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Q&A: What's the lesson in Lance's confession?

  • Dan Levy is the national lead writer for the Bleacher Report
  • He answers key questions as Lance Armstrong prepares to make a national confession to doping allegations
Lance Armstrong is expected to come clean about doping allegations in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Dan Levy

Editor’s note: Dan Levy is the national lead writer for the Bleacher Report. He has more than a decade of experience in the sports media industry, having previously written for the Washington Post and Sporting News. 

HLN: He’s been asked about doping for years and has always denied all allegations. Why would Lance Armstrong confess now, instead of any other time in the past?
Dan Levy: The timing, certainly, is curious. Some reports, including one in the Washington Post, have indicated there is a deadline of late this week for Armstrong to join Floyd Landis' whistle-blower suit. So if he wanted to roll over on those he purports are the ringleaders of the doping scandal that took down his sport, the clock is ticking. If he became part of that suit, or even met about a plea deal, word of Armstrong admitting his wrongdoings would surely leak out. If you look at it that way, it does make some sense to get out in front of it, talk to Oprah and control the message as best he can.

HLN: Do you think this is a teachable moment for children: Is late better than never when it comes to admitting wrongdoing?
I've done many interviews about this, and preparing for one on Wednesday (with our corporate partners at CNN), I told my 5-year-old daughter that I had to talk about a man who cheated his sport by taking drugs. Then I realized (and told her) that cheating was bad, but lots of people cheat. The lying is what makes it worse. I think that's the lesson in this.

HLN: What’s at stake for him after this confession: What does Armstrong stand to lose?
DL: Lots and lots of money. He already lost the trust of some of his fans when the suspicion arose years ago, and most of his supporters jumped ship after reports surfaced late last year. He's lost his sponsors, his foundation and any credibility he may have thought he still held with the court of public opinion. There's nothing left to lose but money.

If -- a big if at this point -- he can settle with the U.S. Justice Department and USADA, it's going to cost him tens of millions of dollars. That's not to mention the lawsuits from all those people whose lives he ruined by going to great lengths to sully their names and reputations, while he was the one who was lying. The libel lawsuits alone could cost him in the millions.

HLN: What would you like to see happen to him? Does he deserve to lose everything because of this confession? Or should folks go easy on him?
Reporting on the story, I've really tried to see both sides. The cycling crowd thinks I've already been too easy on Armstrong, but I don't feel I've been unfair. In some ways, his reported actions were reprehensible, akin to that of a mob boss. In other ways, he was an inspiration to millions of people fighting cancer. The awareness and money he provided for cancer research can't be faked. It's a very complex story, and I think it's going to take another five or 10 years before we find out what the real story is. All due respect to Oprah, I don't think we should believe anything Armstrong has to say right now. There are too many interested parties for us to get real honesty right now.

For his own sake, he should disappear.

HLN: Trecee Lynn (one of our Facebook followers) says: “Like many other athletes, he is not the only one to take performance enhancing drugs. If you’re going to push him out, then do it to every athlete who tested positive (which Armstrong didn’t) and see what type of pro leagues you are left with. I am still behind Lance.” What would you say to his forever supporters: Would you recommend they continue supporting him and his cause?
DL: I appreciate the point, but the logic is flawed. I'm of the mindset that everyone in sports is on something, and if a chemist has to be called in to determine what's legal and what's not in each sport, the whole thing is a little too gray to judge what anyone does. The blood doping that's illegal in cycling isn't in running, but it's viewed as highly immoral in those circles. That said, athletes like Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez had similar procedures done on their knees that saved their careers, and the NBA and MLB have no problem with it. (Okay, A-Rod may have been a bad example...)

The fact is, in most sports if you are caught taking drugs, you are pushed out. Armstrong's case wasn't just about failing tests (which some still point out he technically never did). It was the way, per testimony from other riders, he was able to circumvent the process and avoid detection that is a big part of his ban.

Good or bad, each sport has rules for those who fail tests. And yes, sports without the cheaters would probably be a lot less exciting, if a lot more fair.

HLN: Some say that if it wasn’t for the drugs, Armstrong would have never beat cancer and would have never founded Livestrong, an organization that has helped so many people. Do you agree?
DL: I'll answer it this way: My 2-year-old son has a relatively rare blood disorder called hemophilia, which affects one in every 10,000 males in this country. Every time he has to go to the doctor, we get a first-hand view what cancer can do to little kids.

Another 2-year-old, Sam, also has cancer in his blood. He needs 18 months of treatments (nearly as long as he had been alive), and that includes injections into his spine. During a recent (lengthy) appointment, Sam's parents told us that boys with his type of cancer have to get treatments for six months longer than girls because the cancer can hide in their testicles.

It's horrifying, but without drugs, the alternative is immeasurably worse. So yes, without drugs, Armstrong probably wouldn't be here. That puts things in perspective, for sure.

The fact he used different drugs to outpace all the other cyclists to win millions of dollars and become one of the world's most famous athletes? That's a whole different justification for taking drugs. I think at this point, that's left up to each person's own morality, but it's impossible to argue they aren't totally separate issues.

HLN: Another question from our Facebook follower, Scott Hunter: “I am slightly curious if this is some kind of narcissism on Armstrong’s part. Instead of just living the rest of his life on some island somewhere (which I’m sure he could afford to do), is he doing this (coming clean) because he’s afraid of what people think of him?
Americans are inherently forgiving. Again, cheating is not as bad as lying, and once people stop lying, it's a lot easier to start forgiving them. That said, I don't know if he cares anymore what people think of him, mostly because everyone's opinion has changed with recent discoveries.

I truly believe Armstrong is just a competition junkie, and he wants to race in triathlons and running races that he's currently banned from participating in, and that drive is what led to all of this.

That, or he has been getting some horrible legal advice. It's probably a little of both.

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