Critics of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong are looking askance at his admission of using performance enhancing drugs after years of lying about it, suggesting that Armstrong has calculated the risk, has developed a strategic plan to mitigate legal action against him and try to revive a career in competitive sports, specifically triathlons.
Whether anyone believes Armstrong is at all contrite about his years of lying about his drug use and blood doping while winning seven Tour de France titles, the more important question is whether he believes it.
“This is something I recognized in my process early on,” said Jayson Blair, a former New York Times reporter who was found in 2003 to have committed widespread fabrication and plagiarism in dozen of stories. His behavior led to the downfall of two top newsroom executives and Blair penned “Burning Down My Master’s House,” his version of how The Times contributed to his downfall.
Eventually, Blair, who was diagnosed as bipolar and who admittedly had substance abuse problems, went to rehab and into therapy and today is a life coach in Virginia who helps those who have hit rock bottom, largely because of their own actions, showing them how to get their lives back on track..
Blair said that book agents, lawyers and other people he talked to as he left The Times gave him lots of advice about developing a strategy to help him manage the fallout.
But what he discovered was “that in trying to be very strategic about the quote-unquote recovery, it backfired because my heart wasn’t really in it. When you go through a process of renunciation it has to be authentic. If you try to follow the script, it doesn’t work,” Blair said.
“It’s a long, hard slog to get back to where you were and I don’t think I could have done that right away.”
Armstrong told Winfrey he has begun to reach out to people he denounced, and in some cases even sued, for telling the truth about his doping. Admittedly, the former cyclist said, he hasn’t found instant forgiveness.
“When you do have a pattern of bad behavior, whether it was of the scale in my case or bigger or smaller, you have to work back to everything that led up to it. People you’ve been rude to or mean to, it’s their turn. The long knives come out.”
In the first of a two-part interview airing Thursday and Friday nights on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, Armstrong said he could no longer deny the truth and had to take ownership of his misdeeds.
He hesitated when Winfrey asked him if a desire to still be a part of cycling or competitive sports factored into his decision to come clean in the interview.
Blair said sometimes you have to walk away from a career you love if you really want to honor the profession and its values.
“I can come up with a long list of explanations why what happened happened, but at the end of the day, I also feel like because I love [journalism] and care about it…I don’t think I should be part of that profession and that’s part of the price I’m paying.”
He also said it was recognizing that he could build a life in another field.
“I think it’s hard for people to realize that. I think we all are like boxers who don’t know when to give it up. This may have been the only profession you’ve known, but there are other things you can do and it’s good when there are people around who can point it out to you.”
Blair said after the Winfrey interview it might be a good idea for Armstrong to maintain a low profile.
Blair said he wrote his book way too early, while he was raw emotionally and didn’t have the perspective of healing – physically and psychology – and time to reflect on what he did and the impact it had.
“When you come off of doing something like this you are nowhere clear in your understanding. If you look at that first crazy interview I gave the New York Observer after I left…I made the mistake,” said Blair, who in the Observer interview attacked Times management and complained he was not given credit for the skill it took to fool his editors.
“There is pressure to respond” to everything said about you in the immediate aftermath of the scandal, Blair said, “and sometimes the best thing to do is just to be silent and to take it all in.”