The moment came about halfway through the interview.
Oprah Winfrey, showing us why she is still Oprah Winfrey and Lance Armstrong why he is still Lance Armstrong, set up a clip of Armstrong's victory speech after his final Tour de France victory in 2005.
“This is the clip I cannot reconcile,” said Winfrey, at the very top of her game in last night’s 90-minute interview on the Oprah Winfrey Network, purposely facilitating a bloodletting by Armstrong seemingly thorough and yet so emotionless as to feel not just fraudulent but surreal. “What were you thinking when you did this?”
Right before the clip began to play, the camera panned to Armstrong. He knew what was coming, and for a brief second it actually looked as if he was going to cry. Either that or a final fleck of blood in his eyes after a career of taking a Scarfacian chain saw to the guts of anyone who got in his way—not just big media institutions but individuals who had the temerity to tell the honest truth about this singularly dishonest and evil man.
The clip showed a snippet of Armstrong's victory speech in Paris, the seventh and final of his Tour de France wins. He was wearing the yellow victory jersey. He should have been euphoric, and more than just euphoric, gracious. What came out instead was the opposite: mean-spirited, nasty, laced with malice and threat. Which is why Oprah so smartly replayed it.
What was he thinking?
The same thing he was always thinking about—himself, his evil empire made on stolen millions, and the need to maintain that empire by constantly holding himself out as a persecuted victim.
“For the people that don't believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics, I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry you can't dream big,” he said that day. “And I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”
He wasn’t talking about his millions of fans, because Armstrong never cared about his fans, except maybe to get laid once in a while and strut around in those ridiculously tight cycling shorts. He wasn’t talking about his foundation Livestrong, because as much good work as it did for cancer survivors, it was all part of the shell game of appearance. This was all about his enemies. The way in which he said it, laced with simmering contempt and bullying and arrogant vindication, made the message obvious:
If you fuck with me, I will fuck with you a hundred times more.
Armstrong tried to erase that image last night, or at least own up to it. He admitted that he cheated in each and every one of his Tour de France wins by blood doping and the use of EPO and testosterone. He admitted to filing untold suits whenever accusations of cheating were leveled against him, even though he knew those accusations were true. He talked about the winning-at-all-costs mentality and the desire to control every outcome.
I believe he was trying to be forthright, or as forthright as anyone can be after spending his entire life caring only about himself, and lying about himself, too. Which rendered what he said last night meaningless because of the complete absence of emotional core. It simply may be his natural affect, but the parsing of his personality is of no interest anyway.
This wasn’t a true confession. This was a stage show, a third act for a man who doesn’t deserve one. This was damage control for a man who only quit bullying and lying and subversion of the law when he finally got cornered.
This was an act of pure self-preservation, timed to a motive that has nothing to do with wanting to be reinstated again after being banned for life by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, but money and trying to hold into his crumbling empire once worth $120 million. It has to do with trying to negotiate through a thicket of lawsuits. It has to do with negotiating with the Justice Department and avoiding the possibility, however remote, of criminal prosecution. Armstrong has used his lawyers as his bitches all his life, so he all of a sudden is stopping now? (They should be investigated as well.)
The attention Armstrong is getting for this is sickening. Not because we are paying attention. But because of how much he is still trying to control the outcome. For all the supposedly devastating admissions he made, he is still in a blaze of self-centeredness, millions upon millions still watching this man who has taken sports and moral corruption to a new form.
But mercifully, it will be over tonight.
Enjoy it, Lance. This is your last time in the public consciousness. Get used to what you will forever be.
A forgotten disgrace.