Should Lance Armstrong Be In Jail?

If we’re all so sure that Lance Armstrong doped (to the degree that he was banned and stripped of titles), then why isn’t he in jail?

It’s a logical question. I mean, doping is illegal, and he did it, right? Case closed.

Not so fast, explains’s Brian Palmer.

In his October 11th piece, Palmer explores why most professional athletes aren’t prosecuted, even when testing positive for controlled substances.

Palmer’s first point is that “[t]he evidence against professional athletes is also flimsy in most cases. The best evidence prosecutors could offer against an athlete is a failed drug test or eyewitness testimony—far short of the red-handed proof that police can usually produce in ordinary drug possession trials.” In addition to that, persuading other professional athletes to testify against their peers is a long shot.

Second, the trials are long, expensive, and piss citizens off, as they feel prosecuting a few rich jocks is a waste of the government’s time, seeing as there is a lot of “real” crime out there. “Professional athletes can afford excellent attorneys who drag the cases on for years. Barry Bonds, for example, was convicted of obstructing justice in April 2011, more than three years after playing his final game, and his appeal is still pending.”

Third, not all forms of doping are illegal. Athletes like Armstrong may be taking transfusions of their own blood, or using HGH, which Palmer points out are not illegal activities or substances, despite being banned. Beyond that, there is the issue that people just don’t think this is all

Fourth, the classification of anabolic steroids as a drug is controversial. Palmer explains, “Critics of the decision [to make put anabolic steroids on the list of controlled substances] point out that anabolic steroids don’t raise the same risks of dependency and physical harm as do other Schedule III controlled substances such as amphetamines. Even today, some individual states don’t include steroids on their own controlled substance lists.”

It’s important to note that people do get arrested for doping—everyday average users and sellers that is. Because they often don’t have the resources to hire high-priced lawyers who will draw out the appeals process, prosecution and conviction go much more smoothly.


So what do you think of Lance Armstrong roaming the streets? If his activities were illegal, should he be prosecuted?


AP Photo/Tom Nguyen

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  1. The whole subject of Testosterone (and derivatives) and Men is a subject that needs to be taken out of the taboo closet and revisited from a post feminist perspective in 2012. The Olympic ideals of fair play is one subject. Testosterone clinics for men over 40 popping up all over South Florida is another. The interesting thing is women’s reactions. I read an editorial in major paper, by a prominent editorialist modern woman who advocated that men’s biological decline in naturally producing testosterone after age 40 is, and has been, beneficial to society (read traditional) in that they (men) are more prone to settling done and partake in family/children rearing…adding that most destruction in the world has testosterone behind it. So I say it again, this topic is critical to discuss in a post feminist world as it underpins a huge “elephant” in the room….as well as fears…by men, that a feminized world will result in a No tolerance policy on testosterone.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    I’m always troubled by the impulse to put someone in jail for doing something wrong. There’s something very puritanical about assuming that something that’s morally wrong has to be made illegal. Not all drugs banned in one context are actually illegal, so it’s not the doping per se that is actionable. I don’t think everything that’s immoral should be illegal.

    I think there is a case to be made for fraud, perhaps. I can see a valid argument there, certainly the possibility of a civil suit of some kind. That’s a specific set of questions, however, not just “throw him in jail because he cheated!”

    Many outraged, self-righteous Americans are going to hate me saying this, but in the case of doping for the Tour de France, isn’t this actually the French government’s call? He doped on foreign soil, so there’s a jurisdictional question here.

  3. All this makes me admire Greg LeMond much more.

  4. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    Victimless offenses should not be prosecuted. Against anyone. Vices are not crimes.

    • Defrauding a major sporting event is not a victimless crime.

    • Cheating to win money is not a victimless crime – a lot of other people trained hard and legitimately to try and win those races and the prestige/sponsorship etc that comes with.

  5. The second point is disgusting, it essentially equates to “rich people are above the law”, and highlights how broken our legal system is. When celebrities do it it goes unpunished, which reinforces both the cool-factor and creates a false sense of security among poorer drug users, who then get busted and have their lives ruined. They should be pursuing these cases to set high-profile examples and deter others, regardless of the higher costs – it’s a preventative measure.

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