The interview that Oprah Winfrey calls “the biggest” of her career – with Lance Armstrong – hasn’t even aired yet, but the reaction to Armstrong’s apparent admission to doping is already in. However, it may not be what he was hoping for.
Over seven Tour de France wins, Armstrong was repeatedly accused of using performance-enhancing drugs; he denied all. After the US Anti-Doping Agency amassed an incredible amount of evidence against him, much of it from Armstrong’s former teammates, Armstrong relinquished his medals and watched sponsorships and contributions to his LIVESTRONG cancer charity burn. But he never admitted anything.
With his career and foundation in freefall, there seemed to be two courses to take: lay low and wait for the storm to pass, or have a “come to Jesus” moment with the only person who can influence public forgiveness: Oprah Winfrey. That moment came this week on Oprah’s OWN network. (At last, a ratings boost!
However, even Oprah may not be able to save Armstrong. The New York Post‘s front page, above, summed up public reaction at being duped and their sympathies played upon. Morning show pundits brought up a damning point: Armstrong began doping before he contracted testicular cancer, the disease that served as the launching pad for LIVESTRONG. Oprah apparently did not ask Armstrong if he thought the drugs led to the cancer, but if that theory is even hinted at, LIVESTRONG won’t survive the month.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong. He may come to regret coming clean.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Better to admit to something or everything? Were Armstrong on his own, sure, tell all. But there is the foundation to consider, and should Armstrong not seem repentant enough, the public will turn on him and anything he touches. An admission also lays Armstrong open to lawsuits that will mean repayment of millions of dollars, as well as a suit by the US government for lying. The inevitable tell-all memoir offer may be waiting, but is there anything more the public will want to hear? Confession may be good for the soul, but in this case, it may harm everything Armstrong holds dear.