Across 90 minutes with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong did more than admit he cheated to win his seven Tour de France titles. He revealed a measure of the man that he is and this much is certain: If you never met this jerk, well, count your blessings.
Defiant, distant, difficult.
Arrogant, unaware, flippant.
Oh, Lance had a plan to try to look open and honest, and that was what was so obvious: It was a plan. It sounded rehearsed. But when he went off script, well, that's when he went off the rails.
He apologized, and that's worth something, worth a lot to those of us who aren't outraged anymore over doping in sports. But in doing so, in tuning into the Oprah Winfrey Network, you could only marvel at that personality on display, the same one that while we celebrated his victories was, behind the scenes, leaving a path of personal destruction in its wake.
This was a glimmer of the true Lance Armstrong coming out. No Nike commercial edits. No press conference sound bites. No glowing magazine profiles. This was the guy who left scores and scores of people cursing that their paths ever crossed.
It's not about the bike, indeed. This was about Lance's sociopathic spectacle.
At one point during the interview, he couldn't recall how many people he'd sued. Really. He not only didn't know the number, he couldn't even be sure when asked about specific individuals that his mighty, powerful legal team relentlessly tried to bury.
It's worth noting that many of the people he's sued through the years in an effort to protect his lies and glory were one-time close friends, roommates, teammates, business partners and associates.
Is there another person in America who has sued so many people he once liked – for telling the truth, mind you – that he can't remember all of them? Anyone?
What you and your bank account and those sleepless nights you can't forget -- he can't remember.
Good Lord, what a guy.
At one point Armstrong addressed Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former teammate Frankie Andreu, who testified that while lying in a hospital bed in 1996 Armstrong told his doctor that he had doped.
Over the years Lance and his henchman bullied and bruised Betsy relentlessly. They called her names. They tried to wipe her out. They, according to Betsy, blackballed her husband's career. She kept standing up and speaking out. There was even a voicemail from an Armstrong associate who said she hoped "somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head."
Lance knows he was terrible to Betsy so he said he called her the other day to begin making amends. You know for, among other things, calling her "crazy." He decided to tell Oprah about it, including what is apparently his idea of a sense of humor.
"I did call her crazy," he said. "I did. I did … I think she'd be OK with me saying this, I said, 'Listen, I called you crazy; I called you a bitch; I called you all of these things, but I never called you fat.' "
Then he smirked.
Now that's a novel way to gain forgiveness: make a fat joke about a woman on national television.
Needless to say, Betsy wasn't OK with him saying it.
"I guess we know why I was [a bitch] all these years, putting up with that," Betsy said on CNN on Thursday night after watching the clip. "How was I supposed to act? Sweet as apple pie? … That exchange right there, it has me furious."
Take a number Betsy.
Across the spectrum there is fury and regret. Mike Anderson, a former personal assistant who claims Lance tried to ruin him, avoided watching the interview. Then he inadvertently was exposed to a replayed segment while waiting to comment on CNN.
"I didn't want to hear his voice ever again," Anderson said.
Fellow riders say they wish they'd never hooked on with him. Support staff claim they wish they'd never taken a job. Sponsors are lining up to sue. Journalists who carried his water for years are writing they wish they'd never bought the lie.
The more Armstrong talked Thursday, the more it became obvious: This seems like the last and least likable individual you'd want to hang around.
He was, and likely remains, nothing but a machine of personal glorification, no concept of his real place in the world. Now that the truth is out, it's not about the cheating so much as it's about the way he fought dirty to protect the cheating.
"I was a bully," he acknowledged. "In the sense that I tried to control the narrative, and if I didn't like what somebody said, I tried to control that and say that's a lie."
Except he didn't stop at saying "that's a lie." He'd start there, then go on the attack, often trying to ruin his accusers professionally and, perhaps, personally, maybe legally and certainly financially.
Consider Emma O'Reilly, an Irish massage therapist who began working for his team while in her 20s. She later told the truth about Lance and drugs. For that she's testified Team Armstrong responded by calling her a whore and a drunk. But Armstrong didn't stop there. No, he tried to sue into oblivion this woman of limited financial means.
What did Armstrong say of Emma? He couldn't remember if he even attempted legal action against her.
"To be honest Oprah," he chuckled lightly, "we sued so many people, I'm sure we did."
"She's one of those people I have to apologize to," Armstrong said.
"She got run over, got bullied," he continued. He was in the wrong tense then. She got run over, got bullied. Not, "I ran her over. I bullied her." Because make no mistake, it was him. It was only him.
On and on it went.
"Look at this arrogant prick," he said as he watched video of his 2005 testimony when he denied he'd ever used performance-enhancing drugs, and, well, on that he was telling the truth.
Armstrong admitted that it was "too late" to come clean and for that he may be correct. Some won't ever forgive or forget. Those who know the ins and outs of the case in detail were quickly picking apart his comments with ease, suggesting he was still lying, or forgetting, or conveniently misremembering all sorts of details.
Oprah did a fine job drilling down on pertinent issues. For most of us, though, the specifics barely mattered. It wasn't about whether he cheated or not; it was that awful, unavoidable personality.
And there's still another hour to go with Oprah (Friday, 9 p.m. ET).
After the first session the only question left unanswered is how he ever found so many friends to stab in the back in the first place.
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