The contrast between Lance Armstrong, the inspirational cancer survivor, and Lance Armstrong, the disgraced cyclist, has never been more distinct. Armstrong’s reputation in cycling has been becoming increasingly tattered since this summer, with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s report last week labeling him a “serial cheat” and quoting former teammates who exposed the extent of his involvement in doping as he was winning seven Tours de France.
He lost a series of endorsement deals Wednesday, with Nike’s announcement that it was severing ties with him emboldening others. Trek, Giro, FRS, Honey Stinger, 24 Hour Fitness, Anheuser-Busch and Radio Shack all dumped him, with Oakley saying it would wait until the International Cycling Union issued its final report on Armstrong before making a decision. At this point, Armstrong is so toxic as a spokesman and so finished as an athlete at 41 that the decision was an easy one, even for Trek, which made Armstrong’s bicycles.
But Armstrong isn’t Barry Bonds or any other athlete who can be easily discarded as a cheat and a product of a corrupt era. He remains enormously popular as an advocate for cancer research and spokesman for cancer patients and survivors. Although he stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong Foundation on Wednesday, both Nike and Trek said they would continue to, as Trek put it on its website, “to support the Livestrong Foundation and its efforts to combat cancer.”
Matt Powell, an analyst at SportsOneSource, told the Wall Street Journal that “I’d be surprised if it the Livestrong brand was as big as $100 million. The Livestrong brand was more about the foundation and fighting cancer than it ever was about Lance Armstrong.”
Armstrong’s problems do resonate with Livestrong, though, the Daily Beast’s Eliza Shapiro writes in “What Now for Livestrong?” “The challenge is that Livestrong is so well known, not so much because it gets big support from big funders but lots of small gifts from lots of people who wear the [yellow] wristband,” Richard Marker, a philanthropy expert and founder of New York University’s Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education, told Shapiro. There are a number of cancer charities and donors might choose one with no ties to scandal.
Cancer survivors spoke up Wednesday in praise of Livestrong, which is in its 15th year. “The foundation is not all about Lance,” Brian Rose told USA Today, Rose, said the foundation’s cancer navigation program helped him get health insurance when he was diagnosed with advanced melanoma three years ago. “It gives me a feeling of security knowing the foundation is there. It’s overwhelming trying to do it all on your own. Having a resource like that is priceless.”
Although Armstrong has not spoken about the USADA report or his loss of endorsements, he did say, in a statement announcing his decision to step down as Livestrong chairman: “My family and I have devoted our lives to the work of the foundation and that will not change. We plan to continue our service to the foundation and the cancer community. We will remain active advocates for cancer survivors and engaged supporters of the fight against cancer.”
Livestrong goes on, but Armstrong’s athletic influence is waning. Nike said it will remove his name from the fitness center at its Beaverton, Ore., headquarters, just as it removed the name of the late Joe Paterno from its day-care center after an investigation determined that the former Penn State football coach failed to act to stop Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of children.