What a week for semi-confessionals, bizarre attempts at damage control, and angry stabs at absolution.
Actually, I’m not referring to Coca-Cola’s decision to address the problem of obesity in these here United States in a new ad campaign that asks us to “come together.” In an age requiring authenticity, there are some things mega-global corporations selling sugar water just can’t be transparent about. For its efforts to deflect blame, Coke reminds me of the kid who kills both his parents, and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.
That’s similar to Lance Armstrong. Of course, Armstrong’s attempts at self-preservation and deflecting blame should be far more interesting. I write this before the airing of his appeal to the Mother Confessor, Oprah, to defend himself enough so that at the very least he avoids jail time, hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits, and the knowledge that he put the final nail in the coffin of the U.S. cycling team’s most poignant sponsor, the U.S. postal system. (“Yes, Virginia, there used to be a man who came with a sack, who’d go from house to house...”)
The sheer, insane, Madoff-like chutzpah of his years of denials is hard to fathom. Of course, he’s not the first to repeatedly make excuses that would seem comical if they weren’t so sad. Fellow cycling doper Tyler Hamilton blamed his “vanishing twin” for bad blood results; Floyd Landis flunked a urine test, and blasted “the lab’s agenda.”
Lance’s case, however, is positively Nixonian in its tragedy: as with Watergate, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. We all have reason to feel exploited, cynical, and angry, especially at companies like Nike, which backed Armstrong until this past October. I call this the “too big to fail” syndrome.
And we have yet to see one person from a bailed-out bank go to jail for his economy-wrecking actions.
Indeed, all along, Nike not only acknowledged, but flaunted Lance’s arrogant, in-your-face defiance. If you recall, they even did a spot way back in 2001 in which he’s shown saying, "Everybody wants to know: what am I on. What am I on? I'm on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day."
Now I’m sure both Nike and Lance wish they had covered their asses in a different way.
The swooshmeisters did the same thing for Tiger Woods, although they never ended their association throughout the scandal -- they just kept him on the down-low. He’s come out of that fallow period a better fellow: self-effacing, almost delightful. Indeed, the global sports monster corporation just released a new spot with Tiger and its latest Golf endorser star, Rory McIlroy, in which Rory teases him about his age. Compared with Lance’s more-than-a-decade-long history of illegal performance drugging, Tiger’s crime (of sex addiction) was rehabbable. Again, by comparision, he’s now the we-try-harder, good guy in the Nike line-up.
Whereas Lance’s story is Nixonian in numerous ways: the stonewalling; the forcing his colleagues to sacrifice themselves and take part in the cover-up. But it’s also Shakespearean.
Let’s start with the “what’s in a name?” question. Saddled with a cartoon superhero moniker from birth, perhaps Armstrong felt pressured to be a real-life superhero, and keep up the boosting to live up to the impossible. Similarly, Anthony Weiner was no doubt taunted all of his life about his appendage-suggestive name, and ended up perversely acting out accordingly, even tweeting a picture.
On what grounds will the giant fraudster come clean? I don’t think anyone will be able to stomach a “now I want to be part of the solution” strategy.
There are so many lines in Shakespeare that apply to Armstrong. His showing tonight is bound to be sickening -- a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.