Pump up your tires, fill up your water bottles and warm up those muscles. Oh, and don’t forget to shoot up some performance enhancing drugs. It’s all part of the routine.
Lance Armstrong’s intricate, cryptic and deceiving doping scheme makes him one of the greatest disappointments in the history of athletes in my eyes. As someone who grew up watching the Tour de France with her bike-enthusiast father, I found it painful to watch Armstrong’s interview with Oprah. I sat absorbed as I watched the man I once deemed a hero morph into just another mendacious cheater.
Naturally, my analytical side assumed control as I began to view the rhetorical situation at hand. It was time to assess his success or failure. Did Armstrong take the yellow jersey for a successful apology?
Absolutely not, and here are my four reasons:
Tone of voice
When you’re publicly apologizing, tone is telling. It can play a more decisive role for the audience than the content of the apology. If you sound like you’re sorry, most people will believe that patina of contrition in your voice. That was the case with Hugh Grant after he had that rendezvous with a Hollywood prostitute; people seemed quick to forgive him because of his apologetic tone (and I’m sure that British accent came in handy).
Armstrong was far from contrite in his interview with Oprah. He kept a stern look on his gaunt face, but I sensed manipulation and arrogance, his signature tone of voice, in his apology. The only time he truly appeared sorry was when he discussed how his son, Luke, publicly defended him. Armstrong really should have downsized his ego and delivered a genuine, heartfelt apology to the public.
For cynics like me, tone is less important if the appropriate content isn’t there. In this case, the content reflected Armstrong as a person: conceited. The man said the word “sorry” a total of four times in the entire three-hour interview. And as I mentioned earlier, the apologies didn’t sound sincere. The “I’m sorries” were casually peppered in there, one of the worst things you can do when apologizing.
Armstrong did not apologize specifically to the people he had attacked through name-calling and lawsuits. Though he may have apologized to them individually, apologizing publicly to people you have wronged is essential when seeking redemption in the public eye, especially when those people are mentioned in the interview. More important, Armstrong forgot to apologize to an important part of the public: his fans, the ones who were truly duped by his doping.
Armstrong may have pedaled his way into a deeper puddle of hot water (more like an ocean at this point), considering allegations that he lied at various points of the interview. For example, he vehemently claimed that he had put an end to his doping in 2005, and that he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs in his 2009 and 2010 races. But ABC News reported on its website that investigators said evidence proves otherwise. And did Armstrong really donate a large sum of money to Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) for anti-doping efforts out of the generosity of his heart or to cover up his positive drug test as former teammate Tyler Hamilton has claimed? Armstrong continues to deny the latter.
When going into a tell-all interview, you must tell the truth and nothing but the truth. If you’re caught lying again, you’re no closer to redemption than “Gangnam Style” is from escaping my memory.
After a decade of adamant denials, Armstrong is way too late in apologizing now. He would have looked a lot better had he confessed years ago, ideally before “winning” the Tour de France seven consecutive times. But no, he decided to confess 10 years later. Why? From my understanding, only now are sports organizations and other people coming down hard on him. The allegations always existed, but the proof hadn’t come out as it has recently.
The domino effect might have forced Armstrong to confess. The disclosure of irrefutable doping evidence caused companies that pay him for endorsements to cut him off in a matter of days. The tipping point for Armstrong was when Livestrong, the organization that he describes as his sixth child, asked him not only to step down as chairman, but also to remove himself entirely from the charity. With his life was crumbling before his eyes, Armstrong had no choice but to go from no contest to confession.
So did Armstrong do anything right? Yes. He confessed (for the most part) on TV. He agreed to an interview with no limits on time or subject matter, allowing Winfrey to ask anything. And as much as I didn’t want to believe it, he opened my eyes to the sad reality of cycling, a sport vitiated by drugs and lies far beyond measure. Though no statistical evidence is available of how many people have experimented with performance enhancing drugs in cycling, he’s not the only one, if we’re to believe anything Armstrong said. The conclusion from his interview is that the majority of Tour de France participants are doping. It’s as if the cost of entry is your moral compass sucked through a dirty syringe.
But just because everyone else is doping doesn’t justify one person’s decision to follow suit. Armstrong cheated and then lied to all; he and his furtive scam won’t soon be forgiven or forgotten. Armstrong may live strong as a cancer survivor, but he will forever be known as the man who lied strong throughout his seven consecutive Tour de France victories, and then some.
Geena Maharaj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.