It also was unclear whether Armstrong was uttering carefully scripted lines, speaking from the heart or a bit of both.
And it was unclear whether Armstrong realized that this first step must be followed by a far more substantive step — testifying under oath about how he perpetuated his decade-long doping fraud — if he wants any chance of rebuilding his shredded reputation and returning to a legitimate, competitive arena.
Almost from the moment the first installment ended, the global cycling community and rank-and-file sports fans started weighing in.
Was Armstrong’s highly publicized and long overdue confession an act of genuine contrition? Or was it performance art?
At one extreme was the visceral disgust of those who have heard and seen enough of the cancer survivor-turned sporting champion who mocked skeptics whom he said “can’t believe in miracles.”
“A sniveling, lying, cheating little wretch” is how CNN talk-show host Piers Morgan characterized Armstrong on Twitter, adding, “I hope he now just disappears.”
Others were supportive, including former teammate Tyler Hamilton, whom Armstrong vowed to ruin after he provided the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency with first-hand accounts of his doping activity.
Hamilton hailed the confession as “a huge, huge first step” on NBC’s “Today Show.”
The stark clarity provided by Armstrong’s itemized acknowledgment of the banned drugs and blood-doping practices he relied on was followed by more equivocal responses, as one admission after another was followed by a stated or implied “But . . .”
As in: “All the fault and all the blame here falls on me. But behind that picture and behind that story is momentum.” Armstrong’s point was that as a cancer survivor who went on to win cycling’s most grueling race, he found himself trapped in a narrative perpetuated by fans and the media.
At another point, he said: “They are my mistakes, and I’m sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I’m sorry for that. The culture was what it was.” The point here was that doping was endemic during the era in which he competed; he only did what other top riders did.
And when confronted with video clips and accounts of his most unsavory behavior, Armstrong spoke about his victims in the passive voice, as if he hadn’t been present.
Reminded that he had not only sued team masseuse Emma O’Reilly but also called her a “whore” after she disclosed he had gotten a cortisone prescription backdated to explain away his improper use of the performance enhancer, Armstrong said, “She is one of the people that got run over and got bullied,” neglecting to point out that he was the one driving the steamroller.