Lance Armstrong has made few public comments in the three months since a massive
file of doping evidence came out against him.
After years of vehement
denials about doping, such prolonged silence practically qualifies as pleading
the Fifth Amendment – declining to respond when almost nothing you can say will
help your own cause, except maybe a full confession.
Not even a
confession may help Armstrong much now, unless it’s largely to relieve his
conscience, according to legal analysts and the rules governing doping
For Armstrong, a confession would likely be a business
decision – he’s ineligible for life to compete in sanctioned events, and his
sponsors have dropped him since the case went public in October. A cyclist who
once dominated the Tour de France has been relegated to triathlons on the back
roads of sports.
On Twitter, Armstrong says he’s been working out in
Hawaii. On January 17, Oprah Winfrey will air what her publicist called a
90-minute “no-holds-barred interview” with him on the doping scandal and his
years of denials. But the bottom line for what a potential admission of guilt
would accomplish still looks bleak.
Consider: A confession would not
resurrect his athletic career any time soon, perhaps no sooner than 2021, when
he turns 50.
Armstrong only can return to competition if he provides
substantial assistance to doping officials, helping them nail other cheaters and
clean up the sport. If he does that – no small requirement – his ban could be
reduced to “no less than eight years,” according to the World Anti-Doping Agency
Any further reduction probably would have to come outside the scope
of the rulebook and likely would require the agreement of several world
Even a reduction to eight years “shall only be applied
in very exceptional cases,” the WADA code states.
It would require
Armstrong to provide new information and implicate cheaters – the kind of
testimony he detested when others provided such information about
“You can’t say, ‘I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. But
now you’ve got me, so I’ll come in and admit it and get a break,’” USADA
attorney Richard Young told USA TODAY Sports in October.
work. Theoretically, if he came forward and said, ‘I have a completely different
level of information,’ we could think about it.”
US Anti-Doping Agency
officials have declined comment on whether Armstrong’s team has broached the
subject. Armstrong’s attorney, Tim Herman, said there are “no ongoing
discussions with USADA” or WADA.
WADA Director David Howman says there
has been no contact with Armstrong’s camp on this subject. Armstrong could
request a rehearing based on new evidence, but Howman says he would first need
to see a sworn statement from Armstrong detailing his information.
confesses, Armstrong also might be pulling the pins out of several legal
Acknowledging he defrauded his sponsors, including the US
Postal Service, might prompt some to seek repayment.
With a confession,
“Armstrong runs a serious risk of opening himself up to fraud claims by
companies that sponsored him and others,” said Brian Socolow, a New York-based
attorney who has litigated several business disputes. An “admission of drug use
would remove many of the obstacles that would ordinarily hamper a fraud claim
Likewise, other legal cases against him could gain fuel,
with the federal government being one potential opponent. Last year, the
government dropped, without explanation, a criminal fraud investigation
Whether a confession would resurrect that case is
The government also is considering whether to join a
whistleblower civil case against Armstrong filed by former teammate Floyd
Landis. At issue in that case is whether Armstrong and others defrauded the
Postal Service of about $30 million.
Armstrong asserted his Fifth
Amendment rights when served with a subpoena by Postal Service Inspector
General. He since has met the subpoena’s obligations, according to court
Dallas-based SCA Promotions wants $12.5 million from him in a
case that dates to 2004, when Armstrong successfully sued the company for
refusing to pay a $5 million bonus for winning the 2004 Tour.
denied doping in a 2005 deposition.
He denied it in testimony before an
arbitration panel. Now that he has been stripped of his seven Tour titles, SCA
wants its money back for the 2002, 2003 and 2004 wins, plus legal
The good news for Armstrong is that even though he testified that
he never used performance-enhancing drugs, a confession would not likely trigger
perjury charges because the testimony is beyond the statute of limitations, an
SCA attorney said.
A British newspaper is suing Armstrong for $1.5
million. The Sunday Times paid him about $485,000 in 2006 to settle a libel case
he filed against it, claiming he was damaged by the paper because it reprinted
parts of a book that said he used performance-enhancing drugs.
amount to a total liability of at least $14 million, plus $4 million in prize
money the International Cycling Union wants returned.
“It’s a big risk
for Armstrong to admit guilt,” Socolow says.
He’s also the only person
that could really benefit from it. USADA prevailed against Armstrong and saw its
authority upheld in the courts.
The cyclist’s cancer-fighting charity,
Livestrong, enjoys high marks from charity watchdogs and saw a surge of
donations on its 15th anniversary in October.
So it all boils down to a
personal decision: Will the potential legal and financial pain be worth it? The
truth is, at this point, most people are past caring.