By Neil Browne
The Oprah Winfrey/Lance Armstrong interview on the OWN network continued without any great reveals just like the first night. Sure we got crying and the admission from the Tour de France competitor that he was seeing a therapist. But much of this last hour of him sitting across from the talk-show host was just sad.
The fatal flaw in the disgraced cyclist’s personality is that he always thinks he can win. However, he is now in an untenable position of having his back against the wall. Like I wrote yesterday, it’s an automatic reaction to his years of denying, slandering and threatening people. Turns out that this is how his career was founded.
Throughout the interview the Texan did seem to have moments of self realization. When watching the video of him claiming to have never doped he said, “I don’t like that guy.” News flash Lance, not many people liked that guy.
He continued with how it was his choice to leave the Livestrong Foundation, an organization he had started. Calling it his sixth child, he said it was a big decision for him. I’m sure it was. Other than his seven Tour de France wins, the Livestrong Foundation was a major portion of his image and to leave it hurt him badly.
Another of the other painful moments for Armstrong was seeing his personal sponsors leaving skid marks across his body as they distanced themselves from him. He admitted that it had cost him $75 million. Ouch.
The moment we were all waiting for was the tears. People were literally betting on whether Armstrong, at some point in the interview, would break down. It’s not an Oprah interview until someone reaches for the Kleenex and Winfrey was running out of time for the talk-show equivalent of the money shot.
It took the mention of Armstrong’s son Luke, and how he asked his son to not defend him against charges of doping, to start the tears. Not uncontrollable sobbing, but enough to make him pause and gather his thoughts before he could continue. Oprah must have been silently high-fiving herself.
There are several Lance Armstrong takeaways from the two days worth of interviews. One is, if you are looking to crawl out of a public relations mess, the first step is redemption. In the case of celebrities, that means confessing to a talk show host—not a real journalist or someone that could actually hold you accountable for your admissions. Armstrong chose wisely with Oprah Winfrey. She’s a beloved figure and, while she did do her homework, for most of the interview she was a soft touch—not following up with questions and letting Armstrong control the tempo of the interview.
The other takeaway is that Armstrong is a damaged person. Hubris and the need to dominate every situation made him do stupid things. The tweet of him lounging on his sofa beneath his seven proudly hung yellow jerseys was, by his own admission, dumb. While he did have some obvious ‘tells’ during the Oprah interview, watching previously taped interviews with him forcefully denying doping showed Oscar-worthy performances. Betsy Andreu said it best: He’s a chameleon. If he needed something from you he could be your best friend. If he thinks you’re a threat he would not stop to ruin you.
The word sociopath is increasingly used when describing Armstrong and it’s not far from the truth. There are varying degrees of sociopathic behavior. To be clear, I don’t think he’s kidnapping hitchhikers and keeping them in a dungeon. But he has admitted to bullying people—to a point of ruining their lives. It’s one thing to call someone a name in anger, but quite the other to pursue them in court when you know they are speaking the truth.
Armstrong says that he is trying to put that bullying person in the rear-view mirror with the help of therapy. It is going to be a “process”—a word he used often during the Oprah sit-down. But is he really?
Returning to his infamous seven-yellow-jersey tweet, he knows that it was just arrogance and a big f-you to people. However, he tweeted that just in November and now he’s suggesting those days are behind him? Which leads me to another Armstrong-interview takeaway—people will split on the view of Armstrong as victim or villain.
I watched several reports following the Oprah interview and there are still people willing to defend him. The comments ranged from, Lance was forced to dope because everyone else was doing it, USADA was on a witch hunt, to it doesn’t matter because he raised awareness of cancer.
On the flip side, there are people who want nothing less than a public flogging, describing him with words I’m not comfortable writing in a public forum.
Armstrong still has a long way to go before he can regain trust from many people. The interview was interesting at times, but was a disappointment overall. Yes, we got the much-needed confession straight from the doper’s lips, but he never delivered the heartfelt apology he needed for redemption. He continued to dodge or flat-out not answer questions. And while he named Greg LeMond as someone he needs to apologize to, his story was glossed over. The three-time Tour de France winner is someone who suffered greatly due to Armstrong’s influence and deserved more than being just a name on a list. It was a huge misstep by Oprah to not include a segment about LeMond.
I remain skeptical about many of Armstrong’s statements. His claim that he was clean in 2009 and 2010 doesn’t ring true with blood samples collected by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. The organization stated his blood is, “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”
Armstrong also claimed that he never offered USADA a $250,000 donation. USADA’s CEO Travis Tygart stated that he stands behind his statement that the organization was offered the money.
Armstrong admits that he needs to be punished for doping, but doesn’t deserve the “death penalty” ban. He actually compares his offenses to those whose penalties are much shorter. Armstrong conveniently forgets that he was a virus in the sport, not only with his own doping, but being the ringleader and enforcer within the peloton. He forgets that he ran Frenchman Christophe Bassons out of the sport. Italian rider Filippo Simeoni spoke out against the American and, as a result, had a target on his back for the rest of his career. Once an enemy, always an enemy. It is because of his attempt to rewrite history that I have found no reason to believe much of what Armstrong said.
I have not always felt this way. I was a fan of Armstrong and a part of me mourns the loss of the myth of the person who overcame cancer and three years later started a seven-year dominance of the Tour de France—all the while raising the sport of professional cycling in the States to something more than a fringe sport. I remember the days when, at best, we had a thirty-minute update on a Sunday sports program and maybe a blurb in the back of the sports page. Armstrong put cycling on the front page.
Which leads me to my final takeaway: The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Upon reflection, it was a story that was too good to be true. A disease brings him to the brink of death and then he returns to dominate a sport which is one of the hardest on the planet? To borrow a term from Armstrong, it was “not normal.”
His Icarus-like tumble from the heavens will continue. As he drops to the earth, he will reach out for anything to deflect and help cushion his fall. Will it be Thom Weisel, the UCI, or USA Cycling? How about his former coach Chris Carmichael or Dr. Michele Ferrari? What about other riders who have escaped the doping spotlight? They will be collateral damage.
Armstrong said he won’t name names. But the distinction is that he won’t name names to Oprah. What about when he’s trying reduce his suspension and USADA demands names in return for leniency?
And while Armstrong’s legacy is virtually destroyed, he didn’t do that to cycling. The sport will continue as it always did and we’ll have heroes to cheer for. The sport of cycling is bigger than one man. The Tour Down Under kicks off the season this week—and I, for one, can’t wait.