Lance Armstrong’s long-awaited confession to Oprah Winfrey that he doped during his years of competitive cycling—years that saw him win the Tour de France seven times—will have far-ranging repercussions.
They will likely have a seismic effect on the sport of cycling itself, as the full details of how Armstrong alternately bullied and cajoled teammates on the U.S. Postal Service team into supporting his scheme emerge, and as the story behind Armstrong and his advisers’ manipulation of the drug testing protocols is revealed.
Armstrong’s reputation and the good the cancer survivor did through his Livestrong Foundation are irrevocably damaged as well.
But one area in which the effects of Armstrong’s sudden about-face are already being felt, and will continue to be felt for some time, is in the legal arena and not just the court of public opinion.
Armstrong may be poised to reap the legal whirlwind brought on by years of his vehement denials and outright litigiousness. One clear example is that of SCA Promotions, a Dallas-based insurance company that insured $12 million in bonuses paid to the disgraced cyclist.
Pursuant to an insurance policy taken out by Tailwind Sports (owner of the U.S. Postal Service team) to cover performance bonuses owed to Armstrong if he won his fourth, fifth, and sixth Tour de France titles, SCA was obligated to pay the money if Armstrong was the “official winner” of the sport’s premier race. But SCA had had its suspicions about Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs for a while and, at first, refused to pay the bonus for Armstrong’s sixth Tour de France win in 2004.
Armstrong took the company to a binding arbitration hearing in Dallas in 2005 over the $5 million owed under the contract, and won. Now, however, SCA and its lawyer, Jeff Tillotson, want their $12 million back.
After the Oprah interview and Armstrong’s admission, SCA announced its plan to file a lawsuit.
As Tillotson stated, Armstrong “doped during all those races, and USADA and UCI have stripped him of his official title status. So, under those circumstances, my client naturally wants his money back. We have made a demand for return of the $12 million and if that money is not returned to us, my client will pursue litigation. He feels Lance Armstrong neither has the legal right, nor frankly the moral right, to keep those funds.”
Tillotson professes to being shocked at Armstrong’s admissions during the Oprah interview, saying “it was pretty clear from the first few minutes of the interview that he had committed perjury in our legal proceedings in the U.S.”
That brings up an interesting question: will Armstrong be charged with perjury? Armstrong has made a number of declarations under oath denying engaging in doping, but he may not face perjury charges on all of them since criminal perjury allegations are subject to statutes of limitations that vary by state.
It’s likely that only the more recent admissions could result in perjury charges. Federal perjury is subject to a five-year statute of limitations.
However, even if Armstrong doesn’t face as many perjury charges as some might expect, charges of obstruction of justice and making false statements to government officials remain a distinct possibility. Among other investigations, Armstrong was the subject of a federal grand jury investigation in 2011 and 2012.
There are other potential legal battles facing Armstrong. He’s already a defendant in a whistleblower lawsuit brought by former teammate Floyd Landis, who maintains that Armstrong and others breached contractual and fiduciary duties to the Postal Service team by cheating. Landis’ suit seeks the approximately $30 million that the USPS paid to the team, plus potential trebling of damages that could bring the total to $90 million.
In addition, Armstrong was fairly litigious as he sought to protect and perpetuate the story he had created about himself, suing individuals who dared to accuse him of doping for libel. This includes USADA executives, Emma O’Reilly (a former assistant to the Postal Service team), and others.
One likely plaintiff is London’s Sunday Times newspaper, which paid Armstrong a reported $1.5 million to settle the libel lawsuit he brought against it, following a June 2004 article accusing him of using banned substances.
In 2006, Armstrong dropped defamation lawsuits in France; at the time, Armstrong rather cockily referred to his track record in the courtroom of winning defamation lawsuits, saying “I think we’re 10-0 in lawsuits right now. My life is not about that anymore. I’ve answered all the questions.”
Actually, even in the wake of his admissions to Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong has not “answered all the questions.” Depending on the extent to which he comes clean with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the cyclist may face more litigation and more charges.
Some of the people he sued for defamation are likely to give Armstrong a taste of being on the receiving end of a defamation claim. And, although the Livestrong Foundation that Armstrong started may suffer fundraising losses in the wake of his confession, it is doubtful that the charity will face allegations of fundraising fraud. Besides Armstrong’s recent distancing himself from the foundation, there has never been any claim that Livestrong violated any applicable tax or charitable fundraising laws.
Even Armstrong’s writings have come back to haunt him. Amidst jokes that Armstrong’s autobiography would have to be moved to the “fiction” section of libraries and bookstores, two readers have filed a federal lawsuit in Sacramento, Calif., seeking class action status.
They allege that they wouldn’t have purchased Armstrong’s bestseller, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, had they known the true facts concerning the cyclist’s doping. They seek refunds and, of course, attorneys’ fees.
Armstrong’s visit to the electronic confessional of the Oprah Winfrey show and his belated admissions hastened the fall from grace of someone once regarded as a true American hero and an iconic Texas personality.
Sadly, the last races Lance Armstrong will compete in and likely lose will be races to the courthouse.