Will "I’m Sorry" Have ...


The word is out that Lance Armstrong will come clean (no pun intended) in an interview with Oprah to air on Thursday.

I can imagine the discussion among Team Armstrong debating who would be the “best” interviewer:

“Let’s see, 60 Minutes would make a great forum to reach the masses. What about Morley Safer? No, he’s got a prickly style. Let’s go with Lesley Stahl. No way. Did you see the way she carved up Arnold Schwartzenegger? Piers Morgan at CNN? There’s talk he’s not going to survive the week. Hey, how about Oprah? Her idea of a tough question is to ask Doctor Phil why he doesn’t cut carbs from his diet. While the Oprah Network doesn’t exactly reach the masses, we can count on the rest of the media to give the story legs. Done.

Such are the makings of a crisis communications war room.

According to The New York Times, Lance “will give a limited confession.”


Does this mean Lance will say “I’m kind of sorry?”

Or perhaps Lance will share he’s feels badly that so many people have been hurt by his poor judgment.

Here’s the thing Lance is about to find out.

The American public will forgive anything short of murder if, and this is a big “if,” the person comes across as genuinely sorry and contrite.

This is not the time for language gamesmanship.

But the same mentality that shaped Lance into a world-class athlete makes it tough for him to utter two simple words, “I’m sorry.”

Without conditions.

For this interview to truly serve as the first step in rehabilitating the Lance Armstrong brand, he needs to say these two words and mean it.

While “hard-hitting interview” and “Oprah” will never be found in the same sentence, we can expect even Oprah to ask Lance why he did it.

How Lance handles this question will also go a long way toward rehabbing or sabotaging his reputation. No doubt, he will want to blame others; i.e., it was frustrating to watch other riders cheat, knowing no matter how hard I worked it wouldn’t be enough.

Don’t go there.

This is an opportunity to show the new Lance, explaining that ego drove the desire to be the best regardless of the costs.

One last point —

Don’t overplay the cancer card. Yes, you’re a cancer survivor and yes, your Livestrong foundation has helped countless others battle cancer. It’s an easy way to elicit sympathy.

But this is the time to show your failings, not what a great guy you are.

I’m looking forward to hearing what Lance has to say.

Note: I encourage you to check out the post “The Lance Armstrong PR Crisis” by colleague Gini Dietrich published in October.


  • Anneliz Hannan

    In total agreement that Cancer diagnosis has no place in the ‘apology’ by Lance Armstrong. If he did it would only render those that struggle and suffer with Cancer as scapegoats for unrelated behavior. No one deserves or owns his behavior but Mr. Armstrong.

    Let’s hope he has an appropriate PR crisis team with common humane sense and sensibilities.

  • hoffman

    You were much more articulate in making this point.


    Whoever is advising Armstrong will no doubt discuss this issue.

    Whether Armstrong listens or not is tough to say.

  • Dan McCarthy

    “limited apology” feels like code for “My attorneys have carefully vetted my statements to ensure that I do not admit to any felonious actions.”

    Prudent, but undercuts the authenticity that would convey a true remorse. Forget brand and image: his history demonstrates a man who uses others without compunction. Any personal redemption will have to be delivered by the people he relates to every day.

  • Gini Dietrich (@ginidietrich)

    Rumor has it (the AP ran a story this morning) he does say I’m sorry…without “buts” or “ands.” I’m watching this with fascination: Both because I’m a cyclist and because I’m a communications professional. Lots of people are boycotting the interview, but I can’t wait to see how he manages it!

  • hoffman

    I hear you Dan and agree. It comes down to TRUE remorse. Regardless of how he comes across in the interview, it’s his behavior over a period of time that will determine whether he’s a changed (and remorseful) man.

  • hoffman


    I read your October post on Armstrong which proved to be prophetic.

    Like you, I’m keen to watch the interview as a communications professional. I’m sure his consultants have been given him sound advice.

    Of course, the devil is always in the execution … under the hot lights.

  • Vicki Day

    As a Tour De France fanatic and having seen it several times and also being a cancer survivor my thoughts are he can’t use the cancer as the doping caused the cancer – I loved the questions the author David Walsh put to Oprah in an advert http://i.imgur.com/a3gji.jpg
    I know Oprah’s team have spoken to David but I think he has to be honest and humble and no PR spin can get away from the aggressive bullying he did to those who questioned him when he was cheating

  • hoffman

    Thanks for sharing the Walsh letter. Obviously Oprah isn’t going to apply the same scrutiny as Mr. Walsh, but it will be interesting to see if she goes down the bullying path with her line of questioning.

    Tough to rationalize bullying the wife of teammate.


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