Let me tell you in advance what Lance Armstrong is going to say to Oprah today. And how do I know? Well, obviously, I do not. But it's just as obvious to me that I do.
Everybody knows by now that world cycling mega-star Lance Armstrong of Austin is going to confess to Oprah Winfrey today that he's a liar and a cheat, that he did do drugs in order to win his cycling medals in spite of seven years of adamant denial.
Why? This morning the Dallas Morning News caries a truncated version of a much longer original story in this morning's New York Times explaining why Armstrong is confessing. The Times story lays out a complicated organizational web of for-profit and not-for-profit entities ginned up by Armstrong and his managers over the years to generate enormous personal profits based on his cycling stardom.
I'm willing to assume the News cut the bottom off the Times story for space, but it's too bad for local readers, because the really good stuff is at the bottom. It explains how the vaunted Armstrong cancer research operation really worked: In raking in millions from corporate sponsors, it was basically a system of one for cancer, one for Lance, another one for cancer, another one for Lance.
Both sides of his financial kingdom are suffering, quite deservedly it would seem, since it was revealed that he is a crook, a liar and a cheat. And let's be plain about that. Armstrong is not a winner or a champion. He did not win a single Tour de France. Drugs won the Tour de France. Not an athlete. Not Lance Armstrong.
I sense an enormous amount of self-delusion about this here on Armstrong's home turf. Yesterday I watched an interview on TV with some doofus at Armstrong's favorite bike store in Austin, telling the camera that Armstrong's doping didn't detract from his athletic achievements.
Listen. His doping annihilates his athletic achievements. He doesn't have any athletic achievements. And if we don't get this locally, I assure you the rest of the world does. Recently I hosted a group of young visiting journalists from all over Europe, here on a State Department tour, and Armstrong was the first thing out of their mouths. They wanted to know if it was true the media in Texas had gone soft on Armstrong. What could I say?
So, wait. What is my prediction? Well, first of all, Armstrong is going to take full responsibility for his crimes. First thing out of his mouth: I take full responsibility. I don't put this on anybody else.
Why will he say that? Because that's what every crook in prison knows he has to say to get out on parole. It is the most common of commonplaces in our culture.
Then what? OK, trust me here. I've been to this hog auction before. Here's what you do when he says he takes full responsibility. Nothing. Remain absolutely silent. Show no facial expression. Wait. Count it out on your fingers. One beat. Two beats. Three. Ah, here it comes!
BUT. The fatal but. It's coming. We know it's coming, because we know what kind of guy this is. BUT.
But you know, Oprah, you get in this position, and you feel this huge responsibility to your team and to your fans, and, for me, the greatest pressure was cancer. I thought of all the people out there suffering and the great work my foundation was doing.
It will go on. Oprah will challenge him with a feather: Well, Lance, is what you are saying an excuse for what you did?
Oh, no, Oprah. Not at all. The last thing I would do is offer an excuse to you of all people (laughter from audience at cuteness). There is no excuse for what I did.
OK, again we count. One beat. Two beats.
BUT. This was a very general situation in cycling, one could say universal, so that if I knew that I and my team did not dope, well, we just wouldn't win. And when that's the situation and when the bad bad mom and dads running word cycling are doing nothing to stop it, and they're just being big hypocrites about it, and you're an athletic hero and you've got cancer research depending on you ...
Like I said, I've been to this particular hog auction. A lot. I had a guy in prison talk to me once about the store clerk whom he shot in the face in order to empty the cash drawer. He took FULL responsibility. FULL. Wanted me to write that down in my notebook so it would be in my story.
Three beats. BUT. He explained that the store clerk, after receiving explicit instructions not to allow his hands to go out of view, had committed suicide by dropping one hand beneath the counter.
What Armstrong will really tell Oprah is this: I am still a hero. It wasn't really my fault. I fell into temptation for heroic reasons. I should be allowed back into cycling. My for-profit and not-for-profit income machines should be allowed to continue raking in millions of dollars. I should be lionized and worshiped even more because the bad bad mom and dads of the world have been real mean to me.
So what's the alternative for Armstrong today in his chat with Oprah? Is there another way it could go? Absolutely. It's called contrition. Armstrong could express true contrition. He could say this:
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SHOW ME HOW
Oprah, I am not a cycling champion. I am a liar and a cheat. I deserve to be nowhere near cycling or any professional sport for the rest of my life. I am severing my bonds permanently and forever with cancer research, because I don't ever want to present myself as a good guy. I'm not a good guy. I'm a bad guy. I've taught kids that cheating, lying and taking drugs are the road to success in this world. I am a molester of innocence and trust.
I will devote my wealth and the rest of my life to some form of drug counseling, and I will make myself a poor man to do it, because I will want young people to see that I have ruined myself with drugs.
I am truly repentant. My contrition is real. I have no excuses. There is no BUT.
He could say all that. He will not. I promise you. There will be at least a couple of major BUTs on that stage today.