Earth to Lance: Damage Control Ain't Contrition
Sources say Lance Armstrong came clean to Oprah Winfrey about his doping during an interview with her here in Austin on Monday. No surprise, really. The Oprah or Barbara Walters confessional is by now a modern American public relations ritual.
I will reserve full final judgement until the show airs on Thursday (1/17), but his admission already feels like it's too little and way too late. The damage is done, it's considerable and seems irreparable. Finally - finally! – admitting that, yes, he doped (big time) just won't repair his shredded rep as far as this former admirer is concerned. It's not even so much the doping, per se – we've all become at least a bit inured to the use of performance-enhancing drugs in contemporary sports – but the attitude he displayed as he did it while vehemently insisting that he didn't that has debased his stature beyond redemption in my eyes.
Although there's no comparison when it comes to athletic abilities (trust me...), as I would ride my bike around (what was then) Town Lake while Lance rode to further and greater fame and accomplishments every year in the Tour de France, it seemed kind of cool to be pedaling in the same city as a historic bike-riding champion. I could feel like he was one of us and savor a teeny-tiny bask in the reflected glory he brought to Austin. He inspired me to ride a bit harder and further.
By the time Armstrong came within cycling distance of being the all-time Tour record holder, I shared the excitement of a local boy making sports history and started watching the race on TV almost daily. There was a delightful thrill to seeing him break from the peloton that energized me.
I recall reading my friend Michael Hall's 2001 article in Texas Monthly in which he cleverly rode with Arnstrong around town. It felt to me like Mike was giving Armstrong every benefit of a doubt against mounting suspicions. As much as the chorus of doubters Hall quoted seemed weighty to the point of being convincing, I still wanted to believe Lance's stunning athleticism was not enhanced.
In a later open letter to Armstrong urging him to tell the truth about doping in the Monthly some two years ago, Hall reports that Lance hated his article, which points to the biggest stains within this whole sordid affair: Not merely the lying and cheating, but rather the cussed arrogance that the cyclist displayed about it all, the fierce manner in which he insisted he was clean, plus the umbrage directed at his accusers. And there's also the alleged bullying of his teammates to dope as well and to keep his dirty secret under wraps recounted in the New York Times series last October that finally broke open the floodgates of deception.
In short, Armstrong seems like a crassly deceitful, self-important jerk. And it's doubtful he will display sufficient contrition much less any personal growth from owning up to his misdeeds on Thursday in what is clearly a PR damage control tactic rather than a "come to Jesus" moment of sincere regret. His reported hope that the move could get his ban from competitive cycling lifted and even regain him his titles only underscores the apparent falsity of it all. Any argument of justification that everyone else was doping is belied as a pile of crap by the magnitude of his own doping scheme while playing the angrily aggrieved party whenever questions and accusations arose.
Armstrong still boasts the undeniably admirable fact that he beat cancer in his plus column. But all the rest even sullies his efforts through the Livestrong Foundation to help others overcome the disease. The metaphorical tumors within his personality and the man's lack of any integrity have, for me, damaged his stature beyond repair. As soon as I type the period at the end of this sentence, I'm tossing my yellow Livestrong wristband in the trash.