Now it can be said: I have been a long-term Lance Armstrong skeptic, for one simple reason. Any woman who has gone through menopause, and does not do hormone replacement therapy (HRT), will tell you that the physical changes are dramatic, even for someone who trains seriously. The changes are equally dramatic should you initiate HRT after deciding you don’t wish to live with loss of physical strength and stamina: you puff up like a lovely little balloon, your skin becomes elastic, your energy returns, and your muscle mass increases dramatically.
So I was quite sure that Lance, who had lost a significant portion of his capacity to make testosterone after having a testicle removed, and who returned at a relatively advanced age to dominate an endurance sport, was juicing. I was equally sure that the people who said he was doping were telling the truth, and that his outrage was as false as track star Marian Jones’s before her confession in 2007.
Here’s my question: why are we even having a conversation about Lance’s rehabilitation as a public figure, except that so very many people have such a large financial stake in salvaging something from this mess? Does anyone in the civilian world care whether Lance Armstrong ever competes again? Why are we not having a conversation about whether he should be prosecuted for fraud — since his little conspiracy defrauded sponsors, insurance companies, other athletes, and an international athletic association? Finally, in what legal statute is it written that if you tell your story to Oprah you are on the road to redemption?
I will admit that I watched neither segment of Lance’s confession to Oprah, who is either our national psychotherapist or our national prosecutor, depending on which mode she is in. I actually like and admire Oprah, and I was afraid that I would be sickened by what was bound to be a smarmy, rationalizing, self-serving moment more worthy of those reality shows Jodie Foster doesn’t want to star in.
Lance wept a few tears, which I think you have to do on Oprah no matter why you are being interviewed, but as I understand it from the media coverage, he addressed only the outlines of a life of doping and cheating. And as I understand it, here are the questions he was not asked:
- Why is your participation in triathlons and marathons important?
- If your punishment is mitigated, the soonest you might compete would be in eight years. How could you possibly compete at a high level without doping when you are 50 years old? Why would you want to?
- What makes you think anyone would trust you to be involved in their sport?
- Many people have argued that your work on behalf of cancer patients mitigates the lies you have told and the lives you have ruined. But isn’t your heroic status as someone who overcame cancer compromised, given the possibility that your cancer was caused by doping in the first place?
- Sports are said to build character. But you have no character, and neither do any of the other prominent athletes who have profited from doping. Is corruption the normal state of professional athletics?
Of course, Lance was asked none of these questions. My guess is that Oprah was told, as celebrity interviewers often are, exactly what she could and could not say. As Juliet Macur and Ian Austin wrote in the New York Times (January 18 2013):
the interview will most likely be remembered for what it was missing.
Armstrong had not subjected himself to questioning from anyone in the news media since United States antidoping officials laid out their case against him in October. He chose not to appeal their ruling, leaving him with a lifetime ban from Olympic sports.
He personally chose Winfrey for his big reveal, and it went predictably. Winfrey allowed him to share his thoughts and elicited emotions from him, but she consistently failed to ask critical follow-up questions that would have addressed the most vexing aspects of Armstrong’s deception.
She did not press him on who helped him dope or cover up his drug use for more than a decade. Nor did she ask him why he chose to take banned performance-enhancing substances even after cancer had threatened his life.
Winfrey also did not push him to answer whether he had admitted to doctors in an Indianapolis hospital in 1996 that he had used performance-enhancing drugs, a confession a former teammate and his wife claimed they overheard that day. To get to the bottom of his deceit, antidoping officials said, Armstrong has to be willing to provide more details.
I have a serious aversion to people who cheat. I know they have their reasons. I know they are living an alternate reality, in which their lies are really true and their outrage at those who try to expose them is justified. I know that they don’t really think that it is cheating when “everyone is doing it.”
But really– who cares what they think, since they don’t care what we think. Until they are caught and all that money goes away.