We live in the United States of Amnesia. If you're a celebrity or star athlete who has committed a transgression or three, America is the land of forgetfulness.
That forgetfulness rests on a formula with several factors: the mea culpa, the tell-all apology tour including a seat on the couch of Oprah Winfrey or some other reputable journalist, actual good deeds such as charity work, and good old-fashioned time. Then you can make your comeback. Not only will you be forgiven but we might almost forget what you did. Ask Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant or Elliot Spitzer.
Earlier this month, Oprah Winfrey aired a two-part confessional interview with Lance Armstrong. In it, Armstrong admitted to cheating for the length of his professional career, using human growth hormone, erythropoietin (EPO), and blood transfusions during all seven of his wins of the Tour de France. He acknowledged he could not have won without doping.
At first glance it seemed like the act of a humbled, remorseful man seeking forgiveness and a fresh start, but don't be fooled. Armstrong did not visit Oprah's couch because he is sorry.
There was no sign of reflection or contrition in Armstrong's interview with Oprah. He did not explain why he was so vengeful in his pursuit of those who correctly accused him of doping. He was cavalier in his answers as to exactly whom he had sued, and appeared to find implausible the idea that he should even be able to remember all the people he had sued.
Armstrong confessed not because it was the right thing to do, but because he wants to compete again. To do so, he needs the goodwill of the United States Anti-Doping Agency. In his interview, Armstrong said he wouldn't mind running a competitive marathon at age 50. Such races are governed by the USADA.
Armstrong spent over 10 years claiming the USADA's investigation of him was a witch hunt. He assassinated the characters of and threatened to take legal action against anyone claiming to have witnessed him taking illegal substances, and actually did so against many individuals. But in 2012, citing a pile of evidence, the USADA finally banned Armstrong for life from every sport they regulate, ranging from cycling to track to triathlons
Armstrong responded with a lengthy diatribe against the agency, in which he declared he would give up defending himself because the accusations were a farce -- a ridiculous declaration for a man losing tens of millions of dollars in sponsorships due to a ban he insisted was wrongful.
Then Armstrong had a change of heart.
The USADA lessens punishments for athletes who admit to doping. According to sources, prior to agreeing to the Oprah interview, Armstrong approached the USADA and asked what would it take to be allowed to compete again. Presumably he was told he would have to start with what turned out to be an evasive, half-hearted confession.
And that's what the interview was about. No thought or mention of the millions he fraudulently collected in sponsorship fees, endorsements, and prize money, and evasiveness about those who accused him of doping whose lives he purposely ruined. No mention of the money he collected in settlement of lawsuits he filed against those he claimed lied about his doping. No, Armstrong wants to compete again. The guy who cheated wants to be seen as a great competitor again. That is the personification of megalomania.
I believe in comebacks and I believe in forgiveness, but they can't happen in the absence of humility, empathy, and genuine remorse. Armstrong has yet to demonstrate any of those things. Assuming he stays his present course, Armstrong might be the rare star athlete whose transgressions America, and the world for that matter, will neither forgive nor forget.