The final act in the Shakespearean drama of cycling great Lance Armstrong is about to begin, with the airing this week of his admission to who else but Oprah Winfrey–the celebrity confessor–that he indeed took performance enhancing drugs during his professional career.
This is news only in that Armstrong seems to have finally realized that he has no other card to play. After so many years of denials, after his retaliation against Greg LeMond and his litigation and threats of litigation, even after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s explosive report which called his doping operation the most sophisticated sport has ever seen, even after a number of his teammates flipped on him, even after he lost his titles and was banned from competition, he still tried to keep up the Big Lie.
In the Oprah show, which was taped yesterday, he finally admits to what everyone already knew, the Associated Press is reporting. On Sunday, he held what was supposedly an emotional meeting with employees of Livestrong, the cancer foundation he started after he survived testicular cancer, and admitted he had let them down.
Bit of an understatement. So, what is fueling this round of media self-immolation? Folks close to Armstrong have told reporters he wants to rehabilitate his image and return to his athletic career. We are guessing, but we think it is the specter of the looming raft of lawsuits which could easily bankrupt him.
For example, the Sunday Times of London is suing Armstrong for $1.5 million, to recoup money they paid him to settle a lawsuit he brought over articles accusing him of doping.
Floyd Landis, one of the early Armstrong accusers pilloried by Lance, filed a federal whistleblower’s lawsuit alleging that Armstrong and his team cheated the government when they took sponsorship money from the U.S. Postal Service. A Wall Street Journal article today reports that Justice Department officials are weighing whether to join the lawsuit–an ominous thing for Armstrong. If he loses, under federal law, Armstrong could owe $100 million. Ouch!
Could the sponsors of the Tour De France, an event already tarnished with doping and now facing more embarrassment, also sue him for the prize money he falsely won? Possibly. Could his sponsors sue him to recoup money they paid him based on his lie that he was clean? Sure. What about his book royalties? It could happen.
It was also reported yesterday that Armstrong tried to make a $250,000 contribution to the U.S. Anti-Doping agency in 2004. USADA chief Travis Tygart reveals this to 60 Minutes Spots Scott Pelley in an interview to be broadcast on Wednesday. “I was stunned,” he tells Pelley. “It was a clear conflict of interest. We had no hesitation in rejecting that offer.” Tygart also criticized the International Cycling Union for accepting a $100,000 gift from Armstrong.
Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Stephanie Saul wrote Sunday that Armstrong’s charity and his personal finances were more intertwined than previously understood. That’s the Times-speak way of saying Armstrong may have been using the charity to make money.
Saul writes: While Mr. Armstrong’s celebrity fed the charity, the charity also enhanced his marketability. Livestrong also engaged in some deals that appeared to have benefited him and his associates, according to interviews and financial records.
In one case, the charity sold the rights to its iconic Livestrong name to a commercial media company that also hired Mr. Armstrong as a spokesman.
“There was a conflict. I felt there was,” Doug Kingsriter, a former Livestrong development officer, tells Saul. “And of course we run into this with nonprofits. Personal interests, personal agendas, should not be greater than the interest of the mission of the organization.”
Saul also reports that a company run by Armstrong’s business partner earned more than $400,000 from the charity over three years.
We already knew that the charity attacked the USADA report when it came out, and paid for Beltway lobbyists to do the same.
But we didn’t know that the drug company Bristol Myers Squibb contributed to Livestrong and hired Armstrong as a spokesman. Nor did we know that Demand Media hired Armstrong too, and made a deal with Livestrong to create a for-profit fitness website.
In response, Livestrong posted a statement, saying the Times story was “thinly sourced” and adding that it contained “false insinuations.” The statement denied that any marketing agreements or anything else the foundation did was “improper or questionable.” The statement didn’t refute any of the specifics.
(Oprah by the way has a business relationship with one of the company’s which sponsored Armstrong’s cycling team)