The mighty are fallen

After issuing a statement just last week that it would continue to support Lance Armstrong and his Livestrong foundation, Nike has announced that it is withdrawing its sponsorship of Lance because of “insurmountable evidence that he participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade.” Nike says it will continue to support Livestrong, but check back next week to see whether they change their minds.

update, May 28, 2013: it Took nike more than a week to bail, but they did.

I’ve been a fan of both Nike and Lance for a long, long time, and I am disappointed not only to see this partnership end, but also to observe Nike’s very public about-face that looks to me like a betrayal. Corporations will cut loose anybody who does not serve their purposes. I find this particularly painful in light of my post about Seabiscuit and my appreciation for the loyalty that the horse’s owner showed toward his jockey even after the jockey lost an important race. That sure wouldn’t happen today. Nike dropped Tiger Woods when his sex scandal broke, as well as Michael Vick when he went to prison for sponsoring dog fighting (although they’ve since taken him back). But Woods and Vick actually did what they were accused of doing–they not only admitted it, but also there was proof of the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, so of course Nike had to cut them loose. This time Nike is just covering itself in case the court of public opinion turns against Armstrong, and from what I’ve seen so far, it hasn’t. Now that his sponsors are all running away, though, I’m sure it will. People can now point and laugh at Lance and say his ambition took him too close to the sun, like Icarus, and so he deserved to fall as he has. But they forget that Icarus also flew, and in his own way, so did Lance. The higher the flight, the harder the fall.

Since I wasn’t there, I can’t know whether Lance did all that he is accused of doing, and I don’t know today what I believe about his actual guilt or innocence. I will say that he is a hero to me. I admire what he’s done both on and off the bike–not all of it, but certainly the stuff that really matters, like raising awareness and money for cancer. He’s a flawed human being, as we all are. He might be guilty of the charges against him (none of which, I say again, has been proved). But seven consecutive Tour de France victories cannot be scrubbed away no matter what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the International Cycling Union or any court of law might decide to do to him.

I wonder what the future holds now for Lance as an athlete as well as a partner, father, business man and person. He’s accomplished things no other human being ever has before or probably ever will again, and his name will always be synonymous with cycling and with the Tour de France. Unfortunately, now it might also become synonymous with doping and cheating, and that’s a shame for both the man and the sport.

People can and do come back from cataclysmic falls like this. I’ll be watching closely to see what Lance does next. To borrow another image from Greek mythology, I hope that he, like the phoenix, will rise again to do what he does best: inspire ordinary people to live strong.


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