John Smallwood: Armstrong's lying is as bad as his cheating

Lance Armstrong made his bad situation even worse with the despicable things he did to cover up his cheating. ASSOCIATED PRESS / HARPO STUDIOS
Lance Armstrong made his bad situation even worse with the despicable things he did to cover up his cheating. ASSOCIATED PRESS / HARPO STUDIOS
Posted: January 20, 2013

As a fellow cancer survivor, I'd love to give Lance Armstrong a pass. It's an insidious disease that never lets go of you, even after you've gone into remission and seem to be OK.

More than 2 decades after I was "successfully" treated for Hodgkin's disease in 1986, the Big C reminded me of its claim over me when I learned that the radiation therapy I underwent had slowly destroyed a heart valve and forced replacement surgery in 2009.

One operation, a host of complications, one monthlong induced coma, 10 amputated toes and 3 1/2 years of physical, mental and spiritual rehabilitation later, I'd say I've gotten back about 92 percent of the person I was before.

But I'm still here, and I can live with that.

So, yes, a part of me wants to look at the good he has done for millions of cancer patients since he started the Livestrong Foundation (formerly Lance Armstrong Foundation) in 1997 and say it balances the scales.

And perhaps if Armstrong were merely the typical performance-enhancing drug cheater, the one who did little more than dishonor his/her sport, I could find some way to rationalize a flimsy greater-good argument to try to justify his use of PEDs to become the greatest cycling champion in history.

But Armstrong not only cheated to win seven Tour de France titles and earn fame and fortune, but he exhibited sociopathic behavior in his efforts to cover up his illicit activities for more than 15 years.

All that mattered was what Armstrong wanted, and he used his fame, fortune and influence to bully, intimidate and financially ruin anyone who dared to expose the truth.

The list of victims Armstrong knowingly smeared to protect his lies ranges from former teammates to his former wife.

No one was too big or too small to crush in Armstrong's self-indulgent pursuit to protect his foul secrets.

Armstrong's "confession" to Oprah Winfrey on her OWN network on Thursday does little to make things right - not when you factor in the nefarious and cruel things done to people at Armstrong's command.

"I'm a flawed character," Armstrong told Winfrey.

"This story was so perfect for so long . . . I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times."

To me, it's not primarily about the actual acts of using PEDs and doping his blood.

Not that it's an acceptable excuse, but I can logically decipher Armstrong's reasoning that he participated in a drug-infested sport and that, in his mind, usage was the only way to perform at a competitive level.

A quarter-century as a sports journalist showed me a long time ago it is naive to put faith in the sanctity or purity of competition. I prefer to believe otherwise, but I know that cheating has always been, and always will be, a part of human makeup.

Nothing can surprise me anymore - no matter who it is we find out crossed the line.

The only thing Armstrong's admissions did was rubber-stamp the worst-kept secret in sports. Deep down, virtually all of us knew the truth.

"I went and looked up the definition of cheat," he said, "and the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn't view [doping] that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."

Whatever - if that works for Armstrong to justify his cheating, then fine.

But as I said, it's not about the cheating.

It's about the associated actions that he committed to cover up the cheating.

They were despicable things done by someone without remorse until he could no longer get away with spinning more lies and deceptions.

One of the most revealing glimpses of Armstrong's character was when he discussed Emma O'Reilly, the former U.S. Postal Service team masseuse who had talked about his drug use to a newspaper.

Armstrong responded by basically calling O'Reilly a jock-sniffing whore who made up lies to get back at him because he had her removed from her job, on the grounds that she was more interested in developing personal relationships than in working.

That's a sadistic lie from a sadistic mind.

"She's one of these people that I have to apologize to. She's one of these people that got run over, got bullied," said Armstrong.

Let's not forget, Armstrong's contrition comes only after he was caught. It's similar to the actions of disgraced Olympic sprinter Marion Jones, who didn't come clean about her PED usage until after being indicted by a federal court.

"It's a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome," Armstrong said. "That defiance, that attitude, that arrogance, you cannot deny it."

Deny, however, is exactly what Armstrong, did no matter whom he hurt, no matter whom he ruined. He has stopped now, only because it no longer benefits him.

Armstrong conceded that, had he not tried to make a comeback at the 2009 Tour de France, former teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, might not have been motivated to confess and subsequently give up Armstrong.

"I think the comeback didn't sit well with Floyd," Armstrong told Winfrey. "We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back."

Those aren't the thought processes of a cheater who is trying to cleanse his soul. Those aren't the thought processes of someone to whom you can just give a pass.

"I don't know, if you pulled those two words out of the air, jerk and humanitarian, I'd say I was both, and we saw both," Armstrong said. "Now we're seeing certainly more of the jerk part than the activist, the humanitarian, philanthropist.

We're seeing now that I am flawed, deeply flawed."

There's blood on Armstrong's hands, not only the cheating, but for the lives he ruined to cover up his cheating. You can't just wash that away by doing good deeds, especially while you still kept doing the bad one.

I wish I felt different, but Armstrong's jerk side far outweighs his humanitarian one.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: philly.com/smallwood

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