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8:11 AM Wed, Nov. 14th

Kobritz: Lance Armstrong concedes defeat

Column: Beyond the Lines

Lance Armstrong has conceded defeat, perhaps for the first time in his life, by throwing in the towel on a $100 million lawsuit brought by former cycling teammate Floyd Landis and the U.S. government.

Armstrong may be the most polarizing athlete in the modern era. From 1999 to 2005 he won seven straight Tour de France titles, perhaps the most physically grueling athletic event on the planet. He defeated cancer. In 1997 he founded LIVESTRONG, a foundation established to provide free support to people affected by cancer.

On the other hand, Armstrong relentlessly and ruthlessly pursued people who accused him of using performance enhancing drugs, until eventually admitting to Oprah Winfrey in 2013 that his life was a lie. When Landis accused him of using banned substances in 2010, Armstrong tried to destroy him. After the government joined Landis’ suit as a plaintiff, Armstrong maintained that his sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service, was not harmed by his admission.

Armstrong’s reputation began spiraling downward in 2012, after an investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency determined that he had used banned substances. He was stripped of his Tour titles, forfeited millions in bonus money, repaid a British libel settlement and was unceremoniously kicked out of his foundation.

Through it all Armstrong refused to concede to the government, and perhaps more importantly, to Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour de France. Landis was likewise disgraced and forced to forfeit his Tour de France title when he failed a drug test. After four years of denials, he admitted guilt in 2010 and turned on Armstrong.

In last week’s settlement Armstrong agreed to pay $5 million to the government plus $1.65 million to Landis to cover a portion of his legal fees. Landis will also receive $1.1 million of the $5 million payment to the government under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which allows the government to recover money obtained by fraud.

The settlement came two weeks before the suit against Armstrong was scheduled for trial. Both sides had a lot to lose before a jury. Armstrong could have been on the hook for $100 million in damages, three times the amount the Postal Service paid his team in sponsorship fees. The government had a weak case, particularly on the issue of damages. Losing would have been an embarrassment, given the many years of litigation.

Despite his history of lying and his ruthless attacks on critics, Armstrong is revered for his work in LIVESTRONG, which appears to have been sincere. Even if the government could have proven every element of its case, a jury might still have sided with Armstrong, a possibility not lost on the prosecution.

In a strange twist of fate, one confessed doper (Armstrong) is paying another confessed doper (Landis), which must be galling to Armstrong. In effect, he’s paying the man who was largely responsible for his downfall, a teammate who committed similar sins and also lied about them.

The settlement may not be justice but for Armstrong, it’s the equivalent of defeat.

Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached at jordan.kobritz@cortland.edu.