Thursday, January 17, 2013
Lance's words will go only so far
By Neal Rogers
Over the next two nights, after years of vigorous denials, Lance Armstrong will deliver a televised confession to doping throughout his storied career, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that was recorded over 2½ hours on Monday in Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas.
An apology (of sorts) is also expected, though several reports, always citing unnamed sources, have speculated that, at least on Winfrey's show, an Armstrong apology won't be tied to any specific individuals or events.
Instead, Armstrong took to the phones this week, reaching out to several of his longtime critics and adversaries; he also stopped by the Austin office of the Livestrong Foundation on Monday, prior to his interview with Winfrey, to apologize -- not for lying, but for any "stress" he had caused the organization's employees.
Yet to those who were once close to Armstrong but refused to cover his lies, and to those that suffered from exposing his secret, an apology of any sort, televised or personally addressed, is likely to fall on deaf ears.
On Wednesday, Betsy Andreu, wife of Armstrong's longtime teammate and former friend Frankie Andreu, declined to comment on whether or not she had heard from Armstrong this week, in the wake of his reckoning, saying only, "Even something as simple as saying 'I'm sorry' can go a long way. Although if he's reaching out to people now, well, it should have been long before he was doing a TV program."
Irish journalist David Walsh, Armstrong's longest-running naysayer -- whose employer settled an Armstrong defamation lawsuit in 2006 and is now seeking to reclaim that money -- tweeted on Tuesday that he had not heard from the disgraced former world champion.
"[Armstrong] did not contact me," Walsh wrote. "Perhaps there are lengths to which he will not go. Perhaps he's mindful of [The Sunday Times'] lawsuit and aim to recoup money. ... Those who wonder if I'm disappointed [Armstrong] didn't contact me, please don't. It's not something I want and definitely not something I need."
Questions surround Armstrong's decision to confess now -- following his lifetime ban, lost endorsements, stripped results and ruined reputation -- just as questions swirl around the sincerity of any apology for his iron-fisted, tyrannical treatment of detractors, which disrupted lives and ruined careers.
For the moment, this much is certain: What Armstrong will confess on Winfrey's show will validate Walsh's years of brave reporting, as well as claims made under oath by those such as Betsy Andreu and Mike Anderson, Armstrong's former friend and personal bike mechanic. And Armstrong's confessions will directly contradict statements he made under oath about his doping in separate litigation matters that involved both Anderson and Andreu.
In addition to facing the court of public opinion, Armstrong could also be forced to answer in courts of law. His admission will likely see him hemorrhaging much of the personal wealth he amassed over the past 15 years, via both civil lawsuits filed by SCA Promotions and The Sunday Times, as well as the federal whistleblower lawsuit filed by another former friend and teammate, Floyd Landis, which may soon be backed by the U.S. Department of Justice. It's possible Armstrong could face criminal charges, for fraud, over millions of dollars of public sponsorship, and for perjury, after his denials under oath.
However, whether any of that will amount to justice to those who suffered from years of Armstrong's lying, bullying and intimidation, is unlikely.
Anderson: 'I don't trust him, and I never will'
Mike Anderson and Lance Armstrong were once friends and mountain-bike training partners in Austin. After Armstrong became a Tour champion, he hired Anderson as his mechanic, handyman and personal assistant. During his employment, which lasted from November 2002 to November 2004, Armstrong paid Anderson $3,000 a month and provided health benefits and a one-time bonus of $5,000.
According to Anderson's sworn testimony in a countersuit against Armstrong, his tasks were "so helpful and numerous" that Armstrong's wife, Kristin, referred to Anderson as "H2," standing for "Husband Number Two." Part of the employment agreement, Anderson claimed, was that Armstrong had agreed to help Anderson realize his dream of opening a bike shop in Austin.
That relationship slowly deteriorated over the summer of 2003, and went sour in February 2004; while cleaning out the bathroom of Armstrong's apartment in Girona, Spain, Anderson discovered a box of what he believed to be Androstenedione, a banned steroid. Anderson's sworn testimony states that the morning after his discovery it was clear Armstrong was aware of what had transpired, claiming "Armstrong was immediately distant and irritable towards Anderson and his family ... and for the first time in their relationship, instructed Anderson to call and knock before they ever entered the Armstrong apartment. This was completely unlike the arrangement that had existed before."
In December 2004, Armstrong sued Anderson over what he claimed was stolen property -- primarily cycling equipment and two laptop computers -- prompting Anderson to file a countersuit, claiming Armstrong had reneged on his promise to help him build a bike shop at the conclusion of the period of employment.
Following his termination, but prior to Armstrong's lawsuit, Anderson claims he was offered a three-month severance package on the condition that he sign a non-disclosure agreement, which he refused. The suit was settled in November 2005; the terms of the agreement were confidential.
Armstrong representatives subsequently issued a document attacking Anderson's credibility, claiming he was a disgruntled former employee, that Anderson never observed Armstrong commit an illegal act, was never requested to perform an illegal act, and never observed Armstrong ingest any prohibited substance.
Anderson, who holds a degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, moved to New Zealand -- "as far away from Armstrong as possible" -- and opened a bike shop, The Bike Hutt, in Upper Hutt, near Wellington.
In May 2008, Armstrong opened his own bike shop in Austin, Mellow Johnny's, the name a play on the French words for the Tour's yellow jersey -- maillot jaune. Anderson claims that many of the concepts behind Mellow Johnny's originally stemmed from his dream of opening a shop.
Following Armstrong's decision in August 2012 to accept the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's lifetime ban, Anderson wrote a long account for Outside, titled "My Life With Lance Armstrong," which detailed the money he lost defending himself from Armstrong and his team of attorneys, and the emotional scars that battle inflicted.
Now, with Armstrong's long-awaited confession imminent, Anderson said that if Armstrong is looking for forgiveness, he'd best look elsewhere.
"You don't your live life ripping people apart, lying, cheating and causing ruin to people's lives, and then suddenly turn the corner and feel contrite," Anderson told VeloNews. "I don't buy it at all."
Asked what an Armstrong apology would need to look like in order for him to accept it, Anderson said it was almost impossible to imagine.
"I know it's not going to happen, but I would like to hear him tell the public, 'Mike didn't do this -- he wasn't a money-grubber, he didn't make this stuff up, he's not discredited,'" Anderson said. "I'd love to be told that I didn't deserve to be run out of town, I didn't deserve to be professionally ruined, I didn't deserve to feel the need to move 15,000 kilometers away from my friends and family because I felt I couldn't get gainful employment. I'd like him to apologize for making me feel like I needed to hide under a rock and hide my background, having worked for him. I'd like to hear an apology for having Mellow Johnny's flaunted in my face, when most of the ideas of that conceptual shop were mine, when the existence of that shop was due to my concept."
Ultimately, Anderson said he would never be able to forgive Armstrong, no matter what the fallen star had to say.
"I know Lance Armstrong well enough to know that anything he says, I know it would be made up -- false," Anderson said. "I don't trust him, and I never will. [An apology] would be a meaningless gesture, a PR stunt, there is no doubt in my mind."
DeCanio: 'I will never truly respect him'
Former racer Matt DeCanio watched his last pro contract dry up in 2005 after he posted inflammatory comments about Armstrong on his website, Stolen Underground.
A talented young American who once wore the race leader's jersey at the Tour de Beauce, DeCanio made waves throughout the cycling community in the summer of 2004 when he admitted he had used EPO during the 2003 Tour of Connecticut stage race. Though he had never tested positive, DeCanio's guilty conscience overtook him. He sat out the 2004 season and began posting controversial, staunchly anti-doping screeds on his website. Topics varied from his own doping experiences to highly personal admissions of depression, as well as specific accusations directed toward pro riders, including Armstrong.
In November 2004, he signed a contract with the domestic squad Ofoto-Sierra Nevada for the 2005 season; however, he was released from that contract before he ever pinned a number to an Ofoto jersey. According to a team spokesman, team management had a verbal agreement, as an addendum to DeCanio's original contract, that his websites would not "become a forum for debate and accusations" on doping. When DeCanio refused to go along with the team's policies, citing the First Amendment, he was asked to resign. It would prove to be his last chance, an unceremonious end to a promising career.
As he did nearly a decade ago, DeCanio feels Armstrong's influence in the sport led to his dismissal, and he still harbors anger over the way his career ended.
"Lance was obviously doping. David Clinger, who was on the U.S. Postal Service team, told me about the doping on the team," DeCanio said. "I got to the point where I felt I had to do it. I shouldn't have done it. And that shows the power of being a leader, like Lance. When things get hard, it's so easy to follow a leader like that."
DeCanio knew that accusing Armstrong of doping had marginalized him within the pro peloton, but he said his militant position was aimed toward deterring young riders from making the mistakes he'd made.
"So many people doped back then, and Lance was destroying everyone who was speaking out against it, making an example of anyone he could, using his abilities to destroy anyone who stood against him," DeCanio said.
Asked what an Armstrong apology would need to look like in order to be accepted, DeCanio said, "For me to respect Lance, he would have to be completely honest. He would need to say, 'When I was this age, this person told me I had to do this, this person enabled this.' He would have to out every person involved, and expose the secrets of the whole system. There's a lot of stuff that has not come out yet.
"If Lance were to do that, and dedicate the rest of his life to helping find a cure for cancer, and stop caring about his own life, and caring about wanting to race -- if he could be selfless, instead of selfish, if he could prove he is trying to make a change -- I would respect him more. But I will never truly respect him. He was an idol of mine, and his dictatorship over the sport ... I can forgive, but I cannot forget. I want to forgive him, and I want something good to come out of it. But he has so much work to do, and I don't see that he is willing to do it."
Andreu: 'Actions speak louder than words'
Over the past decade, Betsy Andreu has emerged as, if not Armstrong's biggest critic, then rather his bravest critic. Once a close friend and sometimes roommate of Armstrong's -- her husband, Frankie, raced alongside him at Motorola and U.S. Postal, as well as the U.S. national team -- Andreu first fell afoul of Armstrong in December 2003 when she attempted to provide Walsh with the phone number of Armstrong's former girlfriend, Lisa Shiels.
Armstrong sent Frankie Andreu an email, writing, "helping to bring me down is not going to help y'all's situation at all. There is a direct link to all our success here and I suggest you remind (Betsy) of that."
That relationship was permanently severed when a lawsuit between Armstrong and SCA Promotions forced the Andreus in late 2005 to testify under oath that Armstrong had admitted, in front of friends, family and doctors in an Indiana hospital in 1996, to using performance enhancing drugs.
"After that, it was all-out attack, war on my wife and I," Frankie Andreu told CNN. "They ripped us apart. I lost a lot of jobs, lost a lot of money. It's been a very long, long fight."
Upon retiring from racing in 2000, Andreu served as a team director at U.S. Postal Service in 2001 and 2002. However, as his relationship with Armstrong became more strained, Andreu found his marketability in the racing world had diminished. In July 2006, he was fired from his role as director for the domestic team Toyota-United. In his testimony to USADA, Andreu testified that, "Although the team owner, Sean Tucker, denied it was because of my testimony regarding Lance, it coincided with the controversy surrounding my testimony and that of Betsy in the SCA arbitration."
In his role as an on-screen commentator for the Versus TV network, which broadcast the Tour de France, Andreu was prohibited from speaking with Armstrong's teams. Andreu's contract with the network, which in 2012 re-branded as NBC Sports Network, was not renewed in 2011. Over the years, teams that Andreu directed have not received invitations to the biggest races in the U.S., such as the Amgen Tour of California and USA Pro Challenge, even though, on paper, his were stronger than some teams that were invited. Andreu told USADA that he has been told that his public disputes with Armstrong "made it more difficult for others in the cycling industry to work with me, because they fear reprisal from Lance and his associates."
Asked about lost opportunities, Andreu, who now directs the Five-hour Energy-Kenda domestic team, said he preferred to not name specific examples.
"There were jobs where I was let go of, and there were jobs that just didn't come my way," he told VeloNews. "I received responses that I was too controversial. Whether that was the direct influence of Lance Armstrong or not, I don't know. He might not have been calling people and telling them not to hire me, but people knew I was on the opposite side of him, so they didn't reach out to me."
Meanwhile, Betsy saw her character attacked -- Armstrong described her alternatively as bitter, vindictive and jealous. She received harassing phone calls and emails, both from Armstrong's associates, and even scarier, from complete strangers.
Given that neither of the Andreus would comment on whether or not they'd been contacted by Armstrong this week, their comments on what an Armstrong apology would need to look like in order to be accepted were intriguing.
Last week, Betsy Andreu had said she felt Armstrong was incapable of contrition, and had "zero thought about the people whose lives he's messed over," adding, "Let him give money to everyone whose careers he destroyed, let him live in typical American 1,200-square-foot home, driving a Ford Taurus, then we'll know he's contrite."
On Tuesday, Frankie Andreu appeared on ESPN Radio's "The Herd" and gave an impassioned interview during which he called Armstrong "a bad guy" and detailed the difficulties his family faced after testifying against Armstrong.
On Wednesday, however, Betsy Andreu's tone was more lenient.
"Only time will tell if Lance is sincere in his apologies," she said. "If he goes on TV and gives some kind of partial confession, those who know him, and know the truth, will see right through it. Actions speak louder than words. Let's see if there's behavior that would go along with a confession and apology."
Jail or forgiveness?
The list of those Armstrong disparaged, and destroyed, is much longer than these examples, and includes names such as three-time Tour champion Greg LeMond, whose bike brand Armstrong torpedoed, and Emma O'Reilly, the former U.S. Postal soigneur who Armstrong accused of having been fired from the team due to "inappropriate relations" with staff members.
Ultimately, it will forever be impossible to quantify the damage caused by Armstrong's lying, and the sphere of his influence at the height of his reign.
Both Anderson and DeCanio feel that Armstrong should serve time behind bars.
"I'd like to see jail time," Anderson said. "The rich and powerful should not get away with it, and he got away with it because he's rich and powerful. He's like an inside trader; he got away with it due to power, influence and money. He deserves jail. He doesn't deserve a penny he has, because it was all ill-gotten. The rest of us do our jobs as honestly as we can to eek out a living, and he's gotten away with what he's worth now fraudulently, and that shouldn't be allowed in a democratic, civilized nation like the U.S. If he's left with any money at all, that's fundamentally wrong. That's prize money that was won under the rules of sport, which he broke. That's money he took from sponsors while he said he was doing it clean."
Like Anderson, DeCanio also believes Armstrong's actions go beyond simply taking banned substances -- he was, as "The Secret Race" author Dan Coyle has said, a kingpin. ("He was Tony Soprano," Coyle told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday. "When you crossed him, he cut you dead. You were gone.")
"When you look at something like insider trading, if you're guilty of it, even if you are Martha Stewart, you go to jail," DeCanio said. "How is that different from Lance, or anyone, doping and winning $20,000 in a race, or taking contract money? How is that not a felony or a criminal act? I think Lance is a criminal. Sport is a business. When you have people go to their jobs, if they are able to cheat and steal, that is a crime. I see this the same as stealing. Some people look at Armstrong as a great champion, but I see him as a criminal."
To that end, Armstrong may just be looking to buy his way out of jail. CBS News reported on Tuesday night that government officials had rejected an Armstrong offer to repay $5 million in restitution and cooperate with investigators as a witness.
Asked if she were open to the possibility of forgiving Armstrong, Betsy Andreu took a long pause before answering.
"I'm certainly not open to being friends again. But I am open to ... just letting it go and having ... a peace within," she said. "I'm open to not holding on to ugly feelings inside. It's a process. If I weren't open to it, I wouldn't be mulling it over. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't pay the price for what he's done."
Asked what that price should be, she said, simply, "I don't know."
"Forgiveness is such a nouveau American thing. It's really, really hard. It's a process. It's personal," she said. "Whether or not Lance has called us or not, it's up to me to forgive -- it's not dependent on him. The burden lies on me. As a Christian I am supposed to forgive, but it is the hardest thing you'll ever have to do in your life when you've been so deeply hurt. It's a process. It's not free. And it doesn't mean forgetting, either."