We nearly got tears but nowhere near a true sense of contrition from Lance Armstrong in the second part of his confession with Oprah, which played in sharp contrast to yesterday’s broadcast, where the questions were journalistic, striking and more probing.
Part two reflected an emotional shift, with Oprah honing in on how Armstrong’s years of doping and deceiving affected his relationship with his sponsors, the Livestrong Foundation and his family. And in many ways, the tone and mood of this portion of the interview was more in line with the softly-light, histrionic tet-a-tets Oprah has built her career on.
Thursday night was an investigative Oprah, one we don’t see often, and I’ll argue, enough of. Last night, she pulled nearly every punch — she never pinned him down after his vague, unhelpful responses to most her of questions (namely, she never asked him how and where and who was involved in his doping; the interview’s primary weakness was that Oprah never made him name names).
But by putting down the guns she used at the top of the interview, we finally got a glimpse and brief flashes of genuine emotion from Armstrong, of feelings that could resemble shame, remorse and sadness. Could, because even if he came across as bumbling and unprepared in the first 90 minutes, he clearly trained himself well to be emotionally withholding, and that was in plain view last night.
You could see pangs of defeat when he recounted the money lost when his sponsors called him to revoke their deals after his announcement in October that he wouldn’t be fighting USADA’s doping charges. He estimated that he lost $75 million.
Armstrong said that he had reached his lowest point when the Livestrong Foundation, which he formed to raise cancer awareness and has perhaps left a greater legacy than his former cycling triumphs, asked him to step down.
But that, like with so many of Armstrong’s answers, seemed disingenuous. It was only when Oprah pressed him about how the scandal was affecting his family that we saw, however briefly, some genuine human feeling.
And just as he had described earlier in the interview, his “anything to win” attitude held strong. He was practically writhing in his seat to fight back from breaking down in tears when he retold the story of him explaining to his oldest son to stop defending his name and honor to his father’s critics:
“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. I want you to know it’s true.”
And for a that brief moment, it was more possible than in any other part of the interview to feel for Armstrong, to be moved by his him. Many a great drama has been made from the crushing sense of disappointment that comes with a parent that proves themselves to not be good enough to be better, and for a split second, Armstrong and his son's were among them.
More alarmingly, Armstrong made it clear that he intends to use the interview as a way to get back into competing. It’s uncertain, however, that such a thing could ever happen, based on the reactions of official agencies charging him with the doping accusations, who criticized Armstrong for failing to be truly forthcoming. Their opinion might not even matter. In his two-and-a-half-hour sit down with Oprah Winfrey, his apology never felt real; he may have said he was sorry, but here, in the front of the world, was his version of sorry, sorry enough?