By Joan Trossman Bien
Hoo boy, Lance Armstrong, former Mr. Superman, is in a bowl of bad stuff. Maybe he was just too young to have learned the lessons from Watergate. It’s not so much the crime as it is the cover-up that really gets law enforcement angry. No one likes to be lied to and no one likes to be called a liar. Lance did both and got caught.
For ten years, as Armstrong powered his way to the top of the bike race heap, no less than seven times, whispers circulated about his use of banned substances. When those rumors surfaced, Armstrong would call the accusers liars. Then he would lie like a rug with the indignation of a trained Shakespearean actor.After all, this is the guy who whipped testicular and brain cancer and went on to ride a bike to fame and glory. A bicycle, for God’s sake! Ow! No mere mortal could do all of that and then keep doing it for seven titles. He had a wife, kids, and guts, by George.
He even started his own non-profit called Livestrong to help cancer patients and their families. The guy was nearly perfect. I will admit that I never bought into that charity because of the yellow bracelets. Wearing one was like belonging to a club of super-righteous people. Then Armstrong left his family, got divorced and took up with a rock chick. A very cool and popular rock chick who was at the peak of her career. Sheryl Crow and Lance Armstrong were seen in and in photos everywhere you looked. Then Crow got cancer. At which point, Armstrong took a powder. Whatever actually happened, it appeared to have been calculated to maximize her humiliation at the most vulnerable time in her life. Nice going, Lance.
This was a clue to his personality.
As the evidence mounted against him, Armstrong dug in his heels and played the victim. He sued Sunday Times chief sports writer David Walsh in 2004 for writing about the doping scandal. He said Walsh was a criminal of every color and was the worst journalist in the world. The suit was settled in 2006 for $1.5 million. The Times is now suing to claw back that settlement money which looks like was based on fraud. In fact, even Oprah Winfrey, who nabbed the much-hyped confession on her network OWN, expressed doubt about the sincerity of his mea culpa. “He did not come clean like I thought he would,” Oprah said. She added that Armstrong had the room holding its breath. “We were mesmerized and riveted by some of his answers.”
Armstrong’s father, who has been divorced since Armstrong was 17, came out in support of his son, but with a caveat. He said the American people will forgive Armstrong as long as he actually asks for forgiveness and has told the whole truth. Since his confessional took place on the Oprah Winfrey network and not under oath in court, public opinion is being weighed as to the completeness of his admission to using banned substances in the Tour de France. What the American public won’t forgive is vindictiveness. That seems to be at work here, too, because Armstrong has said he will name names of other teammates who went along for the performance boosting ride. It has the appearance that Armstrong is willing to give only so much, depending on what he gets in return. What he wants is to be able to compete in other sports like the Iron Man race.
Trading names for a privilege is not exactly what I would call asking for forgiveness and telling the whole truth. Instead, it implies that the whole truth is for sale. It is how Lance rolls. But we will see when Oprah showcases his confession in a two-parter. Look, Oprah wants to milk it for all it is worth and no one is better at that game.
Now, Armstrong is facing a lot of financial trouble based on fraud. He can no longer bank on the uneasy silence of his teammates who, it has been said, were bullied into participating in the doping and then were aggressively convinced to remain quiet. In fact, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency issued a 1000 page report, calling Armstrong’s dalliance with banned substances placed him at the head of “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program the sport has ever seen.”
Armstrong never does anything halfway.
He is also really rich to the tune of a reported $100 million mostly made from endorsements resulting from his spectacular bike riding success. Now, those same advertisers and agencies are back and they want their millions of dollars returned. Teammate Floyd Landis is now a whistle-blower in a federal lawsuit for fraud brought by the sponsor of his team, the U.S. Postal Service. It is a good guess that Armstrong will be spending a lot of time in a conservative suit instead of spandex shorts as he walks the halls of a lot of courthouses.
Was the television event of his reportedly unenthusiastic confession really necessary? Of course not. Oprah was looking for an audience, anywhere, and Armstrong was looking for a way to improve his public image. Both of them fell short.
Joan Trossman Bien has been writing news most of her professional life. She started writing as an intern at KNX Newsradio and wrote as a freelancer at nearly every television station in Los Angeles. She graduated from law school in 2004. At present, she is a regular writer for cover features at the Ventura County Reporter and Pasadena Weekly. She enjoys writing about an array of topics including health care, politics, women’s issues, and social justice. Bien lives with her journalist husband in Ventura County. They have one grown daughter who is also a journalist. Bien hales from Glencoe, Ill., a small suburb outside Chicago.