Lance Armstrong the latest of the big sports interviews
The pre-planned, big-event sports interview of the Lance Armstrong-Oprah Winfrey variety is largely a fairly recent phenomenon.
Muhammad Ali, the most famous athlete in the world for decades, didn't do a sitdown after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Martina Navratilova came out with nary a ripple in 1981— no interview, or, to quote Jodie Foster, "press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show."
Athletes in the 1970s and 1980s got arrested and took drugs, performance enhancing and recreational, but didn't make the rounds. You could say they were able to hide without the media machine maw waiting to be fed. Or if they did talk, it wasn't hyped into being a "big deal."
In many cases these interviews have been mea culpa affairs designed to begin the process of image rehabilation, though not always. It's a question for another article whether these apology tours are necessary, and whether they're driven more by the media or the p.r. firms and agencies throwing their weight behind their athlete clients.
Armstrong is the latest and arguably biggest of the cases, but here's a rundown of interviews with some sports figures that were anticipated to some degree:
Dr. Jamie Astaphan, 1988
Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson rocked the world by running 9.79 in the 100 metres at the Seoul Games and then for testing positive for stanozolol. Johnson's most extensive on-camera questioning soon after the event came at the televised Dubin Inquiry. For many Canadians, their first exposure to someone on the inside of the story was when his dealer faced the grilling of The Journal host Barbara Frum.
Mike Tyson, 1988
Tyson was at the peak of his fistic powers, obliterating Michael Spinks, but his life outside the ring was a chaotic mess. There were explosive outbursts at wife Robin Givens, car crashes, and battles over his finances between his management and new mother-in-law (Remember Ruth Roper?). At the time of this 20/20 interview at their New Jersey mansion with Barbara Walters, the subdued Tyson was under the influence of lithium and thorazine, it was later revealed.
Alan Eagleson, 1991
Should it be a badge of honour that Canadians don't have an extensive history with the big sports sit and cry? Wayne Gretzky's tears came at a hastily arranged press conference, while Bobby Orr surprised many last week by announcing plans for an autobiography. Orr's agent, Eagleson, was promoting his autobiography at the time of this CBC interview, but after years of managing conflicts of interest and mismanaging other people's money, the NHLPA honcho was starting to feel the heat as reporters from both sides of the border, particularly in the U.S., started taking a closer look at his dealings.
O.J. Simpson, 1996
Just a few months after his controversial murder acquittal and a decade before he wrote a book in which he hypothesized about killing ex-wife Nicole Brown and acquaintance Ronald Goldman, the NFL Hall of Famer faced the cameras. Remember which network got the first interview?
Alex Rodriguez, 2009
Rodriguez reacted as quickly as Armstrong has dawdled, responding to a Sports Illustrated report about his alleged steroid use years earlier by sitting down in a matter of days with Peter Gammons of ESPN. The interview was perhaps most remarkable for his choice of attire, a sweater reminiscent of those worn in court by parent killers the Menendez brothers.
Tiger Woods, 2010
After robotically reciting a prepared statement at a strange press conference, Woods months later controlled the message by giving ESPN and The Golf Channel just a few precious minutes of his time. Warmth hardly emanated from Woods in either instance. Any attempt to extract information about his infidelities and infamous Thanksgiving car accident were met with a combination of "It's in the police report," and/or "That's between [ex-wife] Elin and I."
LeBron James, 2010
"The Decision" met with much derision as ESPN paid for the right to interview James over a hard-hitting topic, his free agent choice. The network breathlessly hyped their coverage.
Jerry Sandusky, 2011
The phone interview with NBC's Bob Costas was anticipated because few knew a lot about the man who'd suddenly become a public enemy, accused of unspeakable acts allegedly committed inside a hallowed institution. It was also anticipated because it seemed like a spectacularly bad choice, in legal terms, for Sandusky to speak publicly before his trial. And so it proved to be. What was learned? If ever asked if you're sexually attracted to boys, just say no. Do not repeat the question, take an agonizingly long pause, and offer a convoluted response.
These video clips first aired on ABC (Tyson), BET (Simpson), ESPN (Woods, James, Rodriguez) and NBC (Sandusky).