For the last few weeks, Twitter was abuzz with news that Lance Armstrong was finally going to come clean to Oprah. Amazingly, a fake dead girlfriend seemed to one-up Lance’s admission to using performance enhancing drugs, but like millions of other Americans, I set my DVR to see what this was all about.
I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of competitive biking. Being from Minnesota, I obviously am well aware of Greg LeMond and his accomplishments. I recall watching the Tour de France along with some other random bike races when I was a kid on ESPN during the days in the summer. Before Lance, though, the sport had nobody I could really connect with. Watching it was simply a way to alleviate boredom in between Little League practice and riding my bike over to a friends house to play Street Fighter 2. As a sport, it was as relevant to me as The World’s Strongest Man Competition or those outdoorsy competitions where two burly men would try to chop a log quicker than the other.
Then Lance came along and changed the game. His greatness in sport, especially combined with his background in beating cancer, captivated a nation. His awards were numerous (Sports Illustrated athlete of the year, USOC Sportsman of the year (4x), AP Male Athlete of the Year (4x), amon gmany others). His achievements outside of the sport were remarkable (quick question… how many other bikers have you seen on Leno or Letterman?) His bankroll? Plentiful. His accomplishments in regards to fundraiser for cancer? Remarkable.
Right around the time Lance was at his peak, I started running marathons. A good friend gave me a copy of Lance’s biography “It’s Not About the Bike” for Christmas. I enjoyed his tales of working hard, but found Lance himself to be someone of a difficult person to like. In fact, the more I more I read and heard about Lance Armstrong, the more I thought he came across as an egotistical douche.
Over the past few years, I’ve heard countless stories of Lance Armstrong. Other than stories involving kids and/or cancer, he’s come across as an incredible jerk.
Coming into the tell-all interview with Oprah, I’m expected to see a Lance Armstrong who’s somewhat humbled, somewhat humiliated, and changed for the better.
Instead, I see the exact same Lance Armstrong I’ve come to know for the past 10 years who looked like he was sorry that he got caught. Many have credited Oprah Winfrey for being a “tough” interviewer, but I just didn’t see it. She asked the sometimes tough (albeit obvious) questions, but she didn’t really follow up and never really challenged him. She never really twisted the knife and made him uncomfortable. She never questioned whether or not he has human emotions (I’m not sure, for the record). She never asked why he didn’t come forward earlier with so much evidence against him. She never questioned why he was so certain he wasn’t cheating in his second comeback (Science seems to think he was) and why it mattered? She never questioned his motivations when it comes to money.
None of that should be surprising. If Lance was truly remorseful and wanted to come clean, he would’ve asked a journalist like a Bryant Gumbel that would’ve asked the hard questions and then questioned the sincerity of his responses. Lance wanted Oprah because Oprah, like Lance, is full of herself and understands how to ask a hard question without asking a hard question. Oprah understands Oprah. Like Lance, Oprah’s entire “brand” is a facade. She appears sympathetic. She appears to ask hard hitting questions. She appears to be deeply touched by the lives of those who graced her show every Monday thru Friday for years and years and years. I always viewed her as someone who was successful at pulling on the heartstrings of America, making puppy dog eyes, and insincerely telling her guests “I’m sorry” while stacking fat sacks of cash. Every time a middle school teacher slept with her student, a celebrity gained or lost 20 pounds, or someone needed to come out of the closet, Oprah was there to make another ten bucks. The fact Oprah’s star has waned with the lack of success from her OWN network made Oprah made her the perfect interview candidate for Lance. In a way, this whole interview was like how the fighter between Rocky Balboa and Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) was supposed to go down in Rocky 3. Go in there, throw a few jabs that look a little worse than they really were, and celebrate with a beer together afterwards.
To me, the fact that Lance Armstrong doped isn’t the story. Everyone doped and everyone lied about it. The bigger story is how he mistreated his bike mechanic, his masseuse, and David Walsh. The list of people he bullied (Betsy Andreu, Greg LeMond, numerous former teammates, USADA) is almost too long to list.
Yet, when asked by Oprah why be such a bully and essentially ruin lives, he would essentially excuse himself as being hyper-competitive and he saw them as challenging him. As you watched him be interviewed, you could see that Lance had excused himself for what he had done. What’s worse, you could feel that he didn’t even feel bad about it. Again, he felt bad that he got caught and he felt bad that all of the fame, glory, and money was gone. He felt bad that’s he’s not able to compete anymore.
“I deserve to be punished. I’m not sure I deserve the death penalty”
Lance said this line (or something similar) repeatedly. Never once did Oprah ask him “What penalty do you think you deserve?” I’d be curious to what his response was.
I think professional runner Lauren Fleshman really nailed it in her letter to Lance Armstrong. He cheated and he deserves to suffer the consequences. From Fleshman’s article:
A doctor who intentionally harms a patient will never practice medicine again because the central tenet of medicine is to “do no harm.” A lawyer who lies under oath or commits a crime will never practice law again, because adherence to the law is the foundation of their profession. If a financial planner steals a client’s money, if a teacher has a sexual relationship with a student…each profession has its unforgivable sin, and in sports it is doping. I do not wish for you to go to hell, or live a miserable life…I simply want you, along with all the other cheaters, to find a new profession so that mine continues to mean something.
I think that’s exactly where I’m at. He cheated, lied about it, bullied people about it, lied about it again, made a comeback in 2009-10, cheated again (he’s still lying about that one), got caught, lied about it, posted an incredibly douche-y picture of himself in front of his 7 yellow jerseys, and came clean once it seemed all other options to continue lying/bullying/being Lance were exhausted. To allow him to serve a two year ban and come back and compete in triathlons would not only do a disservice to his teammates who came clean earlier yet served longer suspensions, but it would do nothing to deter future competitors to dope.
By his own admission, he doped for over 10 years (I think the true figure was closer to 15). Is Lance Armstrong the first athlete who’s cheated? Nope. Is he the first terrific athlete who seems to be unlikable? Stories of Michael Jordan, Kobe, Tiger Woods, Kevin Garnett, and thousands of others would lean towards no. But exactly what has Lance Armstrong done to deserve to be re-embraced by you and I? I’m not so sure.
As an enormous fan of running, I can tell you for certain that there are hundreds of professional runners that, by and large, seem like really good people who work extremely hard. Choose one of them to support. Let’s all agree that while he once was the greatest cheater among all the cheaters, Lance seems like a hard-working, narcissistic douchebag who just needs to go away.