Lawyers interviewing potential jury members always ask “Because the Defendant has been charged with a crime and is in Court, do you think that means he’s probably guilty?” Unfortunately, the answer is yes more often than a believer in fair trials would hope. This is true of Lance Armstrong, too. Although he is a sports champion, an inspiration to cancer survivors, their families, and a fundraiser who has done so much good, he is being dragged through the court of public opinion for allegedly using performance enhancing drugs years ago.
For what purpose? To strip him of his Tour d’France titles? Six of the seven cyclists who came in second to Armstrong have also been accused of, or admitted to, using performance enhancing drugs. To prove he did something wrong? The government dropped the criminal charges earlier this year as not enough evidence to criminally convict him. The U.S. Anti-Doping agency decided to pursue him administratively, where there is a lower standard of proof, and release its evidence to the public after Armstrong decided not to defend the administrative action. As a result he’s banned from competition which, as he’s retired, doesn’t result in real consequences for the sport. He has not been convicted as a criminal, but he is being treated as a criminal.
Because of the allegations, or the tireless pursuit of the allegations over the years, Armstrong stepped down from the Board of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, one of the country’s best known cancer charities. Nike and other sports sponsors dropped Armstrong. Who knows how the government’s decision will affect the work of the Foundation and Armstrong’s ability to fund raise for cancer research.
A criminal prosecutor typically has discretion with whether to pursue a case, drop it, or prosecute it depending on what is in the best interest of the public. Lance Armstrong isn’t a criminal but the way he has been treated is criminal. It’s a shame someone in the government didn’t take the time to step back, consider the public interest, consider how it might hurt Armstrong’s ability to continue to do good work, and drop the case before dragging him through the court of public opinion.