Lance Armstrong's Discordant Redemption Song

This week Lance Armstrong, our most famous cyclist/cancer survivor/suspected Performance Enhancing Drug user, aims to do something more daunting than ride a bike up the face of the Pyrenees. He is attempting to ride Oprah's couch back into the good grace of public opinion. On Monday night, Armstrong will, after 15 years of strenuous, Sherman-esque denials, “come clean” and admit to imbibing in illegal “performance enhancers” during his record-setting career. This will not go well and not only because when the broadcast finally airs Thursday night, it will have already been leaked, dissected, and thoroughly flambéed.

If Armstrong was only trying to win back the public support he's lost since the United States Anti-Doping Agency stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles, that could prove challenging enough. But he is attempting the public relations of equivalent of riding his bike through the eye of a needle. Armstrong needs to demonstrate to USADA that he is now on, according to reports, a "path to redemption”. This interview is meant to encourage USADA to lift their lifetime ban on Armstrong’s competitive career and allow him to enter triathlons as well as other events under the USADA umbrella. But that’s not all. Armstrong needs to look like he’s playing ball with USADA while also gently challenging the most damning sections of their lengthy report on his performance enhancing drug use. Their expose, put together with numerous eye-witnesses over the course of years and at a public cost of millions of dollars, makes him sound like less of a run-of-the-mill PED user and more like Joe Pesci on a ten-speed. They paint the fallen icon as a bullying, intimidating, and threatening presence who compelled other competitors to use PEDs and aimed to bribe or scare off anyone who attempted to challenge his cycling empire. And by the way, Armstrong is also seeking to rebuild his cancer foundation Livestrong, which has taken a massive public relations hit since USADA’s lifetime ban compelled him to resign from the board.

He is attempting to use the forgiving, New Age, healing glow of Oprah to please multiple masters with a mix of candor, charm, and puppy dog sympathy. There is a slight flaw however in this plan, which would challenge the smoothest of operators: that’s the stubborn fact that Lance Armstrong is also a person who makes Rahm Emanuel look like Tickle Me Elmo. As his friend Sally Jenkins, co-author of Armstrong’s bestseller It’s Not About the Bikewrote in The Washington Post, "I like Lance Armstrong, have always liked him. Not the fairy-tale prince, but the real him, the guy with the scars in his head, both visible and invisible, the combative hombre who once crossed a finish line swinging his fists at another rider, the contradictory, salty-mouthed, anti-religious nonbeliever, who nevertheless restored a chapel."

I interviewed Sally Jenkins on my radio show and she reaffirmed this part of his character while also rejecting the section of USADA’s report that paints Armstrong as a bullying, even criminal, ringleader. As she made clear, “I have to doubt it, because it’s not my personal experience. What I don’t doubt is that Lance is a very intimidating character on the bicycle. As a competitor it’s a situational personality that he puts on when he was riding in those Tours. Lance can use a lot of very tough language and there’s no question that he can be a very tough character. Now, did he intimidate people on a criminal level? I don’t believe that for a second and I think that’s an extremely overdrawn portrait…”

Armstrong needs to figure out a way to deny this part of USADA’s report while also demonstrating repentance in order to extract a modicum of mercy from the anti-drug agency. At the same time, if he opens up too much about what went on behind closed doors, Armstrong could also expose himself to an absolute Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade of lawsuits. He’s already being sued by The London Sunday Times who are aiming to recover $500,000 they were ordered to pay him in a libel case concerning his PED use. He’s also facing a federal whistle-blower lawsuit issued by former teammate Floyd Landis who was also stripped of his own 2006 Tour de France for PEDs. (The sport really does make Las Vegas look like Salt Lake City.) Landis claims that Armstrong’s attorneys tried to intimidate him into silence after he accused his former friend and teammate of using PEDs.  The Justice Department will surely be watching the Oprah interview as they assess whether to enter the fray, back Landis’s lawsuit, and attempt to get back the $30 million the US Postal Service spent in sponsoring Armstrong’s team.  If that wasn’t challenging enough, Armstrong is also, according to USA Today, trying to mend fences with Landis in hopes that he will drop the suit. If Ms. Winfrey pushes on this relationship and whether Landis is telling the truth, Armstrong will probably demur gently, which will anger USADA. If he’s expresses that salty side of himself, he will invite more lawsuits. Whatever you feel about Lance Armstrong, he finds himself in a waking nightmare. If only the leaders of the financial crisis and those who orchestrate the Pentagon's torture and drone program could find themselves in a similar tsunami of attention, condemnation, and legal proctology.

Oprah Winfrey recently wrote a postively Oprah-esque goopy column titled What I Wish I Knew At 21. In this piece of cavity-inducing wisdom, Oprah wrote, “The older I get, the less I worry about anything. I can see life unfolding in divine order. And even in times of the greatest turmoil, I can stop, get still, and see with utter clarity: This, too, shall pass.” Lance Armstrong doesn't have the luxury of that perspective. This shall not pass no matter what he says this week. But it could get one whole hell of a lot worse.

12 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Say it ain't so, Lance

In my local rag of a newspaper, a David Walsh, chief sports writer of the Sunday Times of London, wants Oprah to ask Lance 10 questions. Here are a few:

Is it your intention to return the prize money you earned from Sept. 1998 to July 2010?

Did you have any sympathy for those rivals determined to race clean?

Do you accept your lying to the cancer community was the greatest deception of all?


My question for Lance is the Oprah interview going to be used to create a new "Lance". Remember Armstrong has used the maxim "perception is reality" to the fullest.

Drugs, denials and an epic vindication

Oprah? Larry King wasn't available?

There is an amazing interview with David Wash here

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/public/article1192199.ece .

Ever wondered what the difference is between livestrong.org and livestrong.com ? That gem is around the 50 minute mark but the whole interview is a must. How low can you go. 'Nuff said.

Oprah!

I am not surprised! However, selecting Oprah and not Gumbel or Costas is interesting! Come on man....

Drug Prohibition And The Rights Of Athletes

Does Marco Pantani get his '98 Tour victory taken from posthumously? He died of a cocaine overdose in 2004.

What Lance should be doing in my opinion, rather than wasting his time with Oprah, is advocating for the rights of athletes to take whatever they damn well please, and to get the bureaucrats and drug testers out of professional athletics.

Why can Tommy John surgically alter his body and have the best years of his career after said surgical alteration? Not only that but the surgical procedure his named after him. He's not demonized and called a cheater for having a medical procedure available to him that wasn't available to pitchers in previous generations.

Same thing for Adrian Peterson's comeback from knee surgery this season. Athlete's uses of pharmacology are simply trying to achieve the same thing as surgery, which is quicker recover from work outs and injury.

Come on Dave, professional athletics needs a modern day Curt Flood to stand up for the right of athletes to treat their pains anyway they see fit. Drug prohibition is great for sports team owners, bureaucrats and drug testers, and a travesty for the human rights of athletes.

Armstrong Belongs in Jail

If sprinter Marion Jones did time, why not Armstrong? They both won medals and world championships with the help of banned PED's.

But while he may be dogged by lawsuits, Armstrong doesn't have to worry about jail. In America, if you're wealthy, white, straight, Christian, and male, incarceration is a rarity.

On the other hand, if you're less-than-affluent, black, and female, it's an entirely different matter.

Adding to the injustice of the Jones case was that she was jailed, despite being the mother of young children.

But this joker will get off scott-free.

Lance....[yawn]

The best thing we can do to prevent Lance from his regimen of lie, deny, and (expectedly) cry is to ignore him. Apathy--what better way to treat a has-been drug pusher?

..fallen icon as a bullying, intimidating, and threatening presence...

The PED's shouldn't have surprised too many people, but the vindictiveness toward potential accusers and apparent public manipulation are not small PR strikes against him. Former teammate Frankie Andreu has plainly attested that Armstrong indeed buried Andreu's wife under litigation in efforts to silence her. Greg Lemond lost his major endorsement deal with Trek bikes, as some may remember, just for supposing aloud the mere possibility that Lance was not clean. If Dan Wetzel's column is accurate, Armstrong may have actively participated in killing the sponsorship. Even Andreu applauds his dedication to cancer research, but it looks like he took a lot of vacation time from hero duty.

@Rick: Mostly agree with those points. It would be nice to get an intelligent discussion on steroids, HGH, drugs, etc. instead of putting all of the above under a single banned substances blanket. All these are not the same, and we should treat them with appropriate distinctions, not as all one in the same black magic. In the case of cycliing and cross country skiing, the "blood doping" we hear often hear about is not foreign or synthetic substances, but rather the athlete's own enriched blood cells. It's more medical procedure than chemical enhancement. Besides the Tommy John surgery that became possible, we now have Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, and Brandon Roy using surgeries not yet legal in the US to prolong and/or enhance their careers. Yet if those same athletes were known to have recently taken one or more of a list of substances, they could face suspension. Within the next few generations the FDA may approve these surgeries, and HGH could be as legal and available as Botox injections are now. Seems hysterical and stupid to treat them like witchcraft.

@Bob Bregman: Jones did time for lying under oath to a grand jury. It ain't over yet for Armstrong. I doubt he'll go to jail, but if the accounts are true, the DoJ may want to have a word with him about bribing federal officials. Barry Bonds and Chris Webber also lied to grand juries, the former in the same BALCO investigation involving Jones, and neither has done time. You can talk about "white, straight, Christian, and male" all you want, but if there's evidence or testimony that you broke the law, you'll want a darn good lawyer. Wealth and famous help you afford better attorneys, and perhaps hush money.

What bums me out about this....

...is that Armstrong's story was my inspiration to get back on a bike after a hiatus of many years due to injuries.
It took time, but I can now ride daily for both exercise and transportation, a serious part of my physical and mental stay-fit program.
A shame, but I refuse to join the chorus of outrage.

Restructure event and competitor compensation

Assume every competition with a monetary prize will involve competitors using every advantage available balanced against every foreseeable downside.

Let every competitor issue a sworn declaration of his or her use of technological enhancements as a condition of competition.

Let all competitors compete against each other, but award prize money by enhancement class. Let those who have been caught violating their sworn declaration participate in the “caught cheating class.”

Allocate prize money by class in each event to create an incentive to shape the desired character of the event. Those who desire to see or participate with super-human performance enhancements will not be disappointed. Nor will those who choose to declare their use or non-use of technological enhancements.

Let fans and event promoters allocate their support for events and for the competitors in events by their attendance etc.




Restructure event and competitor compensation

Restructure event and competitor compensation

Assume every competition with a monetary prize will involve competitors using every advantage available balanced against every foreseeable downside.

Let every competitor issue a sworn declaration of his or her use of technological enhancements as a condition of competition.

Let all competitors compete against each other, but award prize money by enhancement class. Let those who have been caught violating their sworn declaration participate in the ?caught cheating class.?

Allocate prize money by class in each event to create an incentive to shape the desired character of the event. Those who desire to see or participate with super-human performance enhancements will not be disappointed. Nor will those who choose to declare their use or non-use of technological enhancements.

Let fans and event promoters allocate their support for events and for the competitors in events by their attendance etc.

Rick has a point...

Where can the line separating "medical treatment" and "illegal performance enhancement" be drawn? Armstrong's surgery and chemo kept him in the game artificially- dead men don't win races. I suspect that is the basis for Lance's unabashed claims that he doesn't feel like a cheater.

As a cancer survivor, I know that feeling, "I've cheated death-all bets are off, fuckers!" But I've also learned that getting back on the bike, even becoming stronger than ever, is only half the battle. Obviously, those of us attempting to live strong (intentionally lower case!), need other role models in healing the heart, mind, and spirit.

This is a rare instance where I have to disagree with Dave. This, too, SHALL pass. Though there may be a couple more acts to come in the fall of Lance Armstrong, he AND Oprah are well on their way to being has-beens. Maybe then Lance will find the time and motivation to do the really hard work of becoming a mature adult.

Lance's culpability

If there were accountability in this country, this guy would not only lose all his assets; he'd do hard time. Forgiving fraud is a great way for a society to fail. For decades, we've been altering laws, lowering standards to adjust to worsening behavior, re-framing evil deeds as "mistakes." A bit less feel-good forgiveness and more pro-social
authoritarianism (there, i said it) might be the ticket. we commit cultural suicide when malignancy goes untreated.
l

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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