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My Dance With Lance

March 11, 2013
March 11, 2013

Table of Contents
March 11, 2013

GOLF PLUS
LEADING OFF
THE MAIL
MIAMI BASKETBALL
  • THE HURRICANES HAD NEVER BEATEN A NO. 1 PROGRAM, NEVER BEEN IN CONTENTION FOR A TOP TOURNAMENT SEED AND NEVER WON AN ACC CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THIS SEASON. SO WHY DOES ALL THIS SUCCESS FEEL SO FAMILIAR?

THE POWER ISSUE
  • OVERREACHING OVERLORDS BUILDING (AND BUYING) EMPIRES ON THE BACKS OF THE YOUNG AND THE STRONG. SHIFTING ALLEGIANCES AND SHIFTY DEALS. AND DRAGONS! (WELL, NO.) THE STRUGGLE FOR INFLUENCE ATOP THE GAMES WE LOVE CAN SEEM LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF A FANTASY EPIC

  • By Text by Albert Chen

    SI RANKED (THEN SHUFFLED, STARTED OVER AND RERANKED) THE 50 MOST POWERFUL PEOPLE IN SPORTS. DON'T LIKE OUR LIST? TRY US AGAIN IN A YEAR WHEN, INEVITABLY, TODAY'S LEADERS WILL BE UNDERPERFORMING OR UNDER ASSAULT. FOR NOW, YOUR LEADER ...

  • OVER HIS TWO DECADES AT THE HELM OF THE NHL, GARY BETTMAN HAS INCURRED THE FROSTY WRATH OF FANS—AND A NATION. BUT IS HE REALLY AS TERRIBLE AS EVERYONE SAYS?

  • WHEN TAKING STOCK OF THE CURRENT NHL COMMISSIONER, CONSIDERATION MUST BE GIVEN TO THE LEAGUE'S ROGUES' GALLERY OF FORMER LEADERS

  • ATTENDEES AT THE ARNOLD SPORTS FESTIVAL MAY NOT BE ABLE TO BANISH A 300-POUND OFFENSIVE TACKLE, BUT PLENTY OF THEM COULD BENCH-PRESS ONE. AT THE CITADEL OF STRENGTH, ACOLYTES WORSHIP—AND VENDORS PEDDLE—POWER IN ITS PUREST FORM

Departments

My Dance With Lance

A Twitter exchange led the author to an unexpected sit-down with the disgraced cyclist

Early last month, I noticed a new follower on my Twitter account, @McCannSportsLaw. I did a double take when I saw the handle—@LanceArmstrong—but figured that either it was a fake account, or that the account of a certain international star/global persona non grata had been hacked. It turned out that neither was the case. Lance Armstrong and I began a direct-message Twitter correspondence.

This is an article from the March 11, 2013 issue

This struck me as odd, even a bit surreal. I do not cover cycling and I am far from the leading authority on Armstrong's career, or its crumbling, but I have written extensively about his legal issues and criticized him for his evasiveness and dishonesty. Still, Armstrong conveyed that he respected my writing and fairness, and he was interested in my thoughts on, as he termed it, "the lawsuit minefield" he faces.

As a legal journalist, lawyer and law professor, I was deeply curious about how Armstrong intends to defend lawsuits that could cost him more than $100 million in damages. I also wanted to know how he envisions his future and his legacy. Unsure exactly what he wanted, I suggested we meet. To my surprise, he invited me to his home in Austin, and I flew there on Feb. 27.

It occurred to me that if Oprah Winfrey had, to great hoopla, landed the first post-fall Armstrong interview, this impromptu visit would constitute the second. It also occurred to me—and to others—that the whole thing could be an elaborate hoax, a reverse Catfish, so to speak. For all of our online exchanges, I hadn't actually spoken with Armstrong. From the voice that came through in his texts, however, I was pretty sure who it was. His messages exhibited a determination and edginess consistent with what I'd seen from Armstrong.

Finally there was this: Armstrong's reputation for using people. If I wasn't being Catfished, was I still being baited? Did he want my legal advice? Did he want me to spin his story? Or did he want—as my wife nervously suggested, citing some of the swipes I had taken at him—to get me down to his turf to mete out some Texas-size justice?

When I arrived at Armstrong's, I was met by solid iron gates separating his 7,800-square-foot villa from the rest of the world. Armstrong's housekeeper explained that he was showering after a morning run. I waited for a while on a comfortable couch, then Armstrong, dressed in shorts and a warmup jacket, walked in. He may be facing financial ruin. He may be the most disliked athlete in America, according to a recent Nielsen/E-Poll. But you wouldn't know it from his appearance. He looked fit and seemed relaxed and confident.

We spoke for three hours, casually and sometimes contentiously, off and on the record. (Sort of: He told me that he was O.K. with being paraphrased but didn't want to be quoted, but there were no limits on what I could ask.) In his interview with Winfrey he had appeared distant and had described both his lying and the consequences of his lying more mechanically than compassionately. On this day, Armstrong displayed a range of emotions, from conviction to sorrow.

Speaking of Oprah, Armstrong said that he almost gave the interview to Tom Brokaw instead, and that he had also weighed the possibility of producing a four- to five-minute video that would have been available on his official website, as well as on YouTube, Facebook and other sites. In the video, he told me, he would have looked into a camera, explained his actions and apologized for them. Ultimately he concluded that a conversation would be a more natural vehicle than a scripted speech, and the choice was between Winfrey and Brokaw. While Armstrong heaped praise on Brokaw, he said he did not regret choosing Winfrey. He also would not endorse the general perception of his performance on her show: that he delivered too little detail to benefit the sports community, yet the detail he did furnish repulsed the public.

Armstrong expressed contrition for suing people who had spoken honestly about him, and he resisted any suggestion that the blame lay with his lawyers or advisers. He did make the assertion that the companies with which he entered into lucrative endorsement contracts expected him to fight back against allegations. If he didn't, Armstrong suggested, they may have dropped him. Still, whether he was acting tactically or vindictively hardly matters when it comes to suing people he knew to be telling the truth.

On other topics, his answers were also enigmatic. Asked by Winfrey whether Betsy Andreu (future wife of Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu) was correct in her repeated assertions that he confided to a doctor at the Indiana University Medical Center in 1996 that he had used steroids and other prohibited substances, Armstrong declined to answer. When I followed up, he insisted he has no idea if he made such a statement 17 years ago, saying that if this conversation took place, it occurred while he was recovering from brain surgery. Nonetheless, for years he felt sufficiently confident in his memory to unequivocally deny Andreu's assertions.

Likewise, when I pressed him on his reported $125,000 donation to the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycling's governing body, Armstrong conceded that it could look suspicious. His facile explanation: He was rolling in money and, though doping himself, believed the money would help make the sport safer for young cyclists.

Later, back outside those iron gates, I tried to imagine where Armstrong—for all his life the most directed of athletes—was heading. I had visited him hoping for answers and had gotten a great many, including some I still need to verify. Still, I was leaving with questions yet to ask.

DIRECT MESSAGE WITH LANCE ARMSTRONG

I've got some things to say. Can you come to Austin?

Who me? I'll ck my calendar

SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE

Ridgeway High in Memphis was eliminated from the state playoffs after a senior forward was found to be a 22-year-old man who'd had a woman pose as his mother and submit a fake transcript to the school.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONERICK W. RASCO (PHONE); TWITTER.COM (ARMSTRONG, MCCANN)PHOTOJICEPIX/FOTOLIA.COM (BASKETBALL)