There is no denying that Oprah Winfrey’s interview on her OWN network with Lance Armstrong was riveting, not just for sports fans but anyone who is a student of human nature. The fascinating thing was not Armstrong’s supposed “mea culpa” but the rather unemotional nature in which it was delivered. I started thinking that if Armstrong had been Scrooge that those three spirits would have never convinced him to stop saying “Humbug!” Some people tend to be humble and others get emotional during such an opportunity, but Armstrong seemed to be holding onto his own myth like a fisherman who had a 500-pound tuna on the line – one that he knew would get away.
Lance Armstrong’s one emotional moment was when he talked about his thirteen year old son Luke, who kept defending his father by saying, “What you’re saying about my dad is not true.” Armstrong claims this is when he had to tell Luke the truth. Of course, the “truth” has been the center of Armstrong’s problems all along. It has been his version of the truth as opposed to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s version, which clearly named Armstrong as an integral part of a doping scheme.
For a long time the people at USADA and anyone else who dared to point a finger at Armstrong were called liars. They were out to get him. Everyone was out to get him. Of course, I wanted to believe Armstrong’s truth; so many of us did. We bought his story hook, line, and sinker. We all love the tale of the comeback, and Armstrong beat the odds against testicular cancer and then went on to triumph in one of the most grueling sporting events in the world: the Tour de France. He didn’t just win one – he won seven straight titles. This wasn’t just a great story; it transcended sports and became myth, and Armstrong became an iconic American hero.
Unfortunately, just like in most myths, the heroes are too good to be true. In some cases they may be demigods, but Armstrong was just an ordinary human who rose to extraordinary heights. He beat cancer; he beat his opponents on tour, and he would not let them ruin him. He fought back against the lies told against him. He sued people and tried to ruin them in return. It got into really ugly and vicious territory.
But the truth seems to always rise to the surface, and the USADA’s persistence nailed Armstrong for taking PEDs. He was no longer the victim but the liar he claimed everyone else to be. So caught up in the fable he had crafted, Armstrong’s story unraveled and now we have reached this point. His talking to Oprah brings no catharsis, no relief to those he falsely accused, and most certainly not to his own son.
I must say that Armstrong’s interview changes nothing for me. He deserves to be stripped of his titles, to be humiliated in the public eye, and to incur the wrath of those he falsely accused. There is no room in sports for him or anyone like him. Perhaps the most glaringly important “truth” here is that liars almost always get caught by the lies they spin, like spiders suddenly trapped in their own webs.
I once loved the story of Lance Armstrong, but now he goes into the repository of lost sports heroes who let down their fans, teams, families, and friends. If Pete Rose can be banned for life from baseball for gambling, then Armstrong should be banned for life from cycling and any other competitive event for this. In the end this means that he loses everything, most especially his legacy. Now he will be forever known for everything he did wrong instead of anything he did right.
Armstrong has finally told the truth to the world, but excuse those of us who feel less than satisfied by his confession. It seemed disingenuous to say the least. He got caught, and he knows we know that he did, and now he is confessing what everyone else already knows, but he’s doing so without facing the fact that his truth isn’t as convincing as his lies used to be. What a sad day for Achilles when he realizes that he has more than his heel to worry about. What a sad day for us all.
Photo credit: usatoday.com