Note to Lance Armstrong: Redemption Begins With an Apology

Jim Barbagallo

It’s curtains for Lance Armstrong.Earlier today, the International Cycling Union officially stripped the former cycling king of his seven Tour de France titles on the heels of a scathing report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in which Armstrong was tied to a wide-scale doping arrangement.

Armstrong, doping scheme or not, is a hard guy to like. As for me, I stopped liking him about seven years ago when he split up with musician Sheryl Crow. Whatever the reason for their break up (he claims it was her biological clock), I stopped liking him right then and there, which – ironically -- is about the same time I got interested in cycling and bought a road bike.

As I grew more interesting in cycling, I started to learn more about Armstrong and the “greatness” he achieved by winning the grueling, 21-day Tour de France a record seven consecutive times. His string of titles began after his heroic recovery from advanced testicular cancer, with which he was diagnosed in 1996 at the age of 25.

Now, as many cycling insiders and observers of the sport have suspected, much of Armstrong’s success was due to doping. In the recent report, he was labeled a “serial cheat.” Not long before the report was released, and after denying doping allegations for most of his recent career, Armstrong said he was tired or fighting the allegations.

But his surrender was too little too late as far as his reputation is concerned.

Today, Armstrong is a disgraced athlete. His reputation as the greatest of the great modern cyclists is tarnished, perhaps for all time despite the work he has done under his Livestrong Foundation.

Can Armstrong ever be redeemed? It’s too early to say, but if he ever hopes for redemption, then the best place to start is with an apology.

An apology doesn’t always invite, or even earn, forgiveness. Nonetheless, when a wrong has been committed, it’s usually the right — and smart — thing to do. It’s crisis communications 101, yet so few acknowledge the “apology” as an obvious first step.

Newsmakers in the sports and entertainment industries, and CEOs and their corporations in all industries, would be wise to build apology basics into their crisis communications plans.

A former employer and friend of mine, the late Peter Morrissey, developed the following six apology basics. Will they work for Armstrong? Still hard to say, but he’d be even more of a fool to at least not give them a try.

6 Simple Steps to Apologize

  • Apologize to victims and their families first – privately and publicly.
  • Issue a blanket apology.
  • Have the CEO, or leader of the organization, issue the apology and empower employees to do the same.
  • Keep the channels of communication open – keep restating the apology at every opportunity.
  • Keep the public posted on the progress to solve a problem.
  • Restate the individual’s or organization’s intent to take responsibility – to fix the problem and do what is right.

What’s your view? Can Armstrong be redeemed?

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