1/22/2013 9:57:00 PM Column: When the dust settles, Armstrong still inspires hope
Peter Dejong/The Associated Press In this July 24, 2005 file photo, Luke Armstrong, rear right, tries to touch the winner's trophy held by his father, Lance Armstrong, after Armstrong won his seventh straight Tour de France in Paris.
Here are several of my takeaways from Lance Armstrong's sit-down with Oprah.
Full confession: I have never been an Oprah fan. Her self-promoting style - the name of her network, Oprah Winfrey Network, says it all - has always been a turnoff for me. But her two- part interview with Armstrong was nothing short of masterful. Oprah was in control from start to finish. She led off by asking Armstrong to respond with one word answers - yes or no - to the key questions everyone tuned in to hear: Did you dope? Did you use EPO? Armstrong was put on the defensive from the outset, and it allowed Oprah to set the tone for the entire interview.
Oprah was no Mike Wallace, whose fawning interview of Roger Clemens on 60 Minutes was a love-fest. Wallace has a reputation as an aggressive interviewer who drills his subject matter until he/she becomes uncomfortable. But he played the role of a fan and let Clemens off the hook repeatedly. And Clemens wasn't nearly the challenge that Armstrong was. The cyclist is smarter, more devious, evasive, and measured in his responses than his PED-consuming baseball counterpart. Oprah repeatedly asked pointed follow up questions and rarely backed down until Armstrong responded directly. If this had been the Tour de France, Oprah would have worn the yellow jersey, emblematic of the leader at every stage of the race, after every question.
If Armstrong's goal was to appear apologetic and sincere, he failed miserably. He didn't come across as sympathetic or remorseful, but rather defiant and combative. Armstrong's performance reinforced his reputation as arrogant and controlling, a person who would stop at nothing to win. He even admitted to being a bully who ruined people's lives. There was little to like and less to admire about the person.
But Armstrong turned the tide during round two when he talked about the affect his cheating and lying had on his family. While relating his conversation with his son Luke, telling him not to defend his father anymore, Armstrong had to pause and collect himself several times. The takeaway is that regardless of how cruel, abusive and self-absorbed a person may be, and Armstrong is guilty on all counts, there are two sides to everyone. Perhaps no one is as good as they appear to be on one hand, nor as bad as they may appear on the other.
Regardless of Armstrong's actions as a cyclist - he cheated, lied, and tried to destroy anyone who dared to tell the truth - he is still capable of exhibiting the feelings we normally associate with caring human beings. Armstrong obviously has a conscience, even if he did his best to hide it from view for most of his life.
While Armstrong was despicable as an athlete, what he has done for tens-of-millions of cancer patients and their families through his Livestrong foundation will forever label him a hero. The foundation has raised half-a-billion dollars for cancer research. Forget the expose done by The New York Times that detailed the foundation's unreasonable administrative salaries and questionable ethical dealings. Almost every nonprofit is guilty of similar conduct. Furthermore, the sums involved are miniscule when compared to the amount dedicated to charitable causes.
Anyone who has been touched by cancer can relate to its devastation and the feelings of despair the disease engenders. But Armstrong, who survived a bout with testicular cancer prior to winning his seven straight Tour de France titles, stands as an example that we too can endure and survive the dreaded disease.
Armstrong is a young man of 41. No one knows how the second half of his life will unfold. But if it ended today, his enduring legacy shouldn't be his cheating in a sport that wasn't clean when he arrived on the scene and still isn't today. Nor should Armstrong be judged by the inexcusable way he treated friends and associates, many of whom were as guilty of cheating and lying as he was, the major difference being their epiphany came before his.
As the Mastercard ad suggests, some things are priceless. Armstrong's enduring legacy should be the good he has done in his private life to assist so many who were badly in need of something he provides in spades: Hope.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org