Wednesday, January 16, 2013

After All Else Fails, Lance Armstrong Tries Doing the Right Thing

The big PR news this week is Lance Armstrong's interview with Oprah, in which, he confesses to using performance enhancing drugs to win all those Tour de France titles. Armstrong's goal is to have his lifetime ban from the US Anti-Doping Agency reduced or eliminated. According to the Wall Street Journal, Armstrong believes competing in events like triathlons will provide him a steady stream of income now that all those lucrative corporate sponsors have dumped him.

There are three keys to successful image rehab after scandal. First is that the confession has to be authentic. In this case, it feels like the expedient thing for Armstrong to do. There is a disingenuity to all of this that feels smarmy.

Second, the confession has to come with an apology to those hurt or impacted. I've not seen the Oprah interview, but Armstrong did apologize to employees of the foundation that he created. The apology, however, came without any admission of guilt. This feels a bit like the apology of a five-year old, more upset at getting caught than for what he was caught doing.

The third requirement is to back up the confession and apology with meaningful actions. How is Armstrong going to make this right? He has spent the last 15 years demonizing anyone who actually told the truth. He ruined people's lives and reputations by deploying the Armstrong Attack Machine. How much of his sponsor money will he pay back? Will he pay back the $500,000 he won from accusing the Sunday Times of libel for reprinting doping claims? The Times, by the way, is suing to get its money back. It will win.

I've heard the argument made that if you look at the history of the Tour de France, you find that, since 1968, more than 80% of that race's champions have had their titles taken away because they cheated. It would appear that everyone cheated in cycling's biggest race. If that's true, Armstrong could make the case that the playing field was truly level and that not only was he the best cyclist, he was the best doper. However, we all learned very young that just because everyone is doing it, that doesn't make it right. That's also the same time we learned that there was a possibility that all our friends might jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, which was weird because we lived in Wisconsin. I digress.

People invested a lot in Armstrong's facade over the last 15 years. He had millions of supporters through it all, even when the USADA stripped him of his titles and banned him for life. Now that everything that he's accused of appears to be true, a lot of us feel stupid for having believed and defended him. He was such a convincing liar that the default view for many people will now be: Lance Armstrong's lips are moving = Lance Armstrong is lying.

I'm glad he confessed, I just don't think he did it because it was good for the soul. I think he did it as a means to an end. One of his books was titled "It's Not About the Bike." His image will be rehabilitated when he realizes that this isn't about him either.

Sadly, I don't feel like he's there yet.

Bill Salvin


  1. so easy to condemn - so hard to redeem - every one wants a piece of the action - all just a game - as it is a sport!

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

  2. Yvonne, thanks for reading. I understand your comment and I appreciate you taking the time to make it. Hopefully there are some lessons for all of us in this.

  3. Bill, I'm with you in feeling a bit duped for beliving the lie. I think that most people feel so duped that there is no recovery at this point. It underscores the basic strategy of "always tell the truth." I predict we see him on a reality show of some type within two years.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Kari. I can see the reality show route as wide open for Lance. I think two years is way to long. There's plenty of room on the 2013 fall schedules of many basic cable channels.

  4. Yvonne, I've heard sentiments like yours in many forums. And I'm a forgiving person, and have been given a number of second chances. However.

    If Armstrong's cheating had been an individual act of an athlete trying to get a competitive edge, we'd be quick to forgive. I think of Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Arnold Schwartzeneggar, and others who "juiced" to win. The arguments range from "everyone was doing it" and "only way to compete" to "product of the times" and even "his willingness to cheat reveals his competitive drive." Fair enough.

    But Armstrong, as Bill points out, used his nearly unlimited resources to destroy those who dared challenge him. He used the "cancer shield" to make the mere accusation unseemly.

    Then there is his Livestrong charity: New York Times did a "follow the money" piece on the two sides of Livestrong - the cancer charity and the sports-marketing, event producing and merchandising arm:

    The Times did a pretty good job of unravelling the "self-licking ice cream cone" - Lance gets Livestrong to create awareness for Lance, and Livestrong gets Lance to promote Livestrong. And a LOT of highly paid consultants doing work that is only marginally related to cancer awareness. (Five Livestrong staffers to France to tweet about the Tour?)

    Mark Zimbelman, a Brigham Young University professor who specializes in accounting fraud, and an amateur cyclist who has followed Mr. Armstrong’s career, called the agreement “unprecedented” in the world of nonprofit organizations.

    “Imagine if the American Red Cross decided to create a new Web site called ‘’ and sold the Web site,” Mr. Zimbelman wrote on his blog. “On the Web site they sold vitamins and other health products and used the same logos that the nonprofit organization uses.” "

    Wall Street Journal did a big piece on the discussions Lance has had with the USADA and others in the last year, leading up to his decision to talk:

    If the tone exhibited in the article is anything to be believed, and unless he's had some change of heart and/or counselled otherwise, I expect a defiant, everyone was doing it, went along for the ride type of confession - one that I hope won't get traction. I'm for second chances and all, but only when they are sincere and met with some sort of amends for those he has wronged.

    "You don't hold the keys to my redemption," he said, according to the person familiar with the meeting. "There's one person who holds the keys to my redemption," he went on, pointing at himself, "and that's me."

    Lance is right there. Only he can make good. I hope he is sincere, not defensive, and has a plan to make amends with all. If his contrition is contrived, if he plays the victim, and if he holds up a kid with leukemia as a human shield, it will backfire.

  5. Good piece Bill. It is sad and disappointing to find out an idol has feet of clay (performance-enhanced clay to help him stand straighter, longer). With his help, we made him into a hero. Who doesn't love the story of the man that beat cancer AND cycled his way to the top in all those Tour de France races? Along the way he had to fight those mean naysayers who called him "doper" and "fraud" and he did so with such righteous indignation (maybe acting SHOULD be his next career)I like to root for the underdog, always have (why else am I still a Buffalo Bills fan...but that's a story for another day)but I don't like being lied to...and although I never had a "Live Strong" bracelet, I bought what he was selling. His lies and cheating affect more than his name - they affect the good name of his foundation and cast doubt on the sport he professed to love. That is not being judgmental, that is fact. We wanted a hero, so he made one up for us. I too hope he is sincere in wanting to right the wrongs he has done, but he's made me skeptical....

  6. Excellent insights, Bill.

    I believe you correctly identified the key as "meaningful actions." His actions going forward will determine the meaning others attribute to his future value in a public forum (athlete, spokesperson, fundraiser, cancer survivor, etc).


    1. Thanks for reading, Flex. You are exactly right that his actions in the future will determine if he's successful or not. I hope he chooses well.

  7. Other than legal repercussions, what's the difference to society between athletes who use drugs that are illegal and those that are highly researched to give similar effects but are not (yet) illegal? I compare it to those who lie on their taxes versus to those who use offshore accounts. They should all be viewed as the same. In that sense, I firmly suspect that everyone is "doing it" and assume as much. Therefore, someone like Armstrong truly is the champion amongst his peers.

    1. Hi Matthew, thanks for reading. I agree that Armstrong is a world-class doper and, by his own admission, a world-class prick. But your logic is flawed. The fact that one may be able to achieve the same outcome either legally or illegally doesn't make the illegal method legitimate. Under your logic there is no difference between cold-blooded murder and killing someone in self defense. He's only apologizing now because he thinks it will help him win. He has the same mindset now the had when he was doping... "what can I do to win." He may no longer be doping, but he's still acting like a prick.

  8. Alan Eggleston (via Facebook)January 19, 2013 at 6:10 AM

    You admitted you hadn't seen the Oprah interview, yet you opined away anyway. Shouldn't you at least have waited till you saw his "confession" before commenting on it?

  9. Alan, I thought about that and what I decided was to let people know how I felt before the interview aired. There was substantial press coverage of the interview that I reviewed in order to make form my opinions. I thought it was important to let people know I hadn't seen the interview. I'll write another post once I do. The clips I've seen so far are not promising. I really appreciate you reading and commenting. Thank you!

  10. Phil Galloway (via Facebook)January 19, 2013 at 6:11 AM

    I'd say he has a long way to go to make up for the way he treated those who said early on that he used the drugs. He basically ruined some peoples lives when they were the truthful ones.

  11. I agree with your comment, Phil. When he discussed that on the Oprah interview he used a phrase "that was a guy..." He was talking about himself as if it were a separate person. Thanks for reading!

  12. Ramona Housman (via Facebook)January 19, 2013 at 6:14 AM

    He has an ulterior motive for finally telling the truth. New book coming out perhaps????

  13. Ramona I really like your comment. Now that he is "telling the truth"we are very unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt. The Wall Street Journal story points out that he decided to make the admission because he viewed it as a way for him to compete in triathlons. His appearances in those races is paid. If not a book, certainly another ulterior motive. Thanks for reading.