5:21 PM EST, January 16, 2013
When Lance Armstrong met last month with his own personal Javert, Travis Tygart of the anti-doping agency, he said after the frustrating meeting, "You don't hold the keys to my redemption.
"Only one person holds the keys to my redemption, and that's me," he said, according to reporting in The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Armstrong was vacationing in Hawaii over Christmas, where Oprah Winfrey has a home, and it was then that she reached out to him. They met for lunch, and he agreed to a come-clean interview with her.
Upon reflection, it appears, Mr. Armstrong decided that Oprah holds the key to his redemption.
You will see his confession Thursday and Friday nights on Oprah's network, provided you can find OWN on your cable guide. During the broadcast, he will admit to using performance-enhancing drugs during his remarkable career.
The resurrection of the disgraced cyclist begins.
Mr. Armstrong isn't just looking for forgiveness from those who believed him when he denied for a decade that anything but hard work propelled him to the front for seven Tour de France victories.
He is looking for a way back into competition, from which he has been banned for life, and some cover from a massive lawsuit that could cost him his fortune.
And there is no better place to start than with Oprah, high priestess of confession television.
When Oprah launched her show in 1986, she changed the nature of talk television from thrust-and-parry, as practiced by Phil Donahue and Jerry Springer, to soft-focus, intimate conversations in which guests were lulled into revealing perhaps more than they intended.
At the height of her power, she would chastise guests for their behavior with "what were you thinking" incredulity, as she did with Lisa Marie Presley about her marriage to Michael Jackson.
Others — such as author James Frey, who made up much of his memoir, and the Hermes executive whose over-zealous store manager shut the door in Oprah's face — came on to apologize and absorb her rebukes.
Oprah's couch became the first stop for anyone trying to rehab their image: Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Olympic medalist Marion Jones, who went to prison for steroid use. Sarah Ferguson, who tried to sell access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew. David Letterman, who came clean on Oprah about his office affairs. Mackenzie Phillips, who told of having sex with her father.
Oprah made her own confessions as well, about weight, childhood sexual abuse, drug use and the discovery of a half-sister she never knew she had.
But since leaving mainstream television, Oprah's star has dimmed. The interview with Lance Armstrong may do more for her than for him. But it is worth watching to see if she scolds him on our behalf or if she just grills him with prosecutorial iciness.
Mr. Armstrong faces more than an upbraiding from Oprah on his road back. It appears he will have to roll over on friends, teammates and support staff if he has any hope of getting his lifetime ban reduced to a length that might allow him to compete in something other than wheelchair racing in the nursing home. And that will only serve to cast him as a snitch, not a repentant sinner.
But if it works, if Mr. Armstrong is permitted to compete again after cheating and pressuring others to cheat, then there is hope for all the tarnished sports heroes out there: Call Oprah and confess.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the star cheats of baseball's steroid era who were denied entry into baseball's Hall of Fame this year, could start drafting their Cooperstown speeches as soon as the camera lights were off.
Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, who should have those brain-damaged football players and their suicides on his conscience, might be next. Same with the National Hockey League, which tacitly endorses the violence that has scrambled the brains of its players and caused their early dementia or death.
Oprah, honey. You are going to need a bigger couch.
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