Armstrong Scandal Rebounds on Charity
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 22:10
In the past decade, there were few sports figures as inspirational as Lance Armstrong. Whether you were watching him destroy the field in the mountains of the Tour de France or watching his Nike commercials, getting caught up in the Lance Armstrong story was about becoming a part of something bigger than yourself because at the height of his triumphs, he wrapped his career and image into his cancer research charity.
In light of the evidence presented against him in the past months, it is almost impossible to watch his Tour victories without doubt. Yes, he might have been doping in a sport full of the practice, but the answer to the question he asks in his “What am I on?” Nike commercial, is steroids — something that tarnishes his legacy forever.
In portraying himself as a clean hero in a dirty sport, Lance’s own words have come back to haunt him. His efforts for cancer research are an even bigger victim of the fallout of the nearly irrefutable evidence that Armstrong doped during his career.
Since 1997, Lance Armstrong’s charity, Livestrong, has raised about $500 million for cancer research. For many years, almost everyone sported the iconic yellow wristbands.
There was a time when a shortage of the bands created an entire social division within my middle school of kids who had a Livestrong wristband and those who did not. The charity became something few other organizations could — an icon.
The icon, of course, was based on Lance’s story and his Tour de France victories. When Lance stood on the podium in Paris wearing his Livestrong band, he inspired Americans to donate to his cause and, even more importantly, inspired those battling cancer to keep fighting.
As the victories piled up, so did the support for the charity. Nike joined forces with the charity in 2004 and began branding merchandise with the Livestrong name. Cycling teams even added a ring around the sleeves of their uniforms with the iconic yellow band. Over the course of his career, Lance Armstrong built his charity around his story and his career.
Throughout his career, Armstrong raced hand in hand with his charity. Almost every public statement he made included a mention of his charity. In fact, Lance stated he was giving up the fight to clear his name because of the “toll this has taken on … my work for our foundation.” Now he and his charity have faced a rapid decline hand in hand.
When he fell from grace, Lance had successfully intertwined his career, story and charity into one entity. In a Nike advertisement that aired during Armstrong’s return to cycling after a brief retirement, the cyclist explained that he was not returning to the sport to again be the target of accusations. The ad was aired amid a backdrop of videos of cancer patients struggling with their disease. Looking back, his choice to respond to doping accusations by reminding everyone of his mission to end cancer was wrong. At the time, however, it was a part of the Lance Armstrong brand so many people bought into.
As Lance fades from sporting fame, his charity may very well follow. Lance has stepped down from his position within the organization, but the very core of the charity was built upon his story. Armstrong and Livestrong may not be able to be separated, but — for the sake of those fighting cancer — they should be. For better or for worse, Lance is tied to the charity and to the community of those around the world fighting this terrible disease.
None of this is to say that Lance, the cyclist, acted wrongly in using performance-enhancing drugs. In his seven Tour de France wins, Lance beat the best cyclists in the world, who were also illegally enhancing their performance. His charity is also no less admirable in light of the allegations against its founder. But just as Lance linked his charity and story to his career, the downfall of his career will surely reverberate on his charity.
For all of those fighting cancer and for all who have lost family members to cancer, Armstrong’s decision to lie about doping allegations while hiding behind his charity can be seen as an insult. Livestrong remains an innocent victim in the Lance Armstrong saga — a charity with a great mission sullied by the lies of its founder.
Corey Blaine is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. THE BLEACHER SEATS appears every Friday.