I’m fascinated by the recent news that Lance Armstrong decided not to contest the charges against him. After vowing for years that he’d fight allegations that he took performance enhancing drugs throughout his competitive cycling career, he’s decided to stop fighting. The result is that he will be stripped of his professional accomplishments, and he’s no longer allowed to compete. For someone who has built a foundation with $47 million in revenues in 2011 and assets in excess of $100 million on the shoulders of his athletic success, that’s pretty damning. But so is the evidence against him, which includes former team mates and colleagues who agreed to testify that they have actually witnessed Lance’s illegal doping activities.
Lance is no quitter. You can’t be and have won against cancer and returned to professional cycling to become the only person to stand atop the podium at the Tour de France 7 consecutive times. So while I have given him the benefit of the doubt for years, his recent decision not to fight the charges is all but an admission of guilt in my view. He has fought this battle and has made the strategic decision that now is the time to stop fighting.
But does that erase his accomplishments? Does that mean he isn’t an incredible athlete with super-human lung capacity? Does that mean we need to stop supporting his foundation and the work that it does on behalf of people fighting cancer? Cheating is wrong, and the sport of cycling needs to be cleaned up. Period. But let’s look at the how this recent news affects his accomplishments outside of cycling.
The Lance Armstrong name and Livestrong brand stand on their own today. Lance, Livestrong and the Lance Armstrong Foundation no longer need the “7 time Tour de France Winner” endorsements to continue doing their work. And there is strong evidence from both corporate partners and individuals that his recent announcement to stop fighting the allegations will not take Lance or his foundation down. There’s more to lose than there is to win by pulling back. Whether or not Lance cheated by using performance enhancing drugs (and again, I’m convinced he did – just as I’m convinced the majority of the cycling elite also was at the time), he has leveraged his fame to achieve remarkable things.
Since its founding in 1997, the Lance Armstrong Foundation has served more than 2.3 million cancer patients with its patient navigation services (LAF 2011 Annual Report). It has helped cancer patients save over $3 million in personal costs and provides numerous other services and support. They do good work.
To be clear, I’m disappointed in Lance Armstrong, and I will never defend cheating as an appropriate means to an end. But as someone who focuses on building nonprofits, I have to admire the good work he has done. Now, as he did when pedaling through France during the Tour, he’s demonstrated he still has a keen sense of assessing the situation and making strategic decisions about when to attack and when to back off.
What do you think about Armstrong’s choice and how it will impact his foundation?