Lance Armstrong has gone on the PR offensive the last few weeks. In his wide-ranging four part interview with Daniel Benson at cyclingnews.com, he worked on his redemption.
Lance famously snarled at USADA CEO Travis Tygart in a Denver airport hotel room that only he was in charge of his redemption. That was a classic example of one of the most telling Armstrong flaws — inability to see beyond himself.
The grand Armstrong narrative, the most amazing sports story of all time, had already crashed and burned. Then Armstrong blindly threw himself in front of Oprah Winfrey and made things worse. What’s left of his battled image is still recovering from his disastrous performance with Oprah.
In the Benson interviews, Armstrong went further than he ever has in admitting his faults and his contrition. After failing to listen to anyone but his inner circle, perhaps he’s finally implementing a humility strategy that any decent junior PR flunky could have cranked out 18 months ago.
If for no other reason, the stripped winner of seven Tour de France titles had to counteract all the fresh bad publicity around the release of the Armstrong Lie documentary and the publication of Wheelmen, a book that paints a consistently unflattering portrait of Armstrong and his rise up the EPO-fueled ranks of the peloton.
In the course of the interviews, Armstrong says he feels bad and terrible and awful and he’s the “first one through the door” for that mythical Truth & Reconciliation commission. The man is hurting, for crissakes.
Two things stick out for us in the Benson interviews. First, Armstrong still seems to think the sporting arguments are more meaningful than the human, personal ones. He’s still trying to convince everyone he was just trying to level the playing field and so his failures were just those of an athlete who wanted to win at all costs.
Our feeling is that over time people will begin to understand and forgive the flawed athlete but the flawed human being is a more difficult problem. The colossal mistake that Armstrong made with Oprah Winfrey was to let the general public — not just hardcore cycling fans — see that he not only cheated but was inexcusably nasty and vindictive to a large number of people. The infamous “But I Never Called You A Bitch” quote added another five years to Armstrong’s time in purgatory.
While Armstrong is making attempts to apologize and explain these ugly personality flaws, he’s still pitching his case as errors in sports judgement. That’s a huge mistake.
The second stumbling block for Armstrong on his long road to redemption is USADA’s Travis Tygart. The Texan hates Tygart to such a degree that he can’t bring himself to testify before USADA and that has effectively wrecked his chances of shortening his lifetime ban.
That is Armstrong’s ego on full display — he simply refuses to admit that Tygart is in charge. That USADA beat him silly, jackhammered his myth and cost him tens of millions of dollars. That unwillingness to work with Tygart keeps him in a painful limbo.
Armstrong holds out hope that he can pull an end-run around Tygart by only testifying to WADA or a Truth & Reconciliation panel but all jurisdictions lead back to USADA. Lance must deal with something he’s always struggled with: a male authority figure who has ultimate power.
Slowly but surely Armstrong is trying to work his way out of Hell. However, he still has to do a better job on the personal apologies, owning up to his character flaws and, perhaps the most difficult, swallowing his enormous pride and admitting that Travis Tygart is in charge of his redemption.