consider the possibility that doping led to his malignancies?

So Lance has been stripped of his Tour titles. He has lost most of his sponsors. He has been forced to step down from Livestrong. What's absolution on Oprah worth to him? A monster book deal, surely, and appearance and speaker fees should keep him going for years. He'll never return to respect, but, hey, Mike Tyson and Pete Rose still turn a buck in movies, on reality shows and signing autographs. Armstrong undoubtedly will surrender as much turf as necessary to minimize any litigation he could face, too.

This is where I draw my line with Armstrong. This is where I have no sympathy for him. Not one bit. Some, who had the temerity to speak out against him, were met with almost mob-style threats by Armstrong and his minions. He was rich. He was powerful. He was influential. And he used all of it to intimidate and vilify some good and decent people. He ruined businesses, finances, reputations.

For the past two days, I've been considering the matter of "revenge vs. righteousness" in my mind. Some of this has grown from reading excerpts of Terry Francona's upcoming book. He exposes Red Sox ownership as more concerned with image than baseball. And then you think about how a full year has passed before Francona fired back at the Red Sox and you wonder if Tito is as interested in making a buck off of settling old scores as he is in telling a needed story. It's not always easy to say.

I have no such crisis regarding Armstrong. Let the scores be settled. Former teammate Floyd Landis, another disgraced Tour winner, filed a suit against the Armstrong-led U.S. Postal Service Team under the False Claims Act. The team had contractually agreed not to use PEDs. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department has recommended joining the suit by a Thursday deadline. As a whistle-blower, Landis could make some strong money from this case and, in another time, I'd call him greedy. Today, I'd argue that he should show the same fervor that Armstrong showed in denying PEDs for all those years.

Across the pond, Armstrong is being sued for more than $1.5 million by The Sunday Times of London over the settlement of a 2006 libel case. The paper paid Armstrong nearly $500,000 to settle a case after it reprinted claims in a book of his PED use. I'd argue that the Sunday Times ought to take Armstrong to the cleaners.

There's so much more, and Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel documented it the other day. After LeMond spoke out, Armstrong strong-armed bike-maker Trek to drop support of the LeMond brand that it had licensed for 13 years. After rider Frankie and Betsy Andreu testified that Armstrong told doctors in their presence in 1996 that he had used EPO, HGH and steroids, he publicly ridiculed them as "vindictive" and "jealous." A woman aligned with Armstrong left a message for Betsy saying, "I hope somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head."

Emma O'Reilly, a masseuse for the Postal team, did some drug-running for Armstrong, talked about it in a book, "L.A. Confidential," and ended up being sued by him for libel. O'Reilly couldn't afford to fight back in court, but that wasn't enough for Armstrong. She said he spread lies that she was a prostitute and an alcoholic.

Former teammates felt his wrath. After Tyler Hamilton wrote a book detailing doping, appeared on "60 Minutes" and cooperated with law enforcement, he was confronted by Armstrong in an Aspen restaurant. According to Hamilton, Armstrong told him, "When you're on the witness stand, we are going to tear you apart. I'm going to make your life a living hell."

The stories of intimidation go on. As he promised, Lance Armstrong made life a living hell for too many people for too long. Anything he says to Oprah is only a start to all the apologies and restitution he must make. The price of redemption must be high, terribly high, for the greatest fraud in sport.

  • Pin It

Local & National Video