Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Oprah's Armstrong soap doesn't make the blood boil

Lance Armstrong. Photo / AP
Lance Armstrong. Photo / AP

I'm still waiting for my blood to boil about Lance Armstrong, but it just ain't happening.

There are, I think, too many far more important issues to be incensed about. Yes, he cheated, the rat, and the blood might reach a very slow simmer. But truth is my rage-ometer is at zero, perhaps a deliberate response to the over-selling of the Armstrong saga. And let's face it - professional sport, the art of money making, is mired in disrespect for the common fan, attendant b@##$%^& and misuse/abuse of power.

Armstrong's two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey was a typical, over-hyped media event. For the first interview, on Friday, a little huddle developed around a television in the Herald office as the talk show legend went delving for yes-or-no answers. After a couple of minutes, the crowd dissipated and the sound was turned off on the soft-soap Oprah.

The interviews shed more light on his personality than what took place, because Armstrong and Winfrey fell well short of where investigators and journalists have already been.

Armstrong, the cycling syringe, needed a chill pill. His self-serving, true contrition-free answers were groomed, damage-limitation responses. Oprah meets Lance was more a fleeting corporate marriage.

Armstrong was prepared to use both cancer and family in an effort to ease himself slightly off the hook. He appeared like a motorist who had been caught doing 160 in a 100 zone, and pleaded he was doing only 158. Then he confessed to using old windscreen wipers and begged for mercy on that score. Oprah kind of did an okay job.

The interviews are unlikely to have persuaded most people away from their original views and Armstrong displayed all the charm of a hired killer. Here's the bottom line, though: the heat must go on cycling, not one man. The juiced-up guy you've never heard of who finished 120th in the Tour de France is just as guilty as Armstrong.

Drugs in sport is also a complex issue, with grey areas too numerous to deal with here, but some sports fans do not see a problem with them, although rules are rules and the basis of sporting contests. Whatever your attitude to performance-enhancing drugs, Armstrong is a cheat.

I found widely differing responses to the Armstrong interviews over the weekend. One came from my wife who regards Armstrong with contempt, and detests his arrogance.

"He paraded himself as a sporting hero while laughing at the world thinking he could get away with cheating," she reckoned.

"Life comes down to doing the right thing when no one is looking ... the person he's been cheating the most by living a lie is himself."

However, a friend of mine, a recovering alcoholic, still cherishes, indeed reveres, the role Armstrong played in helping him deal with his own illness. Armstrong's strength in fighting cancer provided my friend with vital inspiration at a desperate and ultimately pivotal time in his life. He underlined many passages in Armstrong's books, and remains deeply grateful to and supportive of the cyclist.

"If he helped me like that, he must have helped so many others - he must have done way more good than harm," he told me in a clear earnestness, while still being disappointed when having the truth confirmed.

For what it's worth, another friend - with a notoriously odd humour - reckoned he'd finally discovered someone who would be worse to live with than Simon Cowell.

The Armstrong controversy, an extraordinary episode in sport, might actually achieve the seemingly impossible and clean up cycling. If it doesn't, then nothing will. We should also be proud of a few journalists such as the Sunday Times' David Walsh, who stuck to the task and did a great job over many years, in the face of scepticism, hero worship and Armstrong's appallingly dishonest legal attacks. (Armstrong claimed during the Oprah sessions he couldn't remember all the people he had sued.)

And yet, the anger just ain't happening. The rage-ometer does see action when thinking about Wall Street and its disgusting greed; the way these money-obsessed sharks got away with murder thanks to friends in influential places; war; violence; poverty; America's democracy hypocrisy and misuse of its position as leader of the free world; the way corporations have hijacked and destroyed the soil and a healthy food chain; the insidious power of profit-motivated lobbyists on government; the unequal distribution of resources; the destructive arrogance of the old empires; our powerlessness in trying to take absolute care of this amazing planet etc. etc.

But Armstrong? Not really. Fallen stars, from sports and elsewhere, become convenient surrogate targets, items small enough to be dealt with by blazing headlines, by societies that can't fix the truly scary problems that matter most. Celebrity is so easy to sell.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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