I woke up this morning to the news I had hoped I would never hear – Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong had given up his fight against the USADA and, like jackals in the night, the agency moved in swiftly for the kill – stripping Armstrong of all seven of his Tour titles. Forget that the agency has no jurisdiction to strip Tour de France titles. Forget that they violated their own statute of limitations of eight years in bringing charges going back as far as 1996. Forget due process and the burden of proof and anything remotely resembling fairness. Forget it all. We no longer live in a Democracy.
Just this past February, US Federal prosecutors, led by Jeff Novitsky – the man who brought down Barry Bonds and Roger Clemmons – closed their investigation, which had been brought before a grand jury. After a lengthy subpoena process during which former teammates and international cycling officials were interviewed, blood and urine samples examined and all evidence thoroughly scoured, Novitsky threw in the towel. The evidence he had would not hold water in a court of law. Lance had been vindicated, it seemed.
If only Federal prosecutors were not subject to standards of proof – if only they did not have to deal with a pesky jury – if only they could cast aside due process and adjudicate on a whim. If only another organization not tethered to standards of fairness and law could take up this case…
Enter Travis Tygart and the goons of the United States Anti-Doping Agency
Created in 1999 (ironically, the same year as Armstrong’s first Tour victory) at the recommendation of the U.S. Olympic Committee to address and regulate the anti-doping campaign of the USOC – the mission of this quasi-governmental agency is to manage the anti-doping programs for Olympic, Pan-American and Paralympic sport in the United States. The USADA is not a government entity and as such is not subject to the aforementioned Constitutional standards of proof and due process. Yet, it receives a majority of its funding by tax-payer dollars through the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The non-profit status of the USADA also allows them to prosecute athletes with a lower burden of proof than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that the Department of Justice would have had to adhere to. Uncomfortable yet? It gets worse.
• Travis Tygart and his USADA staff serve the accused wrong-doer (in this instance, Lance Armstrong), with a letter accusing him of violating Anti-doping rules. As evidence of this charge, only prior drug tests (that Armstrong passed) and anonymous witnesses are cited.
• Armstrong then had ten days to provide a written response to a review board hand-picked by Tygart. He was not given the opportunity to personally appear in front of this review board, nor was he provided the names of the “witnesses” who accused him.
• This hand-picked “review board” reviews the evidence and decides whether the case should go to a full arbitration hearing, which in similar fashion to the review board, is a kangaroo court made up of Tygart-approved “yes men” who make a ruling.
• Unsurprisingly, cases that are prosecuted by the USADA are successful over 95% of the time.
• At this point, Tygart and the USADA board recommend sanctions, which include lifetime bans, stripping of titles and the like.
• No appeals process, no opportunity to cross-examine witnesses (who, in Armstrong’s case were all proven dopers offered immunity for their testimony), and apparently no thought or consideration as to the fact that the USADA has no jurisdiction to even conduct such an investigation, much less administer sanctions.
Dockery rightly points out in his article that in 2012 – a year when we sent our Olympians into competition in London – the USADA spent a vast majority of its time and resources not assuring the compliance of those Olympians (which, it should be reiterated, is the mission of the organization and the sole reason for its existence), but rather going after a 40 year old retired cyclist with unsubstantiated allegations of wrong-doing going back some 17 years.
Some men do great things in this world. Some men are achievers, strivers and world-changers. Other men exist, it seems, solely to tear great men down – haunted by their own shortcomings and the frustrations of otherwise insignificant lives. Decide for yourself who is the former and who is the latter in this case.
The USADA has made a mockery of justice. Their corrupt abuse of power is flagrant and shocking. I would expect this in North Korea, or Iran or the former Soviet Union, where tyrants and personal vendettas and secretive, one-sided hearings leave innocents subject to the abuse of the State. That this happened here leaves me wondering; do we even live in a Democracy anymore? If Lance Armstrong can be stripped of seven Tour titles without one iota of physical evidence, what’s next? Who’s next?
In the meantime, Lance will move on. He will continue to raise millions for cancer victims through his wildly successful Livestrong organization. He will continue to live a good life and maybe one day the USADA will be discredited and his trophies will be returned – because he will always be the winner of seven Tours de France – nothing can change that. Until then, at least he no longer has to wallow in the mud with Tygart and his minions.