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If you’re busted for steroids it’s better to clam up than to come clean

Jan 23, 2013, 9:36 AM EDT

Lance Armstrong

You hear it every time an athlete is busted for PEDs: “He/she needs to come clean and explain what he/she did. Only then can he/she begin to repair the damage to his/her reputation and legacy he/she has done.”


MM Haigh found that baseball players who apologized to their fans were no more likely to receive positive news coverage than those who did not. Jessica Korn studied polling data (pdf) and discovered that admission and apology actually resulted in decreased favorability, while denial was a more successful PR strategy.

This comes in a piece at The Guardian by Harry Enten about how Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah was actually way more damaging to his favorability ratings than merely staying silent would have done.

If you’re 2002 Ken Caminiti and you’re just looking for a way to clear your conscience, cool, go public. But if you’re actually interested in protecting or preserving your popularity or legacy or reputation or whatever, going public about your PED use is counterproductive. Which shouldn’t be surprising given how every single public confession of PED use is followed up with sports writers penning columns about how the apology or confession was insincere, too late or otherwise inadequate.

It’s almost as if those sports writers who say that the athlete should confess his sins are really just interested in more column fodder.

(thanks to Ethan for the heads up)

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    Lance Armstrong is a special case here and should not be lumped in with the other guys who “came clean” about using PEDs. If you polled most people, they would say they don’t have nearly as much of a problem with Lance using PEDs in a sport where they couldn’t even give the Tour de France title to anyone in the top 5 because they ALL CHEATED, as they do with the fact that Lance ruined people’s lives trying to hide the fact that he did cheat. He used his bullying lawyers to sue people who were not as rich and high-profile as him, even though these people saw him use PEDs. He cost a guy like Greg LeMond millions by bankrupting his company with negative publicity and using Nike to help him.

    No, Lance Armstrong is an all-around scumbag, not because he used PEDs, but because of the way he covered it up for all these years. Yeah, he raised hundreds of millions for Cancer research…which makes him the poster child for “Does the end justify the means” In his case…no, he’s still a world-class piece of shit.

    • gilbert718 - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:46 AM

      Couldn’t agree with you more

      • townballblog - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:01 AM

        Hi Chris – Is it possible to separate the two? Lance Armstrong the guy who cheated, lied, and ruined people’s lives vs. Lance Armstrong the guy who raised millions in cancer research?

        I did not know he did all of that (suing and bullying others) because I don’t follow cycling that closely. So if all of that is true then I 100% agree he is a scumnbag.

        However, as I sit here typing this I constantly notice out of the corner of my eye the ‘Livestrong’ bracelet on my left wrist – that doesn’t make him a scumbag, it makes him a good charitable individual.

        My point, and I know this might be impossible, is that I wish it could be possible to separate the two and not bring up all the good he is done for cancer research when he is being dragged through the mud while tied to the back of his own tricycle.

      • stex52 - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:07 AM

        What I’m hearing now is that maybe Livestrong did not give nearly as much to cancer research as was originally implied. That is was more of a PR organ for Lance. Haven’t heard any numbers, but it bears more watching.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:21 AM

        However, as I sit here typing this I constantly notice out of the corner of my eye the ‘Livestrong’ bracelet on my left wrist – that doesn’t make him a scumbag, it makes him a good charitable individual.

        What he did for cancer research was commendable, and if the only transgression he had was using PEDs and lieing about it, I think most of us would say that benefits outweighed the cost.

        However, as Chris mentioned, Armstrong also went after all of his detractors, and did everything possible to crucify them in the press. He tried to destroy people’s lives so in court, and the court of public opinion, they would be tainted in their quest to out his PED use.

        That part is abhorrent. He deserves to be punished, if not sued in civil court to make those people’s lives whole again.

    • paperlions - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:47 AM

      Exactly. My problem with Lance isn’t that he was a cheater in a sport filled with them. It is that he is a bully that has ruined people’s lives in an attempt to preserve a reputation he never earned.

      The problem with with the concept that admission can lead to preservation or restoration of a reputation or legacy is that once there is a public admission, it is clear that the reputation or legacy can not and should not be what it was before. In short, admitting the truth is no way to preserve a lie.

      The only problem I see is that many in the media are too stupid to realize this simple truth and keep repeating an obviously stupidity.

    • aceshigh11 - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:51 AM


      I wasn’t planning on watching Armstrong’s interview with Oprah, but I found it REALLY compelling and ended up watching the whole thing, both nights.

      He may simply be a very manipulative sociopath, but I admit I did feel a little for him, particularly when talking about his children…but at the end of the day, the damage he did to so many peoples’ reputations far outweighs that.

      As you said, cheating in the Tour de France is hardly even news at this point.

    • youknowwhatsgoodforshoulderpain - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:36 AM

      “He cost a guy like Greg LeMond millions by bankrupting his company with negative publicity and using Nike to help him.”

      Lance has threatened people and done some messed up things to keep from being prosecuted, but please don’t make up crap out of thin air to support your disgust. Greg LeMond’s company faltered first when Carbonframes were producing the bikes and even Greg LeMond blamed it on underfunding and mismanagement by his father. He later did a liscensing deal with Trek to manufacture/sell some bikes under his old company name. After he starting making claims about Lance and some other riders associated with Trek, they told him to shut up or he’d be dropped. Nike never even entered into the picture. As far as the evidence shows, Trek was angry due to the bad publicity from LeMond about their featured riders. In other words, Trek didn’t want LeMond hurting the sales of ALL their non-LeMond products. Obviously, LeMond was correct about the doping, but he’s also been proven to be a bafoon when it comes to marketing. Trek put up with LeMond for 7 years after his first shots at Armstrong, it’s not like they suddenly dropped him. He made many, many more statements in years to come as well. The settled out of court in the end and LeMond got to keep the LeMond Racing Cycles name and Trek donated a couple hundred thousand to LeMond’s charity.

      I doubt Armstrong was ever personally involved in any of Trek’s tactics to silence LeMond. The fact is LeMond became bad for business for Trek and they didn’t want his mouth damaging their profits. It’s actually pretty impressive that they tolerated him for as long as they did, since his bikes were never a really big seller under Trek distribution.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:42 AM

        I didn’t make it up out of thin air. I read about it in an article, a pretty good article, by Dan Wetzel of I’m not going to sit here and say I’m right and you’re wrong. But I don’t think you can unequivocally say that Lance had nothing to do with Trek’s actions.

        Here’s the link

        ps Nike was a typo…meant to type Trek.

    • okobojicat - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:52 AM

      I disagree in the statment that everyone was using in cycling while not everyone was using in baseball. I think you can make a good argument that 50% of people were using. The names that appeared on Canseco’s list, the names that appeared in the Mitchell report and elsewhere… they all point to mid level players and stars, starters and relievers, closers and 26th men. Everyone was using to try to stay healthy stay active. The thing is, in baseball, the public is much less forgiving about steroid use vs. cycling, but the rulers of the cycling world (ie, Dick Pound) are much much much more hateful towards PED use than the rulers of the baseball world. Its an interesting contrast.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:03 AM

        You responded to me, but maybe it was by mistake because I don’t think I even insinuated that “not everyone was using in baseball”. Me personally…I think that we should assume that everyone used and treat them all the same. Whether it comes to the hall of fame or whatever. Everyone who playing the steroid era to me should be treated the same.

    • sabatimus - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:57 AM

      Absolutely. I’m not sure how Armstrong’s case relates much to MLB. He repeatedly and systematically lied over and over again and brought lawsuits against those who purportedly libeled or slandered him–only to come out and admit MUCH later that he did dope and he cheated and lied. He did more damage to others than a lot of PED users.

      In fact, the court of public opinion (which has shown it will indict those players even on the slightest suspicion that they MAY have been NEAR someone who took PEDs–eg Jeff Bagwell; or hearsay: the Piazza backne thing) renders admission or non-admission moot anyway in terms of HOF votes and the public’s view of someone.

      Personally, I think admitting, at the outset, that a player took PEDs is a sign that the player could be trying to rebuild his own character.

  2. aceshigh11 - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    Is Andy Pettitte the only player who’s managed to make a public admission and apology without a full-scale backlash?

    • paperlions - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:49 AM

      Ortiz hasn’t done too badly. No one cares that Michael Morse was suspended for PED use….but then, people really only care if good players are busted, not bad players…..and most of the players that have been outed or suspended were not above average major leaguers.

      • aceshigh11 - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:54 AM

        Ortiz never admitted it though.

        And even as a Sox fan, but I found his “I’m gonna get to the bottom of this” spiel laughable.

        The fact that he’s never bothered revisiting it, and that no one in the Boston sports media has had the balls to confront him, is pretty damned low regardless of whether you’re a fan.

      • paperlions - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:55 AM

        He didn’t….well, damn…shows how much I pay attention to (or care about) admissions.

      • townballblog - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:08 AM

        As far as I can remember, and please correct me if I’m wrong, didn’t Ortiz say that he never used PED. Also, didn’t Michael Weiner claim that even though Ortiz’ name was mentioned in the MItchell report it does not mean that he tested positive for PEDs?

        Furthermore, out of all of the players that have tested positive and all of the players who were mentioned in the Mitchell report: How many of the had the Executive Director of the MLBPA sitting next to them during a press conference and being so vocal in defending the player? I can only recall this happening with Ortiz

        *To Paperlions point: I had absolutely NO idea Michael Morse tested positive for PEDs.

      • sabatimus - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:58 AM

        It was never verified exactly what Ortiz supposedly took, was it?

    • cardinalcrazy - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:57 AM

      What about Mark McGwire? I don’t think the backlash on him was terrible when he actually acknowledge his use of PED’s. No I’m not talking back in 2005 when there were congressional hearings on steroids when all he said was he didn’t want to talk about the past (he didn’t admit it!).

      • aceshigh11 - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:01 AM

        McGwire has actually done fairly well for himself, all things considered.

        He’ll never get into the HoF, but just the fact that he was hired as the Cardinals’ batting coach and won a World Series with them (and is now the Dodger’s hitting coach) is a pretty sweet deal for a guy who was thoroughly ridiculed after his ’05 testimony.

      • paperlions - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:07 AM

        I think McGwire has done well, but that is probably because A) he has a relatively low-profile job within the context of an MLB team, B) by all accounts he is a good person, which never hurts when it comes to press coverage, C) he may have some ability to help MLB hitters, and D) he’s generally a quiet and reclusive guy that doesn’t seek the spot light (which helps the media ignore him).

      • kirkvanhouten - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:22 AM

        “What about Mark McGwire? I don’t think the backlash on him was terrible when he actually acknowledge his use of PED’s”

        I remember the backlash being pretty awful. He was openly condemned by Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News (which is kind of hilarious considering he’s about the only person Brian WIlliams every condemned), was ripped apart for saying that he didn’t think steroids helped him hit home runs runs and was basically called a phony by any and everybody.

        I came away from the McGwire debacle wondering why anyone in their right mind would ever admit to doing steroids if that was the result.

    • indaburg - Jan 23, 2013 at 2:35 PM

      I think the difference is in their Assholemeter Reading. Pettitte measures low on the meter hence the media and we, the masses, are forgiving. Giambi, another admitted user, is also quite likeable and he recovered nicely from admitting usage. McGwire was a bit of a jerk as a player but seemed to show some genuine contrition afterwards. That lowered his meter reading and allowed for a comeback in the court of public perception. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Armstrong’s reading is off the charts high and his Oprah confessional did nothing to lower it. He will never be forgiven because that is his biggest sin.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 23, 2013 at 3:15 PM

        It’s the complement to your dolphin theory.

  3. gilbert718 - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    sad but true…

  4. anotheryx - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    How is this different? Playing dumb is better off than admitting in almost every case in life.

  5. smoochytherhino - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    Get rid of “It’s almost as if” from the last sentence of your blog and that’s all you need to know.

    It shouldn’t even be a question as to whether it’s better to come clean or continue the lies. The denials are especially awful when they throw others under the bus for telling the truth.

    The media, in most areas, not just sports, is bad. They writers/media members themselves aren’t totally to blame as the system incentivizes poorly researched, hastily written, disingenuous garbage. The biggest problem is that the public has stopped holding media members accountable for bad work, so there’s no reason for anybody to change.

  6. joshtown81 - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    Craig, I’m with you on 90% of your blogs, but when it comes to this stuff I just can’t side with you. People like Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens arn’t hated because they took steroids, people hate them because of their complete disregard for everyone around them, and because they defiantly thumbed their noses at their fans and even the US Congress. The reason people like Andy Pettitte are forgiven much more readily is because they arn’t jerks about it, and don’t scoff at everyone who made the accusation to begin with. It seems like you want to hold these guys up on a pedestal and reward them anyway (like Bonds or Clemens in the Hall), when they so clearly don’t deserve another minute of our attention. The worst punishment you can give an athlete that’s been on a national stage for 20 years is indifference. And they deserve it.

    • zzalapski - Jan 23, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      “people hate them because of their complete disregard for everyone around them”

      We are talking about the same Barry Bonds who’s paying for college for Bryan Stow’s children, yes?

      Of course, that is a financial drop in the bucket for someone who’s made as much money as Bonds has. But it’s not like he’s actively against equal marriage rights for all, unlike Jeff Kent.

  7. Jack Marshall - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    Ortiz denied that he knowingly used PED’s, and since it is well known that over the counter supplements in the Dominican Republic often include substances that will show up in a test, that seems plausible. The Players Union made a special point of saying that without knowing what the substance was that Ortiz’s supposedly blind test turned up, it shouldn’t be assumed that he used or knowingly used a banned substance.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:31 AM

      And since steroids aren’t illegal in the DR, it’s just as plausible that he used PEDs as is the tainted supplement.

      The Players Union made a special point of saying that without knowing what the substance was that Ortiz’s supposedly blind test turned up, it shouldn’t be assumed that he used

      Huh? If he failed a test, it doesn’t matter what “substance” he took, he still used a PED. Whether it was a tainted supplement, a supplement with a banned substance, or steroids, he used. Not sure how failing a drug test could equal “not using”.

      Note: He never claimed it was a false positive or improper testing protocol. He picked the OJ defense and reporters have let him avoid any scrutiny since that date.

      • Francisco (FC) - Jan 23, 2013 at 1:45 PM

        Should have picked the Chewbacca Defense.

  8. sdelmonte - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    Here’s an interesting column by Will Leitch about Lance that touches on this topic.

  9. temporarilyexiled - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    As long as we have writers who vote based on the idiot distinction of who has and who hasn’t told their PED tale, this article is spot on.

    Don’t blame athletes for trying to get an edge, just because the PEDs became designer and worked TOO well.

    We’d all be much better simply being thankful for the new testing changes, and letting all who deserve entry into the Hall of Fame (PEDs, warts, and all) actually get in.

    • smoochytherhino - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:40 AM

      The distinction isn’t who has and hasn’t told their tale, it’s who has and hasn’t used. And how you think that’s irrelevant to honors such as the hall of fame I will never understand.

      Furthermore the argument that they were just so damned good the players couldn’t help themselves is ridiculous. Why should you not blame athletes for trying to get an edge using PEDs when it comes to the HOF? Those that are proven to have been users don’t deserve entry in my opinion.

      I don’t blame athletes for using in the sense that they profited heavily monetarily and fame-wise. If they felt it was worth it, fine, that’s their choice. But how that is then carried over into being required to honor them in the HOF doesn’t make any sense to me.

      • temporarilyexiled - Jan 23, 2013 at 12:03 PM

        I knew I wouldn’t get much support for my position, but I can elaborate.

        No one will ever no who has and who hasn’t – only bits and pieces of a much bigger story.

        The only people that even get to make the argument that it isn’t fair are the ones who know they didn’t use. Again, we won’t ever know who to believe. Our guesses don’t count.

        But even those I just mentioned also made a choice – albeit the right one. They took the high road. And the high road means staying on the high road – not bitching about it now.

        As for the Hall of Fame, it needs to wear it. Any real hall of history recounts it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. If it’s just a fraternity, then that’s not for the fans.

        If and when MLB learns how to be transparent, let me know. Until then, it’s better to wear the past, be thankful for the present, and look forward to the future.

  10. cktai - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    Armstrong attacked and tried to discredit people who accused him. He tried to publicly humiliate them, up to a point where they could not properly function in their profession. He kept denying until it became impossible for him to deny any more, and only then did he come clean. He literally said he regrets coming back to cycling because without his comeback he would have never been caught. Armstrong was not truly apologetic. He is not sorry he doped, he is sorry that he is caught, and he does not apologize for doping, he apologizes for the fact that people had to found out he had doped.

    I have seen a lot of former cyclists come out and confess to doping abuse, such as David Millar, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Thomas Dekker, Steven de Jongh, Danny Nelissen, and Jonathan Vaughters. In most of those cases, they were truly apologetic. They were apologetic for using doping, for trying to cover up doping use, and for fighting the charges. They tell the entire story, explain the situation, describe how they made the decision to start doping, while fully accepting their own responsibility in the matter. Armstrong on the other hand, only confesses to what is already known, and he does so in an orchestrated manner which seems to minimize his own responsibility, and only after he was completely backed against the wall. That is what makes him so insincere.

  11. randygnyc - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Bullshit. Guys like Giambi and pettitte have recovered nicely since their admissions. Can’t say the same for players like palmiero and bonds.

  12. martywinn - Jan 23, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    To me the problem with so many of these apologies is that they are so obviously self-serving or forced due to being caught. How about actually being remorseful for doing something wrong? How about actually repenting? “Look, I’m a terrible sinner, I’m selfish and was only concerned with myself. I’m embarassed of my actions. There is no good reason for you to forgive me but I would very much appreciate it if you would forgive me and give me a second chance. I will do everything in my power to not abuse your trust again.” And actually mean it.

  13. Stiller43 - Jan 23, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    But if you come clean right away, im sure its better.

    If you lie and then come clean, people hate you because you lied to them, not for the drugs.

    Or if you lie and then more evidence comes out, obviously theyll hate you for lying as well.

    Its a good rule in life that you learn once you get older…clean up the situation immediately, because it can only get messier.

  14. tcostant - Jan 23, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    Rafael Palmeiro wants you to know that “clamming up” isn’t eorking so well for him.

  15. professormaddog31 - Jan 23, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    Apples to oranges. As so many others here have pointed out, it’s not the admission of guilt, it’s the bullying and life ruining tactics used by Lance in trying to cover up his lies. Had he come out years ago, say when Floyd Landis did, and didn’t sue people and conduct smear campaigns against people who knew the truth, perhaps public opinion wouldn’t be so bad.

    In time people may forgive him. Look at Pete Rose. He was a vilified scumbag for years, and then he came clean about his gambling scandal. Now look at him: he’s got a [horrible] new reality show on TLC and there’s not as much hatred toward him.

    Bonds and Clemens are engaged in tactics much like Armstrong, and this makes them less likable and less likely to be forgiven right away. But people like Pettitte and Giambi, and probably Jose Canseco too – they have been upfront about it, don’t shy away from it, and have tried to negate the damage done.

  16. millmannj - Jan 23, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged & stex52: Livestrong hasn’t given a penny to cancer research, their charity is about cancer “awareness”.

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