UNH law professor chats with Lance Armstrong
FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2009 file photo, Lance Armstrong prepares for the final stage of the Tour of California cycling race in Rancho Bernardo, Calif. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is bringing doping charges against the seven-time Tour de France winner, questioning how he achieved those famous cycling victories. Armstrong, who retired from cycling last year, could face a lifetime ban from the sport if he is found to have used performance-enhancing drugs. He maintained his innocence, saying: "I have never doped." (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
With the recent publicity surrounding Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame linebacker whose girlfriend didn’t exist, local law professor Michael McCann wondered whether those tweets and emails were actually from Lance Armstrong.
Turns out they were, which is why his story, from a one-on-one interview at the disgraced cyclist’s home in Texas, will be published in the latest Sports Illustrated, due out today.
“I didn’t actually speak with him before I left, so I could have gone there, and it could have been a hoax,” said McCann, who was recently hired by the University of New Hampshire School of Law in Concord. “On the other hand, if it turned out that it wasn’t true, then you chalk it up to a trip to Austin that didn’t pan out. That was my attitude, that if it wasn’t true, life goes on.”
McCann, who received his master’s degree in law from Harvard in 2005, lives in Andover, Mass., and is currently teaching at Vermont Law School. He starts his new job here in the fall and has been a part-time staff writer for Sports Illustrated for six years, reporting on legal issues connected to sports.
His articles about the seven-time Tour de France champion and the pending lawsuits against him caught Armstrong’s attention, prompting him to reach out to McCann.
“He has found me to be a relatively neutral voice in terms of my coverage of him on his legal issues,” McCann said. “He’s found me to be fair, relative to other writers. He followed me on Twitter and reached out to me, and I contacted him and we began a Twitter correspondence.”
McCann’s interview, Armstrong’s first since he broke his silence about blood doping and illegal drug use to Oprah Winfrey in January, took place in Armstrong’s office, part of his 7,800-square-foot estate.
Armstrong set certain ground rules, like no quotes, no cameras and no recording devices, plus large chunks of the three-hour interview were off the record.
“I preferred to quote him,” McCann said, “but at the same time, the government is suing him and he’s a defendant in a number of lawsuits, so I understand his concern about direct quotes, which can be used in a trial.”
McCann learned that Armstrong strongly considered granting Tom Brokaw that initial interview. He also said that Armstrong was apologetic and combative at the same time, adding that he made sure to mention that most of the top riders were cheating as well.
“I think he’s contrite to an extent,” McCann said. “He’s sorry, certainly, that his fans are disappointed in him, and that’s something that means a lot to him.
“But he definitely has a fighting spirit in terms of these lawsuits,” McCann continued. “There are some good reasons where these lawsuits may not succeed, and he believes he has a strong defense.”
McCann cited the whistle-blower suit, which argues that Armstrong defrauded the government after the U.S. Postal Service invested $30 million to sponsor his team.
“The government’s own studies apparently indicate they made perhaps three times what they invested,” McCann said. “So his argument is, where’s the damage that the government is alleging?”
Elsewhere, Armstrong told McCann that many claims against him stem from his behavior years ago, saying the statute of limitations had expired.
“Those are credible legal arguments,” McCann said. “Whether they work or not remains to be seen, but he’s certainly thought through this situation very carefully.”
Many of McCann’s toughest questions, which he said elicited polite responses from Armstrong, resulted in off-the-record responses, although he did comment on the perceived conflict of interest that arose when he donated $125,000 to the International Cycling Union, the sport’s governing body.
“The implication was he donated the money to get favorable treatment in terms of drug testing,” McCann said. “His response was he had a lot of money at the time, so he felt it was the right thing to do.”
When asked whether McCann liked Armstrong, McCann said, “I don’t want to say I liked him like a friend, because I don’t know him. But I respected the way he answered my questions.”
McCann added that Armstrong, while worried, is confident about his upcoming days in court because “he gave every indication that regardless of his mistakes morally, that legally he believes he’s on strong footing.”
As for the skepticism McCann felt as his relationship with Armstrong unfolded, he said he became convinced this was the real deal after landing at the airport, hopping in his rental car, plugging in the address he’d been given into his iPhone and pulling up to a really big house.
“I figured at that point,” McCann said, “that if this was a hoax, they’re pretty good at it.”
(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler
@cmonitor.com or on Twitter