“Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my [butt], six hours a day. What are you on?”)
And then the ad faded to the words, Just Do It. It’s the famous Lance Armstrong/Nike commercial from 2001.
It turns out he was just doing it, all right. From performance-enhancing drugs to banned blood doping, he was doing it.
Now, after years of denial, angry denial, incredulous and indignant denial, after suckling on the cash cow of lucrative sponsorships, now dry as dust, that bought into his being falsely accused, Armstrong is coming clean.
The Lance Armstrong Reclamation Tour makes its first and perhaps only stop on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. Taped earlier this week and leaked like the Pentagon Papers, the shows will air Thursday and Friday on Oprah’s network hosted by Oprah’s favorite interviewer, Oprah.
It will be interesting to see if Armstrong offers a fancy two-step, full disclosure, or jumps up and down on the couch proclaiming his love for Katie Holmes. Oprah can do serious, but I don’t know about hard-hitting. She’s mostly a sympathetic ear. Her history, while respected, is heavy on entertainment, light on news.
Instead of scheduling a press conference and taking serious questions from serious journalists, Armstrong scheduled a TV appearance. Take it for what it’s worth. Maybe Lance and Oprah will both surprise us.
The leaks indicate Armstrong told Oprah he started using PEDs in the mid-1990s, before he was diagnosed with cancer and long before he won the first of an unprecedented seven straight Tour de France titles, all of which have since been stripped and vacated, in 1999.
Armstrong was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer in ’96, and his recovery was nothing less than stirring bordering on miraculous. He went on to found Livestrong, a charity that supports cancer survivors. It has raised millions of dollars and has brought solace and hope to countless people. Nothing he has done should negate or thwart that effort.
But the fact is he did it against the backdrop of championship sports. As sports fans, should we care?
On one hand, we probably will. If the recent vote for baseball’s hall of fame is any indication, and if the closed shop that conducts the election indeed reflects our opinions, we do bear a grudge. Neither the greatest home run hitter of all time, statistically, nor one of the game’s greatest pitchers, statistically — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, respectively — were elected in their first years of eligibility because of their presumed, but always denied, ties to steroid use.
On the other hand, perhaps we won’t. Sport has provided a platform for cheaters, villains, and purveyors of various forms of chicanery and deceit for decades, if not centuries. Track and field, weightlifting, baseball, football … on and on it goes. Professional cycling, certainly, has been a cesspool. Drug testing is an infant, as measured by time, so we can only guess how many Tour de France titles should have been vacated.
We have been numbed by so many athletes taking so many shortcuts, and we are most often a forgiving people when miscreants answer to wrongdoing with honest answers while throwing themselves upon the court of public opinion.
Lance Armstrong — disgraced in the arena, shunned by sponsors, divorced from his charity — knows that. And, so, it begins.
He long endorsed a code of silence in his sport and a code of angst in public, convinced that no one was willing to listen.
We’re listening now. Still.
“Everybody wants to know what I’m on.”
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.