Lance Armstrong, who has repeatedly denied using performance enhancing drugs, is said to have confessed to using them in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that will air later this week. We checked in with Drexel’s media expert, communications professor Dr. Ron Bishop, to find out if he thought this was the beginning of Lance’s effort to make a comeback and whether or not it was possible for him to rehabilitate his image.
Q: Do you think Lance is trying to make a comeback? Will it work?
A: It looks like Lance is trying to lay the groundwork for his “redemption tour,” which invariably happens in situations like this. I think he will be making more of these appearances, but he will do so calculatedly and likely with the same arrogance that has marked every stage of this unfortunate journey. Trouble is, I think we are as inured to the staged apologia tour as we are to the acts that make them necessary in the first place. Will it appease angry sponsors and jilted fans? Probably not in the short term, but America has a history of forgiving and forgetting.
Q: What precedent is there for this?
A: This is not new terrain. Ted Kennedy after Chappaquidick. Jimmy Swaggart. Jim Baker. Clinton. It’s so pro forma, so rehearsed. Perhaps the clearest indication of its obsolescence is the fact that we – and this includes journalists – spend most of our effort covering how pro forma and rehearsed it is, and in what forum it took place. It’s ironic that Lance chose Oprah, a public figure who is also slipping into irrelevance, for his first interview. He’s a star, she’s a star. Any chance of building a truly insightful interview goes out the window. As one of my most wonderful students said a few years back, a story is no longer a story the second the media starts covering itself.
Q: If you were covering this story as a reporter, what questions would you be asking?
A: If I were covering Lance these days, I’d want to know why. What was it that made him dope in the first place? What pressures – beyond his own arrogance – did he feel in order to keep it quiet? What were the systemic factors that made him think this was a good idea – beyond the “everyone else was doing it” thing? Officials and team owners usually come off scot-free, as is the case with steroids in baseball. They let it happen, encouraged it to happen, then had the audacity to pose as guardians of morality when the secret began to leak out. All the while, they make most of the money, and then persuade the rest of us – with the help of journalists – to be angry at the athletes who make “so much damned money.”
Members of the news media who are interested in speaking further with Ron Bishop, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a full Q+A on Lance Armstrong’s legacy with Dr. Eric Zillmer, Drexel’s athletic director and Carl R. Pacifico Professor of Neuropsychology, visit DrexelNOW.