Sports writers, of course, aren't the only journalists who claim to know that their favorite sources and heroes are honest and, above all, wouldn't lie to them. The big sports stories of this week serve as painful reminders that the media are all too willing to build up people they know know little about for the sake of the story — and it's only getting worse as more web "content producers" get rewarded for eyeballs and going viral but not for, you know, being right. Today it's Rick Reilly's turn to admit that when he was defending Lance Armstrong through the years, he didn't actually know bupkus. He just took Armstrong's word for it, confirmed if you like by his journalist's sense that what he feels in his gut must be true. Reilly is the ESPN.con columnist who made his name first at the Los Angeles Times and Sports Illustrated.
Reilly received a terse apology email from Armstrong on Wednesday, then took to ESPN.com to spin out his own mea culpa.
Two words? For 14 years of defending a man? And in the end, being made to look like a chump?
Wrote it, said it, tweeted it: "He's clean." Put it in columns, said it on radio, said it on TV. Staked my reputation on it.
"Never failed a drug test," I'd always point out. "Most tested athlete in the world. Tested maybe 500 times. Never flunked one."
Why? Because Armstrong always told me he was clean.
On the record. Off the record. Every kind of record. In Colorado. In Texas. In France. On team buses. In cars. On cell phones.....
And every time -- every single time -- he'd push himself up on his elbows and his face would be red and he'd stare at me like I'd just shot his dog and give me some very well-delivered explanation involving a few dozen F words, a painting of the accuser as a wronged employee seeking revenge, and how lawsuits were forthcoming.
Alan Abrahamson, who covers international sports from SoCal at 3WireSports, writes that "there are two plays going on in the matter of Lance Armstrong."
One is to the court of public opinion. That’s why he’s talking to Oprah Winfrey. It’s good for ratings, probably, but substantively may ultimately prove little. Lance Armstrong got caught in a big lie and now he wants something, so anything he says publicly has to be measured against what he wants.
Which leads directly to the second play: Lance Armstrong wants to compete again. To be clear, his cycling career is done. It’s not that. Instead, he wants to compete in triathlons.
And so he’s trying to figure out how to do that.
The challenge is that the one thing that has always been the hallmark of the Armstrong way has been stripped from him.
Which is: control.