They say confession is good for the soul, but for Lance Armstrong, is it too little too late?
On Friday, The New York Times
published an anonymously sourced story saying the disgraced cyclist is considering publicly admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs.
The question is: Will Armstrong follow-through or is this hearsay?
Signs suggest he will. Armstrong’s lawyer Tim Herman started with an oblique comment to The New York Times
—“Lance has to speak for himself on that”—
knowing full well that such a whisper would set off a firestorm of speculation.
(On Saturday, Herman told the Associated Press
he has no knowledge that Armstrong is mulling a confession.)
While experts acknowledge this isn’t the usual way to enact a crisis communications strategy, this isn’t the usual type of issue. A leak such as this would start the slow burn of criticism prepping the path for a potential admission of guilt, as well as giving Armstrong’s team an idea of the type of public reaction they could be facing.
Armstrong has remained quiet since the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) presented him with a veritable tome of doping allegations
and sponsors started fleeing Team Armstrong. Although he did have time to tweet out a picture
of himself lounging among his allegedly ill-gotten collection of Tour de France jerseys.
For the past few months, Armstrong has been laying low in Hawaii, away from the glare of the media. During that time, he had hoped to compete in triathlons and road races. Except for one minor detail: Many of those events are sanctioned by WADA, leaving Armstrong with no more platforms for glory.
Perhaps he also had time to read up on some of sports more notorious liars, Pete Rose
and Marion Jones
among them, and decided his non-doping defense had finally run out of road.
With no communication to the media since late last year, Armstrong’s silence has been deafening, much to the dismay of many PR pros. But how would a confession play now?
Here’s how what some industry analysts think:
“Lance's confession at this late point would at least provide him the opportunity of not being a punch line for cheating in the future,” says Toronto-based sports PR expert Bob Stellick
. “However, if he does it so that he can continue to compete in triathlons, it is simply convenient, not sincere.”
“Much like Pete Rose and betting on baseball, it is a case of tell us something we did not know,” says communications blogger Jeff Esposito
. “A mea culpa
here is just to save face, but also has us wonder if he'll start selling autographs on those yellow jerseys saying ‘I cheated’ or ‘I leveled the playing field,’ at bike and sports memorabilia shows. So can this be damage control? Sure if your image in your head is still as pure as snow, but to the general public it is just another reminder that we need to be careful who our children idolize.”
“We don't really know the facts, so it's hard to armchair quarterback Lance Armstrong's situation," notes Heather Whaling, president of Geben Communication
. “However, in the absence of communication, people make things up and believe what they want to believe—true or not. So, I'd advise Lance Armstrong to end the silence. When deciding what specifically to say, he should consider the impact on Livestrong and on his kids. Do what's best for the organization and his family and the rest will take care of itself.”
What do you think?
Elissa Freeman is a PR veteran with more than 20 years of experience. You can follow her on Twitter @elissaPR.