WILL the sporting fraternity ever forgive the brazen and untrustworthy Lance Armstrong? Can it even unravel in its innermost consciences why cycling's acclaimed greatest and most enduring role model did what he did for such a protracted period, and repeatedly lied about it?
It is a challenge. For, after watching the televised 'confession' by the man who gained fame and fortune while cheating his way to seven successive Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005 and is the most celebrated personality in the history of the sport, many are yet to be convinced that Armstrong is truly penitent, or understands the magnitude of his actions.
In an exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey that presumably attracted a massive viewership and millions of dollars in advertising on OWN last week, Armstrong was typically devoid of emotions and disturbingly clinical in his expose of performance-enhancing drug use and blood transfusion for over a decade.
Probably he did what was necessary to shed a burden and in appeasing his conscience, confirmed what the world already knew. However, he seems to have dug a deeper hole for himself as investigators familiar with the case say Armstrong did not completely come clean in the Oprah interview. In short, with the world watching, he lied again.
The investigators insist Armstrong lied about when he actually quit doping and that the last time he was culpable during competition was in the 2009 Tour de France race — not in the 2005 edition, as the American maintained. This, of course, could have grave implications for any imminent civil lawsuit.
But even before the Winfrey interview — which is shaping up to be a pyrrhic victory — his lengthy denial of drug use, along with the litigation against his accusers, was heavily stacked against him. Ironically, the fortune made from cycling enhanced his capacity to defend himself, but ultimately wins him few sympathisers at this time of moral judgement.
A most poignant moment in the interview was Armstrong's revelation that the term 'cheat' was a problematic one for him as he conceded to having countlessly researched the word. This raises the question of values and morals while signifying that he could be grappling with the extent and actuality of his misdeeds. "I viewed it as a level playing field," he said of the doping situation that obtains in the sport.
This scenario also raises the clinical possibility that our fallen angel — a cancer survivor who subsequently founded the Livestrong Foundation -- undoubtedly has subjective issues in accepting blame for his actions. Psychologically, Armstrong obviously lacks the emotional intelligence that his fraudulent actions and present predicament demands; he should, therefore, be pitied. For, as he conceded, he never seriously regarded himself as a drug cheat.
To his credit though, and despite the extent, sophistication and deliberateness of his transgressions, Armstrong engaged in a practice that was as pervasive back then as it is within the cycling landscape today. For, one can recall that former heir apparent and US Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis, who won the Tour de France in 2006, did also admit to doping and was stripped of his title. Landis, along with others who have tested positive for banned substances every year in recent memory, lend credence to the notion.
Indeed, one cannot dismiss the magnitude of Armstrong's actions. In fact, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), in charging him with using illicit performance-enhancing drugs, imposing a lifetime ban from competition and stripping him of all titles won since 1998, also declared that Armstrong enforced "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".
Additionally, we learn that he began doping even before being diagnosed, in 1996, with testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain. We further learn that Armstrong regularly ingested the endurance booster EPO, which is a human growth hormone. These indictments testify to a diabolical scheme triggered by the desire to dominate his sport and to reap fame and fortune.
However, rather than be tossed by the tide of hate and mistrust that swirls around this tragic figure, I dare to suggest that one takes a quick look at Armstrong's background. That he was the child of a teenage mother who grew up under less than ideal circumstances to become an iconic sporting figure is an excellent starting point. Further, his benevolence to charitable organisations was perhaps second to none.
Nevertheless, even with the promise to atone for his indiscretions, Armstrong will cut a lonesome figure as the world grapples with the shattered image that once represented a truly great man. The sincerity of his promise will materialise as a matter of course, but only if he candidly confronts his misdemeanours.
At a time when his personal demons are undoubtedly agitated, and with his dilemma expected to deepen, Armstrong's situation could ultimately prove yet another challenge for the human spirit to overcome.