If Lance Armstrong was trying to explain away his actions, he failed to elicit much sympathy from the pundits
After more than a week of hype, Lance Armstrong finally came clean Thursday night about not playing clean. The cycling legend confessed to Oprah Winfrey in the first of two OWN network interviews that he relied on a litany of illegal methods — from banned drugs to blood transfusions — to secure all seven of his Tour de France titles.
He also admitted he "bullied" those people who tried to reveal the extent of his doping through legal intimidation or threats to their career. As Armstrong himself admitted, it's been a bruising fall from his status as sports hero; a man who beat testicular cancer to roar back to win championships.
“Now this story is so bad and so toxic,” Armstrong said.
For the most part, people on Twitter and more traditional media sites agreed with Armstrong's assessment about the acrid turn his fairytale story has taken.
If Armstrong was trying to explain away his actions, he failed to elicit much sympathy from Alessandra Stanley. The New York Times critic noted that the cyclist's responses to Winfrey's queries were "low on energy and emotion."
"When Winfrey asked him rather incredulously how he could attack and sue people who he knew were telling the truth, Armstrong described it as a 'major flaw' in the character of 'a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted, and to control every outcome,' Stanley wrote. "He called that behavior 'inexcusable.' Yet he admitted that he didn’t feel guilty or torn at the time. 'No, that was the scariest part.' Actually, the scariest part was that as he was setting the record straight, he seemed the same as when he was distorting it beyond belief."
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Writing on the Daily Download, CNN host Howard Kurtz was also dubious that Armstrong was sincere when he said he knew he had done wrong.
"He just didn’t seem contrite," Kurtz wrote. "'You brazenly and deliberately denied everything you’ve just admitted to me,' Winfrey said. No dispute. 'You called other people liars.' True. Armstrong didn’t so much engage in the interview as endure it."
In Sports Illustrated, Michael McCann said Armstrong's confession will do little to bring back the endorsement deals he lost when he became engulfed in the doping scandal.
"If Armstrong expected his interview with Winfrey might restore his marketability, he will surely be disappointed," McCann wrote. "Although the second part of Winfrey's interview may focus on more personal issues, Armstrong in tonight's show often made apologies that seemed forced and half-hearted."
On Twitter, Piers Morgan was even more condemnatory.
"What a sniveling, lying, cheating little wretch @lancearmstrong revealed himself to be tonight. I hope he now just disappears. #LiveWrong," he tweeted.
Most viewers were more generous, however, in evaluating Winfrey's interrogation methods.
ESPN writer Don Van Natta Jr. enthused on Twitter, "@Oprah is doing a remarkable job. Simple, direct questions. She has done her homework. And she's getting out of the way. "
Also impressed by Oprah's forceful questioning was the Telegraph's Holly Byrnes, who wrote "The seriousness of this admission – with the former Tour de France champion now facing prison for fraud – was no time for the usual hysterics associated with Oprah's life classes or Christmas giveaways. And for the most part, Oprah stepped up to the task, mindful she would need to bring the majority of her viewers up to speed with the complicated science and layers of deception at play here."
The positive buzz is welcome news for Winfrey, who has seen her influence diminish with OWN network's ratings woes. The former queen of daytime is hoping to reclaim the pedestal she fell off of when her talk show ended in 2011.
As for Armstrong, the sit-down did little to burnish his reputation. He has already been stripped of his Tour titles and Olympic medal, now even the cancer foundation he founded, Livestrong, gave the athlete a wide berth after the interview aired.
In a statement, the foundation said it was "disappointed" by Armstrong's admission, but thanked him for his role in raising awareness about cancer. It also made a point of stressing that he is no longer intimately involved with the organization he helped popularize.
"Lance is no longer on the Foundation’s board, but he is our founder and we will always be grateful to him for creating and helping to build a Foundation that has served millions struggling with cancer," Livestrong said in a statement. "The Livestrong Foundation is one of the most highly-rated and effective cancer organizations in the United States. Our success has never been based on one person – it’s based on the patients and survivors we serve every day, who approach a cancer diagnosis with hope, courage and perseverance."
Lance Armstrong may want a fresh start after copping to his bad behavior, but judging from the majority of reactions, most people still find him awfully dirty.