Even Oprah can’t ease this pain
TWO of the cardinal rules of crisis communication and reputation management are to tell the truth early and, often, to minimize the damage a scandal or disaster could inflict on a person or organization.
Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong failed to consider and execute these rules as he attempted to conceal, manage and now repair his tainted reputation.
He didn’t do what Kobe Bryant did when we had his alleged transgressions with another woman. Bryant immediately took the bull by its horns and admitted his sins quickly. How many NBA fans still remember the issue, really? Does it ever come up when talk about Bryant unfurls?
Tiger Woods took a little longer in admitting his shortcomings with his supposed flings with other women but he did not allow the issue to linger. He did take a while before sorting things out but he managed to come out just in time. Woods is still criticized for being too one-sided in his apology because no questions were asked during his press conference of admission.
But there’s no doubt that Woods managed to shape his message on his terms. Forgive the pun, but Tiger is not yet out of the woods because his golf game has never really been the same since that time and probably never will be that brilliant again.
Armstrong used the phrase “process” in his two-part apology session with Oprah Winfrey. After years of denying, ducking and deflecting charges of his use of performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs, as he carved out his legend, Armstrong now tries to mend the fences he tore by admitting their use during his supposedly storied career.
The stress and pressure of competition were his compelling reasons for using the banned substances. But fans seemed to have rejected these alibis and cannot believe that Armstrong is now a tainted hero. One can only imagine the pain of our local riders, both professional and amateur, who probably began mounting bikes because of Armstrong’s exploits.
Seven consecutive Tour de France wins and a comeback from cancer are the stuff legends are made of and Armstrong rode on those narratives while concealing the truth.
The Armstrong admissions to Oprah failed to bring out clearly how Armstrong and his cycling teams were able to conceal the wrongdoing and go on to send Armstrong to the winner’s platform seven times.
As we learned from cycling broadcast legend Phil Liggett when we did the summer bike tours here in 1997 and 1998, multistage competitions employ strategy and the suppression of egos so that one leader can emerge champion.
In so doing, the team benefits from the individual triumph, especially from a financial standpoint. Liggett, of course, has been the voice of cycling and the Tour de France coverage for many years now.
Perhaps a sportscaster like Bob Costas or Bryant Gumbel could have asked stronger stuff but it appears that Armstrong’s advisers were going more for the sympathetic outcome with the Oprah approach. The best that came out of it are perhaps the first signs of true admission from the once-reluctant and evasive Armstrong and some early answers to many more sensitive questions.
Are we running out of heroes as more sports icons and even political figures reveal more streaks of bad behavior in their careers and personal lives? It will take some time before we, sports fans, come to terms with this latest fall from grace.
We were taken for an awful ride for a very long time. This late attempt to manage Armstrong’s reputation will take more than a process for us. Even Oprah can’t ease the pain of this betrayal.
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