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PADECKY: Americans won't forgive Armstrong the bully

Petaluma cyclist Steven Cozza says he was confronted by one of Lance Armstrong's teammates after Armstrong had read a quote by Cozza.

KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 8:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 8:43 p.m.

Will America give Lance Armstrong a second chance? I asked Petaluma's Steven Cozza that question. Now retired, Cozza spent 10 years racing in Europe, six of them as a pro. Cozza competed against Armstrong in 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2010.

Cozza, 27, responded with a story.

It was during the 2009 Tour of California. Cozza, riding for Garmin, doesn't remember what stage of the race. A reporter asked him about cyclists doping. Cozza said he grew up with heroes in cycling but one by one he had taken down nearly all the posters from his bedroom wall, after they had been busted for doping. Cozza mentioned he still had Armstrong's poster on the wall.

“I sure hope I don't have to tear down Lance's poster from my wall,” Cozza said.

The next day, as he was readying himself for that day's stage, one of Armstrong's teammates on Astana confronted Cozza.

“He told me Lance had read my quote,” Cozza said, “and that I had better close my mouth in regards to Lance and doping. I said, ‘Whatever.' ”

Then Cozza sat back and pondered for a moment what had happened. Instead of focusing on riding in America's premier cycling event, Armstrong had ordered one of his teammates to go to Cozza. Armstrong clearly was trying to intimidate Cozza, to shut him up. Cozza wasn't accusing or attacking Armstrong. Yet Cozza felt attacked.

“Wow!” Cozza thought to himself. “I mean, who am I? I'm 21. I'm just breaking into the sport. Not a lot of people know who I am. What a control freak Lance is. What a bully this guy is.”

This bully has been and will be confessing on TV to Oprah Winfrey on Thursday night and tonight. This bully is portraying himself as one doper among many. This bully is trying to rebuild his image. Will Americans and the proper enforcement agencies give Armstrong that second chance?

“I don't think he deserves a second chance,” Cozza said. “The sport doesn't need him around. I think cycling is done with Lance. It's time for cycling to move on. He's an egomaniac; he's shown that. I have heard through the grapevine that the only reason he is doing this (TV interviews) is to compete again. He loves to compete and he wants to do the Ironman (triathlon).”

Santa Rosa cyclist Levi Leipheimer, a former Armstrong teammate who last year detailed Armstrong's alleged doping to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, did not respond to a request for comment.

Americans love second chances. Ex-Dodgers pitcher Steve Howe was suspended seven times for various addictions in the '80s, yet he always found a team that would take a chance. More recently, All-Star Josh Hamilton has publicly battled drug and alcohol addictions while earning millions of dollars with the Rangers and Angels.

As troubled as they have been, both men still elicited sympathy.

Lauren Morimoto is an assistant professor of kinesiology at Sonoma State. She teaches classes in the sociology of sport, including one on ethics. Morimoto sees no dilemma when judging Armstrong.

“Sympathy? Me, personally, no,” Morimoto said. “I understand why some people would. But it wasn't like this guy made just one mistake, like he juiced in one race. He made a chosen commitment. And he chose to destroy people's lives. To me this is less about him cheating and more about the way he handed it.”

Morimoto, in fact, is suspicious and distrusting that Armstrong used Oprah as a vehicle for his public admission.

“He went to Oprah and Oprah is a good redeemer,” Morimoto said. “But by not going to ESPN or a legitimate news organization like NBC or the Associated Press, it seems to me this is his way to stop the bleeding without making a full apology.”

The bleeding, for Armstrong, was nearly immediate. Most of his sponsors dropped him, including Nike. He resigned from Livestrong. He is being asked to return his prize money. He is facing lawsuits. The government may get involved. Much of his $100 million fortune is in danger of evaporating.

“I don't think Lance expected all this damage,” Morimoto said.

This damage has outrage behind it. Armstrong has fueled it and is being more vilified than even Barry Bonds, baseball's poster child for the steroid era.

Said Morimoto, “The difference between Bonds and Armstrong is this: Barry never tried to portray himself as a good guy. Lance did. To me this (Oprah interview) is very much a public relations move.”

Armstrong went after people, in small ways as with Cozza, and in large ways as with the $500,000 he won in a libel lawsuit against the London-based Sunday Times. The Sunday Times has filed a lawsuit to recover that money. At every turn, Armstrong repudiated any accusation, sometimes with great disgust and show of outrage. Armstrong did that for over 10 years.

“All his denials now are not believable,” said Joshua Glasgow, director of the Center for Ethics, Law and Society at SSU. “Should we now believe his admissions?”

This is the part of the Lance Armstrong story that is most reprehensible.

“He went after people, calling them liars,” Morimoto said, “when in fact he was the liar.”

How can we believe anything anymore that comes out of his mouth as nothing more than Lance promoting himself?

Morimoto finds a saying most helpful in assessing the character and the sincerity of Lance Armstrong.

“People show you who they are,” she said, “and Lance has shown us.”

So what do we do with Lance Armstrong after his Oprah dog-and-pony show? We should never forget the depth of his deceit.

“Lance manipulated and destroyed lives,” Cozza said.

Armstrong should return all his prize money. He should apologize on network TV, not in front of a comparatively soft interviewer like Winfrey. Then he should never give another interview, stay away from cycling and compete in triathlons as a completely disgraced and disgusting cheat.

And if Armstrong decides to live by himself on an island, never to come out from under that palm tree, all the better.

“In a sense,” Cozza said, “he is a cancer for cycling.”

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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