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TV & Radio

Jan 17, 2013

People will say at least Lance had the ball to come clean

Lance Armstrong worked from the crisis management playbook in his tell-all confessional with Oprah. Marketing consultant Toby Ralph lights the path to contrition and forgiveness for the fallen hero.


Let’s assume he did it. He rammed his bloodstream full of performance enhancing drugs and roared to victory in the Tour de France seven times. He trousered $100 million, survived cancer and in the process became a humble uni-testicled hero to an even larger number.

Then he was denounced as the greatest drug pedaller of our age.

It’s a very bad look, and his old strategy of suing anyone who suggests he was on something more than a bike won’t wash any more.

Let’s leave the ethics to priests and social workers. How should he play a reintroduction to the world?

The starting point is to pick his absolutionist, and none offers greater benediction than Oprah. She is the path to forgiveness; if it’s OK by Oprah, it’s OK by America.

The interview strategy he should adopt is gutsy, but simple; confession, contrition, contextualisation, continuation.

His smartest confession strategy is to experiment with truth. Everyone assumes he is guilty so any repudiation will only reinforce this. With little point to denial or a half-baked admission, he needs to comprehensively acknowledge systematic drug taking, cover-ups and present truths that will outrage. He must convince the world that the entire shameful truth has now been told, that the boil has been lanced.

There needs to be some manly weeping. He must confess his shame, his guilt, the impact on his family, his horror at letting down cancer sufferers.

He realises he’s a role model. He understands they saw him as an example of awesome athleticism, heroic fitness and in possession of an almost supernatural ability on two wheels. He knows he’s let them down: that the hero is really an anti-hero. The myth has melted. Superman was really Lex Luther. He understands the context of his disgrace.

He must articulate those things that others say of him, being tougher on himself than even they would have been. A reference to contemplation of self-harm would be useful; Oprah will empathise.

He must assuage the public hunger for humiliation, or the appetite will remain.

“Oprah should forgive him; after all they both have the same number of Tour de France victories. If she does America will grudgingly say at least he had the ball to come clean, and move on too.”

Next comes contextualisation. Yes he did it. Yes, it’s inexcusable. Yes, he’s desperately ashamed and sorry. Yes, he recognises the fact that all those other cyclists do it too is no excuse — it was still wrong of him. Yes, the sport needs to be cleaned up for it is common knowledge that 95% of professional pedal pushers positively brim with steroids.

Yes, he agrees that winning seven Tours is an extraordinary achievement with or without drugs — but that’s no excuse.

Without extricating himself from accountability, the problem at hand isn’t an “Armstrong” problem, per se. That’d be a touch narcissistic of him. It’s bigger than the man: it’s an American problem.

Americans like to cheat. Americans have a winner takes-all-ethos. It permeates the culture, its people, its institutions, its political system. Cheating, winning, decimating your opposition without regard to ethics: American as obesity and buying a gun from Walmart.

Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, kept and impregnated slaves while calling for equality for all. Jefferson gamed the system, like Lance.

Steve Jobs, lamented designstein and secular saint of the 21st century lied to his business partner Steve Wozniak, taking 93% of a fee from Atari, rather than the 50% he deserved. But if the public outpouring at Jobs’ recent demise is anything to go by, the punters will forgive mendacity if its backdrop is absolute success. Is it a stretch to think somebody with Armstrong’s mindset couldn’t have noticed this?

Armstrong thus could lead us to see himself as a symptom of the problem as opposed to the problem. Rather than look at him, Oprah’s audience should look inward. At the country. At its values, its ethos, its heroes. Anywhere but Lance. He is, thankfully, a messenger, an acute cultural critic providing a service.

Finally comes continuation. What he wants is a chance to make it better. He wants to put this behind him and be a symbol to young sportsmen and women that winning isn’t everything. He wants to make things right with his family, with America and with the world. He prays for that chance.

Then he looks bravely to Oprah — will she forgive him?

Oprah should forgive him; after all they both have the same number of Tour de France victories. If she does America will grudgingly say at least he had the ball to come clean, and move on too.

Perhaps he can become the poster boy for redemption. America loves a celebrity and all ink is good ink, just ask OJ.

Lance will be back, he just needs to endure some public needling and do well in the interview.

Maybe some performance enhancing drugs would help?

*Toby Ralph is a marketer and crisis management consultant who has worked for the Liberal Party, British American Tobacco and the live cattle export industry. The Power Index last year named him one of Australia’s most influential spinners and advisers.



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29 thoughts on “People will say at least Lance had the ball to come clean

  1. burninglog

    terrible article

  2. Michael

    Excellent article Toby. A rarity in this god forsaken site.

  3. Bill Hilliger

    Lance came clean after he was rumbled. No balls required as there was no escape from his accusers. He did deny everyone who came second the chance to come first. Best thing Lance can do now is to find god and wrap himself in the national flag; thats what scoundrels of his ilk do.

  4. paddy

    WTF!!! Sheesh Crikey! I know it’s the silly season and half the A team are still on holidays……But publishing this sort of facile rubbish will do your reputation no good at all.

    If you’re *that* short of material, give us some lolcats.
    They’d be way better than this dross.

  5. The Pav

    Poor taste pun and as to the rest of it

    Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn

  6. Mark Duffett

    “drug pedaller” “boil has been lanced” “public needling” as well “as the ball to come clean”…nicely done sir! I liked the way you spoke, I’ll never tyre of it.

  7. Nigel Vertigan

    “Let’s leave the ethics to priests and social workers”

    Terrible article, indeed! Hard to know who to find more repugnant – Lance Armstrong or Toby Ralph. Both seem to unreservedly embrace crass amorality…..

  8. FarQU

    Bullshit artists like yourself might say that Toby, at the end of the day he’s just a fraud.

  9. zut alors

    I’m with Nigel @2.06pm.

    Is it true that until the end of January Crikey is being edited by work experience staff?

  10. Run Gumby

    I’m with Nigel.
    Next time we see BAT or Libs in crisis management do we assume you are recommending they “leave the ethics to priests and social workers”.

  11. MJPC

    This articles only merit is that it shows the mindset of the spin doctors in accepting anything is fair when a well healed criminal is paying for absolution.
    Crises management consultant for BAT; that would be an interesting tasking; i.e. it’s not cigarettes that cause cancer, it’s people wanting to smoke that causes it?
    Just one further comment I will agree on; LA has sought contrition at the shrine of Oprah because she will give him the questions he can answer easily, Should be return to Australia I look forward to the savaging he should receive from ‘some’ of our media.
    Any tall poppy is fair game as I see it, he no different.

  12. iggy648

    My comment got moderated? Is “scumbag” a naughty word?

  13. Peter

    Yup, this is about as cynical an angle as somebody paid to whitewash the live export trade would provide.

  14. klewso

    Personally, I’m over this story being pedalled by the media, making it another nice little earner for themselves.
    If, with all that money and prestige (multiplied by the stress of doing better next year, to suit the cashed-up sponsors, making their own profits off their backs) he was the only one doing it, I reckon that would be a scandal, but the practice seems to have been almost institutionalised, from the results coming out each year, of those actually caught.
    Money/avarice has screwed yet another “sport” – that’s the “scandal”.

  15. paul of albury

    A new low for crikey. I hope Lance paid for this, not Crikey.

  16. Peter Walters

    “Let’s leave the ethics to priests and social workers”. That’s why we love marketers and PR consultants so much.

  17. mook schanker

    I quite liked the article and don’t really understand the angst? I don’t like spin doctors and the like at all but this article has nothing to do with this, it is reflecting the ugly PR unit working away. I could imagine the PR guy using this stuff whilst whiteboarding it with Lance…

  18. David Hand

    Yep, it’s a cynical article but it perfectly describes what will be broadcast when the interview finally goes to air. The Oprah thing is a carefully orchestrated public relations stunt.

    Expect lingering close ups of Armstrong weeping. Feel the pain of his earnest desire for the prospering of his charity. Anticipate a swipe at others – sponsors, governing bodies within cycling, the media. Have a bucket handy to throw up in.

    Or do what I plan. Don’t watch it and don’t watch the blanket coverage on tomorrow night’s evening news.

  19. Steve Fleay

    A consultant to BAT (and the Liberal Party) says it all about this bloke, no ethics, just like Lance. Not just the doping (a lot of others were doing it) it is about Lance the lying, cheating bully and media manipulator. Read David Walsh’s book “7 Deadly Sins” to get the full story.

  20. lesbursill

    So if it wasn’t Lance who completed all those rides then who was it. I just don’t get it. The guy overcame impossible illness to win time after time. I don’t remember ever seeing allowances being made for him in times or distance when he was truly sick. The whole sporting industry is a sham, swimming, football, tennis, you name it. It is controlled and run by a small group power brokers who decide who is selected and who competes.

  21. Oliver Goldsmith

    Tell it like it is Toby. Accurate and to the point article. Well said.

  22. floorer

    I read this as an Idiots Guide to PR…

  23. Nigel Vertigan

    Or perhaps an Idiot’s Guide to Idiots? And given the previous post, is it just synchronicity that the author of “The Vicar of Wakefield” and 18th century namesake of the previous commentator, Mr Goldsmith, was purportedly described by his contemporary, Horace Walpole, as an “inspired idiot”? You decide…..

  24. Buddy

    What bothers me is that Armstrong will take up so much of the media space, and I am already sick to death of hearing about him… He cheated….. Over and over and over and over and over . Worse he corrupted others to do so…. Would not give him the time of day and that’s the kindest thing we could do for everyone… Don’t give the cheats and crooks airspace… Out them then exclude them…

  25. Oliver Goldsmith

    Nigel thou art a troll. Probably best I don’t feed you but too late.

  26. Nigel Vertigan

    Troll, Mr Goldsmith? ‘Twas the apparent randomness of Floorer’s (5.59pm) use of the word “idiot” juxtaposed to your moniker that made me think of Mr Walpole’s epithet and synchronicity. I did not take your actual post to be either inspired or idiotic nor wished to be inflammatory. As it seems I have, I apologise unreservedly.

  27. David Hand

    I went to the beach this afternoon. I haven’t watched the news. Have I safely dodged the Armstrong PR machine or do I need to keep my head down a bit longer?

  28. Andybob

    I’m afraid it’s going to mean a lot more beach time for you David.

  29. klewso

    Our viewsmedia wants to form a lucrative hyperbolic lynch mob to force Armstrong against a wall and surround him, to string him up – but what do they do to this “team of huskies” running around our women’s tennis courts, yelping like they do to put their opposition off, to win the big money? Line up with a view to “kissing their arses” for a scoop, “to sell hamburgers, banks and insect spray”.
    How do they treat these footballers with their questionable methods (like taking a dive) to gain an edge over their opponents, or our cricketers “sledging for money”? Sod all.


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