Friday, April 18, 2014

Five important lessons from 'The Armstrong Lie'

"The truth in all this is hard. Such a huge number of people wanted to believe so bad, that they hated anyone who didn't believe, and hated anyone who questioned it."

The Armstrong Lie is a documentary chronicling Lance Armstrong's comeback tour. The documentary had completed most of its filming when Lance's lies were exposed and he was subsequently banned from the sporting world. The filmmaker then went back to the cutting room floor and re-edited the film to incorporate the story of a dramatic fall from grace.

Here are five lessons to be learned from his powerful work:

1. Lying catches up eventually.

This is an obvious one. Lance was described by many as a gifted storyteller, able to craft a careful and compelling lie to sell products, and himself. If anyone was equipped to deceive, it was him. Lies piled up upon lies so effortlessly for the star that some friends said they didn't think he even knew he was lying. But a house built on sand will eventually fall, and so too did Lance's deceitful empire.

2. Suing can't always make your problems go away.

Sometimes the nice guy
finishes first in the end.
Lance used his incredible wealth and power to try to make his critics shut up, often suing or threatening lawsuits, and for many people it worked and they crawled into a black hole and disappeared. But Lance's former teammate, Frankie Andreu, and Frankie's wife Betsy, were determined to get the truth out there. They had nothing to lose. Frankie had already confessed his own wrongdoing, admitting he used performance enhancing drugs during several races, and he was too old to get back into the sport anyway. The Andreus also felt very burned by Lance. They felt that Lance's continued insistence on sticking to his lies when Frankie and many others had long ago owned up to what they did wrong, was perpetuating a dark cloud over the cycling world. Lance also used to be their close friend, and they felt betrayed that he would contradict their story and smear their names when they knew they were telling the truth (Betsy once accidentally found a cooler filled with banned substances in Lance's bus). Betsy especially was a woman of principles who deeply resented cheaters and liars. Lance didn't understand someone caring more about their principles than their money, because Lance is, quite obviously, without principles. 

When Armstrong realized the Andreus weren't going to back down, he upped the ante by having some of his people threaten them. Even that didn't work. Lance also orchestrated campaigns to shut others up, like his former friend Jonathan Vaughters. Lance eventually apologized to Betsy, and whether it was sincere (many viewers will think it's not) it was an apology she accepted graciously. Betsy, with all her courage and determination, as well as her penchant for forgiveness, emerges from the documentary a key reason the house of cards fell, and the voice of morality. She is a modern day hero and whistleblower.

3. Your haters may have a point. 

Armstrong chose to frame his critics as haters and liars, and tried to get rid of them through intimidation and lawsuits. Much of the media was reluctant, and scared, to believe the critics. However in the end the critics were right. If a bunch of people are jumping up and down trying to explain that something is just not the way it seems, they just may be on to something.

4. Quitting while you're ahead is often a good thing.

Quite simply, Lance got greedy. Three or four first place finishes weren't enough, he wanted more. Most Lance historians agree that had he simple stopped at the top of his game, none of this ever would have come out.

5. Journalists should never be fans too

This reminded us so much of Kate Coyne and her odd defense of all things Kate Gosselin. The filmmaker admitted he was a fan of Lance, and set about to make a documentary about his hero. The fi
Kate Coyne
lm was almost complete before the filmmaker finally got a clue that the house of cards was falling. Perhaps being so enamored with the guy prevented him from seeing the truth. As a result, he had to tell the story in hindsight. Had he been willing to open his eyes to his hero, he could have become the greatest whistleblower of them all and a hero himself. He was too busy being a fan to realize he had a Pulitzer story within his grasp. A journalist should never become so captivated by their famous subjects or the story they are telling that they miss the truth.

The Armstrong Lie is available on Netflix, Redbox, and many other outlets.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Caption this!