Lance Armstrong may be considering a change in course, dropping his years of denials and admitting that he used performance-enhancing drugs — though whether such a move would help him is uncertain.
The New York Times, citing anonymous sources, reported late Friday that Armstrong has told associates he is thinking about the move.
However, Armstrong attorney Tim Herman says that the cyclist hasn’t reached out to USADA chief executive Travis Tygart and David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
A USADA spokeswoman declined comment on Saturday, while Howman was quoted by the Sunday Star-Times in New Zealand, where he is vacationing, saying Armstrong has not approached his group.
USADA stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles last year and issued a report portraying the cyclist as the leader of a sophisticated doping operation on his winning teams.
Public confessions and apologies have been the route of redemption for several athletes who have gotten in trouble.
For example, Tiger Woods said he was sorry for cheating on his wife in televised speech, and baseball slugger Mark McGwire eventually admitted to steroid use. Yet Armstrong faces serious legal entanglements those megastars didn’t, and a confession to doping could end up complicating matters for Armstrong — not making them easier.
The U.S. Department of Justice is considering whether to join a federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed by former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis alleging fraud against the U.S. Postal Service during the years the agency sponsored Armstrong’s teams.
A Dallas-based promotions company has also said it wants to recover several million dollars paid to Armstrong in bonuses for winning the Tour de France. And the British newspaper The Sunday Times is suing to recover about $500,000 paid to Armstrong to settle a libel lawsuit.
Armstrong has testified under oath that he never used performance-enhancing drugs, which could theoretically lead to charges if he confessed. Former U.S. track star Marion Jones spent several months in federal prison for lying to investigators about her drug use.
And after so many years of vehement denials and sworn statements that he never doped, at this point, what would Armstrong gain from a confession? There would be no guarantee that his personal sponsors would return or that the public would accept it.
Is the public even interested in an Amrstrong confession?
Gene Grabowski, executive vice president of Levick, a Washington, D.C.-based crisis and issues management firm, said “it may be too little, too late because he’s been denying it for so long.”
A confession would only work to salvage Armstrong’s reputation if he accepted full responsibility and blamed no one else, Grabowski said. And it would have to include some public act of atonement.
“If he does all three, he has a shot,” Grabowski said. “You have to show people you are willing to pay a price.”
The New York Times reported the 41-year-old Armstrong may be considering a confession in an attempt to reduce his lifetime ban from cycling and Olympic sport so he can return to competing in triathlons and elite running events.
Armstrong lost most of his personal sponsorship 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 worth about a reported $100 million.
Livestrong might be one reason to issue an apology. The charity supports cancer patients and still faces an image problem because of its association with its famous founder.
And if Armstrong did confess, the corporate sponsors who abandoned him might support him again, Grabowski said.
“They’ll do what the public does,” Grabowski said.
Betsy Andreu, the wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, was one of the first to publicly accuse Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs.
She dismissed a potential confession from Armstrong as self-serving and too late.
“Sorry, your chance is over. You’re banned for life. It’s not with an asterisk, that because you are Lance Armstrong you get to come back,” Andreu said. “He does not belong in sport.”