Can Lance Armstrong fight back?
Each week I think to myself, “Okay, this is going to be the last Lance Armstrong news for a little while.” But last Friday night I was proven wrong.
Juliet Macur of the New York Times reported that the disgraced cyclist was weighing the option of admitting his doping past. The reason for his wanting to come clean was he missed competition and perhaps admitting to his doping past would grant him some leniency.
At this point Armstrong is barred from stuffing himself into a Speedo in any event that follows the World Anti-Doping Code. Sure, he can line-up in smaller events that don’t observe these regulations, but let’s be honest, these are second-rate tiered events at best. Do you think Armstrong really gets any satisfaction racing against local heroes and a couple of thousand age-groupers? You can say what you like about him, but we can all agree he’s super-competitive and would want nothing less than to line up in Hawaii at the Ironman.
Alas, he cannot. So in a Hail Mary maneuver it’s been reported that his lawyer is negotiating with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to remove his life-time ban and allow Armstrong to return in two or four years to competition. In return WADA gets an admission to doping. But what can we really expect from the man whose long list of cycling achievements has been wiped clean from the history books?
If history is any indicator I don’t think we can get a heartfelt admission of guilt. Or one that is filled with apologies to the people whose lives he made miserable. There won’t be a tearful confession begging forgiveness from Betsy Andreu or Emily O’Reilly. “You were right Mr. Kimmage and Mr. Walsh,” is a statement we’ll never hear.
Instead I anticipate statements along the line of “everyone was doing it, so it really wasn’t cheating – I just happened to dope the best.” Johan Bruyneel is still supposed to have his day in front of a hearing panel to decide his fate, but to be honest I never thought that would happen. There was just too much evidence from too many people for the Belgian director to mount any type of believable defense to the contrary. Bruyneel is collateral damage for Armstrong. The last thing Bruyneel would hear before the bus ran him over is Armstrong whispering in his ear, “Thanks for the good times JB, but we all knew it would end this way.”
And what about the man behind the US Postal team, Thomas Weisel? If Armstrong gives it up, Weisel could be in a world of hurt. But I wonder if he has enough money to keep him insulated against the truth bombs Armstrong would be dropping on his doorstep? Personally I’d love to see Weisel and his group of chamois-sniffers see jail time or at the least hit with huge monetary fines. However, I don’t see that happening. Weisel, so far, has been Teflon in regards to his association with the Postal team.
So for the sake of argument let’s say that Armstrong admits to doping, gets his lifetime ban reduced to a number of years, and doesn’t go to jail for perjury. What now? This was the question posed to me while on a group ride.
First off the perjury charge that everyone talks about is one that according to a lawyer who is familiar with the case expires in April 2013. Also, what’s the upside to any attorney prosecuting him for something that most American’s don’t care about in the first place – bike racing in Europe? Yes, technically he could be persecuted for perjury, but that would be something his attorney Tim Herman would work out beforehand. I don’t expect Lance will be making license plates anytime soon.
This is when Armstrong’s public relation team springs to work.
First off we’d see Armstrong in HD across all the morning talk shows. Next up an appearance on a news magazine show like “60 Minutes.” Again, no crying or apologies – just him stating doping was rife in the sport and he never put a gun to anyone’s head to force anyone to stick a needle in their arm. He’s a victim too, blah, blah, blah ...
While Armstrong is waiting for his suspension to wind-down I know there’s a book being written. No, not a follow up by Sally Jenkins, author of “It’s not About the Bike.” She has proven herself to be another in a line of sycophant journalists and her reputation would make any book written about Armstrong a joke. He needs to go “top shelf” with his next author.
Last month I wrote that Armstrong had an “insightful” lunch with Doug Brinkley, a professor at Rice University and author to several books spanning the subject of politicians to musicians. He’s exactly the guy you’d want to write a truthful account of the dirt days of cycling. Brinkley is a writer that could be taken seriously.
With a book published Armstrong could slowly make steps toward redemption in the views of the public and sponsors. Remember how Nike took back Michael Vick after going to jail for organizing dog fighting? So do you really think they’d have a problem with endorsing Armstrong after doping? Remember, this is a couple of years down the road when the heat has cooled off and people are starting to sympathize with him on how doping was part of the system of European racing. Poor Armstrong didn’t have a choice!
Soon he’s back on the lecture circuit pulling in the money that is sorely needed from a couple of dry years. And between speaking engagements he’s training and getting ready for his next sporting event.
But do I believe that Armstrong is really willing to admit to doping just to be able to compete again? No. It’s about slowly trying to have a “normal” life again. In order to do that he’s going to have to go Shawshank Redemption style and crawl through a crap-filled tunnel to escape. He has to think that at the end of the tunnel, when he finally pokes his head out, the rain will wash away his sins.
Already I’m seeing this potential scenario called Comeback 3.0 by some and I hope it doesn’t happen. The damage Armstrong has done to the cycling sport is huge. Not enough to kill it off, but teams have folded directly because of the Armstrong scandal. My dream scenario is that he admits to doping and disappears from the public. Maybe gets a small place on the side of a Hawaiian volcano and only coming into public view to buy groceries from the local store in town. Reality is another thing and I see after about five very painful years, Armstrong turning this whole disaster around and pushing Livestrong-branded Nikes to the public.