The Interview, Part 2

by Rant on January 19, 2013 · 18 comments

in Lance Armstrong

Thursday, the first part of Lance Armstrong’s confessional with Oprah Winfrey aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. I didn’t want to delve too deeply into Armstrong’s performance, in part because of what remained. Another hour of the Lance and Oprah show. Perhaps some of the things I felt were missing in the first episode would appear in the second. Funny thing. Most of it was missing from the second, too.

One thing that struck me during the first episode was that Armstrong didn’t seem to show a lot of remorse for his actions. For the most part, that carried over to the second installment Friday night. He teared up a bit when talking about his kids and how he told them that their father was all the bad things they had heard. That must have been hard to do, to sit his children down and say, “Kids, all of that stuff you head about me was true.” And the welling of tears at that moment was about as much genuine emotion as we got in the whole interview. Still, I couldn’t tell if Lance truly understands and accepts the harm he did to others, and whether he feels contrite about it at all.

So, perhaps the best thing would be to consult a couple of people who know Armstrong well. First up, Tyler Hamilton, who told NBC’s “The Today Show” on Friday morning:

“You can tell, it’s real. He’s very emotional and he’s definitely sorry. I don’t know. I think it’s going to be a hard next few weeks for him, next few months, years,” he said. “He did the right thing, finally. And it’s never too late to tell the truth.”

On the other hand, Betsy Andreu pretty much calls BS on Lance’s contrition. After the first part of the interview aired, she said this on Anderson Cooper 360:

“You owed it to me Lance, and you dropped the ball. After what you’ve done to me, what you’ve done to my family, and you couldn’t own up to it. And now we’re supposed to believe you? You have one chance at the truth. This is it,” said Andreu.

Two different people, two different takes. Friday night, after round two was shown, Betsy told Anderson Cooper that she feels sad about the whole situation. But I didn’t hear her full comments from the entire show (because I didn’t watch the whole show), so there may be much more to how she was seeing things 24 hours after the first portion of Lance and Oprah’s chat.

What to make of it all? For me, I guess I’ll go back to what I saw. And that was that while Armstrong admits he owes Frankie and Betsy and Tyler and Floyd and Emma apologies (and let’s add Greg LeMond and David Walsh, too, for good measure), and while he admits he cheated, I can’t tell whether he’s sincere. I’d like to believe he is, because all of those people have felt the wrath of Lance, and they deserved better. He needs to make amends, as best he can, for what they endured.

Lance doesn’t seem to understand, or perhaps be willing to admit, that there was a reason the others who cooperated with USADA got reduced suspensions and he didn’t. Yes, he says if he could go back to the day USADA contacted him, he would do it differently. No lawsuit. No attempts to derail the case. Cooperation. But what he doesn’t say is what he would do if he could go back even earlier, like to before he won all those Tours. Would he choose to ride clean? Or at least not to be one of the key players in an organized doping scheme? Because it was being at the center of the scheme that got him the life ban, not that he doped like the others doped.

In the first interview, he occasionally parsed things in a way to try and make things look less bad. Oprah brought up USADA’s characterization of his team’s doping program as the most sophisticated and professional in sport. Which was an unnecessary bit of hyperbole on USADA’s part when they said it. Sophisticated and professional, sure. But we don’t know just how sophisticated and professional some of the other programs were. So “the most” was just hype.

Armstrong answered by (correctly) pointing out that the East German program of the 70s and 80s was more sophisticated than his. True, the USPS/Discovery teams didn’t have their own anti-doping lab to research how to detect drugs, the way the East Germans did. Research which the East Germans then applied to their athletics programs to ensure that their athletes didn’t fail tests in competition (though a few did, which spurred changes in doping regimens). But the USPS/Discovery program was pretty darned sophisticated and professional. And it benefited, directly or indirectly, from the East Germans’ research.

Following the “we might as well win” philosophy of Johan Bruyneel, the team’s program could well be described as “we might as well hire the best people to help us dope and not get caught.” Of course, none of that came out in the interview, as Lance provided scant details about the who, what, when, where, and how. We do know why, though. To win.

Armstrong talks like a person who’s been in therapy or is currently in therapy. So it was no great surprise to me that he admitted as much when Oprah put the question directly to him. Armstrong appeared humble enough to admit that the process he’s going through will take time. And that it may take some time before reconciliation can happen between himself and those he’s wronged. (Never say never, but don’t hold your breath waiting to hear a story about Lance being invited to the Andreu household for risotto.)

Throughout both broadcasts, the thought that kept running through my mind was, “What does Lance want out of this? What’s his angle?” And I think that one of the most honest answers of the interview came when Oprah asked him if he would like to compete again. “Hell, yes!” Armstrong replied, going on to say that he’s a competitor and that’s what he does. That’s his angle. And perhaps to get back into the public’s good graces, and enjoy more time in the spotlight.

But even if Armstrong works with WADA and USADA and gets a reduced suspension, odds are that he won’t be lining up for any sanctioned athletic event anywhere until just shy of his 49th or 50th birthday. I suppose it’s possible he might assist those two agencies, and lately Lance has been anything but predictable. Looking at how little he said about others, though, I have to think he won’t rat out anyone else. Goodbye athletic competition — other than the unsanctioned variety, which probably doesn’t provide the level of challenge he craves.

So the big question becomes, “What will Lance do until such time as his ban gets lifted?” And a related question, “What if it never happens?” Yes, Armstrong said he realizes the lifetime ban may never be reduced. But comments addressing his future weren’t in abundance. So what will Armstrong do? Unfortunately, I don’t think we heard an answer.

More to the point, I don’t know if Armstrong even has an answer to these questions.

Now that Armstrong has confirmed his past, what effect will it have on cycling? Where will the sport be in one year or five years? Hard to say. If a truth and reconciliation commission ever does get formed, and if everyone who knows anything about doping opens up and talks, perhaps the sport will move into a new minimal-doping era. I’m loath to say dope free, because there will always be at least a few people tempted to use whatever means necessary to win races. Lance Armstrong wasn’t the first to succumb to that siren song and he won’t be the last.

Where will Armstrong be in one year or five years or more? That’s even harder to say. He’s started opening up about the past, and I think that’s a good thing. At the start of the interview on Thursday night, Armstrong said that he’d been telling one big lie over and over and over again. And that it felt good to finally let that go. But I don’t get the impression that he’s fully let go just yet. And I don’t know how long it will be before the full story has been told. Or if the full story will ever be told.

Armstrong has a lot of apologies to make and a lot of fences to mend. Not all the apologies will be accepted. And not all the fences can be mended. Those that can be fixed will take time. Lots of time. But it’s not something that will occupy his days the way bike racing did, or training for triathlons did, or having a cancer foundation did.

So Lance Armstrong finds himself at a curious crossroads. Even if he loses half his reputed $100 million fortune to lawsuits and settlements, he will still have enough to live comfortably for the rest of his life. And his kids will be well taken care of, too. He’ll be able to provide a home for his family, food, clothing, college tuition, all the material comforts. But he’ll have a whole lot of time on his hands, and no job to fill his days.

So we come back to the big question that goes unasked and unanswered — in this interview, at least. The question we all confront at one time or another. “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” Will Armstrong find a way to make a positive difference, as he did with his cancer charity? Or will he focus on more personal pursuits and stay out of public view (not bloody likely).

For the foreseeable future, Lance Armstrong will be wandering in the wilderness, not entirely in control of where life will lead him. This is a good thing. It will give him the opportunity to reflect on how he got to this point. And maybe that could spur some big changes.

Perhaps the best advice he’s gotten came from his ex-wife Kristin, who told him that the truth will set him free. That it will, if he keeps (starts?) telling the truth. Time will tell if he can stick to that. Maybe he will just vanish from view for a while. But given that it’s Lance Armstrong we’re talking about, I don’t for a minute think that we’ve heard or seen the last of him.

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Millard Baker January 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Dan,

There are two entirely different things at play – Armstrong’s doping and Armstrong’s actions towards others. These are something that practically everyone seems to confuse or combine. But they are not one and the same.

Armstrong could feel remorse about one and not the other, neither or both.

Doping is normative behavior in elite sports. His admissions that he did not feel bad about, find it wrong or consider it cheating isn’t surprising. I expected it. I found it incredibly honest. No doubt it was an unpopular response. And many would rather hear some disingenuous bullshit like many other busted athletes have given to explain their doping.

Does he feel remorse about doping. Most athletes don’t while in their subculture. Once they’re somewhat removed, they may be forced (socialized) to conform to the general public’s delusional view of sport. They move from a culture where doping is the norm to one where doping is considered deviant. (At least people hypocritically say it is.)

Lance Armstrong is no different than the thousands of other cyclists who dope when it comes to his lies about doping.

Armstrong’s treatment of various individuals is something that differentiates him from thousands of other PED users. One can be ok with the doping, but few are okay with the outrageous extent of his attacks.

Was he remorseful? I don’t know but I don’t think the Betsy Andreu’s and the David Walsh’s are the most credible at making this judgment. They suffered at the hands of Armstrong and are understandably, and for some admittedly, bitter as a result. Their judgment is clouded.

Of course, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If Armstrong wants to make amends, it will be those people who will ultimately decide whether he succeeds. Genuine remorse might not be enough – it will probably take money too.

Rant January 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Millard,

Very good points, as usual. I do think he was honest in saying he didn’t feel guilty about doping or that he was doing anything his competitors weren’t.

I think the bigger question is more about how he treats others and whether he feels genuine remorse for what he did to them. You’re right. A person can be OK with doping and not be the kind of jerk Lance was to a slew of people.

Making amends with the Betsys and Emmas that he’s hurt will take more than just a phone call, that’s for sure. I’m not sure if it will require money, too, but it could.

I had this thought earlier that if Lance had wanted to do this interview in a truly Lance-ian way, he would have had David Walsh be the interviewer. But that wouldn’t have gotten the same kind of audience or ratings that Oprah did.

Millard Baker January 19, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Dan,

Lance Armstrong interviewed by David Walsh! That would have been something. That would have been much more than just a confession

I’m not sure that the Oprah ratings were very good. (I though I read something about it being disappointing but haven’t verified.)

Millard Baker January 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Dan,

As much as I enjoyed Lance as a competitor, I’ve always been troubled by his attacks on people who told the truth. I expected all athletes to lie about the PED use. But I never understood why Armstrong took it so far.

His competitiveness on the bike made him the success. But those same competitive traits outside of sport were really quite shocking.

This is a good reason why society should stop creating role models of athletes. Often the personality traits that are ideal for success in sport are deviant in society. Athletes probably won’t stop doping as a result of Armstrong’s admission, but they could take learn a lesson by restricting their competitive instincts to sport.

ludwig January 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Good points.

The problem Lance and his UCI allies had to deal with is that the economics of the sport required reinforcing the “delusional” fan view of doping in sports.

So Lance had to meet with marketing types who advised him to appear as sincere as possible when making his denials. This included viciously attacking those who told the truth, because from the delusional fan perspective, the whistle blowers are bitter jealous assholes attacking their hero, and Lance felt he had to help reinforce that perspective.

Floyd Landis also had this problem, and obliquely confessed to it in his book, where he talks about meeting marketing types who tell him that his denial should appear as sincere as possible.

Operation Puerto (some 6 years ago) was the most direct cause of both Landis, Hamilton, and Armstrong’s downfall, because it made it obvious to the public and the authorities what was going on. From that moment on, denial was no longer credible.

MattC January 19, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I sure wish I had a really good BS detector, so I would know beyond a shadow of a doubt when someone is lying. But quite obviously I don’t. WAS he lying about his comeback being dope free? Most don’t believe it. I sure wish I knew.

I TOTALLY bought into Floyd’s story back in the day, donated money, drove a long ways one night to hear him talk, buy his book, look him in the eye and shake his hand as he takes my money…he was very good I must say.

I wish I knew what parts of Lances ‘confession’ to believe and what not to believe. I’d like to think that at this point in time (loss of all sponsors, etc etc) he has little reason to lie anymore…oops…there are those rose colored glasses again!

I personally believe he has about zero chance to compete again in anything more competitive than in a senior center ping pong tourney when he is old and grey using a walker…he’ll be doing tri-races about the time Pete Rose gets into the baseball HOF…and I think he MUST know this. I can only believe this is in some part for his family, and some part TRYING to spare the foundation
“the Death Penalty” (if that is possible…time will tell). Certainly the LS foundation is staffed by a LOT of AWESOME PEOPLE who are doing great things they truly believe in. They do not deserve the beating they are taking right now, But then again nor did all the people he bulldozed along the way to perpetrate the lie.

As to the “death sentence” reference, gosh a lot of people out there are taking that WAY to literal. They need to google “NCAA Death Sentence”…it’s a figure of speech for crying out loud. I think it’s a quite appropriate reference for his lifetime ban…it’s surely the death of any true competition. Was it over the top in comparison to the hand-slap his compatriots received? That’s a hard question and it does bother me. Mostly because they all confessed only when subpoenaed. None of them came forward of their own back in the day when they were ALL doping..seems kind’a late now boyz. But I guess that’s just part of our strange legal system. First one (one’s) to rat out the other get the lighter sentence…and make no mistake about this: they were after Lance from the get-go. Even if he HAD confessed early on, he would have still found himself in just about this same exact spot…loss of all sponsors, wins stripped, about the ONLY difference would have been POSSIBLY something less than a lifetime ban. Not a whole lot of upside for him to come clean on that score. He was still living the dream…why would he give that up?

I think the true story will be if/when he TRULY confess to USADA, giving all the details he left out…names, places, the full Monty. I think THAT will prove he’s earnest in coming clean and making amends. The ball is in his court, that’s for sure. Until he does, he’ll continue to take a beating unlike any I’ve ever seen from the scorned public.

William Schart January 20, 2013 at 8:23 am

I can see the point that his doping and his treatment of people are perhaps different things. Certainly his treatment of other compounds his doping offenses. But his treatment of people is closely related to his doping. He “had” to attack Walsh, the Andreus, etc. in order to preserve his image. If his mistreatment of other was related to something totally separate from cycling, say politics, I doubt we’d care much.

William Schart January 20, 2013 at 11:31 am
William Schart January 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm
William Schart January 23, 2013 at 8:41 am

I think it’s time for a bit of humor. This from a cartoon on the editorial page of the local newspaper. It’s not on the website, so I’ll just describe it.

Lance is sitting with Oprah. He confesses to using PEDs, blood doping, etc. Then, in the last panel, he confesses to being Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend, to which Oprah responds “now you’ve gone to far.”

Rant January 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm

William,

Is that in the Tribune or the Missourian? Either way, it sounds pretty funny. And we can always use a bit of levity. Thanks for posting those links, by the way. Most appreciated.

William Schart January 23, 2013 at 3:42 pm

It was I the Trib, accompanying what has become the rather standard “Armstrong is a rat” opinion piece.

MattC January 23, 2013 at 5:30 pm

If you want funny, go check out Fatty’s site from the other day (leaked out-takes from the Oprah interview)…starting with the picture it’s outrageous!

http://www.fatcyclist.com/2013/01/22/leaked-outtakes-from-the-oprah-armstrong-interview/

MattC January 23, 2013 at 5:32 pm

(Go back and re-read the yes or no interview questions a few times and see where it turned around so Lance is asking the questions)

Cub January 23, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Anybody else get their letter from the FBI today? I never had a “victim number” before.

http://velonews.competitor.com/2013/01/news/contributors-to-landis-fund-contacted-by-fbi_272483

Rant January 23, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Ours arrived yesterday. It’s definitely something I wouldn’t have predicted six years ago, when the whole Floyd Fairness Fund was getting started.

William Schart January 27, 2013 at 7:49 am

Interest in LA seems to be dying down, now that “The Interview” is old news. So here’s a bit about MLB looking into shady clinics in southern Florida:

http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/8884955/mlb-investigating-south-florida-ground-zero-ped-war

Rant January 27, 2013 at 9:33 pm

William,

Interesting article. Thanks for posting it. I’ll be curious to see how that story develops.

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