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Originally published January 15, 2013 at 6:19 PM | Page modified January 16, 2013 at 5:04 PM

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For Lance Armstrong, forgiveness shouldn't come easily

Lance Armstrong's cruel lies and arrogance will mean rehabilitating his legacy will take more than an appearance with Oprah Winfrey.

Times staff columnist

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Why should we give this liar, cheater the time of day and the attention is maybe the... MORE
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Almost every doper who has ever been caught, in every sport that has ever been played, has initially professed his innocence.

The excuses practically have become clichés. An over-the-counter dietary supplement was mistaken for a performance enhancing drug. Or the chain of custody was broken. A drug was tainted. Or maybe a leaky beaker lied.

Before they come clean about being dirty, athletes prevaricate, hoping their lies will set them free, believing that if they sound sincere enough, the public will believe them even when the facts support their guilt.

And no cheater/athlete has lied for longer and declared his innocence louder and damaged lives more profoundly than cyclist Lance Armstrong.

For more than a decade, Armstrong went on every television show from "SportsCenter" to "60 Minutes" and told people he was clean. He co-wrote books that lied about his PED use. He gave magazine interviews where he swore he won his seven Tour de France titles legally and he won lawsuits against newspapers that questioned his drug use.

One thing we know about Lance Armstrong, he has endurance. Maybe he figured he could hold on long enough that the chase pack of detractors finally would lose interest in his case and he would escape into an ex-champion's lush life, making millions as a spokesman for the many companies who sought his endorsement.

Armstrong has spent who knows how much money defending his reputation. He bullied teammates like Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. He humiliated staff members. He abused and cruelly discredited friends and fellow competitors.

He was vicious. He was ruthless. He cared more about saving his name than saving his sport. He was selfish. He didn't care who he hurt or whose career he damaged and he damaged a lot of them.

And still he got caught. He was stripped of his Tour de France titles. This week he confessed his guilt to Oprah Winfrey and threw himself at the mercy of the court of public opinion.

Who knows what his game plan is.

I don't think of Armstrong as someone who can or will be humbled. I believe his arrogance is so deeply embedded that he can't allow himself to be completely exposed.

We still don't know the extent of his confession. Winfrey said Tuesday that he was "pretty forthcoming" in his taped interview with her. Pretty forthcoming doesn't sound like the unvarnished truth.

And confessing on a talk show is not quite the same as confessing to USADA or WADA or the IOC. Armstrong still could face criminal charges and lawsuits from the many enemies he has made. This merely could be the start of his troubles.

Maybe he wants to be forgiven. Or maybe he thinks he can fake contrition the same way he faked his innocence. Maybe, like Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods have tried to do, he's attempting to reclaim his legacy.

But after their self-inflicted troubles, Bryant won more NBA titles and Woods won more golf tournaments. Like it or not, winning has a way of saving reputations.

There are no more Tour de France titles for Armstrong to chase. There are no more races to win. He can't reclaim his reputation through competition.

And if he thinks all of us will easily forgive and forget, he might take a look at baseball's recent Hall of Fame voting, where Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were denied entrance.

As a highly visible cancer survivor, Armstrong saved countless lives and encouraged probably hundreds of thousands of other cancer patients through his inspirational words and through the millions of dollars he raised through his Livestrong foundation. That is undeniable.

But because of his lies he has deeply damaged his foundation and ruined the businesses of people with whom he associated.

Now he might just be starting to understand that payback for all of his wrongs is a bear. His real contrition will be measured in the good he does for the rest of his life.

Armstrong beat cancer. That was the greatest victory of his life and the only one that still belongs to him.

Despite the shame that has followed him since he quit fighting the accusations and the evidence against him, he still has the capacity to inspire people.

He beat cancer. That is his powerful — and only — remaining message of hope.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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