Lance Armstrong, as was shown during his cancer diagnosis and treatment, is capable of nobility. It also showed him to be defiant, determined and unwilling to concede any point that conflicted with his controlling nature. Somewhere the lines got crossed and by some arrogant osmosis, Armstrong’s work with his cancer charity and dogged single-minded intensity to confront any challenge with full force morphed into one another and blurred the concept of propriety. He never learned to place those character traits into a positive direction. Like his cancer, it’s a metastasizing entity. Only this one grew so large and extensive that no treatment could control it until it’s eating him alive. The bullheaded “get in my way and I’ll run over you,” is extending to his initial attempt to show contrition for the damage he’s done and it’s a first-ditch/last-ditch effort to salvage whatever he can of his name and reputation.
He doesn’t know that yet. He still thinks he can beat “it.” Whatever “it” is.
Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was meant to be a mea culpa. Through his years and years of denials that he used performance enhancing drugs, Armstrong held to the story to a remarkable degree. The avalanche of evidence buried him and he’s no longer holding to the story, but the personality is the same. And that’s the problem. The altered perception has gone from one of admiration for his achievements to bewilderment that he’s not even trying to put forth the pretense of truly being sorry.
Armchair psychologists, attorneys, body language experts, judges, juries, and executioners sat and watched the interview with a ready-made analysis to explain what Armstrong was really saying. Behind the words and faux tears (of which there were fewer than any of us could have expected), there was still the calculating and devious mind as to how he was going to get out of this and the egomania to think he still can.
The remorse the interview was clearly intended to convey conflicted with his beady eyes darted back and forth, the look of smug condescension and remaining sediment-filled puddle of, “I’m Lance Armstrong, I’ll figure a way out of this,” that has served him so well over the years and maintained the veneer of innocence that so many believed because they wanted to believe it. Knowing what truly occurs in the world of cycling—that it’s impossible in this day and age to win the Tour de France without using PEDs—interfered with the myth, so it was ignored out of convenience and, in the case of his advertisers and those benefiting from him, money.
The strangest part of the Oprah interview was that Armstrong didn’t even bother to try and alter his tone to suit those on the fence of how to proceed in their view of him. The people who don’t care about cycling; who understand why he did what he did; who may have made similar decisions and are willing to give him the opportunity to redeem himself; who never truly believed him in his declarations of innocence but were willing to forgive what he did in the interests of the good he spread with his charity work.
Serial killer Ted Bundy looked more sorry during his pre-execution apology for the victims he murdered than Armstrong did in that interview.
The fundamental problem isn’t any psychological block or personal failing. It’s that Armstrong’s brain doesn’t work that way. Amid all the excuses, fake humility, admissions and self-deprecating humor, it’s not registering that he’s shifted from one set of intractable principles in overcoming obstacles to another. First it was battling cancer; then it was making his comeback and winning; then it was charity work; then it was lying about his drug use; now it’s telling the truth about his drug use. There’s no comprehension or categorizing of right or wrong anywhere in that list because Armstrong is only able to conceive the right and wrong as it suits him. Right is what benefits Lance; wrong is what hurts Lance.
Lance, Lance, Lance.
He would’ve been better off having had a mirror across from him instead of Oprah. Not to denigrate the job she did because she did ask all the right questions, but she didn’t ask about inside information that a Steve Kroft-type journalist, cycling expert, doctor or attorney would. It was too comfortable a forum to get any legitimate emotion and possibly dig underneath to find out exactly what Armstrong was actually thinking. The interview was so gentle that Oprah was trying to romance the answers out of him rather than dissect him, trap him, and force him to come clean.
I was waiting for Armstrong to reference his “cousin in the D.R.” as Alex Rodriguez did. Or to come up with absurd ridiculousness as Roger Clemens did in his ill-advised publicity blitz on 60 Minutes and in front of the government panel. Maybe he should have just clammed up as Barry Bonds did or acted as if he didn’t speak English like Sammy Sosa.
Armstrong used the word “sick” when describing some of his actions and behaviors during the years of lies. It’s certainly sick. It’s sick that people can relate more to what someone like O.J. Simpson did in a fit of rage and jealousy than what Armstrong did in systematically demolishing people who simply told the truth and dared to cross him by not sticking to the rules of his world.
That’s the key to Armstrong. It’s all about him. Still clinging to that idea that everything, everywhere is linked to how it affects Lance, he sees it as unfair that he’s banned for life from competing in marathons and triathlons because it’s being done to him. “Why won’t you let me race?” This while ignoring the scores of people he maligned publicly and dragged into court for telling the truth about his drug use.
Like any dictator or self-anointed monarch, if he’d chosen to let one small incursion into his territory go by unpunished, there would be anarchy. So, as a message to those who would try and try again to bring down his empire, he destroyed them. Now he’s “apologizing,” but is not sorry and maintains the stiff-arm against the world thinking he’ll somehow win.
Armstrong showed nobility in his cancer fight. There’s also a nobility in unrepentance. If he’s not sorry, he shouldn’t say he’s sorry. But he did. If he was trying to alter the public perception of him with his half-hearted allocution, he succeeded. He made it worse.