March 24, 2023

Analysis: Amid Tears Lance Armstrong Leaves Unanswered Questions in Oprah Winfrey Interview

Armstrong, the once defiant cyclist, also became choked up when he discussed how he told his oldest child that the rumors about Armstrong’s doping were true.

Even with all that, the interview will most likely be remembered for what it was missing.

Armstrong had not subjected himself to questioning from anyone in the news media since United States antidoping officials laid out their case against him in October. He chose not to appeal their ruling, leaving him with a lifetime ban from Olympic sports.

He personally chose Winfrey for his big reveal, and it went predictably. Winfrey allowed him to share his thoughts and elicited emotions from him, but she consistently failed to ask critical follow-up questions that would have addressed the most vexing aspects of Armstrong’s deception.

She did not press him on who helped him dope or cover up his drug use for more than a decade. Nor did she ask him why he chose to take banned performance-enhancing substances even after cancer had threatened his life.

Winfrey also did not push him to answer whether he had admitted to doctors in an Indianapolis hospital in 1996 that he had used performance-enhancing drugs, a confession a former teammate and his wife claimed they overheard that day. To get to the bottom of his deceit, antidoping officials said, Armstrong has to be willing to provide more details.

“He spoke to a talk-show host,” David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said from Montreal on Friday. “I don’t think any of it amounted to assistance to the antidoping community, let alone substantial assistance. You bundle it all up and say, ‘So what?’

Jeffrey M. Tillotson, the lawyer for an insurance company that unsuccessfully withheld a $5 million bonus from Armstrong on the basis that he had cheated to win the Tour de France in 2004, said his client would make a decision over the weekend about whether to sue Armstrong. If it proceeds, the company, SCA Promotions, will seek $12 million, the total it paid Armstrong in bonuses and legal fees.

“It seemed to us that he was more sorry that he had been caught than for what he had done,” Tillotson said. “If he’s serious about rehabbing himself, he needs to start making amends to the people he bullied and vilified, and he needs to start paying money back.”

Armstrong, who said he once believed himself to be invincible, explained in the portion of the interview broadcast Friday night that he started to take steps toward redemption last month. Then, after dozens of questions had already been lobbed his way, he became emotional when he described how he told his 13-year-old son, Luke, that yes, his father had cheated by doping. That talk happened last month over the holidays, Armstrong said as he fought back tears.

“I said, listen, there’s been a lot of questions about your dad, my career, whether I doped or did not dope, and I’ve always denied, I’ve always been ruthless and defiant about that, which is probably why you trusted me, which makes it even sicker,” Armstrong said he told his son, the oldest of his five children. “I want you to know it’s true.”

At times, Winfrey’s interview seemed more like a therapy session than an inquisition, with Armstrong admitting that he was narcissistic and had been in therapy — and that he should be in therapy regularly because his life was so complicated.

In the end, the interview most likely accomplished what Armstrong had hoped: it was the vehicle through which he admitted to the public that he had cheated by doping, which he had lied about for more than a decade. But his answers were just the first step to clawing back his once stellar reputation.

On Friday, Armstrong appeared more contrite than he had during the part of the interview that was shown Thursday, yet he still insisted that he was clean when he made his comeback to cycling in 2009 after a brief retirement, an assertion the United States Anti-Doping Agency said was untrue. He also implied that his lifetime ban from all Olympic sports was unfair because some of his former teammates who testified about their doping and the doping on Armstrong’s teams received only six-month bans.

Richard Pound, the founding chairman of WADA and a member of the International Olympic Committee, said he was unmoved by Armstrong’s televised mea culpa.

“If what he’s looking for is some kind of reconstruction of his image, instead of providing entertainment with Oprah Winfrey, he’s got a long way to go,” Pound said Friday from his Montreal office.

Armstrong acknowledged to Winfrey during Friday’s broadcast that he has a long way to go before winning back the public’s trust. He said he understood why people recently turned on him because they felt angry and betrayed.

“I lied to you and I’m sorry,” he said before acknowledging that he might have lost many of his supporters for good. “I am committed to spending as long as I have to to make amends, knowing full well that I won’t get very many back.”

Armstrong also said that the scandal has cost him $75 million in lost sponsors, all of whom abandoned him last fall after Usada made public 1,000 pages of evidence that Armstrong had doped.

“In a way, I just assumed we would get to that point,” he said of his sponsors’ leaving. “The story was getting out of control.”

In closing her interview, Winfrey asked Armstrong a question that left him perplexed.

“Will you rise again?” she said.

Armstrong said: “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s out there.”

Then, as the interview drew to a close, Armstrong said: “The ultimate crime is the betrayal of these people that supported me and believed in me.”

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On TV Show, Armstrong Is Planning to Confess His Drug Use to Winfrey

Armstrong, 41, will give a limited confession to Winfrey and will not provide details of the doping that antidoping officials have said occurred throughout his cycling career, said the two people, who did not want their names published for fear of jeopardizing their access to him.

He is scheduled to sit down with Winfrey in his home in Austin, Tex., on Monday, for the interview, which will be shown Thursday on the Oprah Winfrey Network. USA Today first reported the news late Friday.

Neither Armstrong nor Tim Herman, Armstrong’s lawyer in Austin, immediately returned an e-mail request for comment.

The New York Times reported Jan. 4 that Armstrong was considering admitting publicly that he had used banned drugs and blood transfusions. Last fall, after 11 of his former teammates had testified against him, he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping and for his involvement in what officials called the most sophisticated, organized and professional doping program in sports history.

Armstrong is coming forward to discuss his past doping because he wants to persuade officials to lift his lifetime ban from Olympic sports so he can return to competing in triathlons and running events, according to people with knowledge of his plans.

Last month, Armstrong met with Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, to begin discussing a way in which an admission from Armstrong could mitigate his punishment. Under the World Anti-Doping Code, athletes can receive up to a 75 percent reduction of a ban if they provide substantial assistance to antidoping authorities in building cases against other cheaters. For his ban to be reduced, though, Armstrong will have to give information about the people who helped him in his doping.

If Armstrong does confess, he is opening himself to more legal troubles than he has now. He has been named as a defendant in a federal whistle-blower case that contends that Armstrong and his associates on the United States Postal Service cycling team used taxpayer dollars to finance a systematic doping program. The government is considering joining that case as a plaintiff.

Armstrong may also have to repay $12 million he received from SCA Promotions, a company based in Dallas that paid him millions for winning several Tours de France. Jeffrey Tillotson, a lawyer for the company, said Friday that he was waiting to see the interview with Winfrey before filing a lawsuit asking Armstrong to return that money.

Armstrong is also being sued by The Sunday Times of London for more than $1.5 million over the settlement of a libel case. The newspaper paid Armstrong nearly $500,000 after it published claims from the book “L.A. Confidentiel” that he had used performance-enhancing drugs.

What worries Armstrong the most, said people with knowledge of the situation, is criminal charges that could arise from his confession. The United States attorney’s office in Los Angeles closed an investigation into Armstrong early last year regarding doping-related crimes, including fraud, money laundering and drug trafficking. Another United States attorney’s office could reopen that investigation, several lawyers involved in the case said, although that is unlikely.

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Wealth Matters: Armstrong’s Fortune Likely to Withstand Doping Charges

But he is still a rich man, with an estimated net worth of $125 million. Independent advisers and lawyers say he is likely to hold on to most of that wealth — though he may have to give up an estimated $3.9 million in prize money he won in the Tour and pay some hefty legal bills.

Most of Mr. Armstrong’s money came from his sponsors: Nike, Anheuser-Busch and smaller brands like FRS, an energy supplement, and Honey Stinger, a maker of organic waffles. They have all dropped him, but it remains to be seen what damage, if any, the brands will suffer, particularly the smaller ones.

Then there is the United States Postal Service, which paid tens of millions of dollars to sponsor Mr. Armstrong’s team for six of its seven Tour de France titles and now looks naïve, at best, for continuing to finance his racing while accusations of doping swirled around him.

Still, it is generally the case that no amount of wrongdoing by athletes will force them to forfeit the money they were paid by sponsors. The worst that typically happens is that their contracts are voided.

David B. Newman, a partner in the law firm Day Pitney, said it was rare for a sponsor to try to get back money from an athlete who had violated the terms of a contract. Most contracts include a provision barring the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Mr. Newman said that a sponsor who wanted to test the contract could demand its money back, but that Mr. Armstrong, who has vehemently denied doping, could simply refuse and argue that none of the accusations against him had been proved. “They’d have to spend a lot of money to prove these allegations,” Mr. Newman said. “From a return on investment, you’d spend a lot of money on lawyers and lawsuits, and more publicity can’t help your product.”

He added, “They don’t walk away happy, but they’ll say, better to cut our losses now.”

When asked what Mr. Armstrong would do if his sponsors sued him for damages, Tim Herman, one of his lawyers, said, “We don’t have a plan for that, because I do not expect that to happen.”

For a big company like Nike, which has weathered plenty of controversy with its athletes — it dropped the quarterback Michael Vick after he accepted responsibility for his role in a dogfighting ring and pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges in 2007, but re-signed him last year, and it kept Tiger Woods on after his marital scandal in 2009 — the loss of Mr. Armstrong is no big deal. But I expected more anger from smaller companies like FRS, which makes an energy drink that was closely associated with Mr. Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong’s image, until recently, was featured prominently in the company’s advertising.

“It’s awfully difficult to not be very disappointed, having believed in all aspects of the relationship,” said Carl Sweat, chief executive of FRS. “Two years ago, before any of this was out, it would have been a different conversation. He helped us build our brand.”

In other words, the negative publicity is hurtful because the brand is well known now, but the company realizes how much Mr. Armstrong, who resigned from FRS’s board but continues to have an equity stake, helped it get there. Mr. Sweat said the company was now using Tim Tebow, the New York Jets quarterback with a squeaky-clean reputation, as its main pitchman.

There are two areas, though, where Mr. Armstrong is at risk of losing a little or a lot of money.

The case against him that is getting the most attention is being pursued by SCA Promotions, a company in Dallas that insures potentially costly but unlikely events, like a prize for a hole in one in a golf tournament. In 2004, Mr. Armstrong sued the company for not paying him a $5 million bonus for winning his sixth Tour de France title. SCA said it would not pay because of accusations of doping that had come out in a book by two sports reporters.

In 2006, though, the company settled the suit and paid Mr. Armstrong $7.5 million, including interest and fees.

“There is no revisiting that,” Mr. Herman said. “If everyone who had settled a case finds out something later on and they want to renegotiate or relitigate, the system would break down. The point is, the agreement is unequivocal. There is no going back.”

Still, SCA said it intended to do just that. Jeffrey Dorough, SCA’s corporate counsel, said the firm was sending a letter to Mr. Armstrong demanding that he return $12 million — the $7.5 million and an additional $4.5 million it paid for a previous victory.

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