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Nike drops Lance Armstrong, who steps down from Livestrong

Lance Armstrong promised to get on his life after he was stripped of his Tour de France titles. (Mike Hutchings / Reuters)
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Nike has terminated its contract with Lance Armstrong, citing “seemingly insurmountable evidence” that he “participated in doping and misled” the company.

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.”

In announcing his resignation, Armstrong said in a statement:  “This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart. Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship.”

The USADA report made public its investigation into allegations that have swirled about Armstrong for years and portrayed Armstrong as the leader of his team’s doping efforts. The report contains statements from 26 witnesses, including 11 former teammates. Armstrong has always denied doping, but gave up the fight against the allegations in August.

Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs before becoming a champion cyclist, received no salary as chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and will remain on its 15-member board. Vice chairman Jeff Garvey, the founding chairman in 1997, will assume his duties. Garvey will assume strategic-planning duties and will take over some of Armstrong’s public appearances and meetings.

Nike’s decision to sever its long relationship with Armstrong comes a day after a New York Daily News report that alleged the company paid $500,000 to help cover up a positive drug test. Kathy LeMond, wife of cyclist Greg LeMond, had testified under oath during a 2006 deposition that Nike paid Hein Verbruggen, the former head of the international cycling union, $500,000 to cover up the positive result.

“Nike vehemently denies that it paid former UCI president Hein Verbruggen $500,000 to cover up a positive drug test,” it said in a statement, according to the Daily News. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs.”

Nike’s decision to sever ties with Armstrong is similar to the one it made with another celebrated hero. The name of Joe Paterno, the late former Penn State coach, was removed from the child-care center at Nike’s Oregon headquarters and now, ESPN’s Darren Rovell reports, the company will remove Armstrong’s name from its fitness center.

On Tuesday, Paul Willerton, a former teammate of Armstrong’s, led a small demonstration outside Nike headquarters, calling for the company to sever its ties with Armstrong. “Nike should not condone the behavior that Lance Armstrong has demonstrated for so long,” Willerton told the Daily News. “To see Nike take this stance now is disgusting. Nike’s materials have stood for some of the greatest things you can stand for as a company. A clean sport should be another one of those things.”

The only other athlete Nike appears to have severed ties with is Michael Vick, the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback who served a federal prison sentence for his involvement in dog fighting. Nike re-signed Vick.

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