As we know, I am a big fan of cyclist Lance Armstrong, whom I believe to be perhaps the finest athlete in the world. He has been under siege since 1999 from allegations of doping that he has battled with every possible legal option. Today he announced that he is giving up his legal fight against the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) instead of having the case arbitrated because he believes its pursuit of him has become an “unconstitutional witch hunt” and that he will never be able to get a fair hearing from the agency. Some commentators (here and here) have said he’s bowing out of the fight before he is found guilty or loses in arbitration, which I think is both premature and piling on. How can reasonable people assume a person is guilty simply because he is accused? That is not how America works.
USADA maintains that Armstrong is a doper, and it will extract its pound of flesh from him–to be precise, seven consecutive Tour de France victories and all future participation in any cycling or triathlon competition–with no evidence, no proof and no confession from him. There have been allegations, accusations, insinuations and a boatload of hearsay, but there simply is no proof. Armstrong has tested clean for all the years he has competed, never once being found in any violation. Somebody saying that they suspected or they heard or they just really think that he must have used banned substances is not even evidence, let alone proof.
Before the USADA terminates a man’s athletic career and shatters his legacy, it should have to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Until the agency locates and verifies an actual tainted body fluid sample taken from Armstrong at the time he was competing, I will not believe that he is or ever was a doper. I believe he faced his own mortality from testicular cancer in 1996 at the age of 25 and came roaring back to health and to victory with his trademark intensity as well as with the kind of fire in the belly that only a close dance with death at an early age can impart upon a person of his innate ambition. What the USADA has done to him is a travesty against both man and sport.