January 17, 2013 in Sports

Blanchette: Armstrong still has long road to recovery

John Blanchette Correspondent
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Spokesman-Review contributing sports columnist John Blanchette.
(Full-size photo)

A hair-splitting mea culpa on a fifth-rate cable channel nobody gets on a day more people are buzzing about somebody else’s imaginary dead girlfriend.

Yes, this is how I want to remember Lance Armstrong.

Incomplete. In the margins. Irrelevant.

Now, to get Stage 2 of his Tour de Oprah over with so he can file a lawsuit next week against himself for all those nasty things he said about Lance Armstrong.

Gad. All this so he can get it on in some fringe triathlons in his golden years?

Here’s the thing about confessions: They tend to be more believable when they’re not show business. Also when they’re complete, unequivocal and not spattered with hedges and deflections like “I didn’t invent the culture” and “I don’t remember that.”

Now, give Big Tex this: In 90 minutes with Oprah, he was more forthcoming about his drug transgressions than Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and the bulk of baseball’s most notorious cheats have been to this day. But over the past decade plus, he’s also slimed, harassed and intimidated more truth-telling associates than Richelieu.

This is why his 12-step program to snuff out his sociopathic side may never get past No. 9. He may not have enough sorries.

“It’s a major flaw,” Armstrong conceded of his need to sue and bully any rider, spouse or flunky who so much as suggested that he’d doped. “It’s a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and control every outcome. It’s inexcusable. (Knowing) people will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that.”

But, of course, it’s not that simple.

Armstrong built considerable emotional capital with his inspirational conquest of cancer and the foundation – which has had to pedal away from his name – that’s helped so many other sufferers. It makes it difficult to harbor any lasting rancor for the incidental crime of doping in a sport where it’s considered as essential as air in the tires.

And that few in America even bothered to acknowledge until he won it seven times. When the foreign press started shoveling dirt on his achievements, we were content to write it off as reflexive Yankee bashing. And when the circumstantial evidence and testimony mounted, we reverted to the default position.

We don’t care again.

What we care about is that he’s been – and how did he so gracefully put it on television? – “an arrogant prick” about everything. That’s the juice we can’t abide.

And he hasn’t lost that. In Stage 1 of his Oprahlogy on Thursday night, he tried to insist that he was Mr. Clean in his comeback a few years ago, even as the labwork proves otherwise, and that he didn’t coerce teammates into getting with the same doping regimen.

Forget EPO. The man rides on self-delusion.

But if the whole drug crusade in sports hasn’t earned our disgust or at least offended our sense of due process, it should have left us ambivalent.

The conflicts are inarguable. An indignant stand against performance enhancing drugs is simply hypocrisy when we have long tolerated the use of painkillers simply to get our warriors out on the field. The fact that generations of NFL players shot themselves up in one way or another just to go out and take another blow that would leave them either crippled or addled years after their brief playing careers should be a particular embarrassment to the PED police.

Where has that drug outrage been?

Still, there’s nothing inherently wrong to want sports to be innocent and pure, even if they never have been. Rules were established by the stewards of these games for some reason and the participants tacitly agreed to play by them. We don’t applaud the sub-prime banditos for making their killing in a fashion that should have them serving time, and it doesn’t seem like we’d want sports to be decided simply by the question of who has the best pharmacist.

And we’re getting a little beat up by the dark qualities of our champions. Consider these: career home runs leader (Bonds), career college football wins leader (Joe Paterno), career hits leader (Pete Rose), first running back to 2,000 yards (O.J. Simpson). Tiger, Tyson, Marion Jones. More examples available on request.

Lance Armstrong did what he did on a bike better than anyone; virtually all those who pedaled in behind him have been disqualified, too. He just couldn’t leave it there.

“This ruthless desire to win at all costs serves me well on the bike,” he said, “and served me well during the disease. But the level that it went to for whatever reason is a flaw.

“I lost myself in all that.”

Doesn’t seem like a made-for-TV apology is the best place to find himself again.

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