Will the disgraced cyclist's Oprah interview be like the beating of a dead horse—or the final defeat of Jaws?
Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Patrick Hruby (writer, Sports on Earth and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), and Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) discuss National Hockey League's player lockout, for which there's little end in sight.
It's official: Next week, before God and man—or, more specifically, Oprah and her audience—America's favorite disgraced cyclist/cancer-survival-profiteer is going to apologize. Come clean. At the very least, explain himself. After more than a decade of self-righteous, intelligence-insulting denials, vindictive bullying, legal shock and awe and the most retroactively hilarious Nike commercial ever filmed, Armstrong is scheduled to appear next Thursday in a 90-minute OWN special that, according to the network, will be "no-holds-barred" and "address the alleged doping scandal, years of accusations of cheating, and charges of lying about the use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout his storied cycling career."
According to the New York Times, Armstrong has reached out to the United States Anti-Doping Association to explore the possibility of confessing—that is, in exchange for a lifting of his current lifetime ban from participating in Olympics sports, like Triathlon, which Armstrong just happens to compete in. How perfect. How perfectly Armstrong. The title of his hagiography was right: It's not about the bike. And definitely not about doing what's right. It's about doing what's right for Lance. Always and forever. As such, I expect Armstrong to tell Winfrey just enough to satisfy the uninformed, the people who still want to believe in the myth of Cancer Jesus. I expect a half-admission, maybe a quarter-admission, a few shots at his enemies and our entire anti-doping witch huntin' system. (Which, by the way, deserves some abuse. But not from a wholly discredited, utterly biased messenger). I expect about the same as what we heard from Marion Jones.
And that's a shame.
You know what I'd like to hear from Armstrong? Honesty. I'd like to hear him say that he isn't truly sorry—that he's only truly sorry he got caught—because no one who truly regretted everything contained in USADA's voluminous report (and everything else that didn't make it) would have done all those things for so long in such a systemic, calculating, ruthless fashion. Nor would they have tweeted this. I'd like to hear him lambaste society's irrational, hypocritical, unhelpful moral panic regarding performance-enhancing drugs in sports compared to performance-enhancing drugs in every other walk of life. I'd like to hear him puncture the myth that great performers are—by the very dint of their hard-charging competitive success—great guys, heroes even, and that if it took a man winning bicycle races to galvanize us about cancer, then maybe smuggled bags of EPO aren't society's biggest problem.
I guess I'd like a unicorn to win the next Tour de France, too.
Jake, what do you expect from next week's Armstrong maybe-mea-culpa? Should he 'fess up? Apologize? To whom? And what can he possibly accomplish?