I'm feeling downright litigious today, which is weird.
Normally, I fall into that growing category of scoffers when the inevitable news of pending lawsuits begin to filter out of nearly any event of significance or otherwise, which may or may not have an actual, measurable impact on someone or something. Too often, it seems that our court system is a regular ATM for lawsuit-happy citizens all too eager to blame and cash a check, often for real or even imagined damages, usually far in excess of any reasonable compensation.
Frivolous, nuisance, specious -- whatever your particular pet phrase for today's seeming avalanche of lawsuit abuse, the problem is real and seemingly growing on an annual basis.
That attitude prompted my predictable scorn when I read of a lawsuit filed last week aimed at disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. A group of Californians have filed suit, aiming for eventual class-action status, against Armstrong and his publishers for misrepresenting his best-selling books "It's Not About the Bike" and "Every Second Counts" as works of non-fiction. Armstrong's long-awaited admission in an interview with Oprah Winfrey last week that he'd doped throughout his acclaimed (later stripped) seven straight Tour de France triumphs (1999-2005) virtually confirmed that those books were, in fact, works of fiction.
Now those readers want to get paid -- that was my initial thought. The lawsuit seeks, for starters, refunds for all those purchased books. Can punitive damages be far off? Which is a joke, right? How can Armstrong's inspirational books, even if later deemed false, have damaged anyone? Mental anguish? Public humiliation after that fact? Give me a break.
I've come around on this one, though. Much of that has to do with Armstrong's story, or more specifically the story only now reaching a wide audience. It paints a picture not of a lanky Texan hell-bent on winning in spite of the odds, through sheer grit and an admittedly grueling training regimen, as something else entirely. The systematic doping is just part of the story -- it seems that "Tour de Lance" would be more aptly nicknamed "Lawsuit Lance," as he had a real penchant for dragging his accusers into court at the first whisper of wrongdoing.
It seems that Lance, the $100 million man, ruined a few lives on his way to cheating to the top. He's paying for it now, of course -- public scorn and stripped titles are just the start. The lawsuits, many more substantial than a few betrayed book readers, are already piling up for Armstrong. For a man who seemed to love the courts, he's sure to be spending plenty of time there over the next couple of years.
That's poetic justice -- much more so than a toothless attempt to wipe out history by expunging Armstrong's name from the Tour de France champion's list. Armstrong's lies helped build his wealth through endorsements, appearances and the like -- the real pain should come in watching that ill-gotten fortune wither away on his bank statement.
So there you have it -- count me among those in support of those poor, misled Californians.
And though I'll never be one to add a flourishing "esquire" to the end of my moniker, I humbly suggest a few other lawsuits to hasten the reduction of Armstrong's assets.
U.S. Postal Service: Here's a prime candidate to haul Armstrong into court, and -- let's face it -- there's a government agency that sure could use an infusion of cash right about now. Armstrong and his teammates splashed the U.S. Postal Service logo all over the south of France and across television screens worldwide during much of his streak. Those star-spangled jerseys, and that logo, seem indelibly linked to the now infamous cyclist. Damages? Sure, why not?
Fellow cyclists: Armstrong is without question now the facing of cheating in professional cycling, a sport long beloved by the French. Doping has been a long-running epidemic among cyclists, but Armstrong's admission sank the sport's reputation to a new low. The effects will likely be long-lasting, as any future champion will face withering skepticism based on the past misdeeds of others. Television will be less likely to invest in a sport seemingly tainted beyond redemption, and that will have long-last repercussions for cycling's future growth and popularity. That's not even to mention the nameless majority (we hope) that didn't cheat, that Armstrong and his fellow dopers helped relegate to even more obscurity.
Americans: Yes, all of us have a beef with Lance. He made many of us, myself included, the quintessential "ugly Americans" who gloated over his victories, and scorned the French for their incessant testing and apparent poor sportsmanship because one of ours consistently beat all of theirs. The truth is sobering and humbling -- do I hear, "mental anguish?"
I probably won't be joining any lawsuits, or instituting them by anything other than suggestion, but be sure that I'll be on the sidelines. This time, I'll be cheering the lawyers on as they haul Armstrong back into court.
Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at 540-465-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org