Who's Sorry Now, Lance Armstrong?
We're in the day-long intermission of the Lance-Oprah epic. And I, for one, am sad.
I think I have a right to be. Lance Armstrong was my childhood sports hero. At age 10, I knew and cared more about yellow (and green, and polka-dot) jerseys than I did about the Stanley Cup and the World Series combined.
Armstrong-mania was a family affair. I delighted in my father's collection of Nike and Trek paraphernalia, the sale of which helped support Armstrong's team. I was proud that my dad gave and raised money for the cyclist's cancer charity - - then known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, now known as the Livestrong Foundation. (Armstrong resigned as chairman of the foundation and stepped down from its board this past fall.)
And for years, I have counted as among the best days of my youth, July 23, 2000. On that day, I stood in pigtails, on the Champs-Elysees and watched Armstrong, the valiant survivor, win his second Tour. That night, I met Armstrong and the rest of the team. He signed the brim of my yellow baseball cap, which I brought home wrapped in a hotel shower cap to keep it from being tainted.
I've largely kept away from Armstrong related-news over the last few years, at first because I believed his denials, then because I wanted to believe them, and eventually because I knew he was guilty but still didn't want to taint that autograph.
I care less about the doping -- most of the cyclists I met on that trip to Paris were probably guilty of it -- than about the constant lies from a man whom I thought of as Herculean. Heroes can make mistakes, but they need to be able to say an honest sorry.
Last night, Armstrong almost certainly continued to not tell the full truth. His staid "absolutely not's" sounded eerily similar to the words in videos played of him lying under oath in 2005, albeit slightly more polite. He contradicted himself. More than once, he reminded the audience that we had little reason to believe anything that he was saying at this point. As though we needed the disclaimer.
Armstrong failed to do the one thing many people had been waiting for: he failed to apologize directly to all the people who believed in him, all the cancer survivors and cycling fans who thought his fairy-tale story was true. Not once did he look into the camera and say, without qualification, "I'm sorry."
Even his qualified "sorry's" were sparse: He's sorry that he didn't try to stop the doping culture. He needs to tell the people he hurt and attacked that he's sorry. And perhaps the most vague: "I made my decisions. They are my mistakes, and I am sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I'm sorry for that."
The line of regret and apology that most struck me was after Oprah asked him about whether he regretted returning to cycling in 2009: "Your comeback was also a tipping point. Do you regret now coming back?"
"I do," Armstrong responded. "We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back."
He later admitted to thinking he "was out of the woods" when the criminal federal investigation was closed in February 2012.
The reason, it seems, that Armstrong had to qualify and skirt around all those apologies is that Armstrong isn't sorry about what he did. He's sorry he got caught.
The question I most hope we see Oprah Winfrey ask in tonight's second act is, if he could, would Armstrong do it all again? I want to know whether the depth of his fall has been as deep as the heights he once climbed in the Alps, in cycling history and in the eyes of little girls looking for inspiration. I imagine he'd give an ambiguous answer, or another "Absolutely not."
The 10-year-old in me is afraid he would be lying.
(Zara Kessler is an assistant editor and producer for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)
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