In a day of college football cover-ups, secret mistresses for a golfing superstar, and stubborn denials of steroid use among baseball’s best, the prospect of confession from one of the biggest names in sports might seem a welcome reprieve—a refreshing note of truth amid a chorus of lies. But news of Lance Armstrong’s admission of guilt received no such welcome. After a decade of insisting on his innocence with such brazen vigor as to sue his accusers, the disgraced cyclist finally acknowledged that reports of his doping are true. His confession met mostly scorn.
Those in the know say Armstrong’s supposed tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey balked at revealing the most salacious details. Former friend Betsy Andreu, the wife of Armstrong’s former teammate Frankie Andreu and one of the first people to blow the whistle on Armstrong’s doping, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper she was furious in the immediate aftermath of the televised confession: “I’m really disappointed. He owed it to me. You owed it to me, Lance, and you dropped the ball—after what you’ve done to me, what you’ve done to my family. And you couldn’t own up to it.”
Armstrong had publicly smeared the Andreus as jealous liars for outing him. Yet even in admitting he cheated in all seven of his Tour de France victories, he would not concede the Andreus’ claim that he told a doctor of his doping practices as far back as 1996. That omission and others, such as denying that he ever pressured fellow riders to dope with him, prompted doping researcher and author David Coyle to characterize Armstrong’s interview as “a partial confession.”
Legal experts say Armstrong’s disclosures, however partial, expose him to lawsuits that could wipe out much of his bankroll. But if the once-revered champion believes paying that financial price will buy redemption, he appears mistaken. And if he hopes acknowledging guilt will convince sympathetic ears of his contrition, he may be sorely disappointed. His most ardent and vocal defender in the past, ESPN columnist Rick Reilly, feels personally betrayed and isn’t buying any apologies: “When he says he’s sorry now, how do we know he’s not still lying?”
Of course, that’s the trouble with waiting to confess until there is no conceivable alternative—when every cycling crown has already been stripped, every endorsement contract already pulled. With so much already lost, Armstrong’s confession seems a desperate move to salvage something of his reputation. It smacks of another carefully calculated maneuver to protect the only person for whom Armstrong ever seemed to truly care—himself.
Lance Armstrong may have perpetrated one of the largest cover-ups in sports history, but it’s no hoax—not in the victimless tradition of the truly bizarre. No, the first real sports hoax to come out this year surrounds Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and his online phantom of a girlfriend, complete with tragic cancer story and heartwarming tale of Te’o’s resiliency. Here are a few of the great sports hoaxes of all time:
1941: Stockbroker Morris Newburger and radio announcer Alex Dannenbaum conspired to invent the dominant New Jersey football program of Plainfield Teachers College. The New York Times was among the many newspapers duped into publishing reports on the amazing Comets before a reporter finally made the drive out to Plainfield and discovered the truth.
1974: Buffalo Sabres general manager Punch Imlach used the 183rd pick in the NHL draft to select an unknown player he dreamed up by the name of Taro Tsujimoto from the fictitious Tokyo Katanas. The pick was reported in all major media outlets, much to the chagrin of NHL commissioner Clarence Campbell.
1985: Writer George Plimpton published a story in the April 1 issue of Sports Illustrated on pitching phenom Sidd Finch, a supposed English orphan who had learned yoga in Tibet and could throw a 168-miles-per-hour fastball. The article sparked a firestorm of interest until a man playing Finch announced at a press conference he was retiring from baseball to pursue the French horn.