Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o, and the power of the story

YOU’VE GOT to hand it to Oprah. She has established herself as America’s confessor, which, in a way, makes life easy for her interviewees. Oprah’s not going to absolve you or coddle you. She’s going to raise her eyebrows with majestic skepticism and speak grandly, for the nation. And so the person in her crosshairs — this week, Lance Armstrong — is freed to play his own expected part: the relieved confessee.

That’s how Armstrong tried to present himself for the last two nights, criticizing himself while displaying scant emotion, declaring — unconvincingly — that he’s happier now, with the truth laid bare, than he was when he was winning all those races.

The substance of his confession isn’t really news: He doped for years, lied about it, and vilified anyone who told the truth. That’s why the most instructive thing he said came Thursday night, when he offered a damning explanation of why he did it: not because he wanted to win, not because everyone else was doing it, but because he was too weak to put an end to the story he’d helped create. His was the “perfect” tale, he said, the athlete who beat cancer and went on to win the Tour de France seven times.

“Behind that picture, and behind that story, was momentum,” Armstrong said. “And I lost myself in all that.”

It was a clever statement, because it implicated the rest of us, too.
(Read the rest of the column from the Boston Globe here.)
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