How does a man like Lance Armstrong apologize?
With so many victims, he has to start with a public apology. It’s a notoriously difficult apology to get right.
Lance Armstrong is scheduled to discuss his situation with Oprah Winfrey, ground central for public confessionals, on January 17. Speculation is that he will finally admit to what he has steadfastly, defiantly, self-righteously aggressively and sometimes under oath denied for a decade: that he is, contrary to his specific denials, guilty of doping on a strategic and massive scale.
What kind of apology can he possibly offer? Assuming he is contrite and wants to come clean, let’s see if we can come up with some language and commitments that can begin to right Armstrong’s considerable offenses.In Part I, it’s useful to consider why an apology is desirable. In Part II, we’ll help Armstrong craft the beginnings of an actual apology. But first, what are the functions of an apology?
It sets the record straight. We can’t turn the page until we know what’s on the page.
It validates shared values. By apologizing, Armstrong can reaffirm that he accepts the validity of honesty as well as the shared rules and values of cycling. He can promise not to repeat the offending behavior.
It names the offenses. Victims need to hear that Armstrong gets it. He needs to be specific and unsparing. I think as ofenses go, the deception is actually worse than the doping. He should focus on the deception.
It recognizes the victims. Armstrong needs to recognize that he has lied to hundreds of TV hosts, reporters, columnists, teammates, and cycling officials. He must commit to apologizing to each of these people one by one. Apologizing just to Oprah on the air won’t cut it.
It allows the relationship to move forward. Right now, Armstrong is banned from cycling. He needs to corroborate the accusations against him in great detail so that there is no more conflict left to fight about. That’s the only way he and the authorities can create new possibilities. He must have no other agenda than to apologize.
It allows him to be held accountable. Every apology contains within it the answer to the question, How am I to be held accountable? Armstrong may admit that he has committed perjury. He should acknowledge that he is prepared to accept the legal consequences of lying under oath.
It allows him to breathe free. No more secrets. In a world where nothing stays hidden, powerfully acting as if you’ve got nothing to hide is the only sustainable place from which to live and act.
It replaces arrogance with humility. By acknowledging, naming, and ultimately accepting his mistakes, Armstrong can embrace his humility and make room for his true self, imperfect and all too human, just like everyone else.
It concedes that he is no longer in control. Apology means giving up control of the situation. That’s scary, but giving up control predicated on lies is the surest and most direct path to freedom. This will be the hardest part for Armstrong. His apology seems to be a tactic for him to retain some control over his fate. But apology doesn’t work like that.
What do you think Lance Armstrong should say?
What are the actual words? In Part II, I offer some apology language for Armstrong to consider.