Thursday night. After a brief montage put together by Oprah’s OWN, the moment of truth aired at 8:03pm CST:
Many people had been waiting years for this moment. Lance fans and Lance haters. LiveSTRONG supporters. Cancer survivors. But was it enough for any of them?
At this point, Armstrong has been stripped of every cycling achievement since 1998. He’s lost his seven Tour wins and his bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He was forced to resign from the board of the LiveSTRONG Foundation he founded and described as his “sixth child.” And his corporate sponsors have all turned their backs on him, some even pursuing lawsuits against him.
Armstrong spent the last decade vehemently denying doping allegations. In that time he clearly demonstrated his anger. He never hid the contempt he had for those who made allegations against him. His interviews were filled with hatred and emotion.
Now, in the face of all this loss – and in his first public confession – Armstrong maintains a poise that betrays his (limited) words. For many, Armstrong’s carefully constructed responses and lack of emotion during the interview reeked of insincerity.
The only time Armstrong hinted at any emotion was when speaking of his son. According to Armstrong, it was witnessing his son defend him that led to his change of heart and his public confession. Even in these awkward moments, Armstrong failed to shed a tear. But he did hint at a humanity beneath the stoic veneer.
In an article in the LA Times, Scott Allison, a psychology professor at the University of Richmond who has studied fallen heroes in American society, had one theory for the obvious flaw in Armstrong’s performance. “For people like Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, it’s so foreign to admit wrongdoing that they are out of their element. …It can come across as robotic.”
In Thursday night’s interview, Armstrong confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs during his run of seven tour victories. He acknowledged his use of banned substances EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, cortisone and growth hormone. He stated his “cocktail of choice” was EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions.
Armstrong claimed that the use of banned substances was part of the cycling culture. “That’s like saying. ‘We have to have air in our tires or water in our bottles.’ ” Using performance-enhancing substances was “part of the job.”
Armstrong denied allegations that he forced teammates into using banned substances. His only concession was to say that he “lead by example” and that, in his role as the team lead, part owner in the team and a “bully,” others may have felt pressured.
In Oprah’s pseudo-psychology, she suggested that fame doesn’t make a person something they are not. Instead, it magnifies one’s true self. If someone is a jerk, then fame makes them a bigger jerk. If one is a bully, fame makes them a bigger bully.
This term “bully” came up frequently. Armstrong said that in his time defeating cancer, he wanted to control everything that was happening to him. This need to control, this “character flaw,” dominated his personality from then on. He needed to be in control of his tour victories – which he said were guaranteed in his mind. He needed to control the people around him.
Before my diagnosis, I would say I was a competitor, but I wasn’t a fierce competitor. In an odd way, that process turned me into a person that was truly win-at-all-costs. I will do anything I have to to survive. And that’s good! And I took that attitude — that ruthless, relentless attitude — right into cycling. And that’s bad.
What’s worse is that, when his cycling career ended and those people around him started to bring the truth to light, Armstrong needed to continue to control them. And he did so by decimating them publicly. He bullied them to the point of destroying their careers and their lives. In his own words, he was “ruthless” in his attacks. Can this behavior ever be forgiven?
“Overcoming the disease, winning the Tour, the happy marriage… it was mythic, the perfect story… It wasn’t true. I’m a flawed character.”
As for the apologies, here are Armstrong’s own words:
It’s a major flaw, and it’s a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. And it’s inexcusable. And when I say there are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that. I do.
They have every right to feel betrayed, and it’s my fault. I will spend the rest of my life… trying to earn back trust and apologize to people.
I will start [by] saying this is too late. It’s too late probably for most people. And that’s my fault.
And after the apologies? The moment that stunned even those who may have softened during the awkward pauses when he spoke of his children? Armstrong stated that his lifetime ban from sport was unfair. That his punishment doesn’t fit the crime. That he “deserves” the right to compete again.
What’s the reaction to Armstrong’s confession? United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief Travis Tygart, in a statement released shortly after Armstrong’s confession aired Thursday evening, said:
Tonight, Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit.
His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction. But, if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.
John Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) told the Associated Press:
He was wrong, he cheated and there was no excuse for what he did.
If he was looking for redemption, he didn’t succeed in getting that. My feeling, after watching the interview, is that he indicated that he probably would not have gotten caught if he hadn’t returned to the sport.
If he’s serious about wanting to redeem himself, he only had one course of action that he could have taken, and that is to go before an appropriate tribunal under oath, and give evidence that subjected him to cross-examination, where he would have to name names, tell of the officials, the entourage, who supplied the drugs, when, where, and which riders were associated.
Liz Clarke of the Washing Post said of Lance’s confession:
If it was a first step on Armstrong’s road to redemption after being stripped of his seven Tour de France title and banned from competition for life, it was a baby step. And he may not cover that road in a lifetime of apologies.
In the end, Armstrong admitted to doping, but conveniently not after 2005. Convenient, if he can get his doping ban reduced to eight years. He denied allegations that he forced doping on anyone else. He denied ever failing a drug test during his reign, despite testimony to the contrary. He denied accusations that he bribed UCI to clear his name for him. Despite a “no holes barred” interview, he refused to answer questions about those whose careers he destroyed. And, most shockingly, he argued that he deserved the chance to compete again.
In the interview, Armstrong informed us that doping didn’t fit his definition of cheating, as it only “leveled the playing field” as opposed to it allowing him to “gain an advantage on a rival or foe.” That admission alone gives us insight into how Armstrong can arrange facts or justify his behavior to suit his own purposes.
Reflecting on his past self, Armstrong said, “Look at that arrogant prick.” After his Oprah interview/confession, the public is still waiting to see a contrite Armstrong, someone not his old self.