The year is 1982. Fifth grader Lance Armstrong has just won his first running race. Prior to setting off of the starting line, Armstrong told his mother, "I'm going to be a champ." At a mere 11-years-old, Armstrong's obsession with competition began.
By now, the world knows the story of the seven-time Tour de France champion's fall from grace, stemming from USADA's investigation into his use of performance enhancing drugs and subsequent issuance of a lifetime ban for cycling and triathlon. What the world doesn't know, though, is why after years of denying allegations of doping Armstrong has decided to come clean on Oprah Winfrey's couch. A look into the motivating factor driving most of the decisions of Armstrong's life provides solid guidance as to why he is now coming clean. That motivating factor is competition.
Jason Maloni has spent the last 20 years advising clients on crisis matters. As the senior vice president and head of the sports and entertainment team at the public relations firm Levick, Maloni has helped forge public relations strategies for the likes of Roger Clemens and has advised other athletes accused of taking performance enhancing drugs. To Maloni, Armstrong's decision to admit to using performance enhancing drugs is largely about his desire to return to competition. "Lance Armstrong knows the clock is ticking. In addition to being the hero or villain, depending on your perspective, he is, in his heart, a competitor. He wants to return to competition and, to do so, he must demonstrate for the United States Anti-Doping Agency genuine remorse over taking performance enhancing drugs. To achieve this he must deliver no half measures or baby steps. We've heard the term 'come clean' beaten into the racing track in recent days. But that's what he must do," Maloni said.
Several sources believe that Armstrong is making his admission based on a deal he has worked out to reduce his cycling and triathlon ban from a lifetime to eight years. However, an appearance and subsequent admission on the set of Oprah's show is unlikely to appease all of Armstrong's foes. The International Olympic Committee says it plans to ask Armstrong for his bronze medal earned in the 2000 Olympics if he admits to cheating. Similarly unamused by Armstrong's admission route is the World Anti-Doping Agency, who says it will only consider reducing his lifetime ban if Armstrong makes his admission under oath.
While Armstrong's admission to Oprah is unlikely to spur an immediate reduction in his lifetime ban, it may provoke other legal issues for Armstrong. Some public relations officials believe that Armstrong has waited as long as he has to make his admission so that his legal team can secure the best feasible legal outcome for him upon making an admission. Likely, Armstrong's legal team evaluated every legal ramification of his admission and advised him of such ramifications before taping the Oprah interview.
Admitting to use of performance enhancing drugs and subsequently resolving his outstanding legal issues stemming from the allegations against him are necessary steps for Armstrong to re-attract sponsors. "Right now, he has money. He must have reasoned that his admission was worth resolving several outstanding litigation issues in order to tell his side of the story. I can't think of any sponsors he has retained through the latest USADA report, but he has a chance to wipe the slate clean and mend fences with sponsors, the cancer community, his fans and the hundreds of reporters he's apparently lied to for more than a decade," Maloni noted. Yet, it is to be seen how the cancer community and sponsors of Armstrong's foundation, Livestrong, react.
While much of the buzz surrounding Armstrong's admission has centered around his media outlet selection and timing, going forward, the news surrounding Armstrong's announcement will shift. Given Armstrong's status in the sport of cycling, his admission will be damming for the sport. In coming months, one can expect clean sweeps through cycling's governing bodies to identify the culprits who allowed such an advanced doping scheme to persist for over a decade. While others have received bans and suspensions from the sport for their involvement in the scheme, Armstrong's is the largest domino to fall. Armstrong's admission on Oprah's couch is more than a mere admission. It is the final call necessary for change needed for over a decade to be made in a sport plagued with drug use.
Armstrong's teammates' admissions to doping were made on affidavits drawn up by lawyers. They were discredited by Armstrong's camp and called out as being part of a greater witch hunt. As he admits to using performance enhancing drugs from the comfort of Oprah's couch in his hometown of Austin, Armstrong will prove that everything in his life boils down to one thing: Competition.
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