June 7, 2011; Source: Bloomberg News | The Lance Armstrong Foundation, now simply called Livestrong, is the largest athlete-created donation-raising charity in the U.S., having raised $400 million for cancer awareness work based on the sales of yellow Livestrong bracelets. It raised $48 million in 2010 after raising a little over $50 million in 2009.
But Armstrong, a remarkable athlete and a cancer survivor himself, has been facing a drip, drip, drip of allegations from former racing teammates that he violated anti-doping rules. He is now under investigation by the same federal authorities that went after Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens also for allegations of performance enhancing drug (PED) use.
The academic director at New York University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy & Fundraising, Doug White, has issued a statement that says that 10 to 20 percent of donations to Livestrong could be lost if Armstrong is proven to have violated anti-doping rules. White based his estimate on “other major charities that have faced public discredit,” though he noted that the situation of Livestrong might be worse because Armstrong is the charity.
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To protect his and his charity’s image, Armstrong has hired political public relations expert and former Clinton advisor Mark Fabiani. But in the case of Livestrong, while an Armstrong conviction will leave much of the public shocked about a former athletic hero, the charity has developed its own identity and purpose. While Armstrong’s recovery from testicular cancer was certainly the impetus for creating the charity, Livestrong has a real purpose that goes beyond Armstrong’s personality.
Our guess is that proof that Armstrong used PEDs will hurt his personal commercial marketability with sponsors such as Nike, Michelob Ultra, Trek, Nissan, and Radio Shack among others. But Livestrong? Whether he used PEDs or not, Armstrong recovered from cancer and went on to win seven Tour de France titles, an enormous achievement in a sport, bicycle racing, that is known for rampant violations of the doping rules.
Some of the articles about Armstrong have been very troubling, and Armstrong himself seems bitter and angry at the charges that won’t go away. But Livestrong seems to have a positive image and purpose that transcends its founder. Do NPQ Newswire readers agree?—Rick Cohen