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Lance Armstrong Interview Details: Denies Forcing Teammates To Dope, Confronts Bullying Charges

Washington Post, January 16, 2013

Lance Armstrong will offer more than the sporting world’s most long-awaited confession — that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career — in his two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey on Thursday and Friday.

He’s expected to counter the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s portrayal of him as the mastermind of what it called the most sophisticated, professional doping program in the history of sports by saying that doping was endemic to cycling during the era in which he won his record seven Tour de France titles.

He also is expected to deny that he forced his teammates to dope along with him, pointing out that some U.S. Postal Service riders used performance-enhancing drugs before they joined the team.

And according to a personal familiar with the conversation, he’ll confront USADA’s portrayal of him as a vindictive thug, a characterization underscored by video clips Winfrey shows him of hostile statements he made about those who questioned his claim of competing clean.

It’s unclear how the two-and-a-half hour conversation, which was taped in an Austin hotel Monday, will be broken into two segments. It’s also unclear what will compel viewers to return for Friday’s installment (9 p.m. ET) after they’ve had a chance to judge for themselves Armstrong’s level of sincerity and contrition Thursday night.

Armstrong started the process of atonement last weekend, calling former teammates and key figures in cycling to apologize. Before Monday’s taping, he visited the headquarters of Livestrong to address roughly 100 there.

Meantime, his lawyers continue working behind the scenes to mitigate Armstrong’s legal exposure and chart a path for a possible return to competition, which would require the World Anti-Doping Agency to lift its lifetime ban.

To succeed in either endeavor will require Armstrong to do far more than confess his doping and express regret on television. He’ll have to repay a portion of the roughly $35 million in federal funds that bankrolled the U.S. Postal Service cycling team, for starters, and provide both federal and anti-doping officials with detailed information about how he and his peers got their performance-enhancing drugs and skirted detection for years.

Depending how he comes across on television, Armstrong may find a measure of forgiveness among the American public. But according to sports-marketing experts, he’ll find it virtually impossible to reclaim any role as a corporate pitchman for years to come — if ever.

“The marketplace is inundated with marketable athletes,” says David Schwab, managing director of Octagon First Call, which helps corporations, agencies and non-profits assess the value of celebrities in marketing campaigns. “Presently it would be reckless to recommend him to a brand, with all the other possible options and the inherent risk and possible backlash of working with him,”

Armstrong is hardly the first sporting superstar to suffer a cataclysmic fall from grace.

But there is a vast difference between his transgressions and those of Tiger Woods, for example, whose serial philandering cost him lucrative sponsorships and resulted in a self-imposed exile from golf, during which he underwent therapy. But Woods has since returned to competition, the cheers of the gallery and has a new Nike ad in which he’s paired with Rory McIlroy.

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