For the first time during his career a public figure, Lance Armstrong is set to let some amount of truth spill from his lips into the ears of a national television audience, thanks to an interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey.

Instead of focusing on the first public admission of doping from one of the supreme narcissists the sports world as ever seen, many have mysteriously unleashed their insults and skepticism on Oprah, in lieu of Armstrong.

Why are folks assuming this interview reeks of neglect and naivety - on Oprah’s part - without having seen it?  Sure, the Marion Jones interview wasn’t as vicious as many had hoped, but Oprah is a smart woman.  I would think she learned from that experience.

In fairness, did you watch the 30 for 30 about Marion Jones?  In an entire documentary about her journey from rags to riches to federal prison, Jones, never explicitly explained how she cheated.  She apologized for her mistakes and lies, but never said, “This is what I did.  This is when I did it.” 

Moving on to the next argument…  “Oprah isn’t qualified.”  Umm, are you KIDDING ME?

Oprah Winfrey began her career as a local news reporter.  Do you know what a news reporter’s job is?  It’s to become an expert on something new every single day.  You learn, listen, read and gather enough information to convince the audience that you are a credible source on the topic and hopefully, you pull it off and actually enlighten a person or two along the way. 

Of the +1000 people employed as on-air personalities and journalists by ESPN, what percentage do you think knows anything substantial about the sport of cycling?  I’m guessing no more than two percent. 

As a young reporter in Pocatello, Idaho, I covered auto racing, windmill manufacturing, the rodeo,  nuclear engineering at the Idaho National Laboratory, a Monster Truck show for crying out loud… do you think I knew ANYTHING about any of those things?  Nope!  But I learned.  That’s our job as reporters.

Oprah Winfrey has one of the brightest and most creative staffs television.  If you think a person who has traveled the world, worked as a reporter and interviewer for more than three decades, and who -as an overweight, African-American woman in the South- managed to create a global brand all about HERSELF won’t have the tools and resources to successfully interview Lance Armstrong, well, clearly you haven’t given the situation much thought.

But then we come to this argument.  “Armstrong is using Oprah.  He’s not going to a more credible institution or to a journalist who covered him throughout because he knows she’ll be easier on him.”

If someone picked me apart and exposed my lies over the years, I wouldn’t exactly be inclined to sit down with that person either.  The odds of Armstrong not holding a grudge are none to none.  

Armstrong may be coming clean to a degree, but he’s surely doing it for self-serving reasons.  Which outcome would you prefer… an in-depth interview that shows multiple sides of this man, with the possibility of light moments and a confession of some sort, even if it’s without all the intricate details of doping? OR would you rather have no on-camera interview at all, and instead, have a PR puppet write a short statement on Armstrong’s behalf admitting to doping? 

I’ve read columns and tweets from journalists who appear to be personally offended by Oprah landing this sit-down, as though she “stole” the interview from them, or specific media colleagues.  Newsflash:  You were never in the running for this gig, and neither was the “more deserving” person you suggested was screwed out of the interview.  It was either Oprah or Nobody as far as Armstrong’s team was concerned.  

Most of what we’ve seen from Armstrong in his career has been lies, cheating, and truckload after truckload of BS.  I would expect nothing less than manipulation and ingenuous, self-serving behavior from Armstrong, regardless of the person asking him questions.  That said, I’ll give the guy a chance to prove me wrong.

And perhaps Oprah is actually the one person who gives Lance the best shot at letting what little speck of truth and humility still exist in that hollow soul to shine through to the public.  That’s what Oprah is about.  She has the ability to connect with people on a human level in such a way that they feel safe in answering even the most judgmental questions. 

Speaking of judgment, let’s do the fair thing for Oprah by reserving it for after we’ve seen the interview.  And better yet, let’s keep the heat on Lance Armstrong, the actual antagonist who seems to have lucked out into losing the spotlight to the one name bigger than his. 

When Jahvid Best went down with yet another concussion, I’m sure Detroit Lions back up running back Jerome Harrison felt ready to seize the opportunity of getting on the field and contributing, as all competitors do.  Surely, Harrison’s spirits took a nose dive when shortly after, he found out he was being traded to the struggling Philadelphia Eagles (where he spent part of last season after being traded from the Browns) for Ronnie Brown.  Little did Harrison know this unwelcome move by the Lions would be a blessing in disguise.

While we don’t know the details yet, a brain tumor is a brain tumor… you don’t want one, no matter what kind it is, and that, unfortunately, is what 28-year-old Harrison, in his sixth NFL season has.  Eagles team doctors found the tumor while giving their new running back a physical exam which nullified the trade.  Now Brown will stay put in Philly and Harrison is having the tumor treated.  Hopefully we will get more information about his exact medical condition soon.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter writes, “The trade might have actually saved Harrison’s life, the sources said. Without the deal being made, Harrison would not have undergone a physical.”

If you have read my previous blog post about head injuries, concussions, depression and player suicide, you can guess where I’m headed here.

For many years, I’ve believed every player on a professional team should undergo three physical (including blood work, body scans) and psychological exams per season.  Once before the season starts, again at mid-season and a third time at the end of the work year. 

While I know my ideal is just that, an ideal (for many reasons such as cost, and teams surviving on “what we don’t know can’t hurt us” in regards to their players), imagine the impact such care could have in terms of both physical and mental health. 

Hank Gathers.  After collapsing during a game in December, 1989, the Loyola Marymount University basketball star was checked out and diagnosed with an exercise-induced abnormal heartbeat and prescribed medication.  Gathers was fortunate to survive that first episode, but we all know how this story ends.  Gathers had reportedly reduced his dosage of medication or perhaps stopped taking it all together because he felt it adversely affected his play on the court.  Just a few months later, he collapsed at a West Coast Conference Tournament game and died shortly after. 

Michigan high school basketball player Wes Leonard wasn’t as lucky as Gathers, never getting that initial second chance at life.  The first collapse, which came after Leonard and his teammates celebrated his game-winning shot, would be his last.  Shortly after his death in March of this year, the medical examiner said the 16-year-old died of cardiac arrest brought on by a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy.  According to an LA Times article by Eryn Brown, “people with dilated cardiomyopathy have enlarged and weakened hearts that cannot pump blood through the body efficiently.  The American Heart Association has advised that children with dilated cardiomyopathy should not play competitive sports ‘because of the possibility of a sudden collapse or increased heart failure.’”

The last sentence suggests that such ailments, like Gathers’ condition, can be diagnosed by a doctor, certainly, before death. 

Unfortunately, the idea of such screenings is a bit of a mixed bag.  Famed Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo passed a full physical, including a chest x-ray in July heading into the 1969 football season.  Four months later, the 26-year-old was diagnosed with cancer after a grapefruit-sized tumor was discovered in his chest cavity.  Piccolo died less than a year later.

David Epstein provides more details on the pros and cons of screening athletes in his Sports Illustrated column:

"A study published last year by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital reported on a program that screened 510 Harvard University athletes. That study identified 11 athletes with heart abnormalities that had not been previously identified, and three of those athletes ultimately had to be restricted from sports…At the same time, about one in every six athletes was given a false positive result that required follow-up, begging the question of whether a mandatory nationwide screening program would be effective from a financial and emotional standpoint, given current diagnostic tools."

Clearly this discussion opens up a massive can of worms and perhaps there is no easy or obvious solution to the problems faced by athletes, athletic institutions and medical providers.  But it’s still a discussion worth having.  Just ask Jerome Harrison. 

Read more of David Epstein’s story about athletes and heart conditions:

Although the description of my blog states, “Laugh, cry and learn,” I certainly didn’t anticipate eliciting waterworks on Day 1.  But here I sit with tears in my eyes after reading Rick Reilly’s new take on an old story we all know too well. 

It has been well documented that a group of Flight 93 passengers challenging the terrorist hijackers resulted in the plane going down in a Shanksvill, Pennsylvania field instead of a more populated area, most likely, the Capitol Building in Washington DC.

A simple summary of the story is, as Reilly puts it, “…four athletes pushing a food cart.”  Many often unjustly use war lexicon in reference to athletes and sporting events, but in this case, it appears that the athletic background of these four men perhaps played a role in a true battle between the good guys and bad guys. 

(click the title to open the link)

(Source: ESPN)