Chuck Ross

Why Lance Armstrong Needs Oprah Winfrey in the Worst Possible Way

Oct 11, 2012

When I was a teenager growing up in a middle class neighborhood here in Los Angeles in the mid-‘60s, it occurred to me that you lived in either a Newsweek house or a Time house.

The parents of my friends who lived in the houses that got Time magazine were more conservative, more traditional, more staid.

The parents of those of us who lived in the homes that subscribed to Newsweek were more liberal, more open to non-traditional ways of looking at things, and just plain cooler.

And I don’t recall any house subscribing to both magazines. And it really did seem to me that the characteristics I have ascribed to the parents of my friends living in the Time or Newsweek houses clearly fit the differences in the look and demeanor of both magazines.

My teenage preference for Newsweek over Time has been with me my entire life.

Or, I should say, at least until the Sept. 3 issue.

That’s when Newsweek ran a big picture of Lance Armstrong in full cycling regalia on its cover, with this cutline: “I Still Believe in Lance Armstrong, by Buzz Bissinger.”

Thumbnail image for newsweekcoverarmstrong.jpg

The cover coincided with Armstrong’s decision to not fight allegations by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that Armstrong took banned substances when he was winning his seven Tour de France bicycling championships, and was going to be stripped of the championships.

Furthermore, the article was written by Buzz Bissinger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist whose journalism I highly admired. Not only that, but Bissinger is also the author of “Friday Night Lights.” I haven’t read the book, but I loved the TV show it spawned.

Talk about cognitive dissonance. Loved Newsweek and Bissinger. Armstrong? Hmm, not so much. I was trying as hard as I could to keep an open mind about the doping charges, but as the years have gone by the evidence was mounting. Against Armstrong.

In his Newsweek cover story, Bissinger concluded that Armstrong was still a hero. Really? Bissinger said the doping agency clearly had a vendetta against Armstrong.

Bissinger also wrote: “Did he use enhancers? Maybe I am the one who is blind, but I take him at his word and don’t believe it; he still passed hundreds of drug tests, many of them given randomly. But even if he did take enhancers, so what?

“Professional cycling is a rotten sport like all professional sports are rotten (anybody who believes otherwise is a Pollyanna fool). It’s ‘not about the bike,’ as the title of Armstrong’s bestselling biography states. It’s about winning by any means possible and then hoping to figure out a medical way of covering it up. Doping has been a rite of passage in the Tour de France. According to The New York Times, at least a third of the top 10 finishers (Armstrong included) have either officially admitted to using performance enhancers or been officially suspected of doping.

“Need we say more?

“If Armstrong used banned substances, he was leveling the playing field. He was still the one who overcame all odds.”

It’s not an argument I find compelling.

Yesterday, on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, the doping agency made the details of its case against Armstrong public.

The New York Times’ main story about the case published yesterday carried the headline “Armstrong Was Central Figure in Doping Ring, Officials Say,” and the piece is devastatingly brutal.

A few excerpts from The Times’ article: While winning his Tour de France championships “Armstrong was a hero on two wheels, a cancer survivor who was making his mark as perhaps the most dominant cyclist in history. But the evidence put forth by the antidoping agency drew a picture of Armstrong as an infamous cheat, a defiant liar and a bully who pushed others to cheat with him so he could succeed, or be vanquished.”

And: “‘The U.S. [Postal Service] Team doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices,’ the agency said. ‘A program organized by individuals who thought they were above the rules and who still play a major and active role in sport today.’ Armstrong has repeatedly denied doping. On Wednesday, his spokesman said Armstrong had no comment.”

We are left with detailed allegations to which Armstrong said this past summer he would not respond.

So what is one to believe?

It seems to me that we need to give the most credibility to what George Hincapie has to say. Hincapie was a teammate of Armstrong’s during all of his Tour de France championships. Armstrong has dedicated two books to Hincapie, praising him for his friendship and loyalty. And, like Armstrong, Hincapie never tested positive for drugs.

And now Hincapie, in a sworn affidavit he gave the doping agency, has implicated both himself and Armstrong in the doping scandal, saying they both ingested banned substances.

According to an article, also published yesterday, in USA Today, “While Armstrong has attacked past teammates who went public with their tales of doping, the admission by Hincapie, one of his closest friends in cycling, is harder to overcome. Hincapie said the whole scandal was a product of the times: He, Armstrong and their teammates raced in an era when cycling was inundated with performance-enhancing drugs.

"‘The doping controls were not very good, and we came to believe that we needed to use banned substances to compete at the very highest levels,’ [Hincapie] stated. ‘While I understand that the choices we made were wrong, I understand why we made them and why, at the time, we felt justified in making them. I do not condemn Lance for making these choices, and I do not wish to be condemned for the choices I made.’“

The USA Today piece adds, “Hincapie said he was aware Armstrong used blood doping in every Tour de France from 2001 to 2005. Before the 2005 Tour de France, Hincapie said, Armstrong ‘gave me two vials of EPO while we were both in Nice, France.’“

EPO is used as a performance-enhancing drug.

Bissinger and Hincapie are both wrong when they say that it was OK for Armstrong to take drugs because he was just leveling the playing field.

There’s a terrific bit of dialogue in the classic movie “The Third Man” wherein Orson Wells, whose character has done some terrible things, tries to justify his behavior. He says:

After all, it’s not that awful. Remember what the fellow said: In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michaelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Renaissance. … In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? … The cuckoo clock.

The argument for Armstrong is that as a cyclist he was just doing what everyone else was doing, and OK, maybe that was wrong, but my God, man, look at all that he’s accomplished since then with his foundation and the inspiration he’s been.

And ther
e is no doubt that a lot of cyclists who competed against Armstrong in the Tour de France were also doping.

But not everyone was cheating. What we’ll never know is what greatness might have been achieved by one of those non-cheaters if all of those who had been doping were caught. A non-cheating victor, with all the publicity he received, might have started his own foundation and done even more wonderful things than Armstrong’s foundation has achieved.

What I also know is that Americans, as a group, are a most forgiving people. But in order to grant redemption, we want and need the Oprah/Walters moment. The moment the person confesses his or her past sins. Tears are shed, healing is begun, and our fallen heroes and heroines are reborn. It’s redemption and it’s the American way.

Lance, think about it. Oprah is waiting for you to call.#


  1. The only evidence presented against Armstrong is hearsay. He passed every single test he was given, so the US Anti-Doping Agency has created a ‘case’ against Armstrong based solely on the word of other athletes. It doesn’t matter if those athlete’s were once friends with Armstrong, the fact remains that all there is against him is the word of others, in the face of test after passed test.
    If Armstrong had refused to be tested, I would feel differently. But the fact remains that he DID take those tests and passed them. Seems to me the USADA is on a witch hunt, and the rest of us just love to tear someone down, don’t we?

  2. All the testimony is against Lance but all the evidence (hundreds of tests)supports Lance’s denial. So as Dave obviously feels – I too want to keep my hero. I’m no fool but without evidence, even in the face of many talking against him, there is enough doubt for me to keep believing.

  3. Who cares anymore. If they couldn’t catch him when it counted, why does it matter now? This continuing unrelenting pursute of Armstrong raises lots of questions about what is going on now. Why aren’t they putting this same level of effort into catching the drug abusers today. This is a complete waste of resources. People have decided about Armstrong years ago and this isn’t going to change many people. He recovered from cancer when no one thought he could. He then won a bunch of races which was remarkable whether he did the drugs or not. Telling us 10 years later that he possibly did some drugs doesn’t mean anything now. Which year was it? they haven’t said. This is all very general still and there is no evidence about the saline. Just hypothesis. And drugs that aren’t detectible?! What a phony allegation that is. Anyone could be doing drugs that were not detectible. Are all the racers going to be disqualified since they all must have been using drugs that were undetectible?

  4. There is no test for transfusing your own blood into yourself, and there are multiple ways to defeat the EPO tests, and on top of that, several people have claimed Lance actually did test positive on some occassions and it got covered up. Several people have called the UCI (the testing group) corrupt.
    I think if you read the report you will feel differently about some of these things.

  5. The problem with going on Oprah is that Lance could face serious jail time if he confesses, unlike everyone else who has confessed. He cannot just come and say ‘oh sorry’ and move to the mountains or something like Hamilton.
    He will have all kinds of people suing him and all kinds of fees and fines to pay, and possibly criminal charges. Remember the US DA was building a case against him (which prompted these confessions) and it dropped the case… they could pick it back up if they wanted, and a confession would be enough evidence to convict.
    So… it’s not as simple for Armstrong to confess as it was for Hamilton or Hincapie.

  6. Let me clarify – I couldn’t care less if Armstrong DID ‘cheat’. From everything that has come out about this, it seems it was du jour at the time to ‘dope’. Might as well condemn the whole lot of them – after all, all it takes is hearsay to get Armstrong, right? I imagine you could get a lot more of that against the other racers; enough so to ban ’em all.
    That being said, the other claims that he did test positive, but that it was covered up, is yet more hearsay. There is absolutely zero actual proof that Armstrong cheated. ZERO. If there were, this wouldn’t be the controversy that it is. Without physical, solid proof, I can’t see how anyone could feel comfortable with the USADA stripping Armstrong of anything. Imagine your co-workers being able to ‘talk smack’ against you at work, resulting in the loss of your bonus pay? Or your raise? Or perhaps your job? With nothing but gossip and hearsay as their case against you? Your word against theirs?
    It’s not right. Get proof, come back and present it, and then let them act. ‘Till then it’s nothing more than a witch hunt.

  7. So Mr. Ross, if I am reading this correctly you are saying that you disagreed with Newsweek for glossing over Lance Armstrong’s cheating and that it was a pivotal turning point in your view of Newsweek… But if Lance visits the high priestess of forgiveness, the great Saint Oprah and has a believable “Oprah moment” then we should all be ready to accept his cheating as a product of the times/sport and move on?
    Surely I misunderstood…
    I agree very much with the rest of your article. It is a sign of the times that cheating has become accepted by the average joe and were it not for the officials in these sports who still have some semblance of integrity, I believe that most people would just accept it and move on. What a shame to let our children grow up believing that it is ok (or even necessary) if everyone else is doing it and that there should be no consequences for cheating.
    George Hincapie says that he understands that the choices he and Lance made were wrong, but he does not condemn Lance and does not wish to be condemned. Really? How is that possible? How can you make “wrong choices” and expect not to be “condemned” for them?
    Didn’t anyone on the team ever consider going public with the fact that the other teams were doping and try to help clean up the sport, rather than just join in the cheating? How is anyone supposed to find heroes in a sport where no one stood up and said, ” there is cheating going on, but we are not going to participate in that cheating and in fact, we will do everything we can to out those who do cheat and make sure that only those who play fair have a chance at winning?”
    What a sad state of affairs. We are taught that the end CLEARLY justifies the means in these athlete’s minds and they seem to be saying, “it was better to have won and lost, than to have never won at all,”

  8. Read the entire 202 pages of the USADA paper. He did much more than “merely” cheat. Examples: Pursed excellence in evading truth, tests, and people who did not glorify him. And many lies can be proven by times, dates and people documents.

  9. As I understand the matter from various news reports, he never had a positive test result at the time, but samples retained from those races have been re-tested and gave positive results. Also, he and his teammates used evasion tactics when testers arrived at their doors for spot checks – never quite lying outright about thier movements, but just being conveniently ‘unavailable’ until it suited them. The argument that he passed ‘hundreds’ of tests is apparently also questionable, as the USADA only has a record of about 100 or so (I stand to be corrected on the actual number, but it was not hundreds). It appears to me that he clearly did in engage in quite dodgy behaviour at the time; the more relevant question for me is whether this still matters unless the scope of the investigation is broadened far beyound LA and his team, but looks at the sport as a whole.

  10. Armstrong wasn’t just a cheater. He was the equivalent of a drug pusher. He refused to have anyone on the team who wouldn’t dope, claiming they wouldn’t be good enough. One short-term team member left cycling permanently, unable to bear the betrayal by Armstrong of his own hatred of drugs, and the sport he loved.
    It doesn’t matter if EVERY competitor was drugged to the gills – that doesn’t make it any less a violation of the rules. That doesn’t make doping, cheating, lying or, in Armstrong’s case, stealing, anything other than a crime.
    Armstrong collected millions of dollars on the basis of lies and deception – money to which he wasn’t entitled under the rules he agreed to follow. That makes him a thief (if you disagree, go look up “thief” in the dictionary, and then try to explain why Armstrong isn’t one.)
    The childish argument, “everybody’s doing it” has never been an acceptable excuse for breaking rules or laws. It still isn’t.
    Or, as my mother would have replied to such an argument, “Really? And if all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”
    As for Armstrong himself, he is increasingly frightening – repeating over and over, vehemently, angrily, that he is innocent, that all of it is a lie. He acts as if he has lost touch with reality, as if he truly believes asserting his innocence long enough will somehow alter history. Make the testimony, the evidence, the loss of endorsements, a decade of doping, somehow never have happened.
    And in the end, there are even those beginning to look at his career and ask if he would have become the superstar he was without the drugs: the sophisticated, doctor-assisted, scientifically calculated and detailed program of doping and transfusions that guaranteed he would be the strongest and fastest he could be, precisely when he most needed it.
    He failed two tests we know of. One “went away”, the other was covered up by his doctor post-dating a prescription for a cortisone salve…while Armstrong did his best “innocent” act about not thinking of a salve as a drug.
    He took only about 60 drug tests, according to recently updated figures, but certainly not the “hundreds” he claims. A number were borderline for EPO use, arousing suspicion, but not quite high enough for proof at the time. Several of his samples were untested (random testing doesn’t mean ALL samples are analyzed, otherwise it wouldn’t be random). But Armstrong is not the first to face analysis of samples after the fact, and those then were found positive for EPO.
    So in at least 6 of 60 tests analyzed to date, there was evidence of or an indication of drug use. That’s 10%…and there may be more to come. Regardless, it’s already provable he cheated in the Tour de France multiple times, and that he doped at all is sufficient reason for sponsors and insurers to ask for their money back. Period.
    When the sample was TAKEN is what matters. No matter how long it’s been, if the sample when tested is positive for a drug, the athlete obviously took it, and is guilty of cheating.
    I’m also tired of hearing how much credit Lance Armstrong deserves for creating The Lance Armstrong Foundation dba Livestrong, and for the good it does.
    I applaud the foundation’s mission, and the programs it offers. It is highly rated, with low administrative expenses, and over 80% of its income devoted to programs for cancer survivors. As their mission statement says, “The Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) believes that in the battle with cancer, unity is strength, knowledge is power and attitude is everything.”
    But what about Armstrong’s OWN “attitude”, of entitlement and power. What about the toll it could take on the foundation? The blow to its executives, staff, and over 2,700 dediacated volunteers?
    And worse, what about the possible harm to the cancer survivors who depend on its programs?
    I worry for their mental state, that of the staff and volunteers, and even the foundation’s continued existence, and its ability to provide the services it has in the past.
    Because their founder is no longer able to support Livestrong in the one task only he can perform.
    Armstrong’s value to the foundation derived from his personal experience with cancer, and his outstanding success in “overcoming the odds” in both his survival and his career.
    How much value does he have to them now?
    Armstrong knew the drugs he took put him at risk for cancer. He ignored both the risk, and the symptoms, so long he was eventually diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular, abdominal, AND lung cancer. At 36 years of age.
    People by nature tend to see a cancer survivor as less of an “inspiration” when they find out he wasn’t fighting some unexpected tragic event, but the biological consequences of dope-enhanced cheating.
    His name is no longer a synonym for discipline, drive, hard work, excellence, and survival, but increasingly a source of anger, sadness, and stunned disbelief at the magnitude of his betrayal.
    There is little inspiration to be had in someone who never really “overcame” anything:
    Who created the odds against his survival, of the cancer he risked knowingly by his deception.
    Who intentionally, without conscience or remorse, changed the odds of the sport he claimed he competed in cleanly, until the odds were in his favor.
    I wish it WERE a witch hunt. I don’t want to believe it. I didn’t believe it….until I read the USADA report. All of it.
    I wish I hadn’t. I wish I wasn’t nauseated at yet another lying, cheating crook who seems to think he’s above the same rules as other human beings. Who clawed his way to the top by abuse of power and deceit, not caring his own team was risking the same life-threatening cancer he had fought, the ultimate destruction of their careers and personal lives.
    Who lied under oath to a grand jury. Who spat anger, threats, and legal action at anyone who dared hint he might be doping, no matter the evidence. Who continues to hide when there is nothing left to hide behind.
    I wish I could say to the commenters above: I agree with you. He’s innocent.
    But he’s not.
    I can only say: no one wants to face the nastiness of the rot that’s been exposed, where so many of us previously saw something to admire.
    No one wants to look at a man we never thought was a saint, no, but believed was an example of achievement worth emulating…and see the tiny glint of the possible sociopath hiding behind a suddenly unnerving smile.

  11. Listen Mate, I’m a 67 year old female and former cyclist, Tri and Ironman volunteer as well. No matter what the hell Lance did or didn’t do, he’s my man. He brought excitement to cycling more then anyone else, even Greg Lemond. plus hundreds of sponsors made millions off of him. So those who are now turning on him should be ashamed. You Bloody Buggers!
    Watching him on the bike gave this granny a thrill, got me off of my chair and yelled….Go Lance…You’re the Man!
    When driving down the Kona Coast of Hana Hwy, when I see a cyclist, I yell: Lance is the Man and ALWAYS get a thumbs up and not down. Go figure!

  12. Armstrong is a cheat and Bissinger has lost whatever mind he used to have. How many more of Armstrong’s teammates have to blow the whistle before they are to be believed. Armstrong was also quick to get rid of his wife when he started making (cheating) victories. He’s a little man who finally got caught.

  13. Armstrong did test positive on 2 test used his illness and treatment as an excuse .
    When you look closely at the report from the USADA which is still available online , Lancev was nothingg else but a drug lord , the fact that He was American and Texan is irrelevant.

  14. Granny 65 here don’t need the blue pill, we migh get along wel .
    Sorry Lance was nothing else but a dope head and drug lord .as proven by the usada , Iam surprised he is not in jail at least for lying …Martha went because of that .
    Sorry I have no clue where hawai is , I have been told they grow some fine marijuana ……..You must have tried some to call that a hero , he is a cheat.

  15. I will never understand this type of mentality everyone has to demonize someone so quickly. i’m sure everyone that cycles at lances level is on sport enchantment drugs. if anything people should take lance as brave to actually stand up and take responsibility for his actions as a man. either way you wrote a great articles thanks for that. cheers!

  16. Who cares about him at the moment? He have proved that he is really not deserved for all those prizes, which was taken back from him. Have a nice!

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