Crocodile tears or contrition?
Lance Armstrong is oh-so-hot in the news today and has been over the past few days since it’s been leaked that he might be about to confess to doping in an exclusive interview with the highpriestess of the celebrity confession booth, Oprah Winfrey. Of course we all know what Armstrong’s true sin has been: hubris. Not simply persistent denial of doping claims in the face of pretty overwhelming and convincing evidence to the contrary – including plenty of public claims from former close fellow athletes who themselves have been caught out or admitted to doping. Armstrong has gone after anyone and everyone who has called him a doper with the fervor of the falsely accused, publicly decrying the accusers and bringing his complaints into the courts. Why? I think we know why. It’s the old story – the lie that snowballs, grows bigger with every denial of the truth. The more amazing his personal story became as he triumphed over cancer, came back to claim more and more wins in the face of incredible odds against him, he became superman. He was not a victim of the media story-making machine; he crafted the infallible image along with them. I’m guessing his truest underlying emotion through the years of doping and denial and lashing out to maintain his iconic image was fear. The bigger the story, the more terrifying the prospect of exposure.
So where does that leave Lance now? At the inevitable juncture of having to sit down for a ‘come to Jesus’ with Oprah. In today’s news, having completed the long interview, Oprah is quoted saying Armstrong apologized, seems to have admitted to doping on some level, may be ready to ‘name names’. Before his interview, he apparently called a conference at the Livestrong charity he established, apparently to issue a teary apology that had everyone also in tears.
Do I doubt that Lance Armstrong is in pain? How could I? One can only imagine how wrenching a contrition tour would be for someone who went to the lengths he did to protect his lies. I wanted to be moved by his pain, I wanted to feel it as one of our human stories of weakness acknowledged, to see it as a story of the beginning of new strength that can come from our lowest personal failures, self deception, catharsis and redemption. I can’t seem to muster it, though. Instead, the story leaves me with one overwhelming feeling – fatigue. I don’t feel a spark of optimism for Lance Armstrong that his likely redemptive future actions (will he become a new poster boy for clean sports?) would in the past move in me. Instead I see the debris of ego and excess. I see a broken man who will not be put together again to commit shiny new acts. I see a much truer story here than I expected because nothing is really clear, there are no straight lines either in his past behaviour nor even in his coming judgement day. His past actions are outrageous. His tears and apologies are clouded by an incomprehensible tyranny of egotistical and damaging behaviour. He bears the stain of imperfection. And so do we.