Open letter to Travis Tygart, United States Anti-Doping Agency CEO.
I write this letter with no enjoyment of the process, and knowing full well that it will have no impact on the apparent injustice that you and your office have brought on Lance Armstrong and national and international sport of cycling. But Edmund Burke’s quotation comes to mind, that the triumph of evil only requires a lack of action, so I’ll speak out.
It seems risible to many that United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) publicly condemns an athlete of Armstrong’s stature with what is, as it appears today, hearsay. What scientific, refereed evidence does the USADA have against him? We, the public, have seen none, only rumors. You use the public’s trust and welfare as your reasons for the pursuit, and you do your utmost to persecute him in the court of public opinion, yet you show the public no evidence, but only claim to have testimony from other athletes in whom the public has no reason to place more faith than in Armstrong himself. Promising but not producing evidence smacks of a McCarthy-style indictment. So stands the first count of hypocrisy against you, and, in the realm of natural justice, hypocrisy, first cousin to the lie, is the basis of all villainy.
Secondly, you make the pusillanimous claim that you are defending the integrity of cycling in the United States, if not the world. What the world sees, and you, Mr. Tygart, seem not to, is that Lance Armstrong is responsible for cycling being the burgeoning popular sport it is in the USA and many other parts of the world. You and the USADA have not bled, sweated, and toiled in the saddle, Mr. Tygart. You have not paid the price of greatness, and yet you will attempt – through intimidation, taxpayer dollars, and the bulk and viciousness of an unanswering bureaucracy – to pull down one of the greats.
Some say you, a middling amateur athlete, who has only mixed with greats, are on a crusade of jealousy, using the power of your fiefdom and the bitterness of mediocrity to attack someone who has walked the walk while you have merely talked the talk. Some say you call him into an arena where you have all the leverage, where you can judge him, defeat him using the tongues of those he bested in the actual arena, and punish him vicariously, if not in reality. Some say none is more dangerous or cowardly than the small man with power. But I don’t say so because I don’t have the evidence.
Unquestionably it is your hypocrisy that carries the greatest degree of revulsion for those watching in frustration from the sidelines. You are seen posturing and preening, the hero of youth and protector of virtue. But are you more, or better, than a scrabbling, rule-wringing, barely-glorified bureaucrat let loose with other people’s money to attack other people’s triumphs for the purpose of his own fame and recognition? What some see is that you bathe in your own infamy, in an encrusted sense of self-importance and well-timed grandstanding, with an entourage of minor lackeys and yes-men and -women.
None of us want to see drug use as the arbiter of victory on the public stage. It is unfair to us as appreciators of sport because our values support our affection for what we see. Performances are measured against standards of achievement, standards that we want to believe were set without adulterating factors as an influence. Ethical behavior requires that that belief not be maligned nor the standards violated. Drug use violates that ethic.
But have you hijacked that ethic and turned it into your own self-serving crusade? If so, the crusade is more a charade, perpetrated on the public, that what you are doing by trying to expose an athlete’s hidden acts is more valuable and more in the public’s interest than what that athlete has accomplished openly in the public’s interest. You are arguing that what Lance Armstrong did in secret is more important than what he did out in the light of day. But he did more for cycling as a sport and public enjoyment in the United States, with or without drugs, than any measure of benefit a small-minded, reprehensible, money-wasting, time-wasting, self-gratifying, self-aggrandizing masquerade for “justice and truth” by a quasi-public apparatchik will ever achieve; that’s aside from Armstrong’s charitable work. Could it be that the apparatchik’s realization of this is what drives the need to bury Armstrong, so the facts will be distorted and interned beneath headlines and a chest-beating perversity?
What “fairness” outcomes do you want us to believe will come out of this? Our children will be better toilet-trained? Young athletes won’t cheat? Sport, or the world, will be free of drugs? That “Just Say No” works? That the innocent and virtue-aligned second-place finishers of seven Tours and 20-plus Tour stages will be rightfully married to their victories, with or without retroactive drug tests? A flag-waving, snake-oil, flim-flam campaign will never reproduce the value that Armstrong produced, even if he’s guilty.
Cheating was the Tour standard for decades and for dozens of cyclists. I have always wanted Armstrong to be not guilty of it, and if I find out he was I’ll be disappointed that drugs had a role in what he did. But his stature as the world’s most influential exponent of cycling won’t change for me and millions of others. Did Merckx cheat? Indurain? Hinault? Who knows? Your folly will be that much emptier if the International Cycling Union takes Armstrong’s victories and assigns them to others who cannot be held to the same testing standards and USADA witch-hunt as he has been.
Your success at this has been Pyrrhic and a disservice to the public at best, and, at worst, extremely damaging to all those who benefited from Armstrong’s stature in cycling, sport, and charity work You allowed your personal ambition and your vehemence toward Armstrong to distort your mission and your motivation. The consequences will be that so much of the good he has done will be tainted, if not undone, and so much of what the USADA should stand for will be forever diminished by your actions.
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Lance Mason of Santa Barbara is an author, avid cyclist, and general dentist. He has recently sold the film rights to his novel Beachtown Blues.