AUSTIN, Texas – Lance Armstrong said he will answer questions “directly, honestly and candidly” during an interview with Oprah Winfrey next week. He will also apologize and make a limited confession to using performance-enhancing drugs, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
Armstrong has spent more than a decade denying that he doped to win the Tour de France seven times. Without saying whether he would confess or apologize during the taping, Armstrong told the Associated Press in a text message early Saturday, “I told her (Winfrey) to go wherever she wants, and I’ll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That’s all I can say.”
A confession would be a stunning reversal for Armstrong after years of public statements, interviews and court battles from Austin to Europe in which he denied doping and zealously protected his reputation.
Armstrong was stripped of his titles and banned from the sport for life last year after the U.S. Anti-Doping agency issued a detailed report accusing him of leading a sophisticated and brazen drug program on his U.S. Postal Service teams that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of performance-enhancing drugs.
Armstrong’s interview with Winfrey is not expected to go into great detail about specific allegations levied in the more than 1,000-page USADA report. But Armstrong will make a general confession and apologize, according to the person, who requested anonymity because there was no authorization to speak publicly. Several outlets had also reported that Armstrong was considering a confession.
Armstrong hasn’t responded to the USADA report or being stripped of his Tour de France titles. But shortly afterward, he tweeted a picture of himself on a couch at home with all seven of the yellow leader’s jerseys on display in a room at his home in Austin. He also agreed to be interviewed there, in what the Oprah Winfrey Network announced would be a “no-holds barred” session. That’s scheduled to be taped Monday and broadcast Thursday night.
“His reputation is in crisis,” said crisis management expert Mike Paul, president of New York-based, MGP & Associates PR. “Most people don’t trust what comes out of his mouth. He has to be truly repentant and humble.”
He also has to be careful.
Armstrong is facing legal challenges on several fronts, including a federal whistle-blower lawsuit brought by former teammate Floyd Landis, who himself was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title, accusing him of defrauding the U.S. Postal Service. The U.S. Justice Department has yet to announce whether it will join the case.
The London-based Sunday Times is also suing Armstrong to recover about $500,000 it paid him to settle a libel lawsuit, and Dallas-based SCA Promotions has threatened to bring yet another lawsuit against Armstrong to recover more than $7.5 million an arbitration panel awarded him as a bonus for winning the Tour de France.
The only lawsuit potentially impacted by a confession might be the Sunday Times case. Potential perjury charges stemming from his sworn testimony in the 2005 arbitration fight would not apply because of the statute of limitations. Armstrong was not deposed during a federal investigation that was closed last year without charges being brought.
However, he lost most of his personal endorsements – worth tens of millions of dollars – after USADA issued its report and he left the board of the Livestrong cancer-fighting charity he founded in 1997. He is still said to be worth an estimated $100 million.
Livestrong might be one reason to issue an apology or make a confession. The charity supports cancer patients and still faces an image problem because of its association with Armstrong.
He may also be hoping a confession would allow him to return to competition in the elite triathlon or running events he participated in after his cycling career. But World Anti-Doping Code rules state his lifetime ban cannot be reduced to less than eight years. WADA and U.S. Anti-Doping officials could agree to reduce the ban further depending on what new information Armstrong provides and his level of cooperation. USADA chief Travis Tygart did not return a call Saturday from the AP.
Armstrong met with USADA officials recently to explore a “pathway to redemption,” according to a report by “60 Minutes Sports” aired Wednesday on Showtime.