Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace has been a protracted spectacle lighting up media headlines for well over a decade. Well-liked Olympic cycling team member, heroic Tour de France winner, beloved cancer survivor, more beloved Tour de France winner as a cancer survivor, controversial Tour de France winner with allegations of doping, more controversial athlete as team turns on him, banned athlete by world doping agency, admitted doper on Oprah Winfrey – the arc of Armstrong’s story is so long and full of twists and turns that books written about him ten years ago now need to be completely rewritten.
But what happens now? Can the seven-time Tour winner regain any of his former glory? Judging from the majority of the pundit reactions to his confession to Oprah Winfrey, the answer would be a resounding “no.” But there are some avenues that Armstrong may take to get back into the good graces of the cycling, triathlon and marathon worlds he once dominated. None of which are a sure thing and can lead to his own personal demise as well as the demise of the people he worked with to juice up for his Tour de France titles.
Armstrong has completed the first step in playing the game of the anti-doping crusade against him – confessing his use of performance enhancing drugs to the world. And although the verdict by most people who watched him spill the beans on America’s favorite confessional couch ranged from “too little, too late” to “he didn’t bleed enough,” taking that media-lit walk of shame is a necessary task in the long quest to kiss enough butt to get back in with the likes of US Anti Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart or the bureaucrats at the International Cycling Union (UCI).
The biggest and most substantial complaint about Armstrong’s confession was that he refused to admit to running a Scarface-style “doping ring” that forced his innocent team members into a wretched life of faster speed and more endurance. In case you haven’t been following the Lance Armstrong saga as closely as we here at Steroiology have, Armstrong was officially booted from cycling and had his titles stripped after members of his own team came out and said he forced them to take PEDs if they were to be on his team. Their testimony gave the USADA the ammo it needed in sinking Armstrong’s ship, while at the same time ensuring themselves a return to the sport of cycling after a few years of banishment.
Armstrong denies he coerced his team into the seedy life of blood-doping and EPO injections and there is little evidence to doubt him. Just the testimony of some underlings who were promised a deal in exchange for the torpedos needed to down Team Armstrong’s leader. The USADA made it abundantly clear they wanted Armstrong’s head on a platter and likely helped teammates George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis concoct the story that they were just innocent cyclists forced into doping so the agency could look “fair” when it only suspended them while banning Armstrong for life. Are we to forget that these men also made a living off of the winningest team in cycling? Still, Armstrong’s odds don’t look good when its his word against 11 former friends and colleagues.
Another aspect of the Armstrong “confession” is that he said he doesn’t feel like he did anything wrong. He basically said he doped to compete in a tough sport and that if he didn’t do it and win, that someone else would have doped and won. Which is probably true but not the wisest thing to say to a moral crusader like Oprah who has a history of burning her interviewees in public even after the interview is over, which is what happened to Armstrong over his refusal to admit to “wrongdoing.”
The Big Pay Back
To say that Lance Armstrong has a PR problem is like saying the Super Bowl or the World Cup is just a game. Armstrong’s biggest problem right now is not the fact that he lied about using PEDs during his reign as cycling’s champion. It’s that he aggressively sued anyone who accused him of it. This above all other aspects of Armstrong’s demise will be the hardest for him to overcome – and the most expensive. He will have to pay back every dime he won in litigation, plus attorney’s fees and who knows what else. And that’s just to the people who he sued. He will have to pay back sponsors who backed him and paid him despite the doping allegations. He will probably be sued himself by biographers and other people who believed him when he said he wasn’t using PEDs and published books and articles praising him, now to the detriment of their reputations.
Livestrong and prosper
Once Armstrong’s paid debts and public apologies to those he sued leave him a much poorer and much more humble man, he will still need to somehow make himself over as one of the redeemed. For most disgraced public personas, simple charity work or the creation of a foundation for, let’s say, cancer would suffice. But for Armstrong, whose already successful cancer foundation Livestrong is trying to distance itself from its founder, this is going to be the equivalent of a Triple Lindy as far as PR moves go. You see, for all the good work the Livestrong Foundation has done for cancer survivors, cancer research, etc., those previously gotten Brownie points haven’t seemed to help Armstrong weather the shit storm of his doping scandal. In fact, it has seemed to make it worse because he is now seen as betraying the very charitable foundation he started. Armstrong is going to have to do something charitable and along the vein of keeping kid athletes off steroids to show his commitment to PED-free sports.
This is why the EPO’d bird sings
Confessions, paying back money earned from libel suits and charity are all good and necessary steps for Armstrong to get back into sports and compete again. But the most obvious hoop he must jump through (and the one that really brought about this mess in the first place) is to turn evidence and testimony on the doctors and labs that supplied him and his team with their PEDs. After all is said and done, you only can’t walk away if you are the only one left in a criminal conspiracy. And Armstrong has plenty of information about the whos and wheres and whats of the PED manufacturing business and just how it ends up in the hands of athletes and how those athletes avoid detection. This is the information that the USADA wants, along with the FBI, DEA and, likely, Interpol. Kicking someone out of competitive sport is one thing, but confiscating millions of dollars from labs and doctors who are part of a nefarious drug ring makes for the kind of big headlines that get people promoted or budgets inflated.
So, good luck Lance Armstrong. You have a lot of work cut out for yourself if you want to make a comeback of any kind. Of course, if you want to just say fuck it, we’d love for you to write columns here at Steroidology.