For years, Lance Armstrong has adamantly maintained that he would never alter his response to allegations that he was involved in doping during his stellar cycling career. Today, that is expected to change.
He will “speak candidly” in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, which means he is expected to admit, in a non-specific way, that he was indeed using performance-enhancing drugs when he won seven Tour de France titles. In the old days of “Oprah,” this would have been destination TV. Now, with her couch somewhat diminished and her network lost in cableworld, the world will await teasers from the interview, which will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Thursday on “Oprah’s Next Chapter” on Winfrey’s network and on Oprah.com.
Using Oprah — who will also be using Armstrong to boost her network’s ratings, the Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz writes — is only the beginning of the rehabilitation tour of one of the man who once was one of the world’s most beloved and visible athletes. This is only the first step on a difficult path, one in which and it’s one fraught with difficulty. Armstrong faces a number of lawsuits and his Livestrong cancer charity, inextricably entwined with his personal brand, has taken an an enormous hit.
Armstrong resigned from Livestrong and lost his lucrative sponsorship deals after a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report resulted in a lifetime ban and the loss of his seven Tour de France titles. Armstrong will follow a lengthy public-relations blueprint with a strategy that USA Today says is “long-term”:
Armstrong does not expect to regain sponsors any time soon by confessing. He also doesn’t expect to resume his athletic career any time soon after being banned for life. He doesn’t even expect to sign a book deal right away, though there will be offers.
By contrast, if he decided not to confess, he was looking at a life of avoiding the subject and a pariah-like status in some quarters. Before the USADA evidence came out, he not only denied doping for years, but he attacked those who accused him of doping, including teammate Floyd Landis, with whom he is attempting to reconcile.
After the evidence came out, Armstrong stopped attacking and remained mostly silent on the subject. He had two realistic choices: keep quiet about it, or come clean. The latter option offered possible public redemption, even if it might take years.
“He appears to be gambling that the public will ultimately forgive him and he will be able to rehabilitate his image and earning potential,” said Brian Socolow, a New York-based business attorney not involved in the Armstrong case.
The logical choice for Step 1 was an interview with Winfrey. After that, it will be easier to separate the myth from the lies. If The Daily Beast’s Buzz Bissinger is any guide, even Oprah may not be able to rescue Armstrong:
… I also knew that in trying to defend Armstrong and still insist he was a hero, I had to defy obvious reality: after years of threatening, even suing, those who had previously claimed he had blood-doped or used illegal performance enhancers, you don’t just simply walk away from the fight.
I will not take all the blame.
Because I was played by Armstrong. I was played when he told me with such heartfelt conviction that he was “at peace” with the decision he had made not to fight the USADA any longer. I believed the assertions coming time and time again from his camp that USADA head Travis Tygart was conducting a vendetta and witch hunt, offering immunity to known liars just so they would testify against Armstrong.
I liked it when he sent me a tweet of appreciation after I had written a previous column condemning the federal government for the millions it spent going after professional athletes for illegal use of performance enhancers (I still believe the money was wasted). I liked telling my son Caleb, who idolized Armstrong, that “you will never guess who tweeted me.” My only solace is that my son, like so many others who looked up to Armstrong, now hates him.
All of this comes to a head on Monday when Armstrong sits down with Oprah Winfrey for what he says will be an exhaustive and hard-hitting interview in which no questions will be off-limits.
The interview is to air Thursday. But I will give you a preview now for determining his veracity:
Whatever he says, subtract by a thousand, divide by two, then three, then multiply the whole sum of [expletive] by zero.