Lance Armstrong does not plan to pay back nearly $12 million in bonus money he received for winning the Tour de France despite his recent admission that he cheated to win the race every time from 1999 to 2005.
The company that paid the bonuses said it expects to file a lawsuit against Armstrong this week to get its money back. But Armstrong’s attorney, Tim Herman, sees it differently. He compared the situation to other sports figures who were suspended for various infractions but did not have to give back their paychecks.
“My only point is no athlete ever, to my understanding, has ever gone back and paid back his compensation,” Herman said. “Not (New Orleans Saints coach) Sean Payton or anybody else. They were suspended, but nobody said you’ve got to give your paycheck back.”
In an interview with USA Today, Herman shared his thoughts on various issues stemming from Armstrong’s confession that he used banned drugs and blood transfusions to boost himself as a cyclist. Armstrong’s admission came after years of false denials and lawsuits against those who dared to challenge him about it, including SCA Promotions, the company that paid the Tour bonuses.
Some of the issues Herman addressed are:
Armstrong’s athletic eligibility: Herman said Armstrong does not expect to compete again in sanctioned sports after being banned for life because of doping. But he still plans to cooperate with anti-doping officials even if there is no reward for him in terms of restored eligibility.
“He doesn’t expect it (eligibility), and his offer (to cooperate) is not contingent on that,” Herman said.
To get his ban reduced, Armstrong would be required to provide a full confession under oath and further assistance to help clean up the sport of cycling. If he meets that burden, his ban could be reduced to “no less than eight years,” according to the World Anti-Doping Agency code. Armstrong, 41, would be near 50 by the time an eight-year ban expires.
“I read the rule like you do,” Herman said. “An eight-year ban, that would be a lifetime ban (for Armstrong).”
Doping in 2009-10: Herman said Armstrong did not dope during his comeback years of 2009 and 2010, and he disputes blood evidence that indicates otherwise. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart disagrees. He told “60 Minutes” that the odds are one to a million that the blood test results from those years are because of something other than doping.
“It’s my understanding that training at altitude or living at altitude, which he was doing at the time, that’s a variable that is unaccounted for in their analyses,” Herman said. “It’s certainly not one in a million.”
In his televised confession to Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong said he stopped doping after winning his seventh and last Tour de France in 2005.
The doping culture: Herman stressed that Armstrong was a product of the doping culture in cycling and not the intimidating doping “boss” portrayed by USADA and others.
“It’s a European culture that all these Americans were dropped into,” Herman said. “It’s been going on for a hundred years. To hear Tygart tell it, Lance Armstrong is responsible for the culture he was dropped into on a team (that) was engaged in misconduct long before he got to the team.”
Herman said Armstrong had little choice.
“He would do what’s asked of him to contribute and be part of the solution,” he said of Armstrong. “He was a 19 year old kid dropped in this culture, just like everybody else. He didn’t create it. ... eventually you only have two choices: you can go home or conform. He’s acknowledged his mistake, but he’s like virtually every other rider who was a competitor of any significance.”
Mistrust and cooperation : Herman said mistrust has gotten in the way of Armstrong cooperating with USADA and Tygart, his longtime nemesis. During his appearance on 60 Minutes , Tygart accused Armstrong of lying to Winfrey about several issues.
“That isn’t all that conducive to a feeling of mutual trust,” Herman said.
He also said USADA “doesn’t have jurisdiction” to clean up cycling because cycling is a mostly European sport. Armstrong instead hopes to cooperate with other anti-doping officials, perhaps from the World Anti-Doping Agency. But that might not happen any time soon because of disputes involving WADA and the International Cycling Union (UCI).
“Whether it’s a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or some comprehensive attempt to clean things up, it doesn’t make any difference as long as something like that is convened,” Herman said. “Lance will definitely cooperate.”
Not repaying the bonuses: Herman makes a legal argument when explaining why Armstrong should not repay the Tour de France bonuses even though he was stripped of all seven of his Tour titles. He said it’s a contractual matter between Armstrong and his cycling team’s owner, Tailwind Sports.
Tailwind had the performance bonuses insured by SCA Promotions, which withheld payment in 2004 because of suspicions that Armstrong cheated to win them. In response, Armstrong and Tailwind sued SCA for payment, leading to litigation in which Armstrong denied under oath that he took performance-enhancing drugs.
SCA relented and paid Armstrong a settlement, but now it wants a refund, especially after watching Armstrong tell Winfrey that he indeed engaged in doping every time he won the Tour. SCA attorney Jeff Tillotson said the company is owed about $12.5 million including legal costs for Tour bonuses in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Herman previously noted the settlement terms say the case cannot be reopened.
“The bottom line is that Tailwind bought the (insurance) policy (with SCA),” Herman said. “Tailwind paid the premium. Tailwind made the claim, and the money was paid to Tailwind, not Lance Armstrong. I’m sure people will characterize that as a loophole, but it’s a pretty significant factor.”
What’s next? Herman said Armstrong plans to make a “positive impact” in much the same way he has with Livestrong, the charity he founded to support cancer survivors.
“He’s going to continue to do what he can to continue to earn back the trust that he’s forgone with his conduct,” Herman said. “That’s an ongoing process.”
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