Pedaling Backward: Can Oprah Save Lance Armstrong?

Lance Armstrong (Photo: lancearmstrong.com)
Lance Armstrong (Photo: lancearmstrong.com)

You may want to make a drinking game out of this one: take a shot of tequila every time Lance Armstrong uses the word “sorry” during his interview with Oprah Winfrey this Thursday.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, today’s the big Armstrong interview taping. It’s when the lights will come on, cameras will roll and Oprah will waddle to her throne next to a stone-faced Armstrong as the beleaguered former cyclist is expected to finally come clean about being dirty – using performance-enhancing drugs to help propel him to 7 Tour de France titles and a slew of endorsement money. Check your local listings. There may even be tears.

This, of course, isn’t the first time a former athlete or celebrity has turned to Oprah for instant absolution. From couch-jumping actors to drug-addicted starlets, Oprah has been the go-to queen of turning around public perception, helping Hollywood stars save face amidst scandal. Oprah’s a publicist’s dream: If Oprah forgives you America and the world will forgive you, too.

But how bad is the timing for Armstrong? Here we are, almost a decade since his last Tour de France title, and he decides to confess a mere week after Major League Baseball announces that it will be inducting zero former players into the Hall of Fame due to their involvement with steroids. One of those players, Mark McGwire (12-time All-Star, 10th all-time with 583 home runs), may never sniff a HOF ceremony in his lifetime. Yet he has maintained a presence around baseball since he retired from the game in 2001. McGwire will start the 2013 MLB season as the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As for Armstrong, he tried coming back to cycling in 2009 but he never enjoyed the same success he had during his 7-year Tour run. And I’m all for someone trying to move on with their lives; Armstrong admitting he was a cheater might lift a huge burden off of his shoulders, but here’s to hoping that not too many people forgive him.

Why? Because Armstrong could have saved face a long time ago, that’s why. He duped thousands, millions, of people throughout the world in the name of cancer, in the name of money and greed and, most of all, because his ego outgrew his 165-pound frame. A report surfaced around the time Armstrong’s Tour titles were revoked earlier this year, indicating that he would have been able to keep 5 of the 7 Tour titles in exchange for a short ban and information leading to other cyclists tainting their blood and urine samples.

Armstrong would have had my forgiveness had he come out and basically said the following: “Cancer is a son of a bitch. I took drugs to keep me from dying and, unfortunately, I took them to keep me from losing. I made a big mistake. My test samples may have been tainted but, you know what? My heart has always remained pure. This is why I started my foundation – to raise money to save lives. I can only ask that you forgive me.”

Instead, Armstrong remained defiant in maintaining his innocence. He challenged anti-doping officials to find something on. And though it took a number of years to do so, these officials took this challenge to heart. They looked and stayed patient as Armstrong continued duping those that continued to believe him. Surely, after all of the negative testing, the charade of a having an independent film crew chronicle every minute of his comeback (including urine tests), that this guy must be clean. I was one of those that continued to believe.

On the day my father was diagnosed with cancer last spring, one of the first things I did was to go out and purchase enough yellow Livestrong wristbands for my entire family in support of my dad. And while our family hoped and prayed for my father’s recovery, I secretly hoped that Armstrong was, in fact, clean.

But he wasn’t. While most cyclists couldn’t catch up with him throughout French villages and mountain roads, the allegations finally did. And for the life of me, as my dad’s health has improved, I look at that yellow wristband and wonder whether I should even wear it or not. But I still do, begrudgingly, because it doesn’t represent one man’s plight as survivor turned cheater, it represents everyone afflicted by cancer and the friends and family that support them.

So I’ll continue to wear my wristband and hope that others resist the urge to trash theirs. Where yellow used to symbolize Tour triumphs, we’ll have to shift meaning to how yellow now symbolizes victory over cancer one day. As for Armstrong,  yellow should mean “Live Cautiously.” Just because he’ll get a pardon from Oprah doesn’t mean Lance hasn’t seen his last courthouse.

As for Thursday, it’ll be interesting to see how a 7-time Tour de France champ pedals backwards.

Phillip D. Cortez writes Monkey C Blog mostly every week and is the author of Night Rhythms, a children’s book for people of all ages. His next book, When I Close My Eyes, is due out in the Fall. Follow on Twitter @monkeycblog and LIKE at fb.com/monkeycblog

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2 comments

  1. Of course, Oprah is looking for redemption, too. She buried her show in cable-land, and is rather short of viewers. As for Lance, it will all depend on what he does from here on out. I hope he apologizes not only with his words, but with his actions. He owes a lot of people a lot of dough that he defrauded them of. Whether he moves to make restitution will be an acid test of his sincerity. Talk is cheap. Tens of millions of dollars he shouldn’t have earned isn’t. He does have a path to redemption, and he can still spend the rest of his life doing good for others. Let’s hope that’s the direction he takes.

    Like

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