'Outside' Magazine Owes Lance Armstrong an Apology

champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, riding for Team Radio Shack
champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, riding for Team Radio Shack

When celebrities and journalists feud, I usually side with my own. But in the case of cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong vs. Outside magazine, it's pretty clear who's in the wrong: Outside owes Armstrong an apology.

The seven-time Tour de France winner appears on the cover of the July issue in a T-shirt emblazoned with the message "38. BFD." Translation: "I'm 38. Big fat deal."

But when Armstrong posed for the cover, the shirt was blank -- and apparently no one told him the words were being digitally added until he obtained a finished copy. "Just saw the cover of the new Outside mag w/ yours truly on it," he said via Twitter. "Nice photoshop on a plain t-shirt guys. That's some lame [expletive]."

Outside contends it didn't do anything wrong, pointing to a note on the cover that says it's "not Armstrong's real T-shirt."

"We wanted to create a provocative image and make a bold statement about the fact that, because of Armstrong's age, many cycling fans are skeptical of his chances in this year's Tour de France," the magazine's editors said in a statement. "Outside doesn't typically consult cover subjects on all editorial decisions," a spokeswoman told me, a bit astringently.

Even if they didn't mislead readers -- and plenty of casual newsstand browsers will notice the shirt but miss the small-type disclaimer -- they were less than candid with Armstrong, and he has every right to feel snookered. Magazine photographers and photo editors are forever trying to get celebrities to put themselves in compromising or ridiculous positions for cover shoots in order to generate memorable images. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they don't, and the magazines resort to digital wizardry to fabricate an image.

Outside's editors apparently thought they could have it both ways -- a real celebrity they really shot, but doing something they probably couldn't have persuaded him to do. It's so clever, it's stupid. Why would any star who aspires to control his own image -- and that's all of them -- ever pose for this magazine again?