After a week of defending a city cyclist's right to share the road with motorists, it's time to switch gears and defend Lance Armstrong's right to due process for the allegations made against him by the US Anti Doping Agency.
Whenever I write about either topic - sharing the road or doping in professional bike racing - my goal is to communicate the distinction between the activity of bicycling and the behavior of individual cyclists. Bicycling itself shouldn't be at the center of either controversy, yet there are those that are more than willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
On Monday, Texas district court judge Sam Sparks dismissed Lance Armstrong's lawsuit against the USADA "without prejudice." The USADA has been waiting to sanction Armstrong for a doping conspiracy that could ban him from competition for the rest of his life and strip him of his career cycling wins including 7 Tour de France championships. Lance had hoped that the federal court would enjoin the USADA's sanction on the grounds that the agency's results management protocol (which Armstrong and every competing athlete agrees to abide by) violated his Constitutional right to due process.
"As noted above, however, the Court dismisses Armstrong's claims without prejudice. If it should come to pass that Armstrong does not actually receive adequate notice sufficiently in advance of the arbitration hearing, and it is
brought to this Court's attention in an appropriate manner, USADA is unlikely to appreciate the result." - Judge Sam Sparks as quoted in Cycling News article, Judge issues stinging criticism of USADA in Armstrong case, 8-20-12
The Cycling News article is the best I've read explaining the many flaws with the USADA's charging document and the judge's stated concerns with the nature of the allegations. As written, the USADA's charges would not pass muster in a court of law. The USADA is also charging four individuals that it has no jurisdiction over and is offering to waive sanctions against confessed dopers in exchange for testimony against Armstrong.
Nearly everyone has an opinion on Lance Armstrong. Some believe he is clean. Some believe he doped. Some believe that he did nothing different than the men he was in competition with. Some want him stripped of his championships. Some want him drawn and quartered or tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail...
I want Lance Armstrong to have his day in court - an actual court - and not the court of public opinion.
Too often, public opinion is moved by sound bites. A snippet of information - whether that information is an allegation, an opinion, a theory, or a likely explanation - is sometimes all a person requires to draw a conclusion. We go straight from accusation to verdict and skip all the steps in between. It's much more convenient that way, but it's not really fair.
As I've stated in previous posts, there is a lot at stake in the ultimate findings of this case.
If the USADA's Travis Tygart prevails, an entire era of US bicycle racing will be erased from the history books. While he can hide behind his agency's dedication to fairness for all US athletes as justification, he will be reassigning Armstrong's victories to another competitor from another nation by default. With his jurisdiction limited to the US, there is no way that Tygart can assure any US athlete that the newly appointed winner of each of Lance's forfeited races was a clean rider who bested Armstrong fairly.
Each of Lance's longtime sponsors - Trek, Oakley, SRAM, and Giro - are all big names in the bicycle industry. Their perceptions are likely to fall in the eyes of consumers who may find them complicit in this illicit drug conspiracy. A company like Honey Stinger that has financial ties to Armstrong may quickly be viewed as undesirable despite the value of its product. Radio Shack - already on shaky ground in terms of consumer perception - could pull its sponsorship from the Nissan racing team.
Then there's Livestrong, Lance Armstrong's cancer research organization. It derived its strength and stature from Armstrong's public persona and corporate connections. It has done amazing things for cancer patients, survivors, and their families. If Lance is ultimately stripped of his titles, Livestrong could become a pariah along with its namesake.
There are some that will say that this was all a house of cards that Lance built. If the foundation was erected on shaky ground - if it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he had an unfair advantage over his competitors - then it all deserves to crumble. Lance isn't too big to fail.
If the cards should come tumbling down, I don't want bicycling to get buried in the rubble.
Lance inspired a generation of cyclists to get back out on the road and ride at faster speeds. He reminded them what it was like to sprint up a hill and bomb down a descent. He helped bring road bikes back to popularity. He helped thousands rediscover bicycling.
The last thing we cyclists need is for the public to begin associating cycling with cheating and cyclists with dopers. The jerseys we wear with pride as we ride together and raise money for worthwhile causes shouldn't serve as a target for the ire of misinformed motorists.
We're not cheaters. We're not dopers. We're not liars. We're not breaking any rules. We're just out riding bikes for our own personal reasons. We deserve respect when we're out on the road.
Riding a bike is an individual choice that benefits the rider and the rest of society. One doesn't have to break any rules to participate in the activity. Those that break the rules only represent themselves - not everyone else that chooses to ride a bike.
In just three days, the court of public opinion will be in session when the USADA publicly sanctions Lance Armstrong. We should expect public sentiment to turn against cyclists as the critical thinking-impaired among us react to this sound bite.
Ultimately, the doping conspiracy allegations against Lance Armstrong will be settled in arbitration or by the UCI. In the meantime, we need to remember that there are some that will treat the accusation as a verdict. We cyclists need to keep our composure, wait for the verdict, and continue looking out for ourselves and one another.
Keep riding and be safe.
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