The news that disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong might be willing to confess to the doping charges he spent years denying has reopened interest in his case — and in the question of whether his lifetime ban from competitive sports could be eased in exchange for Armstrong's cooperation.
Juliet Macur of The New York Times, whose report on the new possibility Friday cited unnamed sources, says that in her view, Armstrong, 41, would like to trade his cooperation for a reduction in the lifetime ban he received when he ended his fight against the doping charges last August.
"What he wants to do is compete again," Macur tells All Things Considered co-host Melissa Block. "He's been competing since he was a teenager, in triathlons, and has basically defined himself as an athlete. He has not been able to compete for the last several months, because he has the lifetime ban from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
In her article, Macur says a source told her that Armstrong met with his former nemesis, USADA chief executive Travis Tygart in December, and that he has also sought to meet with David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Officials of USADA declined to comment on the story Saturday, reports Velo News.
Tim Herman, Armstrong's attorney, has denied reports that his client has contacted anti-doping officials about a possible full confession. But that hasn't stopped people from speculating about whether Armstrong would cooperate with anti-doping agencies.
Chicago blogger Brent Cohrs ponders that question, and the former champion's possible motivations, in a post today, titled "Will It Really Matter If Lance Armstrong Confesses?"
"Lance has had a couple of months now to contemplate the high price he paid for cheating," Cohrs writes. "While USADA's Travis Tygart succeeded in bringing Lance down, his efforts to hold Lance's team director, Johan Bruyneel, accountable for his role in the doping conspiracy have been thwarted repeatedly. Lance may have one card left to play after all... Johan, Lance is coming for you."
The agencies might be tempted to accept Armstrong's full confession, Macur says, if it helps them advance their cause — fighting performance-enhancing drugs and blood treatments.
"Their interest in this whole thing is to try to clean up sport," she says. "Doping is a huge problem in every sport, really... we see it at a high school level, and even a middle school level, these days. But their interest is helping clean up cycling, which has had a major, major doping problem for, really, the last 100 years."
Still, if Armstrong does offer a full confession, it could weaken his chances in his remaining legal troubles, which are not insubstantial.
"The U.S. Department of Justice is considering whether to join a federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed by former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis," the AP reports.
Macur calls that case, filed in 2010, "the biggest," noting that "Lance, and some other officials on the U.S. Postal Service team, defrauded the government by basically using taxpayer dollars to fund their doping program. And the government right now is mulling whether to join that lawsuit. And if they do, there's a good chance that they will win it."
Among the other cases, according to the AP:
"A Dallas-based promotions company has also said it wants to recover several million dollars paid to Armstrong in bonuses for winning the Tour de France. The British newspaper The Sunday Times has sued Armstrong to recover $500,000 paid to him to settle a libel lawsuit."
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
After more than a decade of denying allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong is considering a public confession. That's according to The New York Times, which cites several people with direct knowledge of the situation. The Times says Armstrong is weighing a doping confession if, in return, anti-doping officials would reverse his lifetime ban from competitive sports.
New York Times reporter Juliet Macur wrote the story and she joins me now here in the studio. Thanks for coming in.
JULIET MACUR: No problem.
BLOCK: What more can you tell us to explain why Lance Armstrong would consider admitting that he doped now, after he's denied it for so many years?
MACUR: Yes, he's denied it for more than a decade. What he wants to do is compete again. He's been competing since he was a teenager in triathlons and basically has defined himself as an athlete. He's been banned for life from all Olympic sports and a lot of people have the misconception that, that means he can't compete in the Olympics anymore - only.
But, while that is true, it also means he can't compete in any sport that follows the World Anti-Doping Code. So the New York City Marathon, the 10K in your local hometown, all these smaller races that he can't compete in now, including triathlons which was his second coming of a professional career - he can't do that either.
BLOCK: Now, when you say he's considering this confession, what active steps has he taken that lead people to think that he may be considering doing this?
MACUR: Well, our sources are saying that his representatives have reached out to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to ask them to have a meeting, to sit down and discuss the possibility of Lance coming forward in exchange for his lifetime ban being reduced or nullified completely, which I'm not sure would be possible. But they met last month. Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, met with Lance and a bunch of their representatives to discuss those possibilities.
BLOCK: It's a really puzzling thing to think about, Juliet, because Lance Armstrong has testified under oath that he hasn't doped. He has sworn up and down that he never doped. This would undo all of that and conceivably open him up to charges of perjury, wouldn't it?
MACUR: Those are huge obstacles that he's facing. There are three civil lawsuits that he is looking at currently and many more to come probably. But the biggest one is the federal whistleblower lawsuit, which was filed by Floyd Landis, one of his former teammates in 2010, claiming that Lance and some other officials on the U.S. Postal Service Team defrauded the government by basically using taxpayer dollars to fund their doping program.
And the government right now is mulling whether to join that lawsuit. And if they do, there's a good chance that they will win it. So Lance is waiting to hear whether the government will join the lawsuit as a plaintiff.
BLOCK: What has the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, USADA, said to you about whether they will entertain this notion, as a Lance Armstrong confession?
MACUR: They have not commented on our stories for the weekend. But we're hearing that they're certainly entertaining the hopes that Lance will come forward. What's in it for them is that they could get the information from Lance on how he skirted the doping rules for so long.
It's really amazing to have an athlete get away with all of the doping that he was doing for more than 10 years, with all of these people following this code of silence in cycling without him getting caught. So they really want to know how he did it.
BLOCK: But you saw they already put out a 1,000-page report. They have the testimony from many, many of his teammates. Do they really feel that there are things they don't know that Lance Armstrong could tell them?
MACUR: Even though 11 of Lance Armstrong's teammates came forward to give information about the case, Lance Armstrong knows much more than all of those people combined. He basically was the most powerful person in the sport for more than a decade. And so, he would be able to tell them which people at a very, very high level were involved.
And the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, in turn, would love to get that information. Because not only do they want to Lance Armstrong to come forward, but they want to know if there is any corruption in the sport and Lance can help them do that.
BLOCK: Juliet Macur, thanks very much.
MACUR: Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: That's New York Times reporter Juliet Macur. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.