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Oprah Winfrey has announced that she will be doing an exclusive 90-minute interview with Lance Armstrong next week.
According to Oprah’s press release, “Armstrong will address the alleged doping scandal, years of accusations of cheating, and charges of lying about the use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout his storied cycling career.”
The interview is described as “no-holds barred.”
Last week, in a bizarre twist in the Armstrong story, the New York Times reported that Lance Armstrong was considering confessing everything to doping regulators in the hope that they would let him compete again.
Following so closely on the heels of that report, it’s hard to imagine that Lance Armstrong would sit down with Oprah for 90 minutes to make yet another vehement (and, at this point, absurd) denial–especially after saying he was never going to talk about any of this stuff again. (When Armstrong decided not to defend himself against the doping charges last summer, he issued the latest in a long string of furious denials and said that he was done talking about the past.)
And Oprah certainly isn’t going to fly all the way to Armstrong’s house in Texas just to sit there and ask Armstrong how he’s feeling. At least I hope she’s not.
So it seems reasonable to assume that the purpose of this interview is for Armstrong to finally confess to the doping allegations that he has denied and lied about for years.
If so, good.
And if this confession includes the first in a long string of apologies, all the better.
Because Lance Armstrong owes a lot of people an apology.
And a 90-minute interview with Oprah is probably a good place to start.
(It’s a much better place to start than the doping regulators: There are a lot more important things at stake here than whether Lance Armstrong ever competes in organised sports again.)
For what it’s worth, I’ve spelled out what I’d like to hear in this interview below. But first, some background.
I was a huge Lance Armstrong fan. He was one of my heroes. The come-back-from-cancer-and-then-win-seven-Tours thing was just mind-bogglingly impressive and inspiring. As was Lance’s charity work.
In the early days of the doping scandal, I didn’t care so much about it: To the extent that I thought about it, I assumed that everyone in the sport did it, and that you had to do it if you wanted to compete. Over the years, as more and more of the evidence came out, I just wanted to know the truth. I wanted to know whether it was even possible for a clean racer to compete against dozens of doped-up racers and still kick their asses year after year. I hoped that it was possible. How can you not hope stories like that are possible? And, for a while, because of Lance’s fervent and furious denials, the answer to that question seemed to be “maybe.”
(Now, it’s clear that the answer is obviously “no.”)
As time went on, and more and more of Lance’s former teammates came forward and did the brave, bold, and right thing (tell the truth), I admired them for that. And, as Lance Armstrong himself greeted these confessions with more denials and vicious attacks, I gradually lost respect for him. Cycling is a team sport, and Armstrong never would have won those races without the work of his teammates. And for him to come out and trash them for doing nothing more than telling the truth seemed unbelievably selfish and mean.
As I think about Lance Armstrong now, in fact, I realise that I’m less bothered by the doping than I am by his lying and trashing of his former teammates.
I certainly don’t condone the doping–it was cheating, and it hurt everyone who didn’t dope (most of whom weren’t in the peloton, because they couldn’t compete)–but I understand it. When everyone you’re competing against is doping, I imagine that it’s easy to rationalize that doping is just part of the sport.
But Armstrong didn’t have to lie about it repeatedly.
And he didn’t have to trash his former teammates for telling the truth and try to destroy their reputations and careers.
So, that’s what I will be looking for when Oprah sits down with Lance Armstrong next week for what I expect will be a full-blown confession.
I will be looking to hear the full doping story, yes. And I will be hoping that Armstrong takes full responsibility for the decisions he made while doing it–including basically insisting that his teammates do it, according to the USADA’s allegations.
But mostly I will be curious to see whether Armstrong 1) apologizes for lying and trashing his teammates and associates, and 2) appears genuinely sorry about doing it.
Because until he does both of those things, I won’t really feel like Lance Armstrong has learned anything. And I certainly won’t see any reason to root for him again.
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