Today is the Super Bowl of responsibility acceptance. It’s the World Cup of manning up. It’s the day Lance Armstrong talks to Oprah about allegations that for years he’s been conning the cycling world, the cancer community, and a legion of fans with a story that it was his hard work, his tenacious determination, and his will to win that propelled him from a victory over testicular cancer to seven straight titles in the Tour de France.
Giants get their feet of clay* exposed with remarkable frequency. Confession to Oprah is a standard stop on the journey to rehabilitation, and Lance Armstrong is following that well-worn path. But sometimes those clay-footed giants miscalculate. They think their best strategy is to confess as little as possible, accept minimal responsibility and then combine half-baked excuses with lame apologies in the hope it comes across as humble and contrite.
Lance, you’re paying big bucks to those publicists of yours. I hope they’re giving you some good advice, but here’s a little from me–no charge. Accepting responsibility means pushing all your chips to the middle of the table and going “all in”. No half measures.. Try these ten things in your mea culpa and you’ve made a good start at regaining the trust of the millions who once held you in such high regard.
10. Don’t tell me “Everybody did it” or “That’s just the way things were in cycling.” Your own poor choices are not excused by the poor choices of those around you.
9. Don’t tell me that your competitive streak was just so intense, your hunger for victory so strong, that you couldn’t help yourself. It’s a bad move brag about a good quality and then blame that virtue for your personal failing. Don’t sing me any songs about your tenacity and dogged determination.
8. Don’t begin your apology with “If I’ve hurt or offended anyone …”. Of course you’ve hurt and offended and disappointed and betrayed people. Tons of them. Don’t pretend there’s a possibility they don’t exist. Apologize to them directly.
7. And while you’re apologizing, mention the people to whom you owe that apology. Be as specific as you can. You reputedly were a thug and a bully to anyone–including friends and teammates–who dared break the code of silence you created to protect you.
6. No, you weren’t the only one who broke the rules. Some of them did it on their own, some were sucked into this cycling sinkhole by you. But this isn’t about them. Today’s it’s about you, about what you did and about what you’re going to do about it. Focus on yourself.
5. And while I’m talking about others, please don’t try to shift blame onto others like teammates who wanted too much to win, sponsors who pressured you to produce, and suppliers who were all to eager to accommodate. You’re a big boy. You made your own decisions. You’re responsible for your own choices.
4. Please include in your apology all those honest, clean cyclists whom you pushed off the victory stand. Yes, they were out there, and they were competing against you and the deck you stacked against them. They will never, ever get to wear the yellow jersey to which their years of hard work entitled them.
3. Yes, I know you’re not 100% villain. You have plenty of good qualities. You, me, all of us–we’re a complex mix of good and bad, desperately in need of God’s grace and the forgiveness of those who love us. But don’t waste time telling me that “I’m not a bad person” or “This was completely out of character for me” or “My charity was doing lots of good work”. Just tell me simply and directly what you did wrong.
2. Acceptance of responsibility is more than just words. It’s action too. It’s doing your best to make things right, which in your case means return of the millions you took under false pretenses. Yes, your lifestyle will take a hit; it might even mean bankruptcy. Just give it back.
1. Say “I’m sorry.” Don’t use some squishy word like “regret”. Just man up and utter those painful words. They pack a real punch. Use them.
An alternative Top Ten list by the master of Top Ten.
*King Nebuchadnezzar asked the prophet Daniel (the one whom God saved from the lions’ den) to explain a strange dream about a statue with a head of gold but feet of clay. Daniel did not give the king good news. The feet of clay would soon make the gold-headed statue tumble, an omen of the fate which awaited the king and Babylon–the same fate that strikes golden boys today, thousands of years later.