Lance Armstrong is in for the fight of his lifeMay 26, 2011
Beating back the public backlash of cheating requires more than public relations, it demands the truth. Full disclosure: I loved Lance Armstrong. Followed every stage of his seven Tour de France victories, and even traveled to France one year to watch him ride a stage. On the wall in back of my right shoulder sits a picture of Lance, with images of each of his wins.
But as I wrote on this blog nearly a year ago, Lance is in big trouble as federal investigators tighten the noose around him and his former U.S. Postal teammates, squeezing them for information on how the clan systematically cheated the sport.
Their dominance, and that of Lance, was enough to raise suspicions throughout the years. How could an American team with no cultural connection to cycling come to dominate the sport, while American soccer has unsuccessfully tried for decades to do the same thing?
When a story is too good to be true, guess what? It’s too good to be true. The reality is that Lance was a good cyclist. He and his cohorts were even better dopers. When U.S. Postal Lieutenant Tyler Hamilton came clean last week on “60 Minutes,” it mortally wounded one of the world’s greatest sportsmen and humanitarians, who through his charity, Livestrong, has single-handedly raised more than $325 million in the fight against cancer.
So can Lance save his name in the face of an almost certain indictment? What advice would a PR guy give him to save his skin, maintain his legacy and preserve his noble efforts to improve human health? In short, none. There is no smart PR spin or response that will save his neck. There is nothing to pull from the PR bag of tricks that will make it all go away, erase decades of deceit, not just by Lance but by the entire sport of cycling.
Rather, the only alternative open to Lance is to tell the truth. Come clean. Show the cards he has kept clutched to his chest. With the Grand Jury looming and more and more of his trusted cadre cracking, Lance has no options left to a rider famous for always finding a way to win, regardless of the scale of the mountain or ferocity of the competitors.
Lance needs to call a worldwide press conference and lay it all on the table. Tell the world what you did Lance, but explain it in terms we need to hear. The truth is, Lance and every other world-class cyclist in that era were bound together in a culture of cheating and drug use. They learned to game the sport while riding in a ganglia of neurons, united through a shared consciousness — the peloton, which gives and takes away the life, energy, and cunning of every Tour rider.
Everyone in the peloton knows the dirty little truth. They all suffered from the same hubris, egged on by the glory of victory, the greed of sponsorship, the attraction of fame, and the unrealistic expectations of fans. From it arose an inhuman event. The Tour. Some 3,500 miles of pain upon the pavement. Across flats. Over mountains most of us couldn’t even walk up. The Alps and Pyrenees. 125,000 calories consumed and spent.
Once confessed, Lance be contrite, which is the least of your human attributes. You are the guy who once mocked the French courts for dropping their case against you. Only to piss off the judge so much that she reopened the case. You’re the rider who once chased down an Italian competitor, jeopardizing a Tour win, only to deny him a meaningless stage win, all because the amico correctly suggested that you were the beneficiary of performance enhancing drugs.
I loved you for that passion. But now, all is at risk. Set it aside Lance. We are a forgiving people. But you have to apologize. Contrition is the route to redemption in the American psyche. Go there. Find shelter in the truth and you will give us some reason for welcoming you back.
And then, you need to do good. Not the same dubious do-gooding you have been doing. While Livestrong is vital and important, it’s hard to justify your commitment to improving human health, when you put your own health and the health of your teammates at risk by imbibing in cocktails of illegal drugs — the effects of which are unknown to anyone who doesn’t spin a spocket for a living.
Your good works must now be put to improving sport, by reclaiming the right and goodness you stole through your lies and deception. Lance needs to announce a global effort to ban PEDs from sport at every level. A Hurculean effort? Absolutely. But so too was beating cancer. So too was winning seven Tour de Frances, against equally doped riders.
You need to lock arms with the drug testing laboratories, sports psychologists, cycling federations, the teams, managers and doctors, who while they might have been involved with this garbage in the past, would have preferred a cleaner route, if one had existed. Lance, show us the way.
Share your secrets on how those 500 drugs tests all came up clean while your teammates now admit you were all pushers and users. Share the results of the clinical trials you performed while perched upon your saddle, sailing through the sunflower fields of France.
Open to the sanitizing sun the criminal enterprise which was U.S. Postal and the rest of pro cycling during your reign of glory. Give names of those who supply the stuff. Show us the masking agents. The feigned blood tests. The soap you stored beneath your fingernails to mix in a urine test to undermine the results.
Do this Lance. Do it all. Do it before you’re called before the Federal Grand Jury. Pop the balloon before they catch you in the same hideous lies that brought down Marion Jones and Barry Bonds. I need you to do it. For the sake of the poster on my wall. For the millions of cancer survivors who believed that you did it all fair and square. And because of that, they can too.
That’s the path a PR practitioner would map out before you Lance. It’s the same one a mother or father would provide a child. The story, your story, will survive, if the postscript reads more than, “Won Tour de France seven times and found guilty of perjury and fraud over a doping scandal.”
It’s got to add one last line. “And then went on to found the World Anti-Doping Institution which cracked the stranglehold cheaters and liars had on sport, opening the pursuit of human excellence to the world of honest, true athletes.”