I watched Oprah on Thursday and Friday evening. Much like a paying customer at an 1890s staged train wreck, I anticipated, well… something. Instead, over those two evenings, I watched Lance admit to simple statements of fact that every cycling fan has known for years. Cheating? Check. Bullying; via lawsuits, media (social and otherwise), workplace intimidation? Check. Lying? Check. Jerk and humanitarian (jerkatarian?)? Check.
As we got ready for Friday evening Shabbat services, I told my wife that if services weren’t over by nine o’clock, she’d have to find her own ride home because I needed to watch #DOPRAH, part two. As we stood for the Aleinu, these lines from the Yom Kippur service popped into my head.
What did we give? To what were we blind?
Last year’s confession came easily to the lips.
Will this year’s come from deeper than the skin?
I should have known better. I saw a bright man, carefully prepared, still desperate to control the narrative.
Lance, as a cyclist, was the single best prepared cyclist in the history of the sport. No one reconnoitered more of each Tour de France’s 2000 miles than Lance. Drugs aside, no one was more scientific in preparation; power generation, diet, aerodynamics, equipment design and manufacture. No one suffered more during training. As Drucker said, “what gets measured gets managed.” Lance and his team measured everything. He may well have won seven Tours without the drugs.
What we didn’t see was Lance speaking (much) about the human cost. He spoke briefly of Emma O’Reilly, the masseuse he categorized as a “whore, an alcoholic.” He said nothing of Paul Kimmage, the Irish ex-pro and journalist whose book A Rough Ride (1990) was the first to expose the truth. He said nothing of Greg LeMond, the first (and now only) winner of the Tour de France who Lance dismissed as a “fat-ass” when Greg questioned Lance’s drug-free status.
He refused to speak of Betsy Andreu (spouse of ex-teammate Frankie Andreu) saying “I can’t go there.” Betsy was present in the hospital room pre-cancer surgery when Lance confessed all to his doctors. He spoke only momentarily of David Walsh, the journalist who relentlessly pursued the truth. Without Betsy and David’s ability to endure Lance’s abuse, many of us would still be guzzling the yellow Livestrong Kool-aid.
We saw but one moment of humanity, of a confession that came from “deeper than the skin.” For a few minutes, Lance spoke of his 13-year-old son Luke defending him at school. We saw a human being, a dad, a man who truly loves his kids. Armstrong should have listened to Proverbs 1:8 "Hearken, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the instruction of your mother.” The job of a father is to teach and guide his children to maturity. If Lance had thought about the impact of his behavior on his five children years ago, he wouldn’t have seen his empire crash like a Jenga game played on a rickety table.