There were two burning questions on everyone’s mind when Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong aired on January 17th, 2013. Why did the man who spent the last 13 years emphatically denying that he used performance enhancing drugs suddenly have a change of heart? And why now?
According to Armstrong, his hopes of being allowed back into the competitive cycling circuit had nothing to do with his decision to come clean about his doping past. (Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive) Yet the idea that Armstrong suddenly developed a moral conscience after living the lie for over 13 years doesn’t hold water — particularly considering the lengths to which he went to prevent others from exposing that lie.
Armstrong’s desire to compete is the one and only reason for this sudden need to apologize to the public. Competing and winning are what he lives for. His win-at-all cost attitude, which he called a “flaw” during the Oprah interview, is part of who he is. But that attitude is tied to something far deeper — an insatiable need to be praised and admired.
Armstrong spent most of his career in the public eye. He was America’s hero, the one who fought and beat cancer, made an amazing comeback into the world of competitive cycling, and won seven consecutive Tour de France titles. The media and fans loved him. They showered him with praise and admiration for his feats. And he reveled in it, sucking it all in like a thirsty desert traveler stumbling on an oasis.
Today, he is on the verge of losing that attention and glory. By stripping him of his titles and banning him for life, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (ADA) and International Cycling Union (UCI) took away the very thing that Lance Armstrong can’t stand to lose. And he is prepared to go to any lengths to prevent that from happening.
Fame is like a drug, creating an intense but fleeting buzz; once it’s gone, the crash can be painful. When fans and media stop paying attention, even the biggest stars can be relegated to the world of “has-beens” that no one longer cares about. And when that limelight is the only thing that makes you feel alive, even negative attention is better than none at all. Consider the Charlie Sheens, Lindsay Lohans, Alec Baldwins, and Manti Te’os of the world, who have all resorted to various stunts and fabrications to boost their profile and visibility in the media.
Regardless of the reason, Armstrong’s confession doesn’t absolve him of all the inexcusable things he has done. He has hurt many people, including and above all, his family. He has a long way to go to make amends, if he’s able to do so at all.
Nevertheless, he should consider himself lucky. Despite everything he has done, his family is giving him today what he has refused to give to others all along: empathy and unconditional support. Maybe it’s time you start learning from your kids, Mr. Armstrong.