But it’s likely to be a back-peddling process that will need to go far beyond any damage control that Oprah Winfrey can offer at this point.
The take-away from the second part of a two-part interview televised Friday on the OWN channel will be that Armstrong showed a more emotional distress from Winfrey’s line of questioning — especially when explaining how he had to tell his 13-year-old son not to keep defending him against those who accused the former seven-time Tour de France winner of taking illegal drugs.
A night after being a bit more calculating and defiant but admitting guilt when questions were put to him about past indiscretions, he showed some more human moments when he revisited his “most humbling moment” — when his Livestrong foundation not only asked him to step away as chairman but also leave the board several months ago.
But then again, it needs to be put into context.
During a panel discussion later Friday in CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” author Daniel Coyle, who co-wrote “The Secret Race” with former Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton, said based on conversations he had with former teammates and “people who know him well” who saw the first part of the interview on Thursday, “it’s almost like you have to adjust the ‘contrite’ level on your screen. (From what) they saw yesterday, and I’m sure they saw today, they were stunned at how contrite he was. The rest of us, a lot of Americans who didn’t know him as well, saw that and said, ‘Boy, he doesn’t seem very moved.’ It’s almost like he’s got this suit of emotional armor on that he’s having a hard time breaking out of.”
Betsy Andreu, the wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu who Thursday was very upset by what she saw of the interview, seemed far more compassionate Friday, saying Armstrong was very sincere when he called recently to apologize to them, but on TV he was different – perhaps because “maybe he was more nervous, or trying to be stoic. It would have been a great benefit to him to let that guard down.”
Even London sports writer David Walsh, who spent 13 years covering Armstrong and was often personally attacked by the cyclist, tweeted out at one point Friday: “He admits to feeling shamed and humbled. But why is it so difficult to empathize with his situation?”
Winfrey actually brought Walsh’s name up among those who Armstrong should consider offering a personal apology to, and Armstrong said: “That’s a good question. I’d apologize to David.”
There were more moments of Armstrong’s competitiveness resurfacing, when he admitted that he did want the outcome of this interview to lead to a lifetime ban being lifted so “hell yes” he could compete in things like the Chicago Marathon, “but I don’t expect that to happen.”
Winfrey circled back to that and Armstrong said that “selfishly, yes” he wished the ban would be lifted, “but realistically I don’t think it will happen and I have to sit with that.”
He also said “frankly, this may not be the most popular answer, but I feel I deserve” to have the lifetime ban lifted, when compared the six-month bans that many of his other teammate received.
“I’m not saying that’s unfair,” he added, rolling his eyes. “I deserve to be punished. I’m just not sure I deserve the death penalty.”
Nor, did we really deserve to hear his honesty at a time when we’re trying to cut him some slack.
Another time when Winfrey asked him if he had remorse, he took a long pause. She asked if he was “sorry that he got caught.” He replied: “Everybody caught is bummed that they got caught.” Eventually he added: “Do I have remorse? Absolutely. Will it grow? Absolutely. To me, these are the first steps.”
Winfrey asked him to address the reported donation that he offered to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which he not only denied, but corrected her on the amount — $250,000 – that had been debated.
He also said he lost perhaps $75 million on one day when sponsors like Nike dropped him as a client.
Interestingly, Armstrong was the one who used the words like “narcissistic” to describe the image he is trying to shed, and “apoplectic” when describing how he’d react if his children behaved in the ways he has in the past.
What words will we use to sum this all up? Perhaps “wait and see.”
Our sense is that public opinion will likely not immediately change, or it could get a bit worse, as he starts a huge uphill climb in trying to reinvent himself.
The one question Winfrey never asked – would he admit all that he has to a grand jury, under oath? – is one we can only assume he would agree to based on how he was as open as possible the last two nights. Let’s see how that goes.
We may think we have have a better understanding of how his intensely focused mindset allowed him somehow not to just overcome cancer and channel it into his pursuit of winning. That’s somewhat admirable.
But then, if you’ve this image now of him as a mix of Christian Bale in “American Psycho,” Edward Norton in “Fight Club” and Jim Carrey in “Liar, Liar,” maybe that’s the real Lance Armstrong after all.
He’s become a nightmare of a character for the next M. Night Shyamalan film. Except if a movie is ever made of his life, we’d expect his own ego would demand he’d play the lead.