Lying and living strong
Lance Armstrong has reportedly admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career, finally conceding the grand deception that much of the sporting world saw through long ago.
Though the interview is due to be broadcast Thursday on the Oprah Winfrey Network, most viewers will already know by then about Armstrong’s admission of guilt. But spoiler alert aside, I — as well as many others — will watch to see how an American sports hero discusses falling so far from grace.
It isn’t about whether he did or didn’t cheat. Armstrong participated in a sport rife with drug abuse, similar to baseball’s steroid era. The “everyone was doing it” excuse rarely flies, however.
Moreover, Lance lied for years about his guilt. After the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency banned him for life earlier this year, he still claimed innocence but stated that he no longer wished to spend his time and resources fighting doping allegations. So why admit it now?
For a long time it seemed as if Lance wanted to preserve his athletic legacy as one of the greatest cyclists and American athletes of all time. Armstrong fiercely fought allegations of failed drug tests and cover-ups, and even while his former teammates confessed to doping and turned on him, Lance remained steadfast in his denial.
Maybe the lies finally came to weigh too much on his conscience. Or maybe, up until this point, he truly believed he hadn’t done anything wrong. But when the public has already drawn its conclusions about Armstrong’s guilt and the USADA has stripped his seven Tour titles, what’s in it for Lance?
Maybe Lance is admitting to doping allegations in hopes of earning some forgiveness and setting himself apart from athletes such as Barry Bonds or other high-profile steroid users who refuse to come clean.
But maybe he is coming clean for a different purpose: to preserve his own legacy as a philanthropist and humanitarian.
Lance not only made cycling relevant in America and around the world, but he has also made a significant contribution to fighting cancer through the Livestrong Foundation, formerly known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
I cannot stomach cheaters in sports, or in life for that matter, but it is undeniable that Armstrong inspired a generation of cancer patients through his survival and subsequent success on the cycling circuit. He utilized his celebrity status to create one of the world’s foremost cancer awareness organizations. Livestrong reports that it has raised more than $470 million since its inception in 1997, and 81 percent of that money has gone directly to cancer awareness programs and services.
Donations to the Foundation have suffered lately, and Forbes recently reported that some Livestrong supporters asked for their donations back last fall. There appears to be a strong negative correlation between bad publicity for Lance and Livestrong donations.
Last fall, Armstrong stepped down as the chairman of the foundation and later resigned his position on the board of directors. Shortly after, the Lance Armstrong Foundation changed its name to the Livestrong Foundation, presumably in an attempt to separate itself from the negative publicity swirling around Armstrong himself.
Regardless of how he tries to distance himself, Lance will always be the face of Livestrong for those of us who saw him race, wore the yellow bracelets and believed in him. Maybe Lance’s interview with Oprah is a selfless attempt to preserve and restore faith in Livestrong by rebuilding his own reputation.
Armstrong has been called a narcissist, a cheater and a bully. He undoubtedly has many character flaws, and he scammed his way into the hearts of American sports fans. For that he will never be forgiven; Lance the athlete will forever live in infamy. But do those he inspired to fight cancer really care if he doped? Maybe some do, but I’m sure others are thankful to have had that figure to stand with while they faced the greatest challenge in their lives.
When it comes down to it, there’s no way to accurately compare the good Lance has done for cancer awareness with the fraud he committed and the extent to which he benefitted, financially and otherwise, from his deception. His philanthropic work cannot redeem his athletic fraud, and his doping admission cannot dilute the impact of his charitable work.
Although we already know the conclusion, I’m interested in seeing how Lance himself frames his transgressions. Ultimately, I hope that the former hero and inspiration to millions is sincere in his admission. Maybe he won’t offer an apology, but I hope this is at least more than a lame and artificial PR ploy.
Maybe the interview won’t change anyone’s perception of Lance. There will always be those that despise him for the way he played us for fools. But there will also be those who are forever grateful for the impact he has had on cancer awareness. I lie somewhere in the middle, hoping that this interview will convince me to forgive a man whose success and celebrity was merely a magnificent facade — even if he used that facade to champion a noble cause.