As the world knows, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong recently admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he had lied under oath in various legal proceedings about his use of banned performance-enhancing substances and techniques. After doping allegations surfaced following Armstrong’s 2004 Tour de France victory, SCA Promotions, Inc. withheld a $5,000,000 payment obligation to Armstrong. In the ensuing arbitration proceeding (which resulted in an award in excess of $7,500,000 to Armstrong), he denied under oath having “ever” engaged in “any performance enhancing, any prohibited substance.” Worse still, he filed a libel suit against his former masseuse, Emma O’Reilly, who had told what he now publicly admits was the truth about his knowingly having cheated to win races. That case was settled out of court, as was the libel case he filed against The Sunday Times of London for having printed excerpts of her now corroborated accounts of his deliberate, systematic cheating. Besides the obvious monetary and reputational damage suffered by his former legal adversaries, Armstrong’s perjury erodes our faith in the legal process, and, in turn, our democracy.
Ancient Greek orator Lycurgus stated, “it is the oath which holds democracy together.” Oaths, or affirmations to tell the truth, are vital to the rule of law. Our system of criminal and civil laws—enforced by judicial proceedings—help preserve our democracy. Citizens enact laws through duly-elected representatives, and through our open courts, we enforce them. Our faith in the courts as the means to fairly and peacefully resolve disputes among citizens (or punish citizens who engage in criminal activity) is critical for society to function. And this depends on our assumption and faith that most people take oaths or affirmations seriously, and desire—whether compelled by religion, morality or ethics—to be truthful. Though former sponsors and victims of Armstrong’s prior libel lawsuits may recoup some of the damage they suffered, neither their threatened counter lawsuits nor his public humiliation can restore the incremental—but real—damage he has done to our democracy. // Michael Racette
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