First of all let me state that I don’t believe that Lance Armstrong would admit to doping just to stoke his competitive fires. There is too much at stake.
Many men would take the death-sentence without a whimper, to escape the life-sentence which fate carries in her other hand.But let's for a moment accept that aspect of The New York Times’s latest foray into the Lance Armstrong saga at face value.
The New York Times reported, through unnamed sources, that the now disgraced seven-time Tour de France "winner" is looking for a way out of the purgatory he set for himself.
According to the report, Armstrong allegedly “told associates and anti-doping officials that he is considering publicly admitting that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions during his cycling career”.
“He would do this, the people said, because he wants to persuade anti-doping officials to restore his eligibility so he can resume his athletic career,” it added.
If we know anything about Armstrong it is that he is a supremely competitive beast, so it’s no surprise to see a life ban from all sport noted as a motivating factor for a confession.
The self described “fittest 40-year-old on the planet” (now 41) has been unceremoniously grounded by anti-doping authorities, unable to compete in any serious sanctioned sporting event worldwide, and no doubt it’s hurting.
If the report is true, it says something of Armstrong’s nature that this would be his motivation. It’s not the lying and cheating throughout his career, nor is it guilt over the vindictive treatment he’s dished out to others along the way to the top. For him, it may really be all about the swim, bike, run.
What an Armstrong confession would look like we don’t know. At the moment it’s all conjecture, but if it is only about competing again, then the motivation isn’t genuine.
However, the most interesting thing in this is the possibility that sporting life bans may actually work, because of their impact on an athlete’s future employment and career prospects.
Think of the many men who were dopers and continue to work in cycling. The list is long. For many retired cyclists, acting as team managers, sports directors, agents or race organisers is often the only option they have open to them as a post-racing career, short of opening a pub or bicycle shop.
Taking those options away through life bans may need to be seriously considered, and not just for a second offence.
A continued life ban may leave Armstrong a ghost of the past, or, as the always brilliant Joe Lindsay noted, cycling’s version of a gladhanding Pete Rose.
I still think a confession could be a powerful, positive thing for Armstrong. But absent that, there’s one sports figure whose tale might hold some relevance for Armstrong, some hint of his future should he continue on his current path. Last year, a famous ex-baseball player signed a multi-year, seven-figure deal to sign sports memorabilia on the Las Vegas strip. He’s been doing it for years, first at Caesar’s Palace, and now at the Mirage.
The primary argument against life bans is the claim that it would just harden the omerta in the sport, driving doping even further underground. But with longitudinal testing via the bio-passport program and specific testing becoming more precise and sophisticated, how many athletes would take the chance of being removed from their life’s work, forever?
Of course doping will never be completely eradicated, so a small subset of athletes would chance it, but the majority are unlikely to in the face of a life ban.
Before Armstrong was so definitively brought down by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), he had career prospects galore, not just as patron to a cancer foundation but also a rumoured political career. Now it all lies in ruins. A confession, even one that leaves us asking more questions, may reset the stage for a non-sport comeback, adding another chapter to an already long book.
Armstrong has once beaten a death sentence. Can he also now escape the life sentence which fate has dealt him?