IN MY OPINION

Linda Robertson: Lance Armstrong has an awful lot of explaining to do

 
WEB VOTE Which sports figure who lied about wrongdoing was most disgraceful?

lrobertson@\MiamiHerald.com

Lance Armstrong is coming out of the hole he dug for himself to confess to Oprah Winfrey.

How much time does he need to admit he was a liar and a cheat? Apparently at least a couple of hours’ worth, to be aired as TV specials on Thursday and Friday nights. That is so Lance. A narcissist even in disgrace.

He and his handlers, seeking redemption, chose a beloved and trusted interlocutor. No one does tearful and heart-rending better than Oprah.

Quintessential Lance — as calculating with his mea culpa as he was with his doping regimen. And he cannot, will not let his accusers have the last word.

We shall see what Armstrong has to say for himself, but even Oprah sounded frustrated a day after her interview: “I would say he did not come clean in the manner I expected.”

Perhaps it is impossible for Armstrong to truly, honestly, openly, sincerely come clean. He has lived a lie for two decades, long enough for his conscience to atrophy to the point where he believed his own snorting denials.

“I have never doped,” Armstrong repeated after superhuman climbs of peaks so tall and steep they were hors categorie — unclassifiable.

“I’ve never tested positive,” he insisted through seven Tour de France victories now erased from the record books.

“How dare you imply that I, a cancer survivor who is an inspirational example of tenacity to millions of suffering people, would put poisons in my body when I train harder than anybody else?” he said when asked how he could pass all the doped cyclists like they were standing still.

He even lied about the number of times he was tested. That figure grew and grew, like Pinocchio’s nose, to 500, when it was actually closer to 60.

His response to a 1,000-page report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that contained testimony from 11 teammates, lab analyses, financial records and emails has been defiance. When evidence of what USADA chief Travis Tygart called “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” came out and Armstrong was stripped of his titles, he tweeted that he was back in his hometown of Austin, lounging around, with a photo of himself on the sofa, below the seven framed yellow jerseys on his wall.

Since then, silence. Until now. Armstrong arrived at Monday’s interview site — an Austin hotel — with an entourage of 12, including lawyers, agents, experts in crisis communications.

Whatever he admitted to, it was planned, controlled. Mustn’t see the blood. Do the transfusions on the team bus on the side of a remote alpine road while the driver pretends to be checking the engine. Or in locked hotel rooms. Or on visits to notorious Italian doctor Michele Ferrari.

Why is Armstrong, 41, spilling his gutlessness to Oprah? He wants to compete again, in triathlons, but is stuck with a lifetime ban by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which will only consider reducing it if he tells how he doped, how he got away with it, who helped him and how it can be prevented. He can pass some of the blame up the ladder to cycling officials who loved the money and attention he brought to the sport.

Now that he has lost his sponsors and resigned as head of his charitable foundation, he needs to refurbish his image. He apologized to employees at the foundation office Monday, without admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs.

He’d like to preserve his wealth, estimated to be between $100million and $120 million. But the master of the intimidating lawsuit is facing a slew of suits against him. If he can make amends, recast himself as a contrite, flawed human being who made mistakes, he might mitigate the damage.

It’s a tried and true marketing strategy for any brand. Presenting the “new and improved” Lance Armstrong. Maybe he has told Oprah he will start an anti-doping campaign.

We’ve asked him to confess his dirty ways. We are a forgiving society. But Armstrong has so much explaining to do, and he’s doing it only because he’s confronted with irrefutable evidence.

How does he explain why he exploited the emotions of those who read his autobiography during chemo treatments? Or those who believed in him for his message of determination? He was doping before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

He used his story of cancer fighter and mountain-conquering hero to create a myth and make a fortune. His Livestrong motto was turned into a Nike line. He conned the cancer community. Barry Bonds and plenty of others lied about PEDs, but they didn’t stoop as low as Armstrong in their deception.

How can Armstrong ever explain — or change — his malicious character? He threatened, accosted, ostracized, bullied, belittled and sued anyone who said he was cheating. He wrecked careers, sabotaged Greg LeMond’s Trek contract and said he’d bribe people to say LeMond doped. He accused journalists of libel. He pressured teammates to dope or lose their jobs. He told Tyler Hamilton he would make his life “a f------ hell.” He told Levi Leipheimer’s wife to “run don’t walk.” He depicted his masseuse as a drunk and Floyd Landis as a nut.

“We like our credibility,” was his snide comment about Landis, a doper who came clean and blew the whistle on Armstrong.

The excuses — every cyclist doped and Armstrong raised a lot of money for a good cause — don’t hold up. What if he had only raised $5,000 with his wristbands? Would that be enough to justify cheating?

If nothing else, the Armstrong fraud teaches us, once and forever, not to fall into hero worship. Athletes aren’t saints, and, with the exception of Armstrong, they don’t pretend to be. They just want to win more badly than the rest of us.

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