The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Celebrities

Lance Armstrong Sued Over His 'Nonfiction' Book

Here are all 59 pages of the class-action lawsuit filed against Lance Armstrong in Sacramento, California, this week, which alleges that both It’s Not About the Bike and Every Second Counts are fiction rather than nonfiction. (Hard to argue with at this point, but that doesn’t mean this suit will end up being successful.) The claim, which is similar to an action filed against Greg Mortenson over fabrications in Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, claims that purchasers of the books were “misled by Defendants’ statements and purchased Defendant Armstrong’s books based upon the false belief that they were true and honest works of nonfiction.” The complaint says Armstrong attributed his success in the Tour de France to training, diet, and guts, when in fact he was cheating all along.

The plaintiffs are a pair of bike enthusiasts and (former) Lance believers named Rob Stutzman and Jonathan Wheeler. According to the Sacramento Bee blog “CapitolAlert,” Stutzman is a well-connected GOP strategist who worked as the communications director for Gov. Arnold Scharzenegger during his first term. Wheeler is a chef. Both feel had by Lance and the myth he perpetuated about himself.

“Although Stutzman does not buy or read many books,” the complaint says, “he found Armstrong’s book incredibly compelling and recommended the book to several friends.” Stutzman met Armstrong in 2005, during his Arnold gig. “At that time, Stutzman thanked Defendant Armstrong for writing his book and told him it was very inspiring and that he had recommended it to friends who were fighting cancer. Armstrong thanked Stutzman.” Truly the act of what Lance has called (when referring to journalists) “a snake with arms.”

There is a certain TMI quality to this brief, aimed at heightening the plaintiffs’ sense of betrayal. Wheeler lets us know that he “began riding bikes in his hometown of Cupertino, California, while in kindergarten and began riding long distances with his best friend. Soon he and his friend would ride over the mountains to Santa Cruz and back. Wheeler began hanging out at the renowned Cupertino Bike Shop where he became friendly with its owner, the legendary Spence Wolfe.”

OBJECTION, your honor: plaintiff should use this heartwarming material in his screenplay for Breaking Away: Again.

The full text of the complaint is below. And here’s my story about a similar complaint filed against Greg Mortenson over the lies in his work. (That suit was bounced by a federal district judge, and is currently under appeal.) The co-defendants in the Armstrong suit are all publishing companies. Lance’s co-author, Sally Jenkins, is not named.

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It's Not About Lance Armstrong

Though I told myself I wouldn't do it, I watched the Lance Armstrong interview last night. It was like a bad pile-up on the highway or billows of black smoke from a distant fire—you know you shouldn't look, but it's tough not to get sucked in. I had a two-hour workout to do, and I figured the footage of the final unraveling of one of the greatest American sports heroes couldn't be any worse than my normal shoot-em-up trainer fare. I was wrong.

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My Perfect Adventure: Tucker Perkins

This past June, the first U.S. freeskiing team was created. It included just five men and four women, its formation a response to the Olympic committee’s decision to admit skiing halfpipe into the 2014 Olympics.

One of the names on that team belongs to Tucker Perkins, a professional freeskier from New Hampshire (he grew up skiing Attitash’s Bear Peak). The 22-year-old, who now lives in Park City, is known for his fearless jumps, spins, and flips. In 2011, he delivered a silver-medal performance at Whistler’s AFP World Championships, one of the many podium finishes that have planted him firmly on the road to Russia.

We checked in with him in the midst of his training for the Olympic trials and learned a few things, including that he still hasn’t scoped out Sochi (but wants to); that he’d give lots to get into Bear Grylls’ head; and that even though he lost a friend, Sarah Burke, to the superpipe, he’ll keep doing the sport he loves because he knows she’d want him to.

Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
My perfect day would be either in Haines or Girdwood, both of which are in Alaska. Waking up to a bluebird day with fresh snow from the previous night, I and a few of my best friends would go heli-skiing all day long. It doesn't get much better than that.

If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go and why?
Sochi, Russia. We have the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics there and I still have yet to go. I hear that it has a really unique climate—ski in the morning and head to the beach after. Crazy, right?

What’s the best place you've ever visited? What made it so special?
Alaska, easily. You're so secluded and really get an idea of how big and powerful nature can be. That state has some of the biggest mountains and most rigorous terrain there is. The weather changes so quickly that you need to be prepared for anything. Not to mention how beautiful it is there, any time of year.

If you could have lunch with any adventurer or athlete, who would it be and why?
Bear Grylls. The guy is obviously insane and it would be so great to try and understand what's going on in his head.

What’s something you can’t travel without?
On or off the mountain, I always travel with my GoPro and Snap Infusion. GoPro is the easiest way to document adventures for everyone to see. I always keep Snap with me when I’m on the mountain as a snack to keep me energized throughout training. Right now I’m really into their gummies.

When you arrive at a new destination, what’s usually first on your agenda?
I try to get out and meet as many people as I can. I'm so interested in what people from all over the world think and have to say. There is so much to learn from others, and they can offer you so much. If you show an interest, people are usually very welcoming.

What motivates you to keep on freeskiing?
Besides how much fun I have all the time, pushing myself to my limits and always trying to better myself never gets old. I believe that if you get comfortable with your riding, you're not trying hard enough to get better. The competition is always improving, and so must you. When it all pays off at a competition, there is not a better feeling.

As a child, what was your dream job? If you gave up that dream, do you have any regrets?
Fortunately, I'm living my childhood dream. Not many people get to say that. I chose an unbeaten path and have no regrets about it. I completed high school online and am currently taking college courses when I can. It's a delayed schooling program for sure. The fact that I'm able to travel the world and compete at the highest level gives me such an advantage over the average person my age. I've learned so much and experienced so many different things that I feel like a have a big head start.

When and how did you first venture into skiing?
My family had a little ski condo at Attitash Mountain in New Hampshire when I was three years old. We used to go up every weekend after school. I grew up racing but every day after training, my cousins and I would build jumps and huck ourselves trying to learn new tricks. I can't even begin to list how many broken bones we all had. I owe my interest in flipping and jumping to my two cousins, Ryan and Spencer.

What advice you would give to a young freeskiier?
Learn to actually ski before you start jumping. Many people in our sport don't have a good foundation on edge control, carving, and so on. If you're starting really young, it wouldn't hurt to race for a couple of years first. Having the basic fundamentals will help you in the long run. And wear a helmet. Always.

Who have been your most influential role models?
My parents. Without them I would be nowhere. They taught me that, at the end of the day, it's most important to be a good person.

Do you have a life philosophy?
It's not a cut-and-dry philosophy, but I believe in working harder than others, dedication, doing something you love, and being philanthropic. Just try to be the best you can be in everything you do.

Have you ever experienced a near accident that made you think twice about doing your sport?
I've seen a lot of serious injuries, including my cousin Ryan who shattered his back doing this sport. Luckily, he has recovered extremely well. We’ve also had a handful of deaths in our sport in the past year, including a good friend, Sarah Burke. It does make you think twice about what you're doing. I know that I’m fully trained to do this and accidents do happen, but you can't let these incidents stop you from doing what you love. I know Sarah would have wanted us to still be doing what we love, and that's exactly what everyone in my sport is doing.

If you had to choose a different career, what would it be and why?
Being a surfer seems pretty appealing sometimes. Warm weather and perfect waves are always a winning combination. Not to mention bikinis everywhere.

Name three things you still want to cross off your life bucket list.
BASE jumping.

Flying a fighter jet.

And hopping on stage with some of my favorite country artists to jam with them—I grew up playing drums and still play as much as I can.

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Our Fight With Lance and Livestrong

Presumably, round two of #Doprah will include ample chatter time about Livestrong. On that subject, the top-shelf required reading is still @billgifford’s institutional profile of the nonprofit, which Outside published in our February 2012 issue. I held Bill’s spit bucket when he was working on that story, and it’s one that we’re all really proud of here. Far from being the hatchet job that Lance and Livestrong howled about at the time, it was a fair assessment of the good, the bad, and the vapid of this famed cancer-fighting—excuse me, cancer-awareness-about-raising—charity. Bill also nailed the way Lance would use Livestrong as a survival shield once the arrows started raining down.

We took a lot of grief from the Austin Death Star when the story was in the works, something I’ve mentioned now and then on Twitter without going into much detail. I’ll tell the full story now, not as an example of how brave we were in the face of pressure (though I do think Bill was gutsy throughout), but of how petty Lance and Livestrong could be when they decided to bring it with the bullying tactics. The treatment we got was nothing compared with, say, David Walsh or Emma O’Reilly. But it was aggressive and tawdry. And it’s important to remember that Lance simultaneously signed off on and delegated this kind of thing during his reign, which is the classic mark of a bully who’s also a coward.

The fracas began in early November 2011, when Gifford was still working on the story and I was editing it. Livestrong’s general counsel, Mona Patel, sent letters to Outside’s owner (Lawrence J. Burke) and Publisher (Scott Parmelee) trying to quash it, claiming that Gifford and I were both behaving inappropriately and unethically in pursuit of a piece that they assumed would be a hatchet job.

“Mr. Gifford attempted to elicit disparaging remarks about Mr. Armstrong and Livestrong” while speaking with sources, Patel claimed, “through leading and misleading questions, suggestions and assurances that they were ‘off the record.’ ... Mr. Gifford’s actions could jeopardize Livestrong’s relationships with continued support from these partners, supporters and donors as well as tarnish Livestrong’s brand reputation.”

Etc. Basically, Gifford was doing his job: asking questions and gathering facts. And I know from talking to him (then and recently) that he was operating in-bounds: making standard-issue queries, doing careful research, and not spilling Iago phials of poison into the ears of his sources, hoping that black smoke would come out of their mouths. He did it that way because he’s a professional. Even if he were a sneaky little devil, he’s smart enough to have known that any such negative source-greasing would have been reported instantly to Lance’s top people at Livestrong, including Doug Ulman, its President and CEO, and Katherine McLane, the media handler.

I already knew that the Livestrong brass were peeved and why, since I’d been getting phone messages from Ulman, demanding to speak with me so I could attempt to explain Bill’s allegedly reckless behavior. (Ulman is very good at huffing and puffing.) I didn’t call back, because I assumed Ulman’s plan was to chew my ear off for an hour with inaccurate charges. Besides which, I had every intention of making the story fair, as did Bill. We were well aware of the need to maintain balance, and I knew that Outside’s standard factchecking process would give Ulman and Livestrong ample opportunities to voice their concerns and correct any inaccuracies. We also offered to organize a conference call involving them and us, stipulating that whatever was said would be on the record. They passed on that, subsequently referring to this offer as my attempt to "intercept" their request.

Livestrong kept coming, of course. In a letter sent later that month, Patel said that Gifford’s “highly inappropriate and ... unethical reporting” could jeopardize the value of their brand. They wanted phone time with Burke and a response assuring them that our story would not be a smear. “Otherwise, we will seek all equitable and legal remedies in regard to this matter,” Patel wrote. That, as I read it, was a clear threat to sue.

Things got outright weird when Livestrong had a staffer call Burke’s office to try and set up a conference call involving him, Livestrong reps, and Parmelee, who works out of New York. This person falsely claimed that Parmelee had already been contacted and had agreed to a specific day and time. Parmelee never talked to anybody at Livestrong, so they lied to try and get through to Burke. That was bush league and very dishonest.

Burke, Outside’s founder and owner, was understandably concerned about all this, especially in light of Livestrong’s known litigiousness. We assured him the story would be fair, which it was. As we mentioned in the article, we were aware that two other magazines had abandoned in-progress Livestrong reporting because of similar threats. He supported us, the story ran as scheduled, and Livestrong followed up with a lot of loud squawling about how unfair we’d been.

For me, the whole thing was an eye-opener: If this was how they behaved when the stakes were relatively low, how rough would they play with someone who really represented a threat? I’ve never trusted Lance or Livestrong since.

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