This reclamation project will be most difficult

Anyone still shocked that cyclist Lance Armstrong is a cheater hasn't been paying attention. He is the dirtiest leader of a dirty sport, a blood-doping, performance-enhancing-drug-using liar who, after years of vehement denial, is ready to tell the world what it already knows.

Call me when it's over. Whatever he has to say, I'm not interested.

Whatever Armstrong reveals during his two-night interview with confessor extraordinaire Oprah Winfrey (and the Associated Press is reporting the interview includes an admission of drug use), whatever he hopes to get out of kick-starting what is sure to be a long, painful, personal cleansing tour, whatever gory details he does or does not choose to disclose from the television couch to a deceived and disappointed public, he will never reclaim what he once was. Because unlike so many of the redemption arcs traveled by athletes before him, Armstrong set himself apart with stratospheric levels of arrogance and meanness.

Now, whether he aspires once again to be a spokesperson for anything from athletic gear to cancer research, whether he aspires once again to compete in athletics at the highest levels, he deserves no professional happy ending. It's not simply that Armstrong cheated — we've long since learned how deeply poisoned the wells of the cycling world are with illegal performance-enhancing schemes.

What turns Armstrong into a pariah among pitchmen, an anathema among athletes, is the pure, unadulterated malevolence he spewed at anyone who dared challenge his so-called honesty.

Never mind forgiving him. Never mind believing him. Who could ever like him again?

Hard as he might try, Armstrong is about to face the hardest image reclamation project our sports landscape has ever seen. As inspirational as his tale once seemed — recovery from a cancer-ridden body to win seven Tour de France titles — that's how abhorrent it feels now. The more we hear about the impunity with which he cheated, as well as the venom with which he denied he did, the more we know we will never look at him the way we once did.

This is a man who didn't just deny he was a doper; he accused everyone who said he was of being the real liars. This is a man who didn't just accuse those who had the audacity to doubt him; he shredded their reputations and attacked their characters. This is a man who didn't just attack his accusers, but had them threatened with bodily harm.

Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former teammate of Armstrong, earned this description from Armstrong because she told the truth about the admission she heard him make to doctors about his drug use: "vindictive, bitter, vengeful and jealous."

Andreu also received a voicemail from one of Armstrong's protectors she testified against that included this threat: "I hope somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head. I also hope that one day you have adversity in your life and you have some type of tragedy that will . definitely make an impact on you."

Or how about Emma O'Reilly, an Irish massage therapist who also testified to the USADA about rampant drug use among Armstrong's cycling team — testimony that included her description that Armstrong tried to "make my life hell."

Those are the people who deserve Armstrong's apologies. For anyone else, deaf ears are more than justified. For the workers at Livestrong, the fundraising cancer charity Armstrong founded and the reported audience for Armstrong's first apology, disappointment and anger are acceptable answers. Armstrong apparently didn't admit his drug use to them, saving that for the ratings bonanza Winfrey's OWN network is sure to be banking on Thursday night.

Armstrong owes it to Livestrong to leave them alone and let them continue a most worthy and important fight without him. That would be one honorable legacy. What Armstrong started with Livestrong deserves to live on — the money raised for cancer research was not wasted. And for a disease too often shrouded in secrecy or shame, Armstrong's public face was an important awareness builder.

But he cannot return to that role anymore.

Maybe Armstrong will reveal to Oprah why he was moved now to go public, a month after he gave up his years-long fight with the USADA, a surrender that guaranteed his ban from professional cycling and stripping of those seven yellow jerseys. Maybe he will state the obvious, that the reality of life outside the spotlight is a lost and lonely world, that he desperately wants back in to the privileged world of high-priced fundraisers, high-end triathlons and big-money endorsement deals like the one he used to have with Nike.

Or maybe he'll try to convince us he's truly sorry for all of his lying, that he's legitimately penitent for dragging down his sport and so many of the people around him. Maybe he's realizing that he'll never be able to move forward in a life so shrouded by questions, that he can't live with such an outsized elephant in his room.

Whatever he says, why would we ever believe him? Worse yet, why would we ever like him?

In my sports book, he's done. What about yours?


Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.
COUPON OF THE WEEK