Blazin' Saddles

Why Lance Armstrong owes hundreds of apologies

Lance Armstrong (AFP)

Next Thursday, Lance Armstrong is going to appear on Oprah Winfrey's TV show to talk about his ban from cycling. The interview is scheduled to last 90 minutes.

It seems a long time, but if, as expected, he is coming clean about his years of doping, he'll need every minute of that hour and a half to apologise to the hundreds of people he has bullied.

The New York Times was the first to report that Armstrong is considering coming clean and admitting the entire thing was a lie; that he did indeed use performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions to win all those Tour de France titles.

But who exactly would it be news to? Certainly not the anti-doping officials and cycling administrators who the Times reports Armstrong has been working with to set up a potential deal that might allow him to return to competitive athletics, mostly ironman triathlons.

Armstrong's lawyer would only cryptically tell the Times, "I do not know about [coming clean]. I suppose anything is possible, for sure."

Here's guessing this is less about the thrill of competition and more about Armstrong realising that fewer and fewer people are paying attention to him, let alone believing his fable.

Here's guessing he has come to the stark realisation that there isn't any other way out of that sink hole.

It's better to be a humble hypocrite than a nearly forgotten joke.

It's been painfully obvious that Lance Armstrong cheated for years and years now. There have been mountains of evidence, countless media investigations, a parade of former friends and team-mates turned accusers and finally a USADA-produced 1,000 page report that is astounding in its detail.

And there's been, perhaps most damning of all, the fact that just about every other cyclist of note during Armstrong's generation was busted for doping. So to believe the Armstrong fairy tale is to believe that in a sport full of healthy cheats, it was the clean cancer survivor that was somehow the best.

It never made any sense.

There were plenty of people out there, myself included, who simply didn't care. Cycling is a dirty sport. He still had to beat the others. It wasn't clean, but it may have been a relatively even playing field. Besides, what he did off the bike was more important. He inspired so many people across the cancer wards of the world. He raised spirits. He raised money. He raised awareness.

Of all the atrocities to get angry about, a guy who was less than honest so he could ride his bike real fast around France ranks pretty low.

The thing is, climbing up from the depths of chemotherapy to the point you could get back in a peloton racing up the Alps is a heck of a story. But Armstrong could never leave it at that, and that's why this has to be more than just an admission, it needs to be an apology. Hundreds of them, actually.

They say it's never too late for the truth, but this case may test that theory.

Throughout Armstrong's career, he hasn't just denied he doped, he's tried to destroy anyone who suggested otherwise. He and his henchmen have bullied, intimidated and threatened. They attacked reputations and fought dirty in ways that belied what he was supposed to be about. Everyone was just a jealous liar. Careers were ruined.

There was ugliness like the time Betsy Andreu, wife of long-time Armstrong team-mate Frankie Andreu, got a voicemail declaring, "I hope somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head." That was after she'd already been dragged through the mud and declared a vindictive nut.

"A playground bully,'' one of Armstrong's old team-mates, Jonathan Vaughters, once described him.

So now it's all forgiven? Now he just wants to say, OK, I did it?

Maybe this is a redemption story if he acted differently in the past. Maybe it would be easier to understand that this was a lie that got so big, with so many people counting on it to be true, that he couldn't get out from under it. Maybe this would be easy.

But after all the damage was done, after all the times his lawyers napalmed someone's reputation, after all the times Armstrong took the people closest to him, ones who understood the truth and tried to bury them, this can't be just admitting to something that any thinking person long ago was fairly certain he did.

Only his sizeable ego could think that's enough.

No, if this is a new day for Lance, then it needs to be about someone other than just Lance.

This needs to be about making amends, publicly and painfully, one by one, name by name, to all the people he and his machine tried to run over, all the people whose crime was merely wanting to acknowledge the truth long before the schoolyard bully ran so short of friends he too finally realised it was his only option.

Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports