- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When Lance Armstrong’s moment of truth finally arrived, after years of avoidance, deception and misdirection, he ignored the advice of the sneaker company that recently disowned him.

Nike says “Just do it.”

Armstrong just blew it.

In the cyclist’s first public comments since the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released an exhaustive report detailing his use of performance-enhancing drugs, the seven-time Tour de France winner didn’t come clean. He didn’t admit what many observers considered painfully obvious for more than a decade. He didn’t use the moment to confess his deeds while continuing to profess his cause.

Instead, the same man who vehemently denied doping since his first Tour de France victory in 1999, the same man who disparaged former teammates who simply told the truth about him, and the same man who vowed to fight accusations until his dying breath, skirted the issue like a pile-up in the peloton.

During opening remarks Friday at the 15th anniversary celebration of his Livestrong Foundation, Armstrong merely said he has been through a “difficult couple of weeks.”

Opportunity missed. Empathy denied.

I’m not suggesting that Armstrong should have grabbed the mic and offered a drawn-out apology for duping millions of supporters who believed his claims of innocence (no matter how outrageous his protestations grew). But his comments should have made a direct connection to USADA’s 1,000-plus page report — that includes sworn testimony from 26 people, including 15 riders — alleging a long-running conspiracy involving banned substances, blood transfusions and sophisticated measures to avoid positive drug tests.

Armstrong should have indicated some measure of regret and remorse. At the very least, he should have employed the language of vague acknowledgment, tossing in well-worn phrases such as “poor decisions” and “bad choices.”

The crowd of 1,700 gave him a standing ovation before he spoke, showing support that former sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch and bike manufacturer Trek failed to offer. Nike, arguably Armstrong’s greatest enabler, tried to sound clueless in severing its relationship, citing “seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade.”

Hypocritical as the act is, Nike had no choice but to drop Armstrong. He’s now a toxic asset for premier corporate brands, which are interested in the appearance of appropriateness more than actual propriety. Nike was wise, though, in covering itself on both ends, asserting its continued backing of Livestrong, which has raised $500 million to help people fighting cancer since Armstrong started the foundation following his own diagnosis in 1996.

Separating Armstrong the Inspiring Survivor from Armstrong the Doping Cyclist shouldn’t be difficult. The fact that his cycling victories were chemically-aided (against fields of similarly-assisted cyclists) doesn’t taint his victory against testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain, leaving him with a 40 percent survival chance after surgery.

He rightfully reminded supporters of the distinction between Livestrong and Armstrong.

“The mission is bigger than me,” he told the crowd Friday. “It’s bigger than any individual.” Armstrong said he has been asked repeatedly how he’s doing. “I say, ‘I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse.’”

Story Continues →