On Friday the news affairs office of Duke University stirred into action. Professor of ethics Wayne Norman of Duke's Kenan Institute for Ethics and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences was available for comment on the Lance Armstrong situation.
Editors were notified that if they wished to partake of Professor Norman's insights, Duke would provide an "on-campus satellite uplink facility for live or pre-recorded television interviews" and also "ISDN connectivity for radio interviews."
In other words, Duke was offering the American media an opportunity to judge and condemn Armstrong not on the authority of a mere sportswriter or country preacher, but that of an eminent scholar.
What Norman would say about Armstrong when the mikes were turned on and the cameras were rolling was not left in doubt. A statement had already been prepared:
Lance Armstrong's decision to throw in the towel without admitting guilt on the doping allegations is disappointing because it doesn't even begin to address or redress his most significant ethical transgression. Many of us are jaded enough about doping in a sport like cycling—where it may well be true that virtually all of his main competitors were doping. But once the evidence of his doping becomes this compelling, it will be impossible to feel anything but contempt for his years of aggressive denials.
He has looked America—and other audiences—in the face on countless occasions and lied about his innocence. But much worse—surely the nastiest of all his transgressions—he has ferociously attacked and falsely accused any individual, institution or official who has raised evidence against him.
"Marion Jones has staked out a road map to public redemption for the cheating athlete who became a serial liar, then came clean. But until Armstrong publicly apologizes for all of the false accusations and slander he has dished out for the most selfish of causes—saving his own reputation, and until he makes amends with all of those individuals and organizations, he will remain a social pariah.
At this point, it doesn't look like he is ready to follow Jones's path. Instead, he continues to look like Roger Clemens on steroids, so to speak.
Until he begins the long, onerous and humbling process of apologizing and making amends for his years of earnest lying and vicious slander, he will not have much reputational capital to lend to noble causes like his cancer foundation. On the contrary, his ongoing association will surely hurt a cause more than it can help it.
A couple things about this statement struck me immediately. The first is how shallow it is. It is basically a kind of preschool jingle:
Until you do
No one will want
To play with you.
And it presumes to speak for us all. "It will be impossible to feel anything but contempt . . . Until Armstrong publicly apologizes . . . he will remain a social pariah."
There are reasons Americans don't do apologies well. One of them is the jackals who feast on every scandal and squeal apologize, apologize. Anyone with an ounce of dignity would rather wash out to sea on an ice floe than bend to those prigs.
But what's most annoying about Duke and Norman's bid for 15 minutes of limelight is its opportunism. Big-name jock falls from grace. Famous university trots out ethicist for comment. If Norman had something to say explaining Armstrong, that would be one thing. But all he does is wag a finger at him.