“This is too late. It’s too late for probably most people. And that’s my fault. [This was] one big lie, that I repeated a lot of times.” It was quite a confession from once-admired and respected road racing cyclist Lance Armstrong, during his interview with Oprah Winfrey, aired Thursday night, Jan. 17, on Oprah’s cable TV network. “I made my decisions. They are my mistakes,” he went on to say.
Oprah had earlier lamented the apparent superficiality of Armstrong’s confession. “He did not come clean in the manner that I expected,” she said. And it was reported that Armstrong had apologized to staffers at his Livestrong Foundation, based in Austin, Texas, prior to the taping of the interview on Monday night, Jan. 14.
Yet there it was, for all the world to see and hear: the seven-time consecutive Tour de France winner, a man who had protested his innocence for many years, admitting to repeated doping in order to win coveted athletic prizes.
Whispers and accusations began to surface in the mid-1990s. Lance wasn’t clean; the Tour de France urine tests were rigged, so some claimed. Others suggested bribery had been committed to silence potential whistle-blowers. The very doping decried by Armstrong had been committed by the cyclist himself. He had taken performance-enhancing substances, to help him push to ever greater heights of athletic achievement. Yet just as the whispers and rumors increased, so did the denials. Armstrong protested his innocence—and pointed to over 600 doping tests supposedly taken throughout his career, all with negative results, to support his defense.
In 2004 a lawsuit was brought against Texas-based SCA Promotions, which had proposed to withhold a $5 million bonus originally to be given to the cyclist, because of the accusations. Armstrong eventually won the case against SCA, receiving a reported $7.5 million payment.
But the suspicions didn’t go away. A federal investigation of the charges, lasting from early 2010 till February of 2012, was finally dropped without charges. Still, the rumors and accusations mounted. In October of 2012, a lengthy report was published by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency or USADA, which cataloged various testimonies of former friends and colleagues, alleging use of performance-enhancing substances—and blood transfusions—to improve athletic performance. After earlier defending the athlete, the International Cycling Union or ICU announced it would not appeal the USADA report.
In late August of 2012 the USADA had stripped Armstrong of all competitive results from Aug. 1, 1998, forward and banned him for life. Sponsors began to withdraw their support. The U.S. Postal Service, whose team Armstrong had competed in, withdrew its sponsorship, as did Nike and Anheuser-Busch, both highly lucrative sponsorships for the cyclist. By January, some news reports were suggesting Armstrong’s fall from grace might cost him as much as $200 million, following the Oprah confessions.
How sad this all is! But what should we learn from all this? Maybe the narrower lesson is the one aptly coined by the apostle Paul, taking a lesson from Greek athletics in the first century: “If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5).
Yet the sense of betrayal, loss of reputation, prizes and sponsorships all come back to a principle enunciated by King Solomon in the Proverbs: “The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19).
Lance Armstrong’s career is likely permanently ruined. Yet you and I can take heed, be men and women of truth—and be established forever!
For Life, Hope &Truth, I’m Ralph Levy.