He’s been accused of masterminding the most sophisticated case of systematic cheating in sport ever and his admission to guilt has been described by some commentators as the biggest fall from grace for any sports start – ever. Pretty damning words and ones that would suggest that Lance Armstrong’s tawdry and tattered reputation has hit the depths from which it will never recover.
But is that really the case? Will the man whose life has become synonymous with defying the odds really be unable to recover his image?
So, if he is going to be someone that the general public can look at with admiration once again, what has the Texan got to do?
Let’s start with the big one. The major weapon in Armstrong’s armoury is that he’s more famous around the world for his charitable work through the Livestrong foundation than he is for his cycling exploits. Yes, the two are unquestionably interlinked but his fame isn’t solely down to success in the saddle.
While the likes of Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and Diego Maradonna all suffered drugs scandals, none of them had any other credentials to fall back on other than their sporting achievements.
Although having stepped down from the board of Livestrong, Armstrong will undoubtedly throw himself into charitable work over the next few years which will be the key stone to the foundations of his image rebuilding.
The most common way for a sportsman to rebuild their image is through sporting achievement. At the beginning of the 1998/99 Premiership football season fans around the country were burning effigies of David Beckham following his red card at the 1998 World Cup. Yet nine months later Beckham was holding the European Cup aloft in a Manchester United shirt and brand Beckham has become nothing short of a phenomenon.
While Armstrong has said he’d like to compete in triathlons it’s unlikely he’ll be allowed to. So what else can he do?
Well, here we need turn to the classic crisis comms manual.
1. Tell all
2. Honest and transparency
3. Don’t be defensive or uncaring
4. Take positive action
Armstrong’s appearance on Oprah was the first step in addressing points one and two. His decision to go on Oprah – the queen of middle America was a very smart move.
Armstrong knows that the sporting world will forever be divided on him. Some will argue that all his peers were taking drugs and hence Armstrong is still the greatest, while the purists will never be convinced to forgive someone who was prepared to win at all costs. But Armstrong transcends the sports world and it’s the average person on the street that Armstrong needs to win over. Oprah was the perfect soapbox from which to turn on the tears and start his journey to redemption.
Armstrong now needs to consistently show genuine remorse and use his experiences to help ensure cycling and other sports never reach such depths again. This won’t happen over night but Armstrong is the master of knowing what needs to be done to achieve success and you can be sure that before the decision to confess was made, a masterplan was created to rebuild his image.
Armstrong looked cancer in the eye and defeated it, it would be a brave person to bet against him now failing to rebuild his image. It won’t be overnight, it won’t just happen in the next couple of years but don’t be surprised to see this phoenix rise from the flames one more time.