Jennifer Thomas is a bestselling author, psychologist, speaker, consultant & apology critic

Lance Armstrong is not Apology-Strong

Monday, Lance Armstrong admitted to doping in cycling in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Last night, the Oxygen network broadcast the second part of the interview. I’ve analyzed Armstrong’s comments using the five languages of apology from my book with Gary Chapman by the same title.  Here is a numbered list of our apology languages.  Below, I’ve referenced these numbers in parentheses following some of his selected comments:

1. Expressing regret- Saying “I’m sorry for the hurt I’ve caused”

2. Accepting responsibility- Saying “I was wrong.”

3. Making restitution- Asking, “What can I do to make things right?

4. Genuinely repenting- Stating how you will change so you will not do it again.

5. Requesting forgiveness- Asking, “Will you please forgive me?”


Interview Part 1:

I’m not the most believable guy in the world, I understand.

(When asked whether he was a bully): Yeah (#2).

I was reckless. I deserve it (criticism)  (#2).

(About trying to win at all costs): The level it went to was a flaw  (#2).

(About a video clip of him from the past): Look at that arrogant person. That’s not good  (#2).

I’ve made some mistakes in my life. That video was one of them. Watching it, I’m embarrassed. That was lame  (#1 and #2).

(About whether he felt his doping was wrong when he did it): No. Scary, huh?  (#2).

(About whether he felt he had cheated when he doped): No. I know it 1000 times more now  (#2).

Supporters have every right to feel betrayed. It’s my fault. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to apologize and earn back trust  (#2, #4).

I need to apologize to (masseuse) Emma O’Riley. She’s one of the people that got run over  (#2).

(About having sued people who outed him): It’s a major flaw. A guy who expected to get everything he wanted. It’s inexcusable. I’ve started the process of contacting them directly and saying I’m sorry. I was wrong. You were right  (#1 and #2).

I haven’t doped since 2005  (#4)

Interview Part 2:

I owe a lot of people apologies… (To my followers) I understand you anger, your sense of betrayal. You supported me, you believed… and I lied to you (#1 and #2).

(Tweeting about having his Tour De France jerseys). That was a mistake. That was more defiance. You know what was scary, I actually thought it was a good idea at the time (#2).

I need to not do therapy (counseling) sporadically. I need to do it consistently.

Over the holidays, I told my oldest son that it’s true (I’ve been doping). (Tearfully for the first time) I told Luke, “Don’t defend me anymore. …Just say ‘hey. my Dad said he’s sorry.’ I said, ‘I love you'” (#1 and #2).

It’s not fair for me to have put this issue into my kids’ lives. My interviews and dumb tweets will live forever  (#2).

That was narcisstic (on my part)  (#2).

I’m deeply sorry for what I did  (#1).

The biggest challenge for the rest of my life is to not slip up again  (#4). I cheated to win bike races,  lied about it, bullied people… the ultimate crime was the betrayal of all the people who believed in me  (#2).


In his apology, Armstrong used only three of the languages of apology (expressing regret- one full star, accepting responsibility- one  full star, and genuinely repenting- one full star). Based upon our research, he would have missed the mark for 30% of people with this limited statement.

I added the italics (above) to sections of Armstrong’s comments that I would coach him to strengthen. All of the italicized passages include a passive voice or impersonal pronouns. I would advise him to have made these statements stronger by substituting words like “I”, “me” and “mine” in order to boost his perceived sincerity.


This big confession is reminiscent of Tiger Woods’ 2010 apology for mega-philandering. I gave his apology a 5 Star rating but I was unsure whether the apology script had been written by Woods or by his public relations team. In contrast, I give Armstrong some credit for having made his confession without an apparent script.

My family is one that has cheered for Armstrong and the US Postal team in the “Tour de Lance” over the years.  I recall my 5-year-old son cheering for Lance (we use his first name in our home) as he rode triumphantly into Paris at the end of one of his tours. We had told my little guy that Lance would ride through Paris and then receive his championship trophy.  When we saw TV coverage of the bikers passing by the Arc de Triumph, my son asked incredulously if that monument would be Lance’s trophy.  🙂

Some readers may (understandably) have “Lance fatigue”. Others may say that they have not lost their respect for him this week because he did not have their respect in the first place. I know a number of people who were insulted by how Mr. Armstrong appears to have treated his former wife (Kik Armstrong) and his former girlfriend (Sheryl Crow). While many talking heads are chattering on the news channels, I’ve noticed the apparent classy silence of these two women this week.

It is worth noting that Lance Armstrong and his legacy are very complex.  He is a cancer survivor and he has been a great help to others through the development of the LIVESTRONG charity. As a psychologist who works with many families who are battling cancer, I’d be remiss if I did not applaud his efforts to be truthful now and to assist cancer survivors.


Language Complicates Armstrong Apology

What are your thoughts?


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