Lance Armstrong and Oprah: Destroying What Was Left of His Reputation

Oprah Interviews Lance ArmstrongLance Armstrong admitted a lot of wrongdoing during his 90-minute interview with Oprah Winfrey tonight, but he did almost nothing to win back the sympathy of the world. In fact, he said things that are bound to offend people deeply.

She began with yes and no questions about different kinds of doping he had done as he won seven Tour de France bicycle races, and in answering them he quickly admitted to a broad range of illegal and unethical drug use. How could he have so “brazenly and defiantly” lied about what he had done, Oprah then asked. “This story was so perfect for so long,” he coolly said, “. . . behind that picture and behind that story there’s momentum. . . . It just gets going, and I lost myself in that. . . and I was used to controlling everything in my life.” It was as if to say he was a victim of circumstance, and as the interview went on he portrayed himself as someone who had had no choice but to cheat, because everyone else did, and, that done, he had no choice but to lie and cover up and furiously attack his accusers.

Oprah asked about reports that he had forced his teammates to do drugs too. Absolutely not, he responded. He insisted that what they did was entirely up to them. “The culture was what it was,” he said, and “It was a competitive time. We were all grown men. We all made our choices.”

Why did he attack and even sue people who told the truth about what he had done? “Because it’s the second time in my life when I can’t control the outcome.” In other words, he felt he had been trapped by his drug use, just as he had been trapped by cancer.

It was all very easy, he admitted. He never even had any doubt he’d win the Tour de France: “The winning was almost phoned in.” And, most amazingly, he doesn’t believe he really cheated anyway. He said cheating is when you do something to gain an unfair advantage; he “didn’t do it to gain an advantage on a foe. I saw it as a level playing field.” Every serious contender in the Tour de France used drugs; Armstrong was, in effect, just playing by the unofficial rules.

Perhaps his ugliest moment came in discussing Betsy Andreu, whose husband, Frankie, was part of his team. She had testified that she had heard Armstrong admit to doctors in 1996 that he had used performance enhancing drugs. He had attacked her viciously, and tonight when she came up, he chuckled and said, “I did call her crazy. . . . I called her crazy, I called her a bitch, but I never called her fat.” That line left him smiling.

He said, with a spark of more somber emotion, that he wished he could go back to last year, when the United States Anti-Doping Agency finally charged him with using illicit drugs. He said he wished that instead of his customary vehement denials, he had said, “Give me three days, let me call some people, let me call my family, mother, sponsors, foundation” and tell them he was going to confess everything.

But that was not in his nature. Lance Armstrong was and is a born fighter through and through. Life was and apparently still is about playing to win. He thinks the same fierce spirit that helped him defeat cancer helped him win seven Tours de France. How, in fact, could that not be true? And he is fighting now. He admitted guilt tonight, but even when he said “I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people,” he was combative. He followed that with a startling assertion that “I am happier today than I was then, for a whole host of reasons.”

Oprah, amazed, said, even now, as you confess so much wrongdoing, you are happier than through your years on top of the world? He answered, “I said I’m happier today, not yesterday.”

Lance Armstrong is out doing battle. That’s who he is. But his battling is unlikely to win back the love of millions that he once enjoyed. He has done too much damage to too many, and he shows too little real compunction for that.

Tomorrow, however, Oprah will ask him about his family, his children, his parents. Perhaps that may reveal a different side of him.

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