As I’ve mentioned before, I sincerely hope that Lance Armstrong is being honest about never doping. But given the tide of recent confessions among his former teammates, things aren’t looking good.
If I allowed myself to become more cynical, perhaps I wouldn’t be so surprised by the aggressive stance Lance’s attorneys have taken. Instead of being taken aback by Tyler Hamilton’s recent testimony, they quickly developed a nice, pat story to tell. They responded with pure speculation about
But what if Lance’s defense team decided the situation was hopeless, and their best bet would be to cut their losses and confess? How would they convince Lance to go along? To explore that scenario, I wrote this play.
Note: what follows is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of its characters to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A Play in One Act
NELSON, a member of Lance’s defense team
BRAD, another member of Lance’s defense team
CLINT, third member of Lance’s defense team
A conference room
[Enter NELSON, BRAD, CLINT, STENOGRAPHER. STENOGRAPHER sets up equipment and waits for meeting to convene.]
NELSON: Okay, let’s get started. First off, it’s pretty obvious, with all Lance’s buddies singing like canaries to grand juries, that he’s not going to be able to deny this stuff anymore.
BRAD: Right, that’s plain as day. And yet he’s refusing to admit anything. We’re kind of stuck.
CLINT: No, no, we’re not stuck. We just have to present this confession in a way that Lance can handle it. We have to work this out so he can still stand proud. He’s not going to do time—he’s too wealthy for that—but he has his legacy to think of. His reputation. His ego.
NELSON: Exactly. He can’t be apologizing. First thing we need to do is deflate the sense that this big lie is really that big. I’m thinking we need to frame it like, well … we need to move it into that same gray area where you lie to your kid about the Tooth Fairy. Kind of coax the peeps into the sense that they kind of knew all along and looked the other way.
CLINT: Right, and whatever he says, he can’t be looking all squirmy and weak like Tyler Hamilton. He has to be bold without seeming defensive. He has to attack!
[CLINT pounds fist on table]
BRAD: Yeah, but it can’t be a snipe-y attack like Floyd Landis and
NELSON: Hmmm. Try this on for size. Lance could attack the very notion that his doping was wrong. He has to make his doping okay. Like some kind of necessary thing. Like some kind of, I dunno, manifest destiny type of thing.
CLINT: Manifest destiny! Love it! It’s so … American. And that’s who we need to convince here—the Americans. The Europeans never liked him anyway and who cares.
NELSON: Right, this is all about winning over the American people. So. What’s important to Americans, really? What makes us tick? Power, obviously, for starts.
CLINT: Yeah, power. Winning. And money.
BRAD: But we’re not so simple as that. We also like just generally feeling superior. That’s where the bigger challenge is with Lance. Americans’ feeling of superiority can sometimes take the form of moral indignation.
[NELSON scratches his head.]
NELSON: Right. How do we tackle that?
BRAD: Well, we can try to keep the focus on the power, money, and winning, while simultaneously working to remove the moral indignation as an option. Hmmm. We have to—
CLINT: We have to make moral indignation seem silly.
NELSON: We absolutely do. And we can. It wouldn’t take much—kind of a realist approach. Play to people’s cynicism. Didn’t Lance gain power? Didn’t he win, instead of some damn Frenchman?
CLINT: Exactly. Americans respect winning and they respect money. They respect the creation of wealth. And didn’t Lance help Trek sell a bazillion bikes? Didn’t he help Oakley sell a bazillion pairs of shades? Didn’t he raise hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research? Was he not the consummate professional? No matter what happens now, all those companies get to keep all that money he made for them. Is that fair, that Lance goes down after these corporations milked him dry?
[BRAD drums his fingers on the table.]
BRAD: That’s a little tough to position but you’re right. The thing is, how do we get around the fact that he lied all these years? The peeps are still going to be tempted to feel morally superior.
NELSON: We have to squash the moral high ground. We have to real-world that thing to death. So here’s what we do. Lance was lying to protect his family, and his team, and even his competitors who were racing dirty. He was lying to protect cancer funding. And if you side with Floyd and Tyler, you’re siding with people who rat out their friends. We’ll spin this so that it’s all about Lance not doing that. He’s not going to rat out his team doctors, his coach, his manager, anybody. He’s not going to out any of his former teammates who managed to never have that positive test. He won’t rat people out to avoid prison, and he won’t do it to sell books.
BRAD: Yeah, okay, that’s starting to sound pretty good, but can we sell people on that? Can we really make a martyr out of this guy?
CLINT: Well, if all we had was honor, maybe not, but remember, we got the full package here. Lance is powerful, he’s a winner, he’s studly—people already like him! Give them a righteous hook of any kind, they’ll bite. And it’s a pretty good hook, I think!
NELSON: It’s not going to work for everybody, but then he’s always had haters. This is good stuff. This is solid.
BRAD: But there’s still the matter of cancer survivors, cancer victims, people who read magazines and get misty-eyed. You know, your idealists. They can make a lot of noise.
NELSON: Right, and worse—they can make a stink without even being that loud. One bald-headed cancer victim tearing up and blubbering “I believed in Lance!” could really damage the cause, if one of our enemies puts her in the limelight.
BRAD: Couldn’t we have Lance apologize to the cancer victims, and them alone? Like, everybody else was part of the sport, part of the machine, but these cancer people deserve an apology?
CLINT: Absolutely not! Listen to yourself! That could unravel the whole thing! It would be like admitting he was wrong. That can’t happen. He has to be bold. He wants to be bold.
NELSON paces back and forth.
NELSON: Right, Lance has to take the offensive line on every front. I like what we were doing earlier with him being indignant, and him being the only guy who’s not naive. People hate feeling naive. Lance’s cancer message has to be as strong and as street-smart as the rest of his platform.
CLINT: Yeah, yeah. Completely. And we can do it while staying true to what everybody already knows about this guy! Like, in his book he says that force of will doesn’t beat cancer, that some people with bad attitudes manage to survive while others with a real fighting spirit nevertheless die. Lance wasn’t smurfy about it, which is frankly one of the only things I liked about that book. So he could knock this idealist thing on its ass.
NELSON: Yes, he could. Remember, he’s an atheist! His first wife was the Christian and trying to get him to give God some credit for surviving cancer, but Lance wouldn’t do it!
BRAD: Dude, how are we going to work that in? A defense based on godlessness?
CLINT: No, no, forget the atheist part, it’s just that this guy is a realist and that can work for us if we position it carefully. Like, we’ll have him say, “Look, hope doesn’t win bike races, and hope doesn’t beat cancer. Hope is good, we need hope, but hope can’t do it all. You think I cracked my ass all those years on that bike just to raise hope? I did it to raise money, to develop drugs! Drugs that actually cure cancer and save lives!”
NELSON: Beautiful. It’s such consistent messaging. He’ll say, “I’m here to tell you that drugs fricking work. Chemo saved me from cancer, and EPO saved me from chemo. Yes, drugs helped me win bike races but drugs also keep your children from getting polio. How many of you don’t have a prescription for something? And does it work? Are you glad that it works? What would you have these cancer victims do: hope, and pray, and think about rainbows and unicorns and crap and just hope they get well? Or do you want to arm them with the best pharmaceuticals money can buy, the best new drugs we can develop? And where do you think that development money going to come from?”
CLINT: Love it. Love it. He’ll be like, “You think I care if my drug use keeps some sniveling Frenchman off the podium, who’d have spent his prize money overstuffing a goose until it explodes so he can eat its liver as pâté de foie gras? Hell no, I did what I had to do to be a financial engine for cancer research! I’m talking about real sacrifice for real money to buy real drugs, that work, that save lives!”
NELSON: Pâté de foie gras! Beautiful! Don’t stop! Don’t stop!
CLINT: “What would you all give up for a more gentlemanly sport of bike racing? How many cancer victims would you sacrifice at the altar of fair play? What do you want, Queensberry rules for every sport? Should I have fallen off the back of the pack, gasping and weaving, and let some doping Spaniard win the race so I could raise a few hundred bucks for cancer research instead of a few hundred million?”
NELSON: Perfect. Lance turns the accusations on their heads. “Am I a cheater? You’re damn right I’m a cheater! I cheated cancer! I cheated death! I cheated Floyd and Tyler and everybody else who was trying to cheat me! And I won! And I want you to win! Win with me!”
CLINT: I can see it. Posters. Giant print ads in the subway. “CHEAT DEATH. CHEAT CANCER. CHEAT WITH LANCE. CHEAT WITH BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB!”
CLINT pumps his fist.
BRAD: Whoa, slow down there. We’re getting a little giddy here, let’s not overstep.
CLINT gets up out of his chair.
CLINT: Right, of course you’re right, this is a great start but I’m starting to get a little too worked up. Let’s get this transcript printed out and take a fresh look at it tomorrow so we can fine-tune the messaging before presenting it to Lance. I’m ready for a beer or six right now.
NELSON slides back chair, stands, rolls his shoulders.
NELSON: Yeah, let’s call it a night, get some drinks. In fact, I feel like getting some whores. You guys feel like whores? Hey, steno, don’t record that part. Did you just record the whores thing? Stop typing, we’re done here. Strike that part. Hey, man, why are you packing up so fast?
STENOGRAPHER puts away his equipment, hastily exits.
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