For many, many years, cyclist Lance Armstrong was held up around the world as a hero. The collective culture stood in awe, inspired by his seven consecutive Tour de France titles and his bold, unpredictable victory over cancer.
Most heroic, perhaps, was the creation of his foundation, The Lance Armstrong Foundation – now known as Livestrong. The purpose: “to identify the issues faced by cancer survivors in order to comprehensively improve quality of life for members of the global cancer community.”
Since it’s inception in 1997, Livestrong has raised more than $470 million dollars for the fight against cancer, and 81% of the funds went directly to support programs and services for survivors. The foundation raised cancer awareness, hope and more than $325 million from the sale of those brilliant yellow bracelets. Here’s the question: Can good deeds cement the title “hero,” even if the hero is revealed to be – in reality – a determined, but flawed and unethical human being?
In August, Armstrong announced that after more than 10 years of battle, he would stop fighting the charges of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), claiming that he systematically used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career and was instrumental in the organized doping of his tour-winning teammates.
Armstrong said, via the New York Times, “There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ For me, that time is now.” He went on to say that contesting the charges was taking too high a toll on himself, his family and the work of his foundation.
It turns out that giving up the fight meant giving up the hardware and saying a bitter goodbye to all his lucrative sponsorships.
He was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from the sport – his sport – for life, and Tour de France officials are looking to demand repayment of his tour winnings. All nine of Armstrong’s sponsors have dropped him to protect their brands. Barry Petchesky, from Deadspin, says “Everyone’s falling in line behind Nike, whose sudden reach for the moral high ground doesn’t deserve anyone’s praise, but who is the biggest freaking marketing juggernaut in the world.”
It would seem the highest cost of Armstrong’s fall from grace would have to be stepping down as the Chairman of Livestrong.
In a statement posted on Livestrong’s website, he said, “I have had the great honor of serving as this foundation’s chairman for the last five years and its mission and success are my top priorities. Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship. It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors. This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart.”
Even as I write this, I am torn to draw any conclusions. Does giving up the fight against the charges – and the ever-growing pile of evidence – mean the accusations are true?
I think so. And, I’m sickened by the narcissism, greed and the selfishness of someone who would behave so unethically and then smile as he sells us his ideal, his hope, his heroics.
But, I love Livestrong – the organization – what it stands for, works for, and represents. Like so many others, I have lost too many precious people in my life to cancer. I’m thankful that as a result of this man’s dubious success, and his fight to survive ,that this organization does exist for the real heroes – all those people and families dealing with the devastating diagnoses of cancer and fighting for their lives.
Lance Armstrong is not a hero. Not to me.
But, he created this heroic force called ‘Livestrong’ that I hope people will continue to recognize for the good that has been, and can still be, done.