There was a time when I defended Lance Armstrong vociferously. I was not blind – I knew that he was likely guilty of some form of doping. But I was also well-versed in the story of Lance’s triumph over cancer and gritty comeback to cycling prominence. I admired his “f-you” attitude regarding disease and anyone who stood between him and the podium. I took inspiration from his work ethic, his fiery attitude and his magnificent exploits in the Alps the Pyrenees and on his victory laps along the sun-dappled avenues of Paris.
I also found the US Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into Armstrong to be more witch hunt than anything resembling actual jurisprudence and was uncomfortable, to say the least, with USADA head man Travis Tygart’s questionable motives, tactics and evident lack of any jurisdiction to even conduct such an investigation.
Then there were Lance’s vehement denials, his passing of over 500 drug tests, administered at times and places of the governing body’s choosing. In my mind, he was probably guilty of at least blood doping, if not synthetic doping, but I also could not understand exactly why putting your own blood back into your body would even be against the rules. Yet there was never any doubt in my mind that even if he actually doped, he still worked harder, rode faster and kicked more ass than any other doper out there.
Armstrong reigned in a period of ubiquitous doping, and had he not found a way around the rules, he likely would never have been competitive. The Tour de France, you will recall, is a 2,000 mile road race that takes place over the course of three weeks and is sometimes won or lost by a margin of mere seconds. It was a “dope or go home” culture that pervaded the cycling world and Lance found a way to make it work for him. A testament to the pervasive levels of doping in the sport is that the International Cycling Union – cycling’s governing body – chose not to award Lance’s seven vacated Tour de France titles (1999 – 2005) to any other cyclist because there was hardly another competitive cyclist available who had not been guilty of doping during those years.
In the end, much like Barry Bonds in Major League Baseball, Lance Armstrong will be the poster child of the “doping era” in professional cycling. God, I hate to mention Lance Armstrong in the same breath as Barry Bonds – it’s nauseates me.
When he quit his fight against the USADA back in August, I was still a Lance defender, right up until Tygart finally (and quite belatedly) released his evidence in October. And damning evidence it was. Though it was mostly testimonial evidence and, as far as I know, included no positive test results, some of the names of those testifying lent tremendous credibility to the USADA report. You can discount the likes of Floyd Landis, but when Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie talk, people listen. Accordingly, within the span of several days, Lance was abruptly and unceremoniously dumped by his myriad sponsors and cast aside by the cycling community. He was proven to be, ironically, a cancer upon the sport.
Why Oprah, why now?
Thus followed several months of silence from the Armstrong camp. As Autumn bled into the Christmas season and 2013 rolled around, Armstrong was mostly forgotten, replaced in the media and in our Attention Deficit Disorder-stricken minds by the latest bowl results or for the political-minded, by the ever-raging gun-control and fiscal debates – or perhaps for the truly stupid among us, by the Golden Globe awards.
And then it came – the announcement that Lance would appear on Oprah this Thursday to bare his soul. This was a surprise to me. I fully anticipated (and hoped for) a long period of silence from Armstrong during which he would reconnect with his family and begin to rebuild his life in a positive way. I figured it would be at least a year. But three months? Oprah?
If he must do it now – and his megalomania, I have no doubt, dictates that it must be so – wouldn’t he be better served to go on a real talk show – Jim Rome, lets say – where he can take real, hard questions? Instead, he is opting to appear on Oprah, where she will toss him softballs, give him a platform to shed a few tears, whereupon she’ll proclaim him healed and forgiven. I think it’s lame. And desperate. C’mon, Lance!
The American public is a forgiving one. We love a redemption story. But if you make fools of us, you’re screwed. Just ask Barry Bonds.
I’ll watch the Oprah interview on Thursday, mostly out of morbid curiosity. And if Oprah grills him, I’ll be both surprised and thankful. But I still have to wonder – does this man not have advisors? Does he not have publicists whom he pays to cultivate his public image? What are they thinking?