“The true measure of a man is what he would do if he knew he would never be caught.” – Lord Kelvin
Yes, I watched most of the Oprah and Lance Armstrong interview and here are my thoughts. A few years ago, I had already realized he was not the man most of us thought he was. From the gaps in the book “Lance Armstrong’s War” and then after reading “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports”, it became clear as to how far some of our heroes go to reach and stay at the top. I was a big Lance fan. Like so many others, it was inspiring to watch him attack in the Tour de France mountain stages. He was a machine. But when I started reading the stories of how he treated other people, people like Greg LeMond, Tyler Hamilton, Frank and Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly, Floyd Landis and anyone who dared to try and stand up to Lance and tell the truth, it became evident he was not a man of character and honor. Sure he was a fierce competitor, but there’s more to life than competing and winning.
What has been interesting the past few months is how we have reacted to the revelations. This has unfolded like a Greek tragedy. A champion born from nowhere. Almost killed but returns from the grave. Then dumps his wife and kids to chase movie and rock stars. He ascends the mountain again. Regains the throne and is crowned the champion. He is loved by the people and becomes a symbol of hope. An icon with hard work and determination as pillars of his success. But all the while he is hiding a secret that the success is built on cheating.
There is the camp that thinks everybody cheated and he is no worse than all the other riders. In fact, some say, he still beat them so he is the greatest cyclist. Yes, let’s still idolize him and admire his accomplishments of being the best cheater and liar among a race full of crooks. No, I don’t buy it. We were sold a bag of empty goods and some of you seem to be OK with it. There’s the argument he’s done so much good with LiveStrong. But in the end, gifts and money should not overcome our bad deeds. That is blood money. I hear that we need to focus on the good things he has done, like LiveStrong. But maybe he’s caused so much harm and vindictively ruined so many lives that in this case the bad overshadows the good. Sure, we are all flawed and none of us are perfect. But being flawed does not equal destroying lives, people’s careers and dreams.
There’s no honor in what Lance has done or is doing. We need to put honor back into sports/life and hold honesty and character as our highest values. Throughout the interview, Lance gives the impression that even the interview is a competition that he’s trying to win. Multiple times, I had the impression Lance was referring to himself in the third person. Not taking personal responsibility but referring to some character in a story and the story just got out of control.
One of the most telling parts of the interview for me was the part when Oprah asked about suing Emma O’Reilly. I failed to see any signs of him being contrite or empathetic to his victims.
Lance: “She’s one of these people that I have to, uh, apologize to…”
Oprah: “You sued her.
Lance, with a laugh and smirk: “Uh. To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don’t even. Uh. I’m sure we did.”
My first thoughts were, “You haven’t already apologized to her? And you honestly can’t remember?” But then I wonder if this was just another lie often heard on the witness stand: “I don’t recall.”
The one point in the interview when Lance came remotely close to looking remorseful was when he reflected on being honest with his own son. Only when Lance’s son finally saw Lance for what he is, that almost brought Lance to tears. Yet, there was no sorrow or sign of empathy about destroying Emma O’Reilly’s life or Greg LeMond’s life.
What Lance could have done was start the interview with a short message, “First Oprah, let me start by publicly saying sorry to some of the people I have hurt. I have here a list of people who have been telling the truth but I’ve been saying they’ve been lying. First I want to apologize to…”
For those who still hold Lance in high regard and consider him a great athlete, I think you have misplaced your values. This is not a person who has a place in sport or in the history books. Those we admire should be people we would aspire to become or want our friends and kids to be like. I’d rather I finished last than cheat and finish first. Even if everyone else cheated. Let’s not justify cheating and destroying other people’s lives. Two wrongs do not make a right. If we continue to applaud cheated wins, we are saying the ends justify the means. The message we seem to be giving, which seems to be the message in most sports these days, is that the cheaters are better off. The upside is you’ll have better results, more fame and probably more money than if you didn’t cheat. The downside is you may have to pay a small price. So cheat. In the end, you’ll likely come out ahead. Eventually, the fans will forgive and forget. But placement in competition should not be our most prized measurement. Honor, honesty and integrity should be our highest values. Lance continues to show he is not a man of his word. If he was sorry for what he has done, beyond the lies, then we could forgive him. But to have his back against a wall and then have such a matter-of-fact attitude like “sure I’m sorry” and “I wish I hadn’t come back” (meaning I wish I hadn’t gotten caught) and “I am flawed”. Lance we are all flawed. That’s not an apology.
Do not be blinded by the results of a crook. The results, the legacy, the image are built on lies and do not stand up.