Writer Michael McCann is a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated. He's been covering Lance Armstrong's legal issues for the past year, following the allegations that Armstrong doped and used performance-enhancing drugs.
McCann regularly responds to readers' questions on Twitter, too. About a month ago, he tells All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden, he had a new follower: @LanceArmstrong. It was the former cycling champion himself.
McCann and Armstrong began to exchange messages online. They never spoke by phone. Then, two weeks ago, Armstrong invited him to come to his home in Austin, Texas, for an interview — only the second interview that Armstrong has granted since talking with Oprah Winfrey in January.
"The whole time, my wife and other family members were a little bit skeptical that this was even real," says McCann, who wrote about his experience with Armstrong in Sports Illustrated. He wasn't so sure himself. "Maybe this is a hoax, maybe I'll go down there and it won't be him," he thought.
Turns out that it really was Lance Armstrong whom McCann was communicating with. He and Armstrong talked for three hours at the disgraced cyclist's home, with Armstrong candidly answering all of the writer's questions.
"The only constraint I had is that I could not quote him directly on most topics, that I could paraphrase what he said," McCann says. "And of course, it limited how much I could reveal in terms of what he said."
McCann says that Armstrong answered every question that he asked and revealed more about his current battle with pending lawsuits. "He's very much focused right now on litigation," McCann says. "His immediate, short-term focus is on responding to a handful of lawsuits which threaten him tremendously."
Armstrong expressed genuine regret in disappointing his fans, McCann says. "He definitely expressed contrition about those that believed in him and that now are extremely disappointed in him."
"But he did argue," McCann adds, "that if you look at, for instance, all of the lying that he had, he's noted that he was asked the question about doping much more often than other cyclists, that the media and the public awareness was focused on him and not others who he argues were doing the same things that he was doing. And I think that was a theme that he tried to raise: that his achievements were extraordinary and his cheating was only ordinary."
JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
Michael McCann is a writer with Sports Illustrated. He's been covering what's probably the biggest story in sports in the last year: Lance Armstrong's fall from grace into a legal quagmire. McCann regularly responds to readers' questions on Twitter, and about a month ago, something very intriguing happened.
MICHAEL MCCANN: I noticed that @LanceArmstrong followed me on Twitter.
LYDEN: Now, McCann's thinking it can't be the Armstrong, right? Nevertheless, he began to exchange messages online. They never spoke by phone. Then two weeks ago, @LanceArmstrong invited McCann to come to Austin for an interview. If this were really Lance, it would be the only interview with Armstrong since the Oprah Winfrey appearance in January.
MCCANN: The whole time, my wife and other family members were a little bit skeptical that this was even real. Maybe this is a hoax. Maybe I'll go down there and it won't be him.
LYDEN: It really was Lance Armstrong, and they talked for three hours that day.
MCCANN: The only constraint I had is that I could not quote him directly on most topics, that I could paraphrase what he said. And, of course, it limited how much I could reveal in terms of what he said.
LYDEN: So given all of that, how long did it last, and what did you learnt that you hadn't known before?
MCCANN: The conversation lasted about three hours. And in terms of what I learned that I didn't know going in, I would say that he impressed me in terms of his willingness to talk about any topic. And I also learned some things that I didn't know. We talked, for instance, about the lawsuits that he brought against individuals that had basically said that he had doped, and he used litigation to counter those allegations.
And we talked about why would he do that. He didn't blame his lawyers. He didn't blame his advisors. He did mention, however, that companies with which he had endorsement contracts had expected that he would respond aggressively to allegations. I would also say what I didn't know going in was that he's very much focused right now on litigation. His immediate short-term focus is on responding to a handful of lawsuits, which threaten him tremendously.
LYDEN: That's so interesting, Michael, I mean, because in the Oprah Winfrey interview, he came off really as fairly robotic. I just have to ask you, did he express regret at having misled the public for so many years, all the denials about the doping? Did he say, I'm so terribly, terribly sorry?
MCCANN: Yeah, he did. And he raised specifically when I said, what about all your fans? What about the fans that you've lost because of this? And he definitely expressed contrition about those that believed in him and that now are extremely disappointed in him. And I felt that it was genuine. You know, I can't get inside someone's heart, but I believe that he genuinely is disappointed that he's disappointed so many people, including people that believed in him so firmly.
He did argue that if you look at, for instance, all of the lying that he had, he was asked the question about doping much more often than other cyclists that the media and the public awareness was focused on him and not others who he argues were doing the same things that he was doing. And I think that was a theme that he tried to raise is that his achievements were extraordinary, and his cheating was only ordinary.
Now, again, that doesn't defend cheating, but at least gets inside his mind to say he was still the top racer in an era where - at least he argues - everyone was cheating. Whether that's true, you know, people are going back and forth on that. I've had people email me saying that's categorically untrue. I've had others contact me saying it was true. I'm not in a position where I can really evaluate that claim, but I am looking into it.
LYDEN: That's Michael McCann. He's a legal analyst and writer for Sports Illustrated, and he also directs the sports and entertainment law program at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. Thank you very much for speaking with us.
MCCANN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.