Sunday, July 3, 2011

Roger Clemens Perjurer/Lance Armstrong Fraudster--New York Times Columnist: So What?

Jonathan Mahler writing at the New York Times yesterday argued that pending prosecutions of Roger Clemens for perjury and prospective indictments of Lance Armstrong are misguided. Mahler is highly critical of Roger Clemens, not so much for lying to Congress during its investigation into performance enhancing drugs but for his tone deaf public relations and press conferences which ought to tip you off to this journo's take on sports fraud. 

Mahler has the following to say about Lance:

"Then there’s Armstrong, the cancer survivor who won, again and again, the most physically demanding contest in all of sports and as he did so spun himself into a role model and inspiration to millions. But would it really be a surprise to discover that his Nike-sponsored mythology of survival and triumph was really just that — mythology?

There was real betrayal in the revelation that baseball was contaminated. With cycling, we knew better. The history of the sport is the history of performance-boosting pharmacology, from the cocaine and strychnine cocktails of the 19th century to today’s designer hormones. Including Armstrong, six of the last seven riders who finished first at the Tour de France have been linked to doping.

When the first Balco indictments were handed down in February 2004, they were trumpeted as a blow for democracy, the sports equivalent of the toppling of the statue of Saddam in Firdos Square, which had taken place less than a year earlier. 'This is not just a call to action,'  John Ashcroft, the United States attorney general at the time, declared in a nationally televised news conference. 'It is a call to the values that make our nation and its people strong and free.'
But a lot has changed since then. Most notably, we’ve lived through two endless wars and our nation’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  Now here we are, well into the second year of the Armstrong investigation, and we are still waiting for criminal charges to be brought against top executives at many of the firms that left our economy in tatters [. . . ]

For his part, [federal investigator Jeff] Novitzky is starting to look more and more like Ken Starr, circa 1998, myopically pursuing a case whose relevance diminishes with each new news cycle.

Armstrong’s critics might call him a cheat and a liar, but what law did he break?

The government may find a way to charge him with defrauding the United States Postal Service, one of his sponsors, saying he falsely claimed he was clean. This may be a legitimate legal argument, but it won’t be easy to prove. More to the point, is it worth trying to prove?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the steroids era — and Novitzky deserves credit for this — it’s that a lot of professional athletes will cheat if they can. They might even lie about it. A handful of prosecutions is not going to change that.

Of course, Armstrong was more than a cyclist. He was a humanitarian, as much Greg Mortenson — the mountain-climber-cum-Third-World-school-builder whose own heroic narrative has come under question — as Roger Clemens. In other words, he’s just another guy who disappointed us. The sports world, like the real world, is full of them. Do we really need to devote scarce government resources to proving they let us down?       

A Georgia congressman, Jack Kingston, has asked the F.D.A. for a financial accounting of the globe-trotting Armstrong investigation. Whatever we have spent to date, it will rise exponentially if a prosecution goes forward. As we saw with the trial of Bonds, the last object of Novitzky’s obsession, there is no guarantee that it will result in a conviction that justifies the investment. How much is it going to cost us to add Lance Armstrong to our list of compromised heroes, when, let’s face it, in the court of public opinion he’s already there?

The real moral of Novitzky’s taxpayer-financed crusade may be that it’s time to put sports back in their proper place. Our nation’s values are not at stake, as Ashcroft once had us believe. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all still hope to witness some truly inspiring sports moments in our lifetime that aren’t ultimately tainted by P.E.D.s.

While we’re at it, it may be time to look differently at the tainted performers themselves, not as heroes or villains but as human beings who existed in the context of their dirty games, who did some impressive things on the field and some deplorable things off it. Their falls from grace may have something to teach us not only about their hubris but also our own misplaced desire for transcendent athletes. Those are lessons that go beyond sports, and we can learn them without the help of a modern-day Eliot Ness."
It's pretty obvious what Jonathan Mahler's bias is.  From the ridiculous and gratuitous quote from that great sportsman, John Ashcroft, to comparing Jeff Nowicky to Elliot Ness and Kenneth Starr, to the overwrought discussion of Lance's bout with cancer, and finally, to Lance's cancer charity--we are obligated to conclude that Lance Armstrong is a victim if you accept Mr. Mahler's argument. 


Let's think about it.  You decide you are going to steal let's say . . .  mmmmm, how about something in the neighborhood of $200 million dollars.  You could knock off an armored car, or you could go into a variety of white collar criminal activity, or you could perhaps take your extraordinary athletic prowess and aggressively manipulate your body with designer drug cocktails to devastate your competitors.  Then you could misrepresent that you and your co-conspirators are cleanly competing in a notorious dirty sport.  You can claim that you are different, you are sportsmen of integrity and thereby harvest huge international corporate and governmental sponsorships running into the tens of millions of dollars.  If anyone, anywhere crosses you, well nothing beats a good defense better than a good offense.  Consequently, you lawyer-up and turn the civil law system into a weapon, suing your critics or anyone else into submission.  In litigation you lie and perjure when asked about the Performance Enhancing Drugs you and your cohorts are cheating the system with--and by abusing the legal system you obtain additional millions.   These in are some of the allegations against Armstrong. 

Should someone be prosecuted for obtaining this kind of money, by illegally and fraudulently cheating and covering up mail and wire fraud, because as we all know "everyone in cycling cheats?" 

Look, I was prosecuted and went to prison for cheating on my tax obligations.  Lots of others cheat and lie about their tax obligations and don't get prosecuted and don't go to prison, but you won't hear me say I was treated unfairly.  FCI, Morgantown was filled with persons who did various illegal acts, often de minimus offenses that others do all the time and don't get prosecuted or incarcerated for.  In some instances I felt like there were some examples of miscarriage of justice, nonetheless thousands of criminals are doing substantial periods of incarceration for fraudulent financial crimes involving far less fraud and substantially less than the sums of money than Armstrong is alleged to have gamed the cycling world and its sponsors for.  You don't prosecute someone committing financial fraud on the scale that Armstrong is alleged to have committed it, then you might as well open the prisons.

So what about Armstrong's charity?   Before the full outline of what appears to be the criminal enterprise took shape I was in the Armstrong's charity-made-deviations-irrelevant camp.  Most of his defenders are in this camp.  Sad.  Yeah, the Livestrong Foundation is great.  But don't forget, there is an inextricable public relations aspect to the foundation that is providing camouflage for Armstrong and never forget that many legendary crooks take refuge in their charitable works, let's see Bernie Madoff comes to mind. 

The Second Stage Team Time Trial TdF 2011
Today is the second stage of the Tour de France, you can get great moment-to-moment coverage at VeloNews.  The leading contender is Alberto Contador, who in prior years a great Armstrong rival, and one time team mate.  Contador is presently fighting his own international cycling doping ban, and faces the prospect of winning this year's tour only to have the victory invalidated based on his pre-Tour doping offense.  Contador claims his offense was due to eating doped meat!  Cycling is a bizarre world, no doubt.  For many years, I was on pins and needles excited over following Lance and his various teams: 7-11, Motorola, US Postal Service, and Discovery.  This year I'm long past being disillusioned, but I am a little disgusted that a sports writer at the New York Times would argue that sports frauds like Lance Armstrong is alleged to be are victims of overzealous prosecutors.   Give us a break. 


  1. Remember the Pear Izumi lawsuit, or claim that Lance pursued when the outfitter ran an advert congratulating Lance on winning Le Tour? They had to pay hisself some money for running his picture in their product without his permission. How do you say, a piece of work?

  2. What about innocent until proven guilty? You got them pretty well convicted, don't you think?

  3. With Armstrong and Clemens, the expression is "not guilty until proven guilty."

    As for your question, "No he doesn't have them pretty well convicted." The story was about whether Armstrong should be prosecuted, not whether he should be convicted.

  4. Thanks, Anon...this post was not an argument that Lance or Roger Clemens should be convicted of any crime. It was instead a refutation of the rationalizations made in defense of sports cheating.

  5. dob 3.13.1967. Case number: 209TR216347 Defendant: Patrick Eugene Premo Filed: 07/23/2009
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