Lance Armstrong can find redemption. Yes, even Lance Armstrong.
In 2015, during a long conversation at Denver International Airport that moved from a conference room to lunch at Elway’s, Armstrong apologized to his arch-nemesis, Travis Tygart.
First, let’s get this straight: Tygart is a righteous nemesis. He’s the Colorado Springs resident who leads the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). He aggressively and tirelessly pursued the truth about Armstrong’s doping when Americans wanted to believe the fantasy of a pure Armstrong. Tygart even endured a few death threats from goons who admired Armstrong.
Tygart and Armstrong sitting at a table at the DIA Elway’s, sharing lunch and conversation, veers toward the unbelievable. They had spent a decade as combatants, with Tygart clearly winning the struggle, but now it was time to make amends.
“He apologized, and, you know, we talk every once in a while or text every once in a while,” Tygart said last week.
What did Armstrong say?
“That he was sorry what we went through,” Tygart answered. “Sorry that he acted like he did. Because they sued us, and we had the death threats.”
Tygart had not previously confirmed the DIA meeting with Armstrong. (Armstrong did not respond to an interview request.) Tygart said he has met with Armstrong for another face-to-face conversation since the DIA meeting. He declined to specify when.
“In the mountains,” is all Tygart would say.
Thursday, Armstrong made peace with Your Uncle Sam by paying $5 million to settle a lawsuit. The settlement marks the end of Armstrong’s legal battles.
The settlement also liberates him. For the past several years, Armstrong has relaxed with his five children, played golf, trained on his bike and done, by his own description, little else.
Tygart can offer him a fresh cause.
Tygart lives in Rockrimmon, where he’s a jovial soccer dad. But he’s also an aggressive, vigilant opponent of doping. Armstrong doped his way to world supremacy in cycling, winning seven Tour de France titles and becoming a (temporary) American hero. A massive gulf long separated Tygart and Armstrong.
But Tygart hopes the gulf can be crossed, and their recent Colorado meetings offer hope for a vastly altered version of Armstrong. Tygart wants Armstrong to join him on the noble crusade to cleanse sport of doping.
Armstrong, the ultimate doper, could transform into Armstrong, the ultimate warrior against doping. Young athletes will listen to a story that has the feel of an Old Testament morality tale, a saga of a bold, proud, gifted man who soared to the top of the world but crashed to epic humiliation because of cheating. Samson’s fall was only slightly sadder.
Reasons abound to doubt Armstrong. He lied, constantly and ruthlessly, while attacking those who told the truth about his doping. His 2014 TV session/confession with Oprah Winfrey was evasive and self-excusing. He has a cruel streak. He remained silent, declining to call off his rabid followers, while Tygart endured death threats.
But there’s another side, too.
In 2014, my cell phone rang. The screen read “restricted,” and I had a strong guess who was calling.
It was Armstrong.
I had written a column that day asking if Armstrong could ever rescue his reputation, as bombed-out as Berlin after World War II. Betsy Andreu had answered with an emphatic no. Andreu had long told the truth about Armstrong’s doping, and Armstrong responded by calling her a “crazy bitch.”
That day on the phone, Armstrong launched into passionate self-defense. He wondered why so much scorn had been heaped on him when he was only a slice of the culture of cycling. Yes, he had cheated, but so had virtually every other elite cyclist. He sought to place himself as an equal beside the other cheaters.
But he was extremely sorry for his sins, too. He realizes he betrayed millions of his fans, and this haunts him. One of Armstrong's troubles is he's not adept at apology. He's sorry, but he doesn't know how to properly say he's sorry. He's contrite, but on his own terms.
Tygart can offer redeeming terms. Tygart can rescue Armstrong from pariah-hood.
“It’s never too late,” Tygart said, before explaining the crusade that inspires him. “We want to fix this and make sure clean athletes have a chance to win and make the bias not in favor of dirty athletes but make the bias in favor of clean athletes.”
“That was always our hope.”
Armstrong once stood against that hope as the ultimate filthy winner.
He’s only 46. There are a multitude of years, and a multitude of reasons, to cleanse himself by joining Tygart’s crusade.