Plenty has been written about why lying is a bad strategy. Now Lance Armstrong is demonstrating that the process of un-lying is fraught with challenges, too.
Armstrong's admission to doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey this week confirmed what all but the blind loyalists already knew after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) dossier was published last year. Even though Armstrong appeared to answer questions straightforwardly, many observers felt he held back information.
In the leaks before the Winfrey interview, the Armstrong camp tested the idea of trading a public confession for a chance to resume his professional career as a triathlete. USADA officials didn't seem wowed by the scripted and heavily hyped interview and said his status won't change until he shows up in a courtroom for interrogation.
Unraveling a career of lies is tricky business, as Armstrong is learning. He can regret being a bad-ass, but he cannot easily shirk the reputation. His Winfrey interview, if anything, confirmed it.
Armstrong showed no trace of regret when he asked if he thought his doping was cheating. He dismissively admitted he had been a bully. He referred to his doping "cocktail" almost as if he was discussing being a responsible drinker at social events.
Armstrong says he is done lying to people, but social media comments indicated that people still don't feel he has come completely clean. He certainly hasn't laid bare his secrets on how he evaded getting caught using steroids, testosterone supplements and blood transfusions. One quip on Twitter said, "Lance Armstrong says he's now out of the business of lying to people, but will continue pursuing it as a hobby."
The plain truth is there isn't a well-worn path of how to un-lie, especially if you have perfected the art of coercion and legal action to sustain your lies. You can't just say I did it and be forgiven.
Personally, I happen to admire Armstrong as an athlete, a training mentor and an inspiring cancer survivor. I can separate his failings from his achievements, even if some of them are tarnished.
What is missing now, however, is that complete candor that leads to redemption. Well-placed leaks and televised confessions aren't the same as a full-throated "I'm sorry." Direct answers to direct questions don't unravel the maze of deception that made Armstrong a hero to millions, including me.
Redemption only comes when you really own your mistake, regardless how horrific, and you take concrete action to make amends, such as fully disclosing his doping prowess and accepting the legal and economic consequences.
Armstrong can be forgiven and earn newfound respect only by doing as good of a job un-lying as he did lying. As one USADA official said, Armstrong's confession is a small step in the right direction.