Now that Lance Armstrong is coming clean to Oprah Winfrey about doping during his years as a world-class cyclist, another issue is rising to the forefront: Should he have to pay back the money the U.S. Postal Service paid to sponsor his cycling team -- along with damages?
The Justice Department has until tomorrow to decide whether to join a whistleblower lawsuit contending that Armstrong violated the terms of the sponsorship agreement, the ABA Journal notes. Former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis filed the suit. (Landis himself was stripped of a Tour de France title after having been found guilty of doping.)
Armstrong's attorneys have been negotiating with Justice lawyers over the suit, the Washington Post reports. It's a non-trivial discussion, because Armstrong's team received as much as $35 million in sponsorship money from the Postal Service, and if he loses the legal challenge, he could be required to pay back the money with triple damages.
Armstrong has reportedly offered to repay a portion of the funds, but his lawyers have argued that the Postal Service's contract was with the team as a whole, and not the cyclist himself. And they've added another twist: They say that far from being damaged by an association with Armstrong, the Postal Service actually benefited from it, to the tune of millions of dollars worth of exposure for its brand.
At this point, that's certainly not the kind of brand association the Postal Service needs or wants. It has got enough PR problems of its own these days.