We hosted a school potluck at our house last night, but at 9pm, I was able to sneak into a bedroom and watch the Lance Armstrong interview.
Here are some thoughts:
- It was a weird interview. Contrary to some of the reactions on Twitter, I thought Armstrong seemed genuine when he finally admitted to doping. But the most important part of the interview for me was always going to be what he said about trashing (and suing and trying to destroy) his friends and teammates who did nothing more than tell the truth about him. It was that behaviour, combined with the vehement, repeated, and indignant lies over the years, that ultimately made me lose respect for him. Armstrong did acknowledge that he had attacked his friends, but he didn’t seem particularly sorry about it. And he didn’t apologise for lying for so long to so many people.
- Above all, I came away with the impression that Lance Armstrong is indeed an amazing competitor … and a selfish arsehole. This was certainly the impression that I had developed in recent years—an impression that was quite different than I had in the years when Armstrong was one of my heroes (except for the “amazing competitor” part). What was interesting, though, was that Armstrong didn’t seem to feel like being a selfish arsehole is something that one should feel bad about or apologise for. He was quite matter-of-fact about it. (i.e., “Oh, no question, I was a huge jerk. I wanted to win at all costs, and I didn’t care about how I treated people. Next question?”) That’s an unusual perspective.
- I can understand why Armstrong does not view doping as “cheating,” and I’m glad that Oprah (who did a great job) didn’t get all holier-than-thou on him about it. Armstrong said he viewed sticking needles in his arms the same way he viewed putting air in his tires and water in his bottles—it was just something you had to do if you wanted to be competitive. And I’ve always assumed Armstrong was right about that. Given the prevalence of doping in cycling in that era, it seems the only people who were hurt and disadvantaged by the doping were those who chose not to do it—who had to sacrifice their dreams and quit the sport. Those people, of course, matter. And they are why it will never be “OK” that Armstrong or anyone else doped. But it’s hard to view Armstrong’s doping as giving him a big leg up over the racers he was actually competing against when those other racers were all doing the same thing.
- Armstrong’s discussion about the friends and teammates he trashed—the worst part of his behaviour—was revealing and disappointing. Armstrong acknowledged hurting people like Betsy Andreu, the wife of one of his former teammates, whose livelihood and reputation he had destroyed. But he didn’t seem sorry about it. And, bizarrely, he took pains to say that, while he had called Andreu “crazy” and “a bitch,” he had never called her “fat.” Although not being called “fat” might come as some comfort to Andreu (who, for what it’s worth, isn’t fat), the fact that Armstrong would try to clarify this is just bizarre. What I would have expected to hear, from someone who actually felt bad, was something along the lines of “I said terrible things about Betsy. Repeatedly. Things that weren’t true. Things I said just to hurt and undermine her. And I ruined her husband’s reputation so that he could never work in the industry again. Her husband, Frankie, was a teammate of mine. He helped me win races. And all he did was tell the truth. And I destroyed him. I feel absolutely awful about that.” Armstrong also suggested, again, that Betsy Andreu might not have been telling the truth about him admitting using performance enhancing drugs to doctors in a hospital room back in the 1990s (she was in the room). This was also ungracious. If he felt like he had to challenge that story, he could have said something like “I honestly don’t remember saying that, which is part of why I was so angry at Betsy, but it certainly would have been true.”
Bottom line, it was a weird interview.
Armstrong took responsibility for a lot of what I hoped he would take responsibility for. But if part of the point of publicly coming clean is to ask people to forgive him and start to root for him again, it doesn’t seem like he’s mentally and emotionally where he needs to be.
It is just not OK to use your vast wealth and power to try to destroy friends and colleagues for doing nothing more than telling the truth about you.
It is just not OK to sue so many former colleagues (who are telling the truth) that you can’t even remember whether you sued one person in particular. (Armstrong assumed he had sued Emma O’Reilly, a former team trainer, because “we” sued so many people, but he didn’t remember that suit in particular).
It is just not OK to lie repeatedly, indignantly, and under oath and then not convey some regret or explanation for that.
So it sounds to me as though Lance Armstrong still has a ways to go before he really understands why so many people are so pissed at and disappointed with him. Given that he has already had many years to think about it, I wonder if he ever will.
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