Disclaimer: If you do NOT want to read about Lance Armstrong, or Oprah, or hear another word about any of that, here is your chance to exit immediately. Might I suggest a little of this? (I maintain there are fewer things funnier in this world than giant costumed mascots injuring themselves.)
On with the show, then. And I will start this post off by saying this: I’m actually NOT sick of this story. Nor does the prospect of Lance being interviewed by Oprah nauseate me, as some, if not most, cycling bloggers and journalists are saying. If that were true, I wouldn’t be writing about it, and I certainly would not be planning on watching the aforementioned interview. To the contrary, I am absolutely fascinated by it. To me, this has become no different than watching a giant inflatable velociraptor mascot on rollerblades eat shit trying to skate down a flight of stairs (see above). You may want to act magnanimous and say, “I’m not watching. I’m going to go ride my bike instead!” Well, good for you. But I’m planning on taking in the spectacle. I am, in a word, riveted by this story. This is the pro-cycling equivalent of a fire-eating bearded lady being shot out of a cannon on the back of a lion. “Why?” you may ask. Here are some reasons:
1. Straw Girl: Here is a supposed “leaked” photo from the forthcoming Lance / Oprah interview to set the hook. (The interview was originally intended to be taped in his Austin home. However, at some point, his advisors probably realized, and wisely so, that if he were to go on TV acting remorseful for cheating and stealing money, then he probably shouldn’t be taped inside his sprawling, $12 million, 8,000-square-foot Texas mansion, designed by Roy Materanek.) Thus, we get a suite at the Austin Ramada Inn….
Consider the following: Somebody actually arranged the bric-a-brac on the table behind them and probably said something like, “Rachel, go find me two straws for their water!” And Thursday night that somebody (a.k.a. “Straw Girl”) will sit at home and watch the Oprah network and turn to her significant other and say, “See those straws? That was my idea…” Watch it for Straw Girl…she’s had so few moments in her life to shine.
2. Who’s Saving Whom? A number of articles have been written regarding “Can even Oprah save Lance?” They’ve got it all wrong. Lance could deliver his pre-scripted sound bytes to a tree stump at this point; it’s all part of his current damage control scheme (see #3). Oprah said herself in an interview on CBS that Lance came with answers prepared for every one of her questions. So as far as Oprah is concerned, this particular interview is about how Lance is saving her. She pursued him. She flew to Hawai’i over Christmas and had to stay TWO EXTRA DAYS waiting for him to be able to meet with her for lunch (now that is journalistic hardship). And why? Forbes reports that the Oprah Winfrey Network is struggling to stay afloat, but this interview will bring in millions and possibly save it. Not coincidentally, the interview’s broadcast has now been extended to cover two nights—both Thursday and Friday. Oprah is going to milk this old cow till she is bone dry.
3. The Damage Control Playbook. One of Lance’s attorneys and advisors is Mark Fabiani. He formerly advised President Clinton on how to manage the Monica Lewinsky stain, and then wrote a book about such situations called Masters of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control.
Although they are a little late to take Fabiani’s advice on how to execute appropriate crisis management, the Armstrong team are responding in textbook fashion now:
- Offer a full discolure and admission.
- Get in front of the story by controlling the narrative.
- Take responsibility and try to regain trust.
If you’ve been following the news, you may be curious about all of these little “leaks” from individuals close to the source, who are worried about remaining anonymous and are thus acting secretively. Don’t be. These are controlled releases of information that are meant to be the pressure relief system on the dam, helping to avoid the perceived magnitude of a sudden burst—all textbook damage control according to Fabiani. Just like Armstrong’s tweet about the Graham Watson blog post. Just like the supposed “leaks” about his meeting with Tygart in Denver a month ago. Just like “leaks” that he was going to confess well before anyone heard about the Oprah interview and before he even met with her. Just like “leaks” that he is reaching out to Floyd Landis. All allow his team to carefully control how the story unfolds without him having to do anything specific until they are ready to do so. All are intended to lessen the blow. If you play along, it’s fun to predict what will be “leaked” next.
4. Motives. Why has Lance only now decided to come clean? It’s actually comical how absolutely no one (Livestrong employees and maybe his mom aside) is giving him the benefit of the doubt and considering this may be an act of genuine remorse on his part. Virtually everyone understands there are self-serving motives underpinning his actions, as there always have been. So what are they? Why come clean now? One explanation that is being heavily “leaked” is that he wants to compete again in WADA-regulated events. Currently, he has a life ban preventing him from doing so. But his confession alone won’t change anything; everyone already knew he was guilty. His only card left to play is to name names about who helped him dope—and this likely goes all the way to the top. Should he cooperate in ratting these people out, he may have his sentence reduced down to eight years. However, I’m still a bit incredulous that he’s going to give up Thomas Weisel, Steven Johnson, Johan Bruyneel, and the UCI just so that he can do an Iron Man when he is 49 years old.
Weisel, Johnson, Bruyneel, Verbruggen, and McQuaid. Keep an eye on these guys next.
Well, I cannot completely discount that. After all, there is no honor among thieves. He certainly is competitive enough, and patient enough, that this may be justifiable. And spreading the blame, like I used to do with the broccoli on my dinner plate as a kid, makes the pile on him look all the smaller. However, important to consider is that the Department of Justice is also coming very close to joining Floyd Landis’ qui tam whistleblower lawsuit against him, which does two things: (1) increases the likelihood it will be a successful venture on the parts of Landis and the government; and (2) potentially secures upwards of $90 million Lance and the other defendants would have to pay (the plaintiffs can be rewarded up to three times the amount defrauded—in this case, $30 million, which the U.S. Postal Service paid to Tailwind sports to manage the team), which is nearly Armstrong’s entire worth. The government has until Thursday to decide whether it will join Landis in his suit—the same day as the Oprah interview. However, unlike us, I’m guessing the feds don’t care much about what he says to Oprah. They’ve likely already made their decision.
So his motives? Receive leniency and reduced sentences for compliance? Try to re-establish some public sympathy and trust? Time will tell…But my guess is that at least a few of the guys pictured above are doing their best impersonations of Al Roker in the White House right about now. And that’s going to be about as fun to watch as the Oprah interview, if only because all of these guys have been way too comfortable for way too long. I’m in the mood for some public squirming.
But if anyone tells me this is any less fun than watching last year’s Tour de France, I’m calling bullshit…