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Oprah interview: Can Lance Armstrong rehabilitate his image?

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“To rehabilitate his image, he needs to do many things, and he must do them without a quid pro quo that it will lead to any exoneration,” says Len Shyles, professor of communication at Villanova University. “He owes many apologies to many individuals and interests. Unfortunately a liar, a cheat, and a thief, he defrauded businesses and people of millions of dollars and some may have been severely damaged. He systematically ruined the lives of other cyclists and private citizens, costing them their reputations and many dollars defending themselves from lawsuits.”

Where Armstrong must begin, say several analysts, is reestablishing some small measure of trust and integrity.

"These top athletes are perceived as role models and when they fail to maintain that level of trust, it’s difficult to get it back. Pete Rose is a great example. One of history’s greatest baseball players, but he’s been perhaps permanently scarred by his gambling,” says Mitch Leff, president of Leff & Associates, a public-relations firm in Atlanta. “People will forgive someone who makes a mistake, or does something illegal or unethical, if they admit what they did and show a real effort to change. But when someone lies for years and years, in interview after interview, it is very difficult to forgive.”

That means Armstrong must come across as absolutely sincere – an immense challenge based on his past.

“In his interview with Oprah – and in others that may follow – he must be perceived as genuinely contrite about his past mistakes and not just using the opportunity as a springboard to other pursuits,” says Richard Goedkoop, retired professor of communication at LaSalle University. “This will be a challenge since his denials on this subject go back at least 10 years. Why should we believe he is sincere now?”

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