WRITTEN BY LEE IGEL AND ARTHUR CAPLAN
The media cannot seem to get enough of the impending truth tour of Lance Armstrong. The hype about his soul-baring confessional journey, which ends with a face-to-face with the goddess of forgiveness, Oprah Winfrey, is a veritable emotional tsunami. Spare yourself the weeping. No one should buy what Armstrong is peddling.
Armstrong has reportedly begun meandering down the “never mind” track by apologizing to staff members at Livestrong, the Texas-based cancer charity he founded and then did his best to ruin. He then sat down for the big taping with Oprah, in which he reportedly admitted to using performance enhancing drugs during his cycling career. The interview is scheduled to air on television later this week. Why should you avoid it like a dangerous drug?
The cheating he now fesses up to is already widely-known about and well documented. And, actually, the cheating is no longer really the big ethical problem. The sort of cheating he engaged in was really not the worst of its kind, since nearly every one of the top competitors cheated, too.
Cheating is bad. But it is not quite as bad when every single athlete, coach, trainer, doctor, and driver is either cheating or knows about the cheating. It cheapens the sport—cycling starts to resemble pro-wrestling. But the moral shame of doing it is a bit less when the whole sport is an ethical quagmire.
Yet the cheating, while dishonorable, isn’t as morally reprehensible as what Armstrong engaged in next—the cover-up.
Like in Watergate and so many other scandals, the cover-up is what’s really shameful because so many others get hurt. Before we accept his act of contrition at the temple of Oprah, Armstrong needs to make amends with the several people and entities he took vicious aim at for accusing him of using performance enhancing substances.
For years, Armstrong vocally deflected accusations of drug use. Then, he began filing lawsuits against his detractors.
One was a libel suit against the Sunday Times of London in 2004. At a team-sponsor news conference around the same time, Armstrong explained, “… we reached a point where we can’t really tolerate it anymore, and we’re sick and tired of the allegations. We’ll do everything we can to fight them. They’re untrue. Enough is enough. I’m personally very frustrated.”
He took the same position in another, more recent suit, the one he filed in federal court a few years later to prevent the United States Anti-Doping Agency from moving forward with charges against him.
Armstrong took exception to doping accusations made by former Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. LeMond said years ago, “If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud.” Trek Bicycles was manufacturing the bikes Armstrong rode in the Tour de France and producing a line with LeMond. After LeMond’s honesty got him on the outs with Armstrong, he was soon back in with him—in court.
These lawsuits and battles took place against organizations and people who could at least fight back a bit. But also consider how he dealt with Emma O’Reilly.
She was a masseuse and assistant when Armstrong rode with the U.S. Postal Service team in the 1990s. She was also, by her own admission, a “drug runner” for the riders. When she initially went public with her story, Armstrong sued her and portrayed her as a prostitute and heavy drinker.
Confessing on Oprah’s television show does not make amends for the wreckage Armstrong caused when he was far less interested in forgiveness and thought he could sue, bully, and spend his way out of trouble. Nor should admitting to doping blunt allegations that he used Livestrong to help those dealing with cancer while enriching himself. Armstrong collected millions of dollars over time from sponsors including Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Oakley, 24-Hour Fitness, and Trek Bicycles.
That Armstrong cheated is old news. By the time the interview runs, he will apparently be the last to know what has been evident to anyone who cared. But admitting he did cheat does not excuse what he did to others all during his drug-aided career—covering-up his behavior, and making people and institutions pay when they challenged his lies. Admitting to what he did does not even start the process of seeking the sort of forgiveness he needs to get for what he did to so many others when he was not ready to tell the truth.