Through it all, Tygart insists he’s treated the so-called celebrity athletes the same way he treats the unknowns — the 40-something marathon runners and teenage in-line skaters who also fall under USADA’s purview.
‘‘He states his mission and his vision and you feel it,’’ says Daniel Eichner, the former science director at USADA. ‘‘To him, it’s all about protecting clean athletes. There’s no other agenda.’’
Very few of the breakthroughs come easy for Tygart, a married father of three, avid skier, runner and, yes, cyclist, who on Tuesday celebrated his daughter’s 11th birthday and also his 10th anniversary as a USADA employee.
He always loved the law but wanted some sort of sports connection and says when he sees injustice anywhere, ‘‘it’s just infuriating, whether it’s in sports or other areas of life.’’
Those who've known him for years say the message doesn’t change once the necktie comes off.
‘‘Travis is passionate about sport,’’ said Rich Young, a partner at Bryan Cave LLP, who represents USADA as outside counsel and hired Tygart for that work in 2000. ‘‘He’s a baseball and basketball player. He’s got kids who are athletes. He really gets the difference between true sport and circus.’’
A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Tygart comes from a family well-respected in the Florida law community. His brother and sister are lawyers. His father was a trial attorney who now works as a mediator. His uncle is a judge. After graduating with a philosophy degree from North Carolina, Tygart returned to Florida and taught high school government classes for three years, while also coaching baseball and basketball. From there, he went to Southern Methodist to get his law degree and begin the path toward becoming the single most powerful man in the U.S. anti-doping game.
Much has been made of death threats he received during the Armstrong investigation. Why does he keep on going?
‘‘Because I've heard the stories from the athletes,’’ he says. ‘‘I've heard them from the clean athletes who left their sport and felt personally robbed.’’
He thinks of lifelong friends such as T.R. Lewis, who had major league potential but never made it. Lewis came up during the 1990s — the steroids era — and got aced out by players he knew were using performance-enhancing drugs. He says looking at the Mitchell Report ‘‘is like someone leafing through their high school yearbook. It’s all these guys I played with, played against.’’
‘‘I don’t mean to overstate my presence in the game, but I joke with Travis that, in some regard, I'm the poster boy for the players who got left behind,’’ Lewis said.
And Tygart is their faithful servant.
The CEO said he was confused in February, when federal prosecutors abruptly decided not to charge Armstrong and drop a nearly two-year investigation. ‘‘You'll have to ask them why they shut down,’’ is all he'll offer when pressed on the subject.
He was irritated when the feds refused to share their evidence with USADA, as had been customary in similar instances in the past.
Instead of quitting, Tygart hit the phones and revved back up on his own investigation. Unlike the feds, he did not need to tie Armstrong to criminal activity, much of which allegedly occurred in Europe. He needed to show that the cyclist broke the rules of sport.
Months later, Armstrong was charged under USADA’s rules. The cyclist opted in August not to fight the accusations, still denying he used performance-enhancing drugs but saying the arbitration system was rigged against him.
Tygart went ahead and banned Armstrong from competition and ordered that race results back to 1998 be erased. Then his agency released its report on the case.
‘‘At the end of the day, the truth is too powerful, whether it was this case or any other,’’ Tygart said. ‘‘And at the end of the day, the truth was revealed.’’