Thumbs down

Jan. 20, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

THUMBS DOWN: Oprah and Lance

Lance Armstrong's decision to come clean to Oprah Winfrey in a "worldwide exclusive" on Winfrey's television network, OWN, has received mixed reviews from those who have following Armstrong's doping saga.

Some felt his admissions and apologies were sincere, while others say he's still lying about certain salient facts and even that his body language suggested deception.

Regardless, it was a needed first step. The seven-time winner of what's probably the most grueling single sporting event in the world - the Tour de France, a 2,000-plus mile bike race contested over three weeks each July, featuring heart-pounding climbs over high mountain peaks - had his titles stripped last year by the sport's governing body, and was also banned from sanctioned competition. (Armstrong had retired from the pro cycling tour, but had been training for triathlon competitions and was expected to set an age group record in that sport's major championship, the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, this past fall.)

For years, Armstrong has vehemently denied blood doping (against-the-rules blood transfusions during races, designed to replace depleted red blood cells with a rider's own previously-stored blood) and PED use (performance-enhancing drugs, particularly the red blood cell boosting EPO, which had until recently been undetectable in blood tests). As other riders in the peloton (a cycling term also generally used to describe the sport's group of pro racers), including some of his former teammates, fessed up and implicated him, Armstrong's defiance was both comical and sad. His power and influence and his single-minded compulsion to destroy anyone who dared to challenge him allowed him, directly or indirectly, to ruin lives and careers - all the while earning millions in endorsements.

We're glad Armstrong has decided to admit his wrongdoing. By doing so, he not only helps cleanse himself and the sport and begin to make amends to those he's injured, but he also willingly opens himself up to numerous legal challenges and potential financial losses from former sponsors. Armstrong is cycling's megastar: this is the baseball equivalent of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens "telling all" simultaneously and each willingly removing their names from the record books (plus potentially emptying their bank accounts).

But the interviews with Winfrey - broadcast in 90- and 60-minute prime-time segments on Thursday and Friday evenings this week - left many questions unanswered. Winfrey's tendency to interrupt, change gears mid-thought and leave obvious follow-up questions on the table was excruciatingly frustrating. Armstrong could have pushed forward, but Winfrey led him down so many rabbit trails that - when combined with the frequent commercial breaks, many for other OWN programming - left viewers unfulfilled. Armstrong needed to apologize AND explain, and it didn't happen. While Winfrey might be skilled at getting celebrities to open up about their love lives, she didn't possess the skill or the backstory to effectively lead Armstrong through a proper, concise but complete mea culpa.

It's important for Armstrong, for those he's hurt, for the credibility of Livestrong (the foundation the cancer survivor created to help fund the fight for a cure) and for those who inadvertently helped fund Armstrong's deception for his admission to extend far beyond a simple controlled confession.

We hope that's forthcoming.