Lance Armstrong, MLB, Drugs and Confessions of Convenience

Lance Armstrong is preparing to provide what’s been referred to as either a confession or a “limited” confession (whatever that means) to Oprah Winfrey in a televised interview later this week—NY Times Story. In truth, it’s likely to be nominal mea culpa cloaked in semantics just short of asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege to avoid self-incrimination. If he were giving legal testimony, he wouldn’t say a word.

Much like other users of performance enhancing drugs or those who have been accused of behaving in a way that compromised their legacies and flouted the ingrained ground rules of their particular sport, Armstrong is taking the route previously traversed by other notables such as Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Pete Rose. For the most part though, Canseco, McGwire and Rose didn’t go to the lengths that Armstrong did in portraying themselves as clean, innocent victims; nor did they cross the line into threatening accusers and contemporaries with legal action, implied physical violence, loss of employment, tattered reputations and hanging in effigy for merely stating the obvious.

The rumored Armstrong admission is indicative of the inherently egocentric dismissal of long-term consequences on and off the field of play by the physically talented athlete who thinks the ends justify the means and believes that if he’s called to answer for the ends, an apology and feigned contrition will suffice. But Armstrong is somehow worse than the baseball players who made similar public admissions of what they did.

This is not to exonerate Rose, McGwire, Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds or anyone else who was involved in controversies such as PEDs or gambling, but Armstrong’s behaviors extended beyond maintaining his veneer of cleanliness and heroism. He became a champion of altruism, using his story of winning what appeared to be a hopeless fight against cancer and made millions for himself in the process by getting healthy and returning to his sport and again becoming best in the world.

Was his dedication to the Livestrong cause real? Or was it all part of the image he hoped to convey, thereby letting him function with an aura of untouchability in a circular feeding of cancer survivor —> champion cyclist —> generous giver of time and money —> abusive bully that gave him the freedom to behave any way he wanted because of the good things he did counteracting the bad. As distasteful as it is to imply that a person milked having cancer, Armstrong certainly fits the profile. He helped a lot of people, but he harmed a lot of people and made a lot of money while making aggressive denials of drug use.

The baseball people denied what they did hoping it would go away. It didn’t go away. Rose, after his suspension from baseball for gambling, ended up incarcerated in a halfway house for tax evasion. Rose, Canseco and McGwire admitted what they did in one form or another for reasons that were steeped in self-interest.

Canseco wanted vengeance against baseball for, as he believes, blackballing him. In a strange way in spite of the ongoing and somewhat entertaining (check his Twitter account) train wreck his life has become, Canseco deserves accolades for revealing who used PEDs during his time in baseball. Canseco got the ball rolling to at least try to eradicate PED use from the game.

McGwire admitted he used steroids because he wanted to take a job as the Cardinals hitting coach and unless he addressed the issue, he wasn’t going to be capable of doing the job without being a distraction. With the crocodile tears and expressions of regret, it was absurd that he denied PED use until he needed to admit it to have a job in baseball. Once he admitted it though, it went away and he was able to function as a hitting coach for Tony LaRussa and has since moved on to the Dodgers to work in the same capacity. He’s liked by the players and respected in the job.

Rose’s admission was an all-too-late attempt to have his lifetime suspension removed and possibly gain admission to the Hall of Fame. He also wanted to sell a book. Rose (fresh with a new reality show) may care to a certain extent about his enshrinement as a player, but with him the majority of what he’s done in his life has had a foundation in money and wanting to accumulate a lot of it. A Hall of Fame plaque would potentially increase the fees he charges for autographs and appearances. It’s doubtful Rose, at age 71, wants to get into baseball in any on-field capacity, as a front office person or broadcaster. As great and intense a player as Rose was, his known intelligence on the field could be a boon to players as a spring training instructor. The argument as to whether he should be allowed in the Hall of Fame would be dealt with by the voters, but Rose being able to go to a ballpark as a former star wouldn’t harm anyone.

The one thing they all have in common with Armstrong is that none are sorry for what they did, but sorry when it conveniences them to be sorry. Armstrong is different in that he steadfastly denied drug use and utilized an underlying threat of danger if his accusers continued making the assertion that he did use banned drugs to win his Tour de France titles.

Armstrong was a rainmaker. Logically, no one with a brain could have bought the line that out of every person who completed the grueling bicycle race, the only one who did it clean—and won!!!—was Armstrong. It’s not even that he lied so consistently and adamantly, but that he was litigious, nasty and obsessive in bolstering that lie. The real Armstrong was hidden by shady informers, drug dealers, corporate entities, disposable employees, enablers, protectors and interference-runners because Armstrong was necessary. Eventually it got to the level where there was no longer a point in denying it as it became so glaringly obvious that he’s guilty.

Because Armstrong came back from a battle with cancer and became an icon of charitable contributions, it doesn’t automatically free him from being held responsible for what he did. Now, under siege and without choice in admitting his guilt to get on with his life, he’s planning to kindasorta admit his guilt. Armstrong is said to be concerned about criminal charges and with good reason. The linked NY Times piece above says that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is “unlikely” to reopen an investigation into Armstrong for a variety of potential crimes such as fraud, money laundering and drug trafficking. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office avidly pursued perjury charges against Clemens and Bonds knowing that they had little chance at a conviction and even if they got a conviction very little—if any—jail time going to Clemens and Bonds.

What Armstrong is accused of doing is far worse than anything Clemens and Bonds did as they were lying to protect themselves and Armstrong was clinging to an empire he’d built. Armstrong has proven to be narcissistic, greedy and bordering on sociopathic. It’s a good bet (one that Rose would undoubtedly take) that Armstrong is eventually going to wind up doing some jail time for his crimes. He’s going to be broke, will probably write a tell-all book (as Rose did) admitting everything to make himself some quick money to settle lawsuits, pay fines and obliviously think he’ll be able to convince a vast majority of readers that he’s sorry. He doesn’t seem to get that the public simply wants him to go away.

When all is said and done that’s exactly what he’s going to do and not by conscious decision. Instead of choosing to recede into the background, however, it’s going to be in handcuffs with cameras following him, lightbulbs flashing, and news stories of a a fall from grace that was unavoidable from the start, except no one wanted to admit its inevitability. There’s no longer an option. Armstrong’s self-serving “confession” won’t alter the fact that he’s not sorry and doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. The public, media, his fellow athletes and most importantly, the government will see it differently. They will have the final say. In situations such as this, they always do and Armstrong can’t force them to say what he wants them to say anymore.

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  1. #1 by bdrube on January 15, 2013 - 12:26 am

    Though his crimes are obviously not nearly as serious, Armstrong reminds me a little of Jerry Sandusky, who also used a charity to mask his crimes and to ingratiate himself with a lot of powerful people, making it that much harder to take him down.

    It might be cynical to say this, but highlighting one’s charitable works is a great way to distract the public’s attention to unpleasant realities. Look at how the NFL has all the sudden become so concerned about breast cancer research at exactly the time when public awareness of the long term damage being done to health of its players is becoming mainstream. Coincidence? I think not.

    • #2 by admin on January 15, 2013 - 12:45 am

      Sandusky is in a category of despicable all his own. Armstrong could never reach that if he tried. Not even OJ Simpson is in the Sandusky ballpark.
      The NFL is a self-interested entity and are under siege for the injuries former players are now suing the league for. I think it’s a bit hypocritical and stupid for the players to be blaming the NFL. They didn’t know that smashing their 250 pound+ bodies full-speed into other 250 pound+ bodies was eventually going to do them damage? Ridiculous.
      That said, the NFL has always been heavily involved with charity work like the United Way ads we all saw as kids.

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