No holds will be barred during Oprah Winfrey’s exclusive Next Chapter interview with Lance Armstrong, which airs in two parts this Thursday and Friday. We already know that Armstrong admits to doping in the interview — which means that in it, he’ll also probably issue a public apology for using performance enhancers, as well as for the years he spent apparently misleading the public about said doping.
Can Armstrong’s televised mea culpa pave the way for his eventual redemption? It’s possible, as long as he studied up on these memorable public apologies before sitting down with Oprah. Here’s what we’d like to see from Armstrong’s upcoming confession — as inspired by the contrite men who came before him.
Get straight to the point
When Winfrey brings up the doping scandal, Armstrong should swiftly admit to wrongdoing — and say, firmly and simply, that he’s sorry. That was Bill Clinton’s strategy when he addressed the nation on Aug. 17, 1998, admitting that he “did have a relationship with [Monica] Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.”
Of course, that scandal didn’t end with Clinton’s apology — but the frank nature of his statement made it effective nevertheless. Also worth keeping in mind: Nearly 15 years later, everybody loves Clinton again, meaning that all Lance may really need to ensure our forgiveness is time.
Show genuine emotion
Nobody’s asking for dramatic crocodile tears or theatrical voice-quivering. Authentic emotion, though, could humanize Armstrong, much like it did Tiger Woods in his 2010 infidelity apology. Woods seemed truly choked up as he spoke about his shame and vigorously defended his wife Elin, proving that he’s more than an athletic robot.
Hugh Grant’s stutter-filled 1995 Tonight Show appearance — in which he admitted that being arrested for “lewd conduct” with a prostitute was “a bad thing” — may be the most successful public apology ever given by a celebrity. The Brit didn’t just rely on his natural charm: He quickly owned up to what he had done, saying that it would be “bollocks” to make excuses for it and expressing his gratitude to those who had written him letters of support. If Armstrong wants sympathy, he’d do well to eat a slice of humble pie with Oprah.
Michael Richards got off to a good start when he appeared on the Late Show shortly after his infamous, expletive-filled comedy club rant in 2006 — or, at least, a good a start as could be expected. But after admitting to losing his temper onstage, Richards went off the rails, citing everything from general race relations and Hurricane Katrina to jujitsu and “the rage” inside him. It also didn’t help that he kept referring to black people by using the dated term “Afro-Americans.” The moral of the story for Armstrong: Stay on message, and don’t try to blame your actions on a hurricane.
Actually sound, you know, sorry
Partway through his post-rant 2006 interview with Diane Sawyer, Mel Gibson told the newswoman that he was getting tired of atoning for his sins: “I’ve apologized more than anyone I know, so it’s getting old.”
True as that may have been, the statement didn’t exactly make Gibson sound like he really regretted getting drunk and lobbing anti-Semitic slurs at a police officer — and his weirdly jokey, twitchy demeanor also didn’t help matters. So please, Lance — even if you don’t think you did anything wrong, try at least to sound like you did. If you’re believable enough, you might even convince yourself it’s true.