If Lance Armstrong is truly considering coming clean about his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), the benefits of doing so won’t amount to much unless he understands that there is more to repentance than confession.
Just like the athletes and celebrities who have risen from the reputational ashes before him, Mr. Armstrong needs to be seen as taking full responsibility and paying a price for his sins. After denying the charges for so long, and doing so despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, a simple admission of guilt won’t get the job done. A comeback of this nature isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon – and Mr. Armstrong can’t afford any missteps along the way.
First and foremost, he needs to step to the podium – or Oprah’s couch – ready to accept full culpability for his decision to dope. He can’t point to a cycling culture rife with competitors seeking any and all avenues to a competitive advantage. He can’t blame coaches or trainers who may have encouraged his illicit activity. He needs to affix the blame squarely on his own shoulders, admit that he was wrong, and apologize to everyone let down by his actions.
Second, Mr. Armstrong needs to go a step further by not only accepting responsibility for what he did; but for helping others avoid the same mistakes. He needs to cooperate with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and other authorities that might benefit from the insights he can share. He needs to talk to young athletes about the dangers of PEDs and even devote some of the $100 million he still has in the bank toward an awareness campaign that will help get his message across.
Third, and perhaps most important, Mr. Armstrong needs to be ready to make a sacrifice. It might be agreeing to give back several million dollars in Tour de France win bonuses he received from a Dallas promotions company. It might be coming to terms with the Sunday Times, which is suing Mr. Armstrong to recover $500,000 paid to him to settle a libel suit. And it might even mean a willingness to settle any perjury charges that might result from testimony – given under oath – that he never used PEDs.
Even if Mr. Armstrong takes on this herculean task and manages to win back public support, he likely won’t win back the seven Tour de France titles stripped from him, the millions of dollars in endorsements he lost, or even a return to competitive cycling. Those cakes are all but baked. But that doesn’t mean he can’t once again become the inspirational figure whose examples of courage and strength meant so much to so many athletes, cancer survivors, and others touched by his legacy.
Through accountability, responsibility, and sacrifice, Mr. Armstrong has the chance to do precisely what Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, and numerous others have achieved before – but only if he understands that actions articulate a level of contrition that words simply cannot.
Gene Grabowski is an Executive Vice President at LEVICK and a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.