A Tale of Redemption
As we all know by now Lance Armstrong will be a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s “Next Chapter” program on the OWN network. In what Oprah is calling a no holds barred interview she is supposedly grilling Armstrong on his drug use and how he manipulated, lied and intimidated people who dared cross him. No, I’m just kidding ... that’s not going to happen.
The well-known talk show host isn’t going to press Armstrong for the hard questions in a manner a true journalist would. That’s why he’s sitting down with her. But we will get some satisfaction. Not much, but some.
Armstrong will use Oprah’s show as his venue to admit to doping, that I have no doubt. There’s too much evidence for him not too. The head of the United States Anti Doping Agency Travis Tygart said representatives of Armstrong approached him to discuss some kind of agreement of admission. In return USADA would allow the discredited rider to return to real competition, something he has been banned from for life.
With the interview taking place in the comfortable setting of his home he’ll admit to doping, but lay the blame on everyone but himself. The excuses will be, “everyone was doing it,” “UCI was complicit,” “how did you expect us to race like that?”, etc., etc., etc...
In his column in the Huffington Post, Lloyd Glauberman, Ph.D and clinical psychologist writes, “There are two things about Lance Armstrong we know for sure: he’s not stupid and he can’t be trusted. He managed to avoid being caught for over a decade, and even when confronted with the evidence of his guilt, he continued to lie.”
Glauberman continues, “To believe anything he tells us about why he’s decided to come clean — well, only a fool would buy the story.”
I agree with much of what Mr. Glauberman wrote except the part about Armstrong being smart. In my opinion Armstrong has made some stupid strategic moves. First, he came back from retirement. If the Texan had enjoyed popping up to do some Livestrong charity ride and hit the celebrity social circuit he’d still be a seven time Tour de France champion. Second, he underestimated Landis instead of offering him a place on his squad following Landis’ suspension. Sure they hated each other, but apart from training camp they could have been on completely different race programs and never crossed paths in races.
However like Glauberman finds, Armstrong is a narcissist and when power and celebrity are taken away his, “brain responds as if it’s withdrawing from a drug. And the process is agonizing.”
As with a lot of men in power who finally crash and burn it comes down to hubris.
At no time in the interview will Armstrong state that it was his fault. He’s just not programed that way. There will be no apologies to anyone he’s tried to ruin or has ruined. For many people that will leave a bitter taste in their mouths because once the interview is over the public will collectively shrug their shoulders and think, “Yeah everyone was doping so what’s the big deal.” And move on. Time will pass and Armstrong will continue to bleed millions of dollars ranging from lawyers’ fees to the loss of endorsement deals. But that’s the short term. At this point in the game Armstrong and his advisors are looking long term.
USA Today reported the discredited rider has reached out to his arch nemesis Floyd Landis asking for forgiveness. I can say that didn’t happen. And really what sense does that make? “Hey Floyd sorry about calling you a liar, crazy, and generally making your life miserable. Here’s a fruit basket.” I’m guessing Landis will take a written apology in the memo section of a check accompanied by a number and several zeros behind it.
Landis has been reported to be part of a whistle blower suit that could net him millions of dollars. However, Landis hasn’t commented one way or another on whether he’s part of any suit.
Long term the Oprah interview will be Lance’s path back to a “normal life.” He’ll have a book written about his experiences and soon he’ll sit down with Matt Lauer of the Today Show. There will be speaking engagements and if he gets his lifetime ban reduced to just years, you’ll see him in a Speedo at the Ironman. Sponsors will clamor to have him use their equipment or have a logo plastered onto a jersey. That’s just the way business works. Bottom line is if a specific person can push their product they’ll sponsor that person no matter what. The sporting world is filled with examples – one of the more egregious being Michael Vick. Upon his return to professional football Vicks was again part of the Nike family.
So post-Oprah show where does this leave us? That pound of flesh that Armstrong owes to Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly, David Walsh, Paul Kimmage, and numerous others will not come. We need to accept that fact. I don’t even think we’ll get one crocodile tear from the guy. Oprah will be a soft touch for the disgraced rider and if history has shown anything her questioning of athletes (case in point, her interview with Marion Jones) is light and just an opportunity for redemption for the athletes and increased profits for her.
This may seem like a “win” for Armstrong, but look at what it has cost him: millions of dollars lost, personal image in the can, and he can’t even compete with the real athletes. Those who Armstrong ruined or tried to ruin can instead say something he’ll never be able to say: “I told the truth and have my dignity.” It’s a cliché, but no matter how much money he is able to make from book writing, speaking engagements and sponsorships, Armstrong will never regain his dignity. Ever.