A tale of two Armstrongs
“Although the court was sympathetic to my concerns and recognized the many improprieties and deficiencies in USADA’s motives, its conduct, and its process, the court ultimately decided that it could not intervene.”
— Lance Armstrong
“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.”
— Neil Armstrong
I’m not a big fan of Nicolas Cage’s acting. I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy, but I just don’t like his movies. I was greatly surprised, therefore, that he won an Academy Award in 1996 and was nominated for another in 2003 and he’s also won a Golden Globe award and a Screen Actor’s Guild award.
Perhaps, then, I should go to work next week and draft a very official looking court order that proclaims that, by the power vested in me by the State of Ohio, County of Delaware, I have concluded that he has violated the rules of good acting and is therefore stripped of all awards that he has won since 1996. Surely (sarcasm alert), if I did so, the major news networks would all report that those awards had been legitimately taken away from him, wouldn’t they?
If you’re fairly certain that they wouldn’t, then you should be surprised at what those same news services reported last week in reference to Lance Armstrong, the cyclist who used to be able to claim that he had won seven Tour de Frances and an Olympic medal before the United States Anti-Doping Agency stripped him of those titles last week. The problem? As it turns out, the USADA’s authority to make that claim is about as murky as my authority to rip the Oscar out of Nic Cage’s hands. What happened last week is also a brilliant example of a judge showing restraint and yet making his point at the same time.
Armstrong had sued the USADA to try to stop what he thought was an unfair and illegal investigation of allegations that he had used banned substances. The case came before U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks. Ultimately, Sparks concluded that the U.S. District Court simply didn’t have jurisdiction over the case because the parties had previously agreed to resolve them through arbitration. But Sparks used the bully pulpit of his written decision to make his point that the entire USADA investigation smelled rotten. After noting that he would dismiss the case, Sparks wrote that he was concerned that the USADA, “has targeted Armstrong for prosecution many years after the alleged doping violations occurred,” and that it was, “difficult to avoid the conclusion that USADA is motivated more by politics and a desire for media attention that faithful adherence to its obligations.”
When Armstrong announced that he would no longer contest the USADA’s allegations, the agency issued a statement that said that as a result of that decision, “Mr. Armstrong will be disqualified from any and all competitive results obtained on and subsequent to Aug. 1, 1998, including forfeiture of any medals, titles, winnings, finishes, points and prizes.” It’s a wonderfully final statement — his titles and awards are wiped away, end of story. And indeed, all major media outlets picked up on this seemingly final statement from a very official sounding organization and reported that Armstrong’s Tour titles were no more.
In so doing, they failed in their responsibility to look into what the actual effect of the USADA statement was. That’s because the USADA has limited and unclear authority. It doesn’t control the awarding or removal of Olympic medals — the IOC does that. It doesn’t award Tour de France titles either — that responsibility goes to the International Cycling Union (UCI). And the UCI has not yet said that it feels compelled to comply with the USADA findings. Similarly, the IOC has taken no action yet to strip Armstrong of his Olympic medal.
In short, despite the reporting on the issue, Armstrong’s seven Tour titles and his Olympic medal have not yet been taken away but rather the USADA has instead recommended to the UCI and the IOC that they make those official removals. And while Armstrong has announced that he will not fight the USADA investigation, he could still initiate legal action fighting USADA’s attempts to force the IOC and UCI to go along with their findings. The USADA may be wearing the yellow jersey at the moment, but the race is not yet over.
The world lost its modern day Christopher Columbus this week with the death of Ohioan Neil Armstrong. While Armstrong’s ‘One small step’ is perhaps the most famous quote of the 20th Century, he was an incredibly private man. That desire to maintain his privacy led to a significant lawsuit between Armstrong and Hallmark, which had attempted to use Armstrong’s name and voice without his permission in a 1994 Christmas ornament.
The privacy suit was settled out of court for a “substantial” but undisclosed amount of money, which Armstrong donated to his alma mater, Purdue University. Purdue then constructed the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. Armstrong showed us that there are still untold frontiers to conquer, we simply need to look skyward to find them.
David Hejmanowski is a magistrate and court administrator of the Delaware County Juvenile Court and a former assistant prosecuting attorney.