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Bernstein: Liars Beyond Apology, Redemption

By Dan Bernstein- senior columnist

(CBS) At some point, an athlete caught up in scandal simply becomes more scandal than athlete.

That seems to be the place shared now by Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong, two legends of their respective sports now mutated into something else, taking up entirely different space in the minds of fans. Both have no choice but to continue on in some way despite being exposed, true to their nature as combatants.

Endgames unfold in public, and it's nothing we really want to see.

Rodriguez is 40, and his latest strange turn was Tuesday's hand-scribbled note apologizing for past sins and reminding everyone that he served the longest suspension in the history of baseball for PED use, as if that buys him some kind of respectability. He is still owed $61 million on his Yankees mega-deal and is coming back for it, forcing the team to buy him off if they want the circus out of town.

The problem is that he pulled the same act in 2009 after he was first busted, falling all over himself with canned contrition while at the same time hunting down his next dealer in Miami. Nobody with a brain should be expected to believe his current boy-scout BS, and most of us got a good laugh out of his closing use of "sincerely."


Meanwhile, Armstrong keeps competing in the courtroom – his other favorite sporting arena in which he has spent years trying to vanquish foes by playing well outside the rules. Instead of outracing competitors by boosting his blood, he lies under oath.

At long last, however, and with a brio immensely satisfying to those of us pining for his comeuppance, Armstrong is getting his head handed to him.

An arbitration panel Monday lit him up in its ruling that he must repay Dallas insurance company SCA Promotions $10 million for lying in previous hearings over bonuses going back to 2004.

"Perjury must never be profitable," the panel announced, calling Armstrong's legal campaign "an unparalleled pageant of international perjury, fraud and conspiracy." They went further to describe it as "almost certainly the most devious sustained deception ever perpetrated in world sporting history."

And SCA is far from done, working in civil court in Texas to claw back millions more. After years of enduring Armstrong's attacks, some of his smarter, more motivated, patient victims are storming the castle, providing legal blueprint for others to follow.

What's comical is that even now Armstrong is plotting a redemption strategy, still assuming he wins back trust enough to return to some kind of profitable public position. Like Rodriguez, he ran the television gantlet of soft-focus self-flagellation on talk show couches in a vain attempt at image control. He spoke in hushed tones about being a changed man, humbled by his misdeeds and ready to make amends for the years he spent ruthlessly destroying the reputations of anyone and anything in his way, all while hiding behind the shield of charity.

Two weeks ago, Armstrong was cited by police in Aspen, Colo., for drunkenly hitting two parked cars with his SUV and failing to report the accident. Initially his girlfriend took the blame and claimed to be driving, but their lie was unwound by eyewitness reports, and she ultimately recanted.

The changed, improved man, indeed.

Rodriguez and Armstrong share a need for exile rather than attention, but neither seems capable of that kind of awareness. And there's also no easy way for it to happen, anymore, because there's nowhere to go that is sufficiently away from anything.

So they continue to thrash against themselves and the past, facing inexorably diminishing returns. Being larger than life cuts both ways for them, now, as their very names have become something more than their respective athletic identities — achievement has soured into ignominy, with the size of the persona creating commensurate burden.

We are at a saturation point with both, having seen and heard enough, and far too much.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score's "Boers and Bernstein Show" in afternoon drive. Follow him on Twitter  @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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