In 2005, right after publishing his soon-to-be bestseller, Lance Armstrong’s War, journalist Daniel Coyle was asked, “What’s our biggest misconception about Lance Armstrong?”
Coyle, who had spent more than a year shadowing Armstrong, gave a curious reply: “That he’s a nice guy,” he answered. At the time, this was shocking: Armstrong was regarded as nothing less than a secular saint, a champion and philanthropist who had inspired cancer survivors around the world. He was one of the most beloved athletes in America. Of course he was a nice guy.
In last night’s much-hyped interview with Oprah, the world finally got to see what Coyle was talking about. Sure, he admitted using performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France. But we already knew that. The admission was only a small part of the story, and Oprah dispatched it with her first few questions. (The answers to all of which were “Yes.”) Then things got raw.
“Were you a bully?” Oprah asked. Yes, he was, Armstrong admitted. He was starting to squirm, for the first time in the history of Lance Armstrong interviews. Oprah asked a series of questions that led to: Did he feel in any way as if he were cheating? No, he didn’t. “Scary,” he remarked. Worse than that, it was dumb: He showed no remorse, just chagrin that he’d been caught. He was, as he admitted, a “jerk.”
The catalogue of bad behavior got worse. He admitted that there was an “expectation” that his younger teammates would also use dangerous performance-enhancing drugs, if they wanted to make the A team. He acknowledged calling a team employee, Emma O’Reilly, a drunk and a whore. (Oprah did not approve.) He admitted calling Betsy Andreu, wife of a former teammate and close friend, a “crazy bitch”—but then insisted, “I never called her fat,” as if that made it okay. (It didn’t, and Oprah really did not approve of the fat talk. )
He laid out a catalogue of sociopathic behavior—and then failed to apologize for much if any of it. There was no apology to Betsy or her husband, Frankie, whose lives and careers he made much more difficult. There was no apology to Greg Lemond, a colleague and superior sportsman who he persecuted for years. There was no apology to his former teammates, or to the many people he’d sued or threatened to sue. “You're suing people, and you know that they're telling the truth,” Oprah huffed. “What is that?”
“I think all of this is a process for me,” he said, in the course of not really answering her. “One of the steps of that process is to speak to those people directly, and just say to them that I am sorry, and I was wrong. You were right.”
Or, why not just face the camera and apologize to them directly? You’re on Oprah, bro. Good a time as any. Be classy and do it by name.
But the most amazing thing about last night, to me, was that he didn’t apologize to the one group of people who needed him, who idolized him, who kept faith in him after the rest of us lost it: cancer survivors. Maybe that’s coming tonight, for those still interested enough to tune in on a Friday night (at 9).
There’s one cardinal sin in American life, and it’s not cheating, or adultery, or theft, and certainly not sports doping; it’s failing to show remorse. Even in a court of law, a defendant who seems sorry for his crimes will likely get off with a lighter sentence than one who does not. And judging by the reaction to “Doprah” Part I—check out this tirade from ex-supporter Rick Reilly—the public is in a hangin’ mood.