There's a wonderful piece of sanctimonious hokum at the end of Dan Roan's BBC interview with Lance Armstrong that perfectly captures the idiocy of our outrage at the former cyclist's admission of doping.
"What's wrong with that," Roan asks, without the slightest hint of a smile, when Armstrong points out any young cyclist in the mid-90's unprepared to cheat would have had to give up his dreams and leave the sport to take a regular job. "Ok, so you don't have the glamorous career and the millions, but at least you have your integrity intact."
What a lovely idea.
In our determination to wring every last delicious drop of puritanical outrage from this modern morality tale, we refuse to consider seriously the idea that Armstrong was only ever a symptom - of an illness that has bedevilled cycling since at least the 1950s - and not a cause.
We refuse, too, to countenance the notion that virtually all of us would have taken the drugs, if it meant the glamorous career and the millions in the bank, if there was no other way to succeed or to realise a talent that, were the playing field level, was supreme.
Armstrong - who appeared to have aged considerably since his Oprah interview two years ago, now channelling the charisma of Bill Clinton or Matt Damon and emitting it through Tony Blair's by turns honest/shifty eyes - said, not unreasonably, he would do it all again.
He said, were he teleported back to 1995 and the circumstances (i.e. everyone else was cheating) were the same, this profoundly competitive man wouldn't have hesitated to join in, but that he would have tried to be nicer while doing it.
"That will reinforce, Lance, some critics who say you are sorry for getting caught, not for doing it in the first place," Roan told him, more-disappointed-than-angry.
"They would argue that's a lack of contrition. They want you to be sorry for doing it in the first place and without that they are going to be very reluctant to move on and forgive. Do you understand that?"
The BBC man made it clear that not only must Armstrong say he is sorry, but he must mean it from the bottom of his heart. Until then, he must wear the sackcloth and be the pariah. One suspects he realises that, by now.
But this madly spurious desire for contrition ignores the fact that top-level endurance cyclists were all at it, and have always all been at it. We know this unequivocally. For example, 87 percent of the top ten finishers against whom Armstrong competed for his seven Tour de France wins tested positive for banned substances, or were strongly suspected.
The history of the Tour de France is littered with doping transgressions, and has been since the Pelissier brothers admitted midway through the 1924 race they prepared using cocaine.
The American was just clever enough for most of his career not to get caught.
Yes, Armstrong may not be a very nice man, and there is a good deal of evidence, from his psychopathically disgraceful treatment of whistleblowers Betsy Adreu and Filipo Simeoni, to his rudeness to cycling journalists Paul Kimmage and David Walsh, to suggest he is not, but are we really surprised by what he did?
If it weren't Armstrong, it would have been the other guy. And, let's face it, there was a peloton full of other guys to choose from, for more than sixty years. Now, Armstrong reaps what he has sown, and quite deservedly. He took the risk of cheating, and, caught, he pays the price.
He will probably never compete again, and that is as it should be.
There are myriad sticks with which to beat him, most of them - perjury, defamation, slander, breach of contract - codified by law. Please, then, let us be spared confected moral outrage and sanctimony.
Please let us not pretend to be shocked by the actions of a man prepared to do whatever it took to win unimaginable amounts of money and glory.
Armstrong may or may not be sorry. It doesn't change a thing. All that is important now is that no young cyclist is ever put in a position where he feels he must cheat merely to be able to compete.
Armstrong's views on how to achieve that would be illuminating, considerably moreso than satisfying a weird cultural obsession with contrition by saying sorry.Suggest a correction