Lance Armstrong took performance enhancing drugs. He said so, so we know, even though everyone was certain before he came out with Oprah. The New York Times reports:
With Winfrey, he lost his icy stare and buried his cutting words. Looking nervous and swallowing hard several times, he admitted to using through most his cycling career a cocktail of drugs, including testosterone, cortisone, human growth hormone and the blood booster EPO.
To get this out of the way, he cheated in his sport, which is itself a lie. Then he lied about lying. Then he beat up on anyone who called him a liar and a cheat, which, in his own word, made him a bully. And he took people’s money based upon his lies and cheating.
But as low his natural testosterone may have been, his ability to rationalize remained intact.
What distinguishes Armstrong is that his seven Tour de France wins made him a national hero. Americans didn’t win bike races, and then Armstrong came along and blew everybody off the road. We started watching cycling on TV, rooting for the guy who lost a testicle to cancer and still did the undoable. We put him on a pedestal. He wanted to be on that pedestal. He wanted it too much.
He called his doping regimen simple and conservative, rejecting volumes of evidence by the United States Anti-Doping Agency that the drug program on his Tour de France-winning teams was “the most sophisticated, organized and professionalized” doping scheme in the history of cycling.
He said that he was not the kingpin of the doping program on his teams, as the antidoping agency claimed, and that he was just doping the way the rest of his teammates were at the time.
He said he had doped, beginning in the mid-1990s, through 2005, the year he won his record seventh Tour. He said that he took EPO, but “not a lot,” and that he had rationalized his use of testosterone because one of his testicles had been removed during his battle against cancer. “I thought, Surely I’m running low,” he said of the banned testosterone he took to gain an edge in his performance.
His “defense” hasn’t done a thing to soften his fall. So the allegations against him were in some respects exaggerated? So everybody was doing it? So he decided that he was entitled because of his personal condition? It’s not like he murdered anyone. Does this change anybody’s mind about him? Of course not.
Even if international cycling was rife with doping during the time Armstrong prevailed, making him perhaps the best doped up cyclist of the rest of the doped up cyclists, That’s still not going to cut it.
But what is striking about the confession and rationalization is that it’s not much different from what criminal defendants tell their lawyers every day. Change the part about cheating in the Tour de France with selling cocaine, the part about conservative use of EPO with the number of kilos sold, the loss of a testicle to cancer with a childhood of abandonment and neglect, and the parallels come into focus.
True, the guy sitting across from the lawyer is no Lance Armstrong, but then, the lawyer isn’t Oprah.
As it turns out, Lance Armstrong isn’t an American hero. This is a shame, as we could use some heroes, but not this way. He is, however, very much American. His desire to reach the pinnacle of achievement in his niche drove him to do what he should never have done. He was no Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, so he had no option but to excel in something if anyone was to notice and adore him. It is so very American to want to be adored.
And how could he possibly win if he didn’t dope up like his competition? The small lie to himself led to the big lies that followed. They usually do, as defendants start with one small crime, “just this once,” which gets immensely easier after you get away with it. And so they do it again, and they do it more and harder, until they’re up to their eyeballs in it, clueless how they got in so deep.
The whole psychology of excuse is fascinating, as tough guys look at you with puppydog eyes, silently pleading for you to believe that they didn’t really mean for it to get so bad. It just happened.
We argue on behalf of our clients at sentence about the hardships they endured in their lives, the small bad choice that ballooned into the downward spiral that engulfed their life. We talk about the good they’ve done, the people who love them, the people they love. And we hope that a judge with mercy in her heart will not be harsh in her judgment.
Lance Armstrong didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t put poison into the arms of children. And yet, it’s hard to feel merciful toward him, as he was such a pathological liar. And he broke our hearts, even if it was about such a silly thing as riding a bike. Any cognitive dissonance here?
While he will never again be an American hero, there is no reason for us to ignore the gift that Lance Armstrong offers criminal defense lawyers and our clients. There is much we can offer our clients from the experience of this fallen angel, and of our reaction to his fall from grace. It would be a shame to waste this opportunity, as we’ve spent too much time thinking about some random guy on a bicycle who doped himself up for glory. Let this not be a total waste.