Lance Armstrong has reportedly admitted to Oprah Winfrey that, yes, he doped, despite years of denials, obfuscation, lies, and evasions. Thursday, the first of two parts of her interviews airs, and already, even before we know what Armstrong has said, sports commentators are debating whether he will be able to rehabilitate his sure-to-be-tarnished image.
That's odd. Armstrong cannot be admitted to our celeb image rehab mill until he admits he has a problem. If his motivation for conceding his lies is that he is faced with jail, or banishment, or fines, then he is not voluntarily confessing anything. He is changing what he does in order to avoid more pain for himself, and not because he has come to believe that he did was wrong.
The bill of particulars is pretty bad, and the documentary evidence collected by world anti-doping authorities and the eyewitness testimony of his friends make it hard for me to believe that a single apology will change anything about his circumstances. There may well be extenuating circumstances, but the moment Armstrong lays blame on his sponsors (for tacitly knowing about it, and even funding his habit) or on the cycling world, or on anything else is the moment where you might want to just turn off the television, because you'll know that he really isn't very sorry for anything. He's just sorry that the proof of his doping became too overwhelming for his own ego to continue to deny.
Before sports fans or anyone else should consider whether Armstrong deserves a rehabilitated image, he must first make full restitution to his victims. An interview with Oprah ain't restitution. Restitution will involve years of concentrated acts of kindness and contrition. He needs to become a spokesman against cheating in sports. He needs to pay tax penalties. He needs to allow his cancer charity, which now seems to have been a fig leaf, to recover its own image. He needs to help those players he forced out of the sport re-enter it if they'd like. Then, and only then, after he's paid his dues, should we even begin to consider the question of whether Armstrong merits a second glance.