Lance Armstrong steps down at Livestrong: What will his legacy be?

October 17, 2012

One week after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released more than 1,000 pages of evidence supporting allegations that Lance Armstrong helped lead a massive doping program, the embattled American cyclist’s personal brand continues to nose-dive. As Liz Clarke reports:

In his first acknowledgment that his personal brand has been damaged by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s voluminous account of what it characterized as “serial cheating” throughout his cycling career, Lance Armstrong resigned as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation he created to help cancer patients, he announced Wednesday.

And in a further blow to Armstrong’s reputation, longtime corporate sponsor Nike announced it was terminating its contract with Armstrong but would continue supporting the Livestrong initiatives.

Nike is the foundation’s most substantial corporate partner, marketing a line of athletic apparel and equipment that bears the Livestrong brand. Nike was also the creative mind behind the wildly popular Livestrong wristbands that since 2004 have generated roughly $80 million in proceeds.

Those associations will continue, at least for now. But Armstrong himself will no longer be compensated as a Nike athlete in the wake of USADA’s scathing report, his public personae deemed too tainted even for a company that has remained loyal to, and in some cases cultivated associations with, athletes with controversial images.

USADA’s 202-page report, which was backed by more than 1,000 pages of supporting documents and testimony and made public Oct. 10, asserted that Armstrong achieved all of his record seven Tour de France championships “start to finish” through doping. It relied on the testimony of 26 witness, including 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates. And it included detailed, first-hand accounts of Armstrong not only taking banned substances such as EPO and undergoing blood transfusion but also pressuring teammates on the U.S. Postal Service cycling team to dope, as well, and threatening those in position to testify against him.

Nike’s decision to drop one of the brand’s most prominent athletes was a result of “significant evidence” that Armstrong used performance-enchancing substances and hid those truths from the company. As Cindy Boren writes:

The Oregon-based company announced the termination of its long relationship with Armstrong shortly after he announced that he was resigning as head of his Livestrong cancer charity.

Nike, in a statement on its website, said:

“Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him. Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner. Nike plans to continue support of the Livestrong initiatives created to unite, inspire and empower people affected by cancer.”

Armstrong resigned as chairman of Livestrong a week after a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report called the former champion cyclist the driving force behind “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

Armstrong’s rapid fall from the pinnacle of the cycling world has left fans and Livestrong supporters stunned. It has also had a profound effect on many of the journalists who covered Armstrong during his seven Tour de France victories. As Associated Press columnist John Leicester writes:

It feels like a punch to the stomach to learn that Hamilton and other former teammates of Armstrong were for years systematically doping — and say that he was, too — because it happened under our very noses, we reporters who waited daily outside the team buses at the Tour, doing our job.

I and others didn’t see that Armstrong’s team was running what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency now tells us was “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

Why? I’m not the only journalist who has been asking themselves that question since USADA published damning testimonies from former U.S. Postal Service riders last week, to explain why it banned Armstrong for life and erased his seven Tour titles.

“We were all good actors. We all had two faces — the face for the public and for the journalists, and the face behind closed doors,” says Hamilton, who rode the 1999-2001 Tours at Postal with Armstrong but was with Team CSC in 2003.

“You’re almost like a robot,” he says. “My answers when I spoke to journalists, especially when it got to the doping kind of questions, they all became kind of standard.”

So that was a big part of it: Co-conspirators in the Postal fraud were capable not only of deceiving themselves that doping was necessary but of looking people in the eye and saying, “Me? Drugs? Never!”

Look again at video of Armstrong saying words to that effect ad nauseam over the years. There’s nothing, to my eye, in his body language, his unblinking stare, to suggest even now that he wasn’t telling the truth. I always figured that there’d have to be, that grotesque lies can’t be told and retold without there being some telltale twitch or furtive expression. Naive? I’ve been asking myself that question this past week, too.

Was I negligent, even willfully blind? I’d like to think not. I heard the mounting drumbeat of suspicion that surrounded Armstrong’s ever-longer string of wins and mentioned it in reports from the Tour, which I covered from 2003-2006. But, in light of USADA’s findings, I now wish that I had reported the doubts more prominently. Hindsight is very illuminating.

More from Washington Post Sports:

Lance Armstrong steps down as head of foundation

Nike drops Lance Armstrong

Document: USADA’s decision on disqualification and ineligibility of Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong’s legacy still in play

Sally Jenkins: Armstrong case reeks of hypocrisy

USADA strips Armstrong of titles, bans him from cycling

Statement: Armstrong says he will stop fighting doping allegations

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