Commentary

Can Livestrong Survive The Tarring Of Armstrong?

Under the headline "Careening Downhill," a Boston Globe editorial this morning opines: "If what Lance Armstrong's former teammate Tyler Hamilton says is true, America's greatest bike racer should make a copy of his "Livestrong'' bracelet: "Liestrong."

Hamilton told "60 Minutes'" Scott Pelley, in a widely gabbed-about segment broadcast Sunday, that he used banned performance-enhancing substances with Armstrong to cheat in pro races, including the Tour de France. Hamilton also claims that Armstrong actually tested positive once but that his "people took care of it."

In a response to the broadcast, Armstrong's attorney, Mark Fabiani, posted the following, among other denials of wrongdoing: "Throughout this entire process CBS has demonstrated a serious lack of journalistic fairness and has elevated sensationalism over responsibility."

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The larger question in the continuing Armstrong saga is, of course: How much battering can a brand icon take before the brand is irreparably damaged? In this case, though, we're not talking about a cereal or a soda pop or an automobile. We talking about a do-good organization that has blazed new trails, empowered many people in a tough struggle and provides online content that is as solid and innovative as you'll find anywhere.

But, as Mike Wise writes in the Washington Post, it can get personal: "Every believer to pull an elastic, canary-yellow rubber band imprinted with the word "LIVESTRONG" on their hand and around their wrist -- everyone who ever pledged a dollar toward cancer research so they could symbolically overcome as their inspiration overcame -- is confronting some hard questions today."

Ad Age's Alexandra Bruell reports that Armstrong's Nielsen N-Score -- which measures audience awareness of an athlete, his or her overall appeal and 46 specific personal attributes such as leadership and trustworthiness -- "has plummeted from a career high of 775 in 2005 to 194." But that's his personal brand.

Livestrong's senior director of communications, Katherine McLane, tells Bruell that "the vibe at the organization is business as usual." And rather than disassociate from the namesake it is, in fact, talking to him about again participating in the Austin Marathon, as he did this year. She adds that Armstrong participates in all the decisions the organization makes.

Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News writes in a piece headlined "Does Lance Armstrong doping controversy taint Livestrong?" that was widely republished in print and online: "This is different. We are not merely talking about what comes after the first comma in a celebrated athlete's obituary. We are talking about the work of that athlete, about a charitable endeavor that was birthed upon his inspiring story and that has grown to become one of the largest cancer-related charities in the country."

What's mostly telling is that Hofmann doesn't -- can't really - answer the question, any more than Chuck Salter could when he wrote "Can Livestrong Survive Lance Armstrong and a Doping Scandal?" for Fast Company last October, or anymore than I could when I addressed the issue following a Wall Street Journal piece ("For Cycling's Big Backers, Joy Ride Ends in Grief") in December.

Hofmann can only tell us that Livestrong.com reports that the number of contributors has actually risen in the last year, despite the tough economy, and the nonprofit recently surpassed $400 million in total funds raised since its founding in 1997.

He leaves us by asking another question. "The great cause is still great and the good works are still good -- but what will happen if another grand jury brings another indictment against another sporting icon?"

Nothing, I hope. I've never worn the bracelet but I've had cancer and found the Livestrong.org website to be extremely valuable. To me, it transcends Armstrong. He is, in fact, irreverent to the information it contains. What do you think?

6 comments about "Can Livestrong Survive The Tarring Of Armstrong? ".
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  1. Tanya Gazdik from MediaPost, May 26, 2011 at 9:24 a.m.

    I may be in the minority, but I am not shocked or disturbed by these allegations. Lance still beat cancer so he's still a hero in my book. Plus, his health-focused website and app are amazing. He's definitely moved beyond being just a racer.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 26, 2011 at 11:09 a.m.

    He never inspired me to contribute to cancer organizations and I never believed he was able to win all of his races without doping. I see more arrogance in him than compassion. How many times has he said Live strong and I'll pay (not contributors) for your medical bills and help take care of your family because you lost your job and health insurance to how many people? Now that's support! I will still support Cancer organizations, not in the name of a celebrity but in the name of a real survivor.

  3. Jennifer King from Rugged Elegance, LLC, May 26, 2011 at 12:06 p.m.

    We have a war on cancer. And a war on drugs. I hope Tyler Hamilton serves as a catalyst to clean up this sport, so that our children & children's children may cycle or play baseball or football ... competitively in a culture that does not encourage doping or blood transfusions to win. As much as I admire LiveStrong, does the end justify the means? The truth shall set us free.

    P.S. Great article Thom Forbes! Will share with our cycling community within Rugged Elegance, at Velo-SF, and other cycling friends.

  4. Jeff Bach from Quietwater Media, May 27, 2011 at 5:09 p.m.

    What is this - innocent until proven guilty except if you are famous in a biking sort of way? P-R-O-O-F is the word.

    Presumably Armstrong has had the same exposure to the same tests done in the same labs by the same people that managed to P-R-O-V-E that Hamilton and Landis were guilty of taking whatever it is they took.

    As much as the French hate Armstrong they still have not been able to P-R-O-V-E anything relating to what they accuse him of. At least that I can remember as I write this.

    I have a hard time believing that Armstrong's "people" take care of certain readings. How has this somehow managed to go on over the years without them getting caught tampering? By and large the system still works and it still mostly gets lab results correct. If A samples and B samples and urine samples and blood samples all come back negative for years....now Armstrong is guilty because Tyler Hamilton says so?

    Times are certainly interesting if you are in Armstrong's camp. But even the people that intensely dislike him can't prove he is guilty of anything. And they have had years to do it.

    C'mon people. Innocent until proven guilty.

  5. Barry Chiorello from Second Story Productions, LLC, May 27, 2011 at 11:43 p.m.

    OK I just don't understand where from where all this is coming. If someone calls you into court about your drug use and you used drugs, then confess that you used it. But to then say - but he used it too - that's like the actions of a five year old child. Take responsibility for your own actions. If Lance is lying, then he needs to come clean on his own.

  6. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, June 8, 2011 at 5:36 a.m.

    I agree with the gist of what Tanya wrote.

    I've always seen Armstrong as an arrogant liar.

    But I've been wondering if being an arrogant liar and going out and just aggressively living life and taking what one wants (in this case stealing a championship) is what one needs to be to beat cancer!

    Because he beat cancer while doing this, I want to study very carefully what he did so I can beat cancer if I ever get it.

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