Lance Armstrong and an Apology: Too Little, Too Late?

News reports, including an article in The New York Times, surfaced over the weekend that Lance Armstrong is considering admitting to doping during his cycling career.

If Armstrong does fess up and show some contrition, he'll be practicing some of the basic tenets of crisis PR: Admit your misdeeds, apologize and then do your best to make things right.

Today it's unclear if Armstrong will take all or any of those steps. First, there are legal entanglements that might cost Armstrong millions if he admits to doping; but perhaps more important is Armstrong's personal motivation to apologize. Throughout the years he's vehemently denied cheating accusations while leaving a trail of hurt former teammates, friends and associates who've suffered because of his denials.

What makes anyone think that now Armstrong will get all emotional and say he's sorry? "It would be hard for him to admit it, and not offer some sort of apology," says Matt Barkett, managing director at PR agency Dix & Eaton. "That fact that he deceived so many for so long, it would be hard not to issue some sort of apology."

Yet Times writer Juliet Mancur notes that a simple confession may be all Armstrong is looking for, so that he'll be able to compete in triathlons and other racing venues. A confession also may help Armstrong's cancer charity Livestrong and its now-tarnished reputation.
So if Armstrong does decide to issue some sort of apology, however weak, there's one missing element attached to those crisis tenets that's critical: Confessions and apologies should come relatively soon after the offense is committed. In Armstrong's case, he vehemently denied doping for years and is his image has suffered for that mightily.

This begs the question: Does an apology have a statute of limitations attached? Barkett thinks not, and offers up the case of Pete Rose, who for years denied he had bet on baseball games yet in the last few years has admitted doing so. Rose, Barkett says, has regained at least some stature because of it.

Has Armstrong's window of opportunity to apologize run its course, or at this point is any apology better than nothing?

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