By all accounts, cycling champion Lance Armstrong will tell Oprah Winfrey he's a cheater when his taped television interview airs Thursday night. By now, few will be shocked by that revelation.
We've dealt with famous cheaters before -- in sports, in the political world, in corporate boardrooms, in life. And, in many instances, we have forgiven and moved on. But Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the sport's governing body following last year's release of a damning 1,000-page report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, is a special case. Most other cheaters manage to keep the blast radius of their indiscretions confined to a few close colleagues and family members. Armstrong damaged careers and reputations, perhaps even destroyed some, in his quest to keep his use of performance-enhancing drugs from becoming public.
One was Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former teammate. She and her husband, Frank, testified under oath that they once heard Armstrong tell a doctor that he used EPO, HGH and steroids. A presumed Armstrong associate subsequently left her a phone message, Betsy testified, saying: "I hope somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head."
Another was Greg LeMond, a three-time Tour de France champion, who once suggested that Armstrong's comeback from testicular cancer to a series of Tour titles was either a miracle or "the greatest fraud" even perpetrated on the public. Armstrong used his influence to get LeMond's brand of bicycles dropped from the Trek corporate family, literally costing LeMond millions of dollars.
Many other stories are out there, but this is the gist: Armstrong's take-no-prisoners approach to protecting his all-encompassing lie disgraced, intimidated and harmed other people.
Now we will hear from a presumably chastened Armstrong -- chastened not by overpowering guilt but by overpowering evidence. Armstrong is probably preparing to launch the Lance Redemption Tour, a PR blitz designed to restore his name sufficiently enough for him to resume competition or, more likely considering his age, be able to trade again on his ill-gotten fame.
Corporations that might consider investing in Armstrong's comeback should reflect on the statement that Baseball Hall of Fame voters made last week: They refused to induct a collection of newly eligible former stars whose achievements were tainted by steroid use or strong, persistent rumors of steroid use. Giving players like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire a pass would essentially tell the world that the steroids may in fact have been worth it.
That's what Lance Armstrong will have conveyed if he ends up on the equivalent of a Wheaties box sometime down the road.
Armstrong is not the only guilty party here. Some have suggested that cycling's governing body was complicit in Armstrong's long-running scam. If so, we should be encouraged by the fact that, if that's the case, the International Olympic Committee may well dump cycling from the Games.
Cynics will say there's no way to end this kind of cheating in sports. We say they're right if the Lance Armstrong charade finds a new audience. The baseball writers who vote on Hall of Fame inductions have no interest in furthering this insult to fair play, and the IOC shouldn't either. What about the rest of us?