After falling from grace following the revelation that his seven Tour de France titles were partially the result of taking performance-enhancing substances, Lance Armstrong now has to navigate legal troubles after two California fans have sued him for selling fiction as an autobiography.
Rob Stutzman, who has formerly served as a communications adviser for Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jonathan Wheeler, a chef, have both filed a complaint against the disgraced athlete and his publishers in a Sacramento federal court, claiming they would not have purchased Armstrong’s biography It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life had they known about the famed biker’s misconduct in the doping scandal.
In both the aforementioned work and its 2003 successor, Every Second Counts, Armstrong clearly denied ever using performance-enhancing substances. Instead he always attributed his successes to “superior physical training, proper diet and an extraordinary spirit and drive to succeed,” read the complaint.
Stutzman also stated that he had met Armstrong personally in 2005 and had even recommended his work to friends struggling with cancer.
“Both books have now been exposed as frauds,” the plaintiffs said. “Armstrong now admits that without his use of banned performance enhancing drugs beginning in the mid-1990’s, he would not have won and continued to win cycling races, including seven consecutive Tour de France races.”
The plaintiffs hope to represent other California purchasers of Armstrong’s books, seeking to receive undisclosed damages from publishers Armstrong and Penguin Group and Random House Inc.
The suit claims, “Defendants knew or should have known these books were works of fiction” and alleges that citing the works as “true and honest” was a violation of California’s laws against unfair competition and false advertising.
Armstrong won a record seven Tour de France titles and was one of the people behind the Livestrong Foundation, the largest athlete-founded charity in America. Prior to the doping charges, he had vehemently denied ever using performance enhancing drugs, and even attacked the Anti-Doping Agency for conducting an “unconstitutional witch hunt.”
However, once he was found guilty of using, administering and trafficking testosterone, erythropoietin and blood transfusions, Armstrong confessed to the ordeal on an exclusive interview with Oprah.
The whole lawsuit doesn’t quite make much sense. Autobiographies are often quite fabricated and, in some instances, entirely false. The whole genre of creative non-fiction is built around that element, but it’s something these understandably hurt fans don’t understand.
Funnily enough, as the whole fiasco with James Fey showed, Armstrong’s own interviewer — Oprah doesn’t seem to understand creative non-fiction either.
It is the logical equivalent of suing the Coen Brothers for Fargo or Steven Spielberg for Lincoln for falsity. Just because a movie bears the “based on a true story” label, does not mean it is true. Armstrong’s autobiography was based on the story of his life, and, as Huckleberry Finn said, “There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.”
Besides, how much are you really entitled to for buying a book? The thing probably didn’t cost them too much financially, so requesting money for things where the damage isn’t monetary is a little strange.
Also, Armstrong’s failures as an athlete don’t take away from his success as a cancer survivor; he can still be a valid inspiration for millions fighting that disease and, if anything, the cyclist has given us a very valuable lesson: beating cancer doesn’t make you a flawless human being.
If there is an issue of contention here, it is with Armstrong himself. Throughout his career, he so vehemently denied allegations against himself that it really betrayed a sense of self-importance. It is as if, because of his medical ordeal, he considered himself above the trials and tribulations that all have to legitimately face.
For considering himself so great, for insisting upon his cleanliness so forcefully when he always knew just how guilty he was, Armstrong at least deserves to fall in the eyes of his sports’ fans.
But that still doesn’t change how ridiculous this lawsuit really is.