After fighting allegations of performance enhancing drug use for most of his career, the seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor and his PR team made a tactical decision to back away from the latest investigation, this time by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
He released a statement on Thursday night that says he’s not going to fight the latest “witch hunt.” The result will likely mean he will be stripped of the titles and banned from the sport.
In the statement, Armstrong did not admit guilt. Instead, he said, “enough is enough.”
“There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart's unconstitutional witch hunt. The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today—finished with this nonsense.”It’s a smart statement, and regardless of where you fall on the issue, it does make the USADA seem hell-bent on finding Armstrong guilty by any means possible and making a name for itself.
For Armstrong, it’s likely a case of damage control since this latest investigation goes beyond anecdotal evidence of previous inquiries. The agency says it has actual proof, including blood samples from 2009 and 2010 that show Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. The agency also claimed to have 10 of his former cycling teammates ready to testify against him.
As Armstrong pointed out in his statement, he has never failed a drug test—a fact he also noted in a tweet following a damning “60 Minutes” report last year. But maybe this time that’s not going to be the case and instead of riding an unbroken track record, Armstrong and his team backed away from this losing fight.
In an interview with CBS News, Peter Flax, the editor in chief of Bicycling Magazine, said the cycling community has already accepted the fact that Armstrong is likely guilty of the charges, but that the USADA went out of its way to prove its case for its own benefit.
The magazine’s forums on the topic show the majority of people are supporting Armstrong, and as Flax says, "He is guilty but in a lot of people's eyes, he's still an inspiration."
The issue is trending on Twitter (#Armstrong), with comments all over the board. One says: “Lance Armstrong to be stripped of seven yellow jerseys. What a break for those guys who finished second who were also doping.”
Based on the reactions, from a PR perspective, it does seem like a best-case scenario in a bad situation for Armstrong.
Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.