Truth seeker

USADA CEO Travis Tygart thought he'd seen it all. Until the Lance Armstrong case

Originally Published: December 5, 2012
By Joe Lindsey | ESPN The Magazine

tkJames StarttTygart says athletes do everything possible to escape accountability in doping cases.

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THE CASE AGAINST THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE [Lance Armstrong's former team] is very similar to every case we deal with. Athletes are tempted to cheat, and when they're caught many of them do everything possible to escape accountability.

The athlete's No. 1 play in the playbook is to 1) lie and 2) attack us and the process, all in an effort to divert attention away from the truth. [Track and field star] Marion Jones drafted that playbook and it's been handed down to athlete after athlete, particularly in these high-profile cases. Armstrong's PR team was the same that Marion used. We knew what the strategy would be.

The number of people involved and the efforts they took to suppress the truth was surprising. The efforts they took to groom riders and then pressure riders into using, and how they were able to manipulate young riders and cut off riders from their families and homes -- and really force them to rely on the team and the doctors and team personnel -- was startling and eye-opening. I don't think we've ever seen that.

What cycling ought to do is say: "Here's where we have major holes" -- and they clearly do -- "and here's what we're going to do to fix them. And you know what? That makes us better, our brand is cleaner, our logo is shinier than anyone else." But to divert attention away from their inadequacies and point to what others are failing to do is nothing more than justification for the problem, not solutions to it.

We've put a lot of thought into a truth and reconciliation process. I think you can have an automatic amnesty for riders who doped only as riders. Of course it would be made public. And of course it would be a second offense if they ever did it again, which would be a life ban. And you could have a discretionary amnesty for anyone else, and that would be based on the egregiousness of the conduct. And frankly, some don't deserve it. But that would be the discretionary part. You have to give the athletes, who were victims to a certain extent in this culture, the opportunity to come forward with it.

In regard to the truth and reconciliation process, I firmly believe you have to reset the sport and have a cleansing period. If not, the past continues to drip, drip, drip, and it will dig itself up. People who doped in the past -- and it could be the recent past -- they've never been held accountable. And if they've never been exposed or held accountable, the more likely they are to continue to dope. So as long as they're still in the sport -- and many of them are at some level, as athletes, directors, team owners, maybe in the ranks of the UCI [cycling's governing body] -- they're less likely to change on their own. But if they're given an opportunity for openness and forgiveness and redemption and also told a new offense will be a lifetime ban, you build a wall around a clean sport that is a lot less likely to be torn down. Right now the wall is built on sand, so if it shifts, the wall falls down.

The lack of leadership at UCI is an obvious concern. How they have approached this case is not unlike how they approached many cases. With no information, they went on and accused us publicly of witch hunts, attacked us personally and took a very defiant position, challenged our authority, our jurisdiction, our motives, our tactics, everything. They bought off on Armstrong's enablers' positions. Their actions are quite frankly shameful for an organization that wants a clean sport. We've always maintained it's impossible to both promote and police your sport.

That's where a promoter of sport falls on the decision line. [They choose] what's in their self-interest. I use the example of the Tour of California the first couple of years, around 2006. They didn't test for EPO. And all the athletes knew that at a UCI-controlled event, they don't test for EPO during competition; and the word among the peloton was [that] it's a free-for-all. It's bad for sponsors and it's bad for the sport. And that would never happen on a quality anti-doping organization's watch.

My genuine hope -- and our hope from day one of our investigation -- is that this sport can learn from this and move forward to a better day for clean athletes. Athletes shouldn't be faced with the choice of having to leave the sport they dreamed of succeeding in since they were 5 years old or to use dangerous drugs. That's an unfair dilemma that no athlete should have to face.

Joe Lindsey interviewed Travis Tygart on Nov. 11, 2012. Follow The Mag on Twitter (@ESPNmag) and like us on Facebook.