Bloomberg News

Armstrong on Oprah May Blaze Redemption Trail for Clemens, Bonds

January 10, 2013

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, snubbed from the baseball Hall of Fame yesterday because of their links to steroids, might find their own path to redemption by watching Lance Armstrong on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Armstrong, the record seven-time Tour de France winner who had his titles stripped in August for doping, will address his sanctions for the first time next week in an interview with Winfrey. The New York Times reported that he was considering a confession after he stridently denied cheating over the course of his career.

The three athletes, who dominated their sports through most of their careers, are facing a potentially unchangeable public perception as cheaters. Their best course of action would be a confession -- not an apology -- and even that wouldn’t be a cure-all, said Jane Jordan-Meier, founder and chief executive officer of the Media Skills Academy in Fairfield, California.

“Apologies have become an art form and most of us don’t believe them anymore,” Jordan-Meier said in a phone interview. “A confession, which is something that’s highly elevated, more spiritual, must absolutely come from the heart. It must be believable, it must be visceral in its very being, because that’s how we react to people in a crisis.”

Armstrong lost his cycling titles for what the U.S. Anti- Doping Agency later said was a “career fueled start to finish by doping,” and all three have long denied knowingly cheating their sport’s drug rules. They each have unique legal issues to face with confessions, since all testified under oath that they never knowingly used banned drugs.

Forced Doping

USADA said Armstrong, now 41, forced teammates to dope or be fired from his team, and himself transfused blood and used testosterone and erythropoietin, or EPO.

“Lance will not be off the hook, assuming he does this,” Richard Pound, the former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency who has had more than 10 years of verbal confrontations with Armstrong over doping, said in an e-mail. “He will still have a long way to go and many legal hurdles to overcome before there can be any hope for redemption, and he will have to be genuinely contrite, which may be a bit of a reach for someone like him.”

Clemens, 50, and Bonds have 14 more years of eligibility to win over Hall of Fame voters. Clemens, whose seven Cy Young Awards as the best pitcher in his league is a record, received 37.6 percent of votes, with 75 percent needed for induction to the Cooperstown, New York, Hall.

Not Surprised

“After what has been written and said over the last few years, I’m not overly surprised,” Clemens said in a statement as reported by the MLB Network.

Bonds, 48, the National League’s Most Valuable Player a record seven times, hasn’t commented since drawing 36.2 percent in voting.

“If they get in the Hall, whatever minimal credibility still exists for baseball will be down the toilet,” Pound said yesterday, before the release of the vote totals.

The discussion of possible confessions made Jordan-Meier recall disgraced U.S. track star Marion Jones, who denied steroid use for more than three years before pleading guilty in 2007 to cheating before the 2000 Olympic Games.

“What she did is restore some dignity to not only herself, but the sport, and possibly to her fans,” Jordan-Meier said. “If you think about Lance Armstrong, where is the dignity? There is dignity in a confession that is done with feeling.”

Confession is not an assured path to the baseball Hall for performance-enhancing drug users. Mark McGwire, whose 583 homers rank 10th in history, received 23.5 percent of votes in 2007 after refusing to address doping accusations. He confessed in 2010 and has received fewer votes each year since, yesterday getting 16.9 percent.

Cancer Survivor

Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer before conquering the sport of cycling, created Livestrong, the largest athlete- founded charity, which has raised more than $470 million since 1997, according to its website. Following USADA’s report he severed ties with the foundation after years as perhaps the most well-known public figure in the fight against cancer.

“It’s not only for himself he needs to do it, but for all the other fellow cancer sufferers who’ve looked up to him as a hope, a saint almost,” Jordan-Meier said.

For Armstrong, the interview with Winfrey may at least be a first step in the right direction, and a path for Bonds and Clemens to consider.

“It’s never too late,” Jordan-Meier said. “People confess on their death beds and it gives them peace of mind, because there’s some dignity restored. It would bring back some integrity to the sport, to the fans, to themselves.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net


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