Show-trial confessions reveal our own hypocrisy

Joe Gorman Columnist

By Joe Gorman, Joe Gorman is a Roar Expert

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    Lance Armstrong, in confessing publicly to Oprah in an extended interview, confirmed what many have suspected for years. He is a cheat and a liar.

    Worse still, Armstrong is a cheat and a liar who has risen to the top of world sport, accepting and trading upon all of the privileges that came with it. He has, quite literally, deceived his way too the top.

    The Texan now stands to lose more than just his sponsorships. He faces a life ban from all sanctioned sporting events, endless court cases, and perhaps even charges of perjury.

    Cycling, which barely rates in Australian sports media, is the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons.

    Like many others around the country, I tuned into Oprah’s keenly anticipated interview with Armstong and was shocked and angered by his revelations of years of doping.

    Watching him speak however, my attitude to the situation softened. It wasn’t as if I believed all that he said, or was gullible enough to think that he was actually ‘coming clean.’ There is no doubt that he is holding on to many secrets, and that his explanations are only part of the story.

    Better to view the situation by his actions, not his words. His stand-over tactics to those who accused him of cheating are illustrative of a bully-boy competitor who wanted to “control every outcome.”

    Still, what we witnessed was a flawed man trying to explain the impossible. And that makes him human, and worthy of some empathy.

    The predictable reaction to the interview among most columnists and fans oscillated between derision and anger. Then there were the usual “I’ll never trust any sportsperson again” hissy-fits. The moralisers were out in force.

    Of course, postulating is easy when your a nobody. As Oprah remarked, “fame amplifies the person you really are.” Luckily for us, we’ll never have our indiscretions broadcast to the world.

    In Part One of the interview, Armstrong explained that he has always attempted to “control the narrative” of his life.

    He’s a self-confessed control freak, with a dangerous streak of “arrogance and defiance.” Armstrong told Oprah that there were only two moments in his life where he wasn’t in control: during his battle with cancer and the interview.

    But that was an exaggeration. Armstrong may have lost control of his secret, but in revealing select truths and telling his version of the story, there is still a sense that he is trying to regain control of his own story.

    Anyone who has lied, or cheated, or deceived can relate to this process.

    Here lies the point. Armstrong is a product of his environment. Not just in his life as an elite cyclist who is expected to perform at the top level, but also as a celebrity.

    Many will argue that he coveted fame and fortune and thus deserves to experience the other side of celebrity.

    Fair enough. However we should remember that at his core, Armstrong is still a simple man in extraordinary circumstances, like Tiger Woods, or Andrew Johns, or Andre Agassi.

    These sportsmen start out as single-minded, tremendously talented athletes, and then we turn them into celebrities and demi-gods.

    When they fall, we delight in the bitterness of betrayal and injustice. It’s a chance to reinforce our own moral codes and our own ideological convictions. But there is nothing sadder than frothing over someone else’s mistakes.

    The cult of celebrity has been amplified since consumer capitalism commodified all aspects our society, economy and culture. It’s an obsession that started in entertainment, before invading all areas of life, including politics, academia, business and of course, sport.

    Sociologists have argued that the celebrity has replaced the cultural role of the religious figurehead, while others refer to them as “the familiar stranger”.

    The point is that we invest so much meaning in one individual, and when they fall, we relish the chance to pass judgement. The confessional interview turns into a show-trial, and the situation becomes a pantomime.

    At the centre of all this is a man who, you sense, has only made baby steps towards the truth. As fans, it is easy to say we would never cheat, or lie. Indeed the magnitude of Armstrong’s lies are breathtaking.

    But it is important to remember that Armstrong didn’t get into the business of lying and cheating as a mature adult with a wife, kids, and a public profile.

    He started taking performance enhancing drugs as an ultra-competitive young man, with the implicit support of many of his peers, coaches and teammates.

    The original sin, as he himself states, was simply being part of the cycling culture at that time. The dishonesty and rationalisations that followed are a self-perpetuating cycle.

    Once you’ve doped and gotten away with it, why stop?

    Most of us are lucky enough never to have to face the pressure, expectation and fallout that celebrity athletes do. When we cheat, lie and steal, we only have to face our peers and the people that matter in our small world.

    Lance Armstrong deserves severe criticism. His lies went beyond cycling, and his actions should haunt him for the rest of his life. To his credit, he can see that “that guy is still there.”

    But “that guy” lies deep inside all of us. Some deeper than others. Some will never let “that guy” see the light of day, to their eternal credit.

    David Walsh, the journalist who chased this story for years, is a credit to his profession. Those who didn’t dope and missed out on Tour de France victories as a result can walk a little taller.

    Meanwhile, Lance Armstrong, we can all agree, has a lot to answer for. Some would also say that cycling has a lot to answer for. The culture in professional cycling is (or was) clearly toxic.

    Still, perhaps there should be more of an effort to understand what drives this kind of behaviour, rather than a witch-hunt.

    There will be other Lance Armstrongs. But simply blaming the individual misses the forest for the trees.

    Joe Gorman
    Joe Gorman

    Joe Gorman is a football journalist with a particular interest in sports history. After completing his thesis on football in Australia, Joe started with The Roar in October 2012. He tweets from @JoeGorman_89.

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    The Crowd Says (48)

    • January 22nd 2013 @ 5:17am
      Kasey said | January 22nd 2013 @ 5:17am | ! Report

      You’d think someone like me would be all angry. I’m a Cancer survivor and I discovered and fell in love with cycling during the LA reign(I believed in LA/Santa Claus despite what in hindsight is blindingly obvious), but I’m not angry, I’m disappointed mostly but I forgive Armstrong(does he need it?)
      I am Not without sin, who am I to judge him? We can learn from this: for me it is that there is a gulf between being a winner and winning.
      “Winning is an event. Being a winner is a spirit.”
      Winners have kept winning in perspective based on their value system.
      Completing Ironman taught me that just finishing the race was ‘winning’ it.
      LA is obviously a deeply flawed human being who had to admit to his son that the bad things other kids were saying were true. Every man should be his son’s first hero. I don’t feel sorry for him, he created his own mess, but I do not hate him or condemn him either. It is up to him now to travel along the redemptive path. I hope he does. He will spend the rest of his life apologising for his mistakes. His legacy will be tainted, but lets not forget that cycling even without Armstrong is booming in this country, for the 10+th(?) year in a row, more bikes than cars were sold. I think its time to just if not forget, then try to come to an understanding if you cant get to forgiveness and move on to focus on the beauty of professional cycling and how much joy participating in this simple activity brings us rank amateurs. I love being a cyclist and this affair does not affect the enjoyment of the wind in my face or that feeling in my body of ‘earned’ tiredness after conquering a climb/distance.

    • January 22nd 2013 @ 7:30am
      Farmerj said | January 22nd 2013 @ 7:30am | ! Report

      His biggest crime wasn’t the cheating.

      It was the nasty and cruel way he went about destroying the lives of people who didn’t jump on the PED bandwagon. This is why its easy to hate him. That he lied about the drugs in nothing new but he will never be able to repair the harm he has inflicted on innocent people.

      • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:16am
        B.A Sports said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:16am | ! Report


        I don’t think the vast majority of people are getting any thrill out of Armstrong’s fall from grace.

        Even those who have had believed him to be a driug cheat all along don’t get that much satisfaction from seeing him crushed by all sections of society because it becomes more and more apparaent every day just how many other lives he ruined (like Farmerj said) and you feel sorry for these people. Well the author doesn’t appear to but I and the majority seem to..

    • Roar Guru

      January 22nd 2013 @ 8:24am
      Turnover said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      I can’t believe Andrew Johns has gig with channel 9.

      Next stop for Armstrong is the footy show. Everything will be forgiven and he can become a sideline commentator for Friday night footy.

      • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:56am
        Anon said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:56am | ! Report

        agreed regarding A.Johns,

        he was indicative of all that was wrong with in particular a specific club with a tarnished culture regarding drug use. (and in AFL terms we know of the West Coast Eagles had troubles too). The Newcastle Knights had at least a very forgiving nature, including hiring Mitchell Sergent (at the time the recently sacked cocaine user from the NQ Cowboys.

        That Johns admitted off season use and ‘occassional’ regular season user (playing ‘Russian roulette’) – based on Lance Armstrong’s interview, one wonders if Johns had willingly come 100% clean or not? However – to then be elevated as one of only 8 ‘Immortals’ of the game is a disgrace, an absolute insult that perhaps can only reflect that the apparant attitude towards drug use at the Newcastle Knights is perhaps more widespread at least within a certain ‘generation’ of RL administrators???

        • January 22nd 2013 @ 10:10pm
          Dr Chop said | January 22nd 2013 @ 10:10pm | ! Report

          Rugby league immortality is decided by what players did on the field. Off-field has nothing to do with it. I don’t care if Joey (or any of the other immortals for that matter) took ecstasy. I don’t care if he took anything. Whether he took it during the season, before or after the season doesn’t matter. As long as he didn’t take anything on game day (and he obviously didn’t, or else he wouldn’t have been such a great player), and if it’s not performance enhancing (ecstasy is not performance enhancing), I really don’t care. Believe it or not, Andrew Johns is not the only young Australian male to have tried and used recreational drugs. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or even several of the other immortals had used ecstasy. Being part of rugby league, they all would’ve had countless wild nights on the drink. What’s not to say that ecstasy or other drugs weren’t involved?

      • January 22nd 2013 @ 9:13am
        B.A Sports said | January 22nd 2013 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        To compare what Armstrong has done, from the cheating, to the lies, the perjury, the money making to the destroying of lives, to Andrew Johns taking illict rec drugs and admitting it (not openly lying about it for a decade) is a ridiculous stretch. Its like comparing the Melbourne Storm salary cap rorting to a club who goes over the cap by $10,000 as a result of having to use a few extra players in first grade.

        If you compare Johns to say Maradona in terms of their off field behaviour, sure, but like the Armstrong comparison, Johns is a long way from being anywhere near as significant a sports figure globally..

        I get the argument that he could have been kept out of the Nine coverage etc, but I don’t see what it has to do with a guy who contrived to destroy the lives of many and make millions and was willing to do what ever it took in order to “succeed”.

        • January 22nd 2013 @ 9:41am
          Tom said | January 22nd 2013 @ 9:41am | ! Report

          Yes exactly, I can’t see how what Johns did can be described as cheating, after all, I very much doubt a few pingers can be considered performance enhancing. As such, Johns’ problems are a matter for himself and his family. As far as I know, he has never destroyed anyone’s lives in the manner in which Armstrong went after people like the Andreus, Emma O’Reilly, David Walsh, Greg LeMond et al.

          • Columnist

            January 22nd 2013 @ 10:12am
            Joe Gorman said | January 22nd 2013 @ 10:12am | ! Report

            I am in no way comparing the use of recreational drugs to performance enhancing drugs. Clearly what Armstrong did is far worse. But there are similarities in the way we react to their admission of guilt – see the above comments about Ch.9 employing Johns as a commentator.
            If you’d read the article properly you would understand that, far from attacking Johns, I am actually calling for a little more empathy in situations like these.

            • January 22nd 2013 @ 11:10am
              B.A Sports said | January 22nd 2013 @ 11:10am | ! Report

              But you can’t compare the complete acts of Armstrong to Johns

              You might forgive someone charged with assault if they have punched a guy who was abusing their wife but you wouldn’t show any empathy for the guy who deliberately tortured and killed 12 innocent people over a 10 year period.

              That is how far apart Armstrong and Johns, or Agassi or Woods (who did not cheat – in the sporting context) are.

          • Roar Guru

            January 22nd 2013 @ 10:22am
            apaway said | January 22nd 2013 @ 10:22am | ! Report

            Cocaine is considered a performance enhancer.

            • January 22nd 2013 @ 1:29pm
              dasilva said | January 22nd 2013 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

              Only during competition and that is define during the match. If you take cocaine even during season but after the match. As long as there’s no cocaine left in your blood when the next match starts then there is no issue.

              • Roar Guru

                January 22nd 2013 @ 2:45pm
                Turnover said | January 22nd 2013 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

                Dasilva are you trying to say that it’s okay to take banned substances on certain days of the week?

              • January 23rd 2013 @ 12:18am
                dasilva said | January 23rd 2013 @ 12:18am | ! Report

                It’s not ok to take illicit drugs that breaks the law but it is legal via WADA code to take cocaine during the week but go in clean during the match.

                Stimulants do not aid training (in fact taking stimulant regularly will cause burnout and fatigue more than anything) but they assist performance on the here and now.

                Johns may be breaking the law taking illicit drugs but he didn’t break the doping code (or at least wasn’t proven to break the doping code). He wasn’t a “drug cheat” getting an unfair advantage over competitors

    • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:38am
      Shrek said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      I completely disagree that “The original sin, as he himself states, was simply being part of the cycling culture at that time”.

      His original sin was, in fact, cheating. He then compounded this by the appalling way he treated those who just tried to tell the truth. Why should he not be held accountable for this? Why should he be allowed to regain his privileged place in the sport (let alone the countless criminal violations for abuse of a controlled substance, and perjury)? I refuse to accept that Armstrong can abdicate responsibility by claiming he is a product of his environment, as you have argued.

      I think the closing words should go to Nicole Cook, the retiring UK road cylist: “I have been robbed by drug cheats, but I am fortunate, I am here before you with more in my basket than the 12 year old dreamed of. But for many genuine people out there who do ride clean; people with morals, many of these people have had to leave the sport with nothing after a lifetime of hard work – some going through horrific financial turmoil. When Lance “cries” on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward – just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances.”

      • Columnist

        January 22nd 2013 @ 10:19am
        Joe Gorman said | January 22nd 2013 @ 10:19am | ! Report

        I don’t remember asking for leniency in Armstrong’s punishment? Or that he should “abdicate responsibility.” Where did I write that? Good quote from Cook

        • January 22nd 2013 @ 11:29am
          Shrek said | January 22nd 2013 @ 11:29am | ! Report

          Fair point Joe, and my apologies if I misinterpreted your argument – I wrongly interpreted this as an (albeit light) call for leniancy. The point I should’ve made more clearly (and I have no doubt that many will still disagree with me on this!) is that I don’t think blaming Armstrong in this case misses the forest for the trees.

          I think that Armstrong’s use of that “original sin” phrase is a calculated effort on his behalf to at least dilute (maybe not abdicate – point taken!) the responsibility he has to take for his actions by shifting blame onto the culture of cycling, and I don’t think he (or anyone) should be given that option, let along be allowed to proft from it.

          Having said that, I agree then that we can’t just turn around and blame everyone else using drugs on Armstrong’s behaviour – exhibit A being Nicole Cook – which would indeed be missing the forest for the trees.

          • Columnist

            January 22nd 2013 @ 1:09pm
            Joe Gorman said | January 22nd 2013 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

            I would agree that LA seems to be making calculated efforts to regain control of the story, and that he should be punished for his use of banned substances.

            My article though was not really about Armstrong, or Andrew Johns, or any individual. It was about the cult of celebrity, the expectations we have on our sports stars, and on the way in which we as fans should respond to their mistakes.

      • January 22nd 2013 @ 10:22am
        Harry said | January 22nd 2013 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        Agree on Nicole Cook.
        What disgusts me is Armstrong’s failure to apologise to the people he bullied and intimidated. Sickening arrogance and delusion.
        The drugs andcheating in cycling I sorta understand – having survived cancer, I can see how a person would think that you may as well load the dice again and cheat. The payoff for LA was – and still is – the rush of 7 victories in brutal competition, global adulation, a massive fortune and a fantastic lfestyle. OK the adulation has turned in most circles to loathing, but I bet many of us, given a choice, wold take Lance Armstrong’s life arc ahead of their own existence.
        I sincerely hope the guy is pursued and prosecuted to the maximum level possible. He made his bed …

    • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:56am
      Redback said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:56am | ! Report

      I think its funny when you see and hear league commentators bagging Armstrong when they lay the welcome mat out for Andrew Johns.

    • Roar Guru

      January 22nd 2013 @ 10:29am
      apaway said | January 22nd 2013 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      The Andrew Johns case is interesting. In no way do I see him as a systematic cheat who rorted the system in order to be at the top of his chosen profession in the same way that Lance Armstrong did.

      However, he has admitted to drug use “in-season” and at least one of those drugs is considered a performance enhancer. Recreational drug use is, for me, a whole different bag of syringes and falls more into that hazy, open-to-interpretation clause called “Bringing the game into disrepute.”

      Johns’ past indiscretions should not have an effect on his current employment status with Channel Nine. But to be elevated to the highest honour his game allows is in my opinion a serious lapse of judgement.

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