Even ardent admirers of Lance Armstrong have been rattled by the intricacy and depth –- more than 1,000 pages rife with the testimony of former teammates –- of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) charges against him. Long-time sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch and Nike have stuck by him, however. Now Nike’s well-burnished name is under fire as bribery allegations by the wife of an Armstrong ex-teammate -- who heard them second-hand from a mechanic -- have surfaced.
The USADA report put Armstrong at the epicenter of "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen,” according to a Reuters Q&A that also reminds us that he “has consistently denied ever using drugs but decided not to contest the charges.”
Former teammate Paul Willerton led a small group of protesters outside Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., yesterday, calling on Armstrong to “stand up and acknowledge the truth,” Michael O’Keefe writes in the New York Daily News, re-reporting a story at KOMOnews.com.
Pointing to his own scoop in yesterday’s paper, O’Keefe explains: “Kathy Lemond, the wife of American cyclist Greg Lemond, testified under oath during a 2006 deposition that Nike paid former International Cycling Union president Hein Verbruggen $500,000 to cover up a 1999 Armstrong positive drug test.”
Nike “vehemently’ denies the “offensive” allegations in a brief statement, stating that it “does not condone the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.” Meanwhile, Armstrong’s attorney, former White House special counsel Mark Fabiani, tellsAd Age’sMichael McCarthy “there's not a shred of evidence" supporting the claim by Kathy LeMond, whom he characterizes as “"a noted and confirmed Lance hater from way back.”
Fabiani continues: “These are seven-year-old allegations. Nobody was able to prove it then. Nobody's been able to prove it for the last seven years. Other than revisiting seven-year-old allegations, I don't think the New York Daily News did anything to prove it today."
CNN, meanwhile, is reporting today that “the experience of former U.S. Postal Service cyclist Scott Mercier suggests a culture of doping existed within the team before Armstrong joined 14 years ago.” Mercier says he was given steroids in 1997 by a team doctor to help him recover from the grueling training program for the Tour de France. He decided to quit the sport instead.
"My wife said to me, ‘Imagine you're coming home and telling your son and daughter daddy is a liar, a cheat and a fraud. You don't have to do that,’” Mercier says. "So I feel good about the decision I've made; I wouldn't change anything."
In the in UK’s Telegraph, John MacLeary reports that Armstrong’s former teammate George White resigned Saturday as directeur sportif with Orica-GreenEdge, Australia's sole WorldTour team.
“I am sad to say that I was part of a team where doping formed part of the team’s strategy, and I, too, was involved in that strategy,” White says. "My involvement is something I am not proud of, and I sincerely apologize to my fans, media, family and friends who trusted me and to other athletes in my era that chose not to dope.”
Armstrong, of course, remains “a massive brand” of his own, particularly for his cancer advocacy and livestrong.com website. Reporting about the continuing support he enjoys from Nike, Anheuser-Busch and Radio Shack, CNN’s Jim Boulden wonders how long those brands will remain by his side. Adam Hanft of Hanft Projects tells him that he expects that some will “run” and others will “peel away” when their contracts expire. Repucom’s Charlie Dundas points out that Nike is so “heavily invested” in Armstrong that it may find it difficult to “extract itself.”
One of the protesters outside Nike’s headquarters yesterday had a different POV. “I think they have a great opportunity to set an example for corporations to support clean sports, clean athletes and set a great example for the next generation of kids,” says Jeff Mitchem. “Drug-free sports are more important than winning at all costs.”
Forbes’ Monte Burke writes that “by staying with the scandal-tainted Armstrong -- his steadfast proclamations of innocence notwithstanding -- Nike was already sticking its neck out and putting itself in a particularly precarious position. If these allegations [by LeMond] prove to be true, Nike could be the one hung out to dry.”
Writing in the New York Times yesterday, former cyclist Michael Barry writes that he made “unethical, unacceptable decisions I deeply regret.” The sport itself “has become more humane in recent years,” he says, “but the evolution must continue.”
If it doesn’t, it will face a steep climb holding on to sponsors.