The New York Times reports that Lance Armstrong is considering confessing to doping in order to resume his athletic career:

Lance Armstrong, who this fall was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping and barred for life from competing in all Olympic sports, has told associates and antidoping officials that he is considering publicly admitting that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions during his cycling career, according to several people with direct knowledge of the situation. He would do this, the people said, because he wants to persuade antidoping officials to restore his eligibility so he can resume his athletic career.

As I explained in this Philosophy in Action Radio discussion of performance-enhancing drugs in sports, the government has no business banning performance-enhancing drugs. Moreover, the case for a ban in in private sports leagues is remarkably weak. That’s here:

Alas, the problem for Armstrong is that his years of vehement denials of using performance-enhancing drugs, if admitted to be false, would embroil him in major legal troubles. The concern is not merely unjust prosecution by the government. His contracts with sponsors depended on his not using performance-enhancing drugs, and as the the article explains, some sponsors are seeking to recoup millions. Moreover — and this is what I find so morally distasteful — he might have ill-gotten gains from libel lawsuits too:

Armstrong is also facing two other civil lawsuits, one that involves the Dallas-based insurance company SCA Promotions, which is trying to recoup at least $5 million it covered when Armstrong won multiple Tours.

The company withheld that $5 million bonus from Armstrong after he won the 2004 Tour because of doping accusations that surfaced in the book “L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong,” which was published in France. Armstrong sued the company, and the case was settled for $7.5 million.

Armstrong is also being sued by the British newspaper The Sunday Times over the settlement of a libel case in which the newspaper paid Armstrong nearly $500,000.

I don’t fault Armstrong for doping, nor for lying about that to a quasi-governmental agency. However, if he sued people for millions for telling the truth about his doping… well, that’s remarkably sleazy. Even if he felt backed into a corner, that’s no excuse for abusing the law in order to intimidate people into silence.

When faced with such difficult circumstances, the moral person changes course: he admits what he did openly, he defends himself by explaining his reasons, and he advocates for changes in the law. He does not sacrifice others by violating their rights. To do that means sliding rapidly down a very dangerous and degrading slippery slope. That slippery slope doesn’t just destroy a person’s character, but also undermines any capacity of mine to admire his achievements.

I really, really, really hope that that’s not what we’re seeing from Lance Armstrong now.

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  • Anthony

    Isn’t doping cheating?

  • Anthony

    This is kind of a subset of the “argument from danger”, but the mere fact that doping is illegal is, I would say, a rational reason for players to mutually agree to ban doping.

    The dangers, both medical dangers and legal dangers, are the basic reason that private sports leagues would choose to ban such practices. And given that the practice is illegal, the argument that unbanning it would make it more open and thus safer doesn’t hold water. The main argument against this is if it is impossible to enforce the ban, or more accurately, if the cost to enforce the ban would outweigh the benefits of enforcing the ban.

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    “I don’t fault Armstrong for doping, nor for lying about that to a quasi-governmental agency.”

    I think that even if we buy your argument/assumption that the case for banning doping by private sporting leagues is weak, and even if we buy some arguments about lying to some quasi-governmental agency, we can still fault Armstrong for doping.

    Or rather, not for doping “per se” in and of itself, but doping in a context where he was explicitly agreeing to the rules of a competition that banned it. If he entered into competitions with the explicit premise and promise that he was not using performance enhancing drugs (which is pretty clearly the case here) and did so secretly anyway, undertaking extraordinary measures to avoid being caught, then that’s cheating. I don’t know enough abou the specific agreements entered into to judge whether or not it is technically fraud (though: probably), but even if it doesn’t rise to the level of legal fraud, it’s dishonest and dishonorable.

    I suspect, given the totality of what you’ve written, that you’ll agree with me on this, and that your formulation was just casual.

    As for me, I am hopeful that his upcoming Oprah interview will be a vehement denial coupled with the release of an extensive refutation of the charges against him. It is actually quite relevant that most (all?) of his accusers had clear motives for accusing him (lighter sentences for themselves in exchange for testimony against him). Of course, it’s also relevant that there seem to be a lot of them and that at least some of them seem more difficult to impeach.

    He claimed at the time of refusing to appeal the verdict that he was doing so because the process was improper. Whether he did it or not is a different question from whether the process was improper, and his arguments for that strike me as pretty persuasive. If the standards of the review board were substantially lower than what we would expect in a proper court, then we can applaud his decision not to participate in a kangaroo court.

    To be clear, my hope that he will declare his innocence and strike back is really purely academic because I think it would be very interesting. :-) At the present time, it looks pretty clear that he did it and that he ought to confess and give a bunch of people a bunch of money back.

    • http://www.philosophyinaction.com/ Diana Hsieh

      Actually, I really don’t blame him for doping, given that everyone in the sport was doing it. He would have unfairly disadvantaged himself by not doping. Perhaps he could and should have taken other measures — like speaking out and exposing the widespread doping. But that might have been really difficult, if not impossible, to do effectively, and surely, he wanted to actually focus on his sport. Basically, given the state of cycling at the time (which probably hasn’t changed) I don’t see his doping as any kind of grand moral failure.

      You’re right that his promises matter, and based on his (seemingly) false promises, I wouldn’t trust his word. Still, that’s nothing in comparison to suing people for hundreds of thousands if not millions for telling the truth about what he did. Even if he pays back all the money he won, he still violated those people’s rights, and he can never give the back all the wasted, anxious, and frustrating hours he stole from them.

  • Jonathan

    Lord Archer went to jail for lying in court…. lets hope the same happens to Lance.

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