Lance Armstrong settles, and wins big

What a joke.

“No one is above the law,” Chad A. Readler, the acting assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s civil division, said Thursday in a statement that went out as the federal government settled its case with Lance Armstrong for $5 million.

“A competitor who intentionally uses illegal PEDs not only deceives competitors and fans, but also sponsors, who help make sporting competitions possible. This settlement demonstrates that those who cheat the government will be held accountable.”

No, it doesn’t. It shows just the opposite, and — though many of you think the the U.S. government is some big, bad beast that is intent on cleaning up the world of sports — this marks yet another episode where the feds are revealed to be, in a word, losers. 

The big winner here? Lance Armstrong. 

Lance Armstrong at a January showing of 'Icarus' in Brooklyn // Getty Images 

Lance Armstrong at a January showing of 'Icarus' in Brooklyn // Getty Images 

Let’s review: 

The indisputable evidence shows that Armstrong cheated his way through the Tour de France from 1999 through 2005. Those wins made him very, very rich. 

When he wouldn’t throw Floyd Landis a bone, it all fell apart. In October 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published its lengthy take-down, formally called a Reasoned Decision. It makes, still, for excellent reading, like a le Carré spy novel.

The feds? The U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles had months before, on Feb. 3, 2012, declined — for reasons that remain a mystery — to pursue criminal charges against Lance.

Then again, when it comes to federal prosecutors and high-profile sports matters, it’s almost always a matter of — what?

Salt Lake City bid scandal — prosecution of two bid leaders thrown out of court. the judge saying the case “offends my sense of justice,” a juror saying, “I think it was a total waste of time.”

Roger Clemens — acquitted on all charges.

Barry Bonds — case dropped in 2015 without a conviction.

FIFA case — when the government actually had to go to trial, instead of cutting plea deals, it took three South American soccer officials to court in late 2017 but could only convict two of them, and even then not on all charges. One of those convicted is 85 years old; he was immediately taken into custody so now U.S. taxpayers get to pay for his prison time, which as a matter of public or corrections policy figures to achieve — what?

For all the global publicity attending the FIFA raids in 2015, few of those who have pleaded guilty have seen prison time. The former president of Guatemala’s soccer association, among the first to be sentenced, after admitting in November to wire fraud and conspiracy, got eight months in prison. Again: eight months. Compare that to your local crack dealer. 

Back to that trial: the former top soccer official in Peru, charged with having plotted to accept more than $4 million in bribes, was acquitted; during jury deliberations, he calmly read historical fiction.

Seriously: why worry?

This was Lance’s approach, too, because he knew he had better lawyers than the government. This is what happens when you can pay for better lawyers. You can pay for better lawyers when you are rich. 

How did Lance get rich? By cheating his way to serial victories in the Tour de France. 

In the words of USADA's Reasoned Decision, he oversaw a “massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history.”

Armstrong wore a U.S. Postal Service jersey during the first six of the seven victories. The civil matter that came Thursday to a close asked whether the Postal Service had sustained real harm because of Armstrong’s doping.

Almost all civil suits settle.

So, practically speaking, all Lance had to do was wait the government out. 

The government’s ordinary leverage is that it has considerable resource. That means it typically can, and does, grind the other side down. 

Also, the government tends to scare the ordinary person.

Lance for sure was not going to be scared off by a fight with the government. Ha.

Plus, Lance always had one huge advantage. He could afford to wait, and wait, and wait some more, in essence to grind down the government, because he had means at his disposal as well. Again — how did he make so much money?

At any rate, being able to wait out the government makes for excellent tactics, and any reasonable person must acknowledge this.

For Lance’s long-term PR, Thursday’s development makes for smart tactics, too. 

He knows — he has always known this — that a good many people have short memories, and they will start associating him more and more with his cancer work or his apologies or podcast or whatever. The overarching American story is redemption. On Thursday, with $5 million, Lance Armstrong positioned himself for one of the great redemption stories of our — or any — time. 

The hypocrisy — especially for all of you braying about the Russians, all of you who say they are dead serious about doping in sports — is that for Lance Armstrong, $5 million is hardly going to haunt him until his dying day.

Has he lost out on a lot of money after admitting to doping? Sure. (He says $100 million.) Did he make a lot of money before that? Yes.  

Understand, because this is crucial:

For $5 million, and $1.65 million to cover Floyd’s legal costs, Lance is done with the lawyers, the process, all of that. 

Done with the government.

Done, finally, with all the litigation tied to his way-overdue 2013 admission that he had cheated to his wins.

He gets, essentially, to go live his life. He's only 46.

As he said in his own statement:

“I am glad to resolve this case and move forward with my life. I'm looking forward to devoting myself to the many great things in my life — my five kids, my wife, my podcast, several exciting writing and film projects, my work as a cancer survivor, and my passion for sports and competition. There is a lot to look forward to.” 

So what’s the consequence here?

Sure, USADA dealt him a life ban from racing but he was edging toward if not already past his Tour sell-by date. He can’t race formally in certain competitive triathlons, age-grouper or in the main pack, and that might be a drag but, all in all, once more, let’s review:

“This settlement demonstrates that those who cheat the government will be held accountable.”

As today's young people say, lol.