Friday, January 18, 2013

Lance Armstrong comes "clean"-ish

In a self-serving semi-confession by a former cheat who's painted himself into a corner with his own lies and deceptions, Lance Armstrong has gone online on Oprah's OWN network and admitted to certain wrongdoings in the course of his cycling career.

Oprah being the sympathetic interviewer that she is, Lance gets the chance to shape his own narrative, set the tone of his confession and get more of the public in his side as his standing in the cycling community crashes like a blind biker on the Col de Tourmalet descent.

This from a man who has consistently bullied, sued and threatened anyone who's dared reveal that he cheated repeatedly and systematically and who might have been trying to save the sport of cycling from exactly this kind of scandal.

Lance Armstrong has destroyed the last shred of respect for his sport and for his foundation, but the Oprah interview allows him to adopt the confessional, sympathetic tone that resonates with the TV public, when he should really be up before a disciplinary hearing or criminal court.

He gets to avoid certain questions, to say "I'm lying down on that one. I'm not going to take that on..." when the real answer is that he was flat-out lying, defaming and doing all he could to destroy people who accused him of cheating.

Armstrong clearly believes his own hype and even here nitpicks opponents' statements to somehow convince himself that because some tiny aspect of their statements is incorrect, their entire revelation of his drug use is invalid.

The interview kicks off with a series of definitive yes-no questions, like "Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance". But the fact that it then segues into a few hours of discusssion means it's really a "yes, but" answer.

This is Armstrong explaining himself, something no other player in this revelation of his drug cheating – not the US Anti-Doping Agency, not the cycling federation, not any of his former teammates – has been able to do to this extent. To his credit, he does admit that "I view this situation as one big lie", but again he implies that a lot of what his accusers were saying wasn't completely true either.

He denies that his donations to the International Cycling Union (ICU) were a way of corrupting the Union to overlook his indiscretions, but the claims hang in the air and are perhaps calculated to cast the magnifying glass back onto the sport's administrators who permitted this to happen for so long.

Indeed, they do need to be held to account for allowing Armstrong to get bigger than the sport itself, "too big to fall" to use a germaine financial metaphor. But this was not something done to Lance Armstrong, or even something he got swept up in that got out of control. He did this. He took drugs to give himself an unfair advantage, and he lied and bullied to cover it up.

And now he's been caught and stripped of his medals, his sponsorships, his leadership of his Livestrong foundation and his glory. So now he is fighting back with the last weapon in his arsenal – his celebrity.

Luckily for him, in contemporary culture that's a strong weapon. And indeed Lance cuts a sympathetic figure, with his sincere demeanour, formal jacket and greying hair.

The interview might not have been scripted, but it is as much the first step in the rehabilitation of a fallen figure as an exposition of his transgressions. So Armstrong has somehow managed to go from "denying wrongdoing" to "on the way back to acceptance" in one step.

...and without facing any of the formal accusers in the sports and government establishment who have an interest in keeping sport clean for future generations.

Sadly what future generations see is a big star being a big star, albeit with a stoic, apologetic look on his face. It's not unlike the Tiger Woods scenario, where the crooked cheat remains the star, the main story, and those harmed by his actions are ignored, shuffled off the stage and removed from the narrative.

The corrupt superhero is given another chance to hypnotise the masses with their star quality. Once again, as in the depraved world of reality television, the substance of these people's utterances, or their conduct is filtered through their own narcissistic commentary.

Anyone who has access to one of the most powerful media platforms on the planet can shape people's understanding of their offences and spin them as they like. Oprah is complicit in this, but she needs a big-name interview subject to rescue her ratings and viewership, so it's a symbiotic brand partnership as much as it's a news scoop.


Matt Black said...

For the most part, I believe what he said. Finally, from the horses mouth, he said that he took banned substances. He skipped the details, but its still a confession.
His other big statement was Oprah asking "At the time, did it feel wrong?" and Lance replies with a short "No." To say it on camera is a rather big step.

I do think that this was a big stint to get before a TRC-style tribunal. He dodged around names, dates and exact events in the TV interview but come judgement day he'll name names and describe, in detail, accounts of others doping.

And Oprah using Lance to springboard her own work back into the spotlight? Definitely. However she remains a fantastic interviewer and we must give her credit for trying to probe the world that Lance lives/lived in. Hoping Oprah comes out the stronger of the two in this. The world does not Lance. We can do with stuff under our chairs however.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say 'unfair advantage' though - most of the top sport speople dope to cope with other athletes - Lance is not to be singled out, if USADA staerted delving, more rats will be identified. Lance was wrong yes - agree totally, but why not test the other cyclists as well to level all scores??

Hagen Engler said...

It looks like there's about 10 years of cycling records that might as well be removed from the record books, as it was more "lab wars" than road racing. And whichever cyclists weren't doping will remain anonymous, whereas they should be recognised as the winners.