The Armstrong Interview - Was it all we had hoped for?
We’ve had the weekend to sit back and marinate in the juices of the Oprah Winfrey / Lance Armstrong interview. As you know the now discredited cyclist sat down with Oprah and in the first minutes admitted to using a list of doping products: EPO, HGH, testosterone, cortisone, and blood transfusions. While most people already knew this, to see and hear those words come out of Armstrong’s mouth was still shocking. He was a man that had not hesitated to take someone to court or ruin their life if they suggested he was anything but clean.
While Armstrong answered the question of what he had taken to cheat his way to seven Tour de France victories there continued to be many unanswered questions. The hospital room doping confession that was heard in front of several witnesses including Frankie and Betsy Andreu was never confirmed. Winfrey showed that she was a good choice for Armstrong as she didn’t push him on this subject like a true journalist would have done.
The Texan also wouldn’t answer who administered the drugs or where he got them - details that Tyler Hamilton shared in gory detail with his book, “The Secret Race.”
So why did Armstrong leave a lot of unanswered questions? The perjury lawsuit threat has expired and even if it hadn’t there are not many federal prosecutors who would want to take on a case that most people in the United States really don’t care about. What would the “win” be for the prosecuting attorney? “I’m the guy who put the symbol of hope for many in the cancer community in jail.”
Look at comments in many stories involving Armstrong and there are still quite a few supporters. Not believers in what he does - those people are gone forever - but there are still supporters who think he’s symbolizing the fight against cancer. Trust me, at the next Ride for the Roses event in Austin, Texas there will still be a huge gathering.
Was the Oprah interview on the OWN network a success? It depends on who you talk to.
For Oprah Winfrey her namesake network channel has been in a ratings free fall with constant shifts in programing. How many of us either knew Oprah and her OWN channel or knew what channel it was on? Originally Oprah trumpeted that OWN was going to only broadcast uplifting, inspirational programing. Instead OWN now airs reality shows like, “Shocking Family Secrets,” “Trouble Next Door,” and the occasional story about women in prison. You gotta give the people want they want.
For Oprah the Armstrong interview was a checkmark in the win column. It was reported that 3.2 million people watched the first part of the two-part interview and when the viewer numbers were added for the encore showing later that evening it was a total of 4.3 million people. This was the highest rated weekday show for OWN. But to put that in perspective Oprah’s interview with Whitney Houston was greater, and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” which also aired that night had its best ratings with 3.7 million.
I vacillate on my thoughts of Armstrong “winning” in the interview. On one hand Armstrong needed to come out and say something if ever wanted to return to a “normal” life. It was clear that unless he said something, anything, these accusations would continue to dog him his entire life and further damage the reputation of the Livestrong Foundation, something he referred to as his sixth child.
On the other hand it showed how Armstrong’s lack of remorse toward the people he ruined, or tried to, bordered on sociopathic. Throughout the interview he smirked and was never heartfelt in any apology. In fact when he called to apologize to Betsy Andreu he told her “I might have called you crazy, a bitch, but never fat.” Who says that in an apology?
In a recent article by Selena Roberts she writes that Lance’s mom, Linda Armstrong confided in Kathy LeMond, “Why didn’t her son feel anything?” Good question Linda, but in my opinion the answer might be looking you in the mirror.
On the other side of interviewing with the talk show host is how he could make those steps toward redemption. As Armstrong himself said many times, “it’s a process” which includes apologizing to numerous people. But it has also opened him up to a growing number of lawsuits.
First up is the lawsuit by SCA Promotions. This Texas-based insurance company paid a bonus to Armstrong for his Triple Crown and Tour victories. Now, rightful so, they want that money back – to the tune of 12 million dollars.
And there’s the Sunday Times that was sued by the Tour de France cheater and wrote a cheque for $500,000 to settle a libel suit. They want that back, plus fees, for a total of 1.5 million dollars.
And then there’s the biggest possible lawsuit yet – the whistleblower suit, which accuses Armstrong of defrauding the U.S. Postal Service for 30 million dollars, but that amount could reach 100 million. Ouch!
So it looks like Armstrong will receive a financial reaming that will make him walk bowlegged for years. So again, why sit down with Oprah?
Perhaps he looks at it from the standpoint that he was going to lose everything anyways, why not try to control the narrative once again? He can spin the story to his own liking.
In the interview Armstrong made numerous statements that were hard to believe. He never read “The Secret Race”? Knowing how Armstrong keeps tabs on all his enemies that claim is laughable. My own web show, which has an audience of a few thousand, was worth the time for Armstrong to call a recent guest and tell him to bow out. Armstrong went on to tell my guest (who still came on my show) that he would like to punch me in the throat. So yeah, I think Armstrong would have taken the time to read “The Secret Race.”
He claims that he was clean in his 2.0 comeback, but USADA’s report states that his blood values showed clear manipulation. Who do we trust – a guy who admits he has no credibility and has lied to us for 15 years or the USADA which has successfully proven its case?
With his silence and by not naming names, Armstrong once again holds all the cards. He could easily toss the UCI under the bus by claiming they were complicit in his doping. Or he could stay closer to home and make accusations against USA Cycling, which has ties with San Francisco-based banker Thom Weisel.
Weisel was owner of Tailwind, a company which managed the U.S. Postal racing team. According to the S.F. Weekly, Weisel was sick of losing money with his sponsorship of the Montgomery-Bell cycling team, signed Armstrong to get results, and looked the other way when it came to doping so they could finally get some wins. As a result of the high profile signing of Armstrong and the results Weisel landed a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to sponsor a cycling team. Several riders on the Montgomery-Bell team rode for the U.S. Postal team which continued to be managed by Weasel…err I mean Weisel’s Tailwind company.
Armstrong’s silence could be his last ace to use against people or the equivalent of a doomsday button – if he goes down he’s blowing everything up taking everyone with him.
At this point only time will tell what will happen next in the Armstrong saga. Johan Bruyneel is said to be penning his own book about what happened during those days. The Belgian is also to appear at a United States Anti-Doping arbitration meeting sometime this year. My own personal feeling is that he’ll never stand in front of a hearing to defend himself. Like I mentioned, there’s no believable evidence to contradict what many people have said.
We have reached the pinnacle of the Armstrong myth. The Oprah interview is over and for most of the population the story is done. Those of us who report on cycling know that this will sadly continue. In order for the sport to truly move on Armstrong’s web of influence must be unwound no matter the consequences. Unfortunately that might still take a while.