Sunday, February 07, 2010

The LeMond Trek Ordeal: Will the Accusations Finally Come to an End?

The Internet has been rife with opinions about the latest out of court settlement between Greg Lemond and Trek Bicycles.

Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and the Trek Bicycle Corporation reached an agreement in a nearly two year breach-of-contract dispute.

It started with public statements by Lemond accusing Lance Armstrong, seven time Tour de France winner of using illegal performance enhancing drugs. He did so in front of me and hundreds of other people at Interbike in 2008. Those comments were not only unsubstantiated, in effect they were defaming. Those were the tip of the iceberg. Lemond was quoted often in the press making statements about Armstrong's drug use.

Trek is to have said in court documents that Lemond's statements made Trek customers angry, and although Armstrong is not a Trek spokesman, he is the primary rider being sponsored by the company. In the 2009 Tour de France, Lance had more than 10 bikes made by the company, seven of them decorated by famous artists, among them Damien Herst.

First Trek moved to sever its relationship with Lemond, with whom they have been working since 1995 to manufacture bikes with his name. Then Lemond countersued claiming breach of contract.

The terms of the settlement, which came just a month before the case was scheduled to go before a jury in a federal court in Minnesota, are confidential. But a joint statement shows that Trek has agreed to make a contribution to a charitable organization with which LeMond is affiliated.

As a result of the settlement, Trek has stopped  manufacturing Lemond bikes altogether.

LeMond's attorney, James DiBoise, told the Daily News that Trek will donate $200,000 to 1in6.org, an organization that supports victims of sexual abuse. A $100,000 installment was expected to be given within 10 days of the settlement, with the remainder a year later.

But let's forget about the facts for a second and focus on sentiment. The entire event has become a lightening rod for repressed public opinion on either side of the dispute. The forum on cyclingnews.com, the emails on e-bikes in New York, and even opinions published by bike shops who have been selling the Lemond brand of bikes for years--show that people in the sport feel very strongly about the public show of division between these two great riders.

And according to each person's sympathy, not only the facts, but also the rights and obligations of either side has been obscured by personal opinion often guided by sentiment, not fact.

One one side there are ardent supporters of Lemond's right to "voice his opinion," as if it were a God given right to do so.Those same people are flaming the Internet with repeated allegations--again, none of them resulting in an official finding--of drug use.

The pictures I am showing here were taken by me at the 2008 presser at Interbike when Lance announced that we was returning to racing. Lemond sat in the front row and repeatedly made public statements about Lance's VO2 max and how it was impossible for him to have such numbers.

It seemed like the presser was to go nowhere---and after about 10 minutes of Lemond trying to steer the entire event to his issue, Armstrong finally asked him to stop.  After the presser, journalists wagged their heads and lamented what had happened to the once great rider, Lemond.  Had he gone insane?

In this country it is a constitutional right to speak out against our government, but not so against other people, especially if it is not true.

If that weren't so, you could bad mouth your enemies publicly with no retribution. Now wouldn't that be easy? I don't like you, or what you represent so I tell everyone that you've been diagnosed with AIDS or are a psychopath. That is why private persons have the protection of slander laws, so they can take bad mouthing liars to court and either have punitive fines assessed, or put you in jail.
While public persons--like Armstrong--do not share the same strength of protection, they ARE protected from statements which are false. In this case, Lemond's statements have never borne any fruit in any test or official finding and therefore are false.

The difference between a newspaper reporter reporting allegations and making allegations should be obvious--you can always report what someone says if they seem to have some sort of good reason to say it, but you can't say it yourself unless you have something to back it up with. But even reporters and the media have been sued for reporting someone's allegations, if they didn't suss them out properly.

And it makes no difference how many reporters printed other persons' allegations about Lance's alleged drug use--those allegations have never reached the level of proof.


Therefore on even the most elemental level, Lemond could be sued in civil court by Armstrong himself, who could show the many times that Lemond publicly defamed him without proof, and he could ostensibly win a settlement. In the case of a public persona like Armstrong, he would have to prove that Lemond made these statements with malicious intent.

But these legal actions never even came close to examining whether Lemond defamed Armstrong, even though to millions of onlookers he might have. The original suit against Lemond maintained that he hurt the Lemond and Trek brands, as well as one of its primary sponsored racers, possible the most famous man in cycling today.

And that in turn hurt sales of Trek bicycles.

Lemond's lawyers made the assertion that he was never "told" that he could not voice his opinion of Lance Armstrong. But anyone who has ever worked for any company knows that badmouthing your company, your boss, or its most important symbol is not only bad for business but likely to get you fired.

So what was he thinking? Apparently he wasn't.

Lemond's own closet is hardly clean--allegations of his repeated drug use and womanizing during his hey day (while his wife sat at home) are numerous, including one source who told me he bedded an underage girl on one Tour stage and was punched in the face the next day by her furious boyfriend. That day he said he was too sick to ride the stage, reported my source.

So should now Lance Armstrong go around saying that Lemond is a sexual abuser? To do so would be crazy.

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