Oct 22, 2012

The myth of Livestrong innocence

If I were a professional cyclist and a cancer survivor with a charity, and needed a high PR profile with an American hero status, and I wasn’t above subverting everything within my reach to my own purpose, perhaps I would’ve used such a charity as means to serve my own ends, hoping one day it will save my neck when the proverbial shit hits the fan.

The last of Lance Armstrong’s sponsors Oakley released a statement earlier today – after the UCI finally officially stripped all of his palmares going back to Aug. 1, 1998 – parroting what all of his other sponsors said last week, “we will no longer deal with Lance Armstrong, but will continue to support the Livestrong Foundation.”

From the sponsors’ standpoint, I can understand the PR move. They had a very tough choice, with only one financially palatable option. Their choices were: 1. Drop both Lance and Livestrong, in which case they could face a PR backlash for ceasing support for cancer awareness. 2. Continue their present relationships with both, which, if not financial suicide, would be a horrible business move. 3. Drop Lance and maintain their support for the charity. This was likely seen as splitting the baby, but that was the sponsors’ business move.

It is now difficult for apologists to defend Lance with the common “he never tested positive” defense. Those who now make the “even playing field” argument (I’ve made the argument myself in the past.) signal they haven’t adequately familiarized themselves with the evidence made public by USADA. The apologists’ last stand is Livestrong. “Even if he was a cheat and a doper, he’s still a cancer survivor and he’s done a lot for cancer.” That’s a loose paraphrase of the commonly proffered statement. I don’t buy it and here’s why.

Surviving cancer. Yes, he got cancer and survived, can’t argue with that. However, I’d be interested to hear from an oncologist on what the use of testosterone, hgh and steroids do to the risks of testicular cancer. (Remember that those are substances he admitted to using in 1996 while talking to his doctors in front of Frankie and Betsy Andreu as well as his girlfriend at the time and an Oakley rep.) I make that statement with full understanding that even if those substances increase risk, there is absolutely no way to show causation. So let’s give him that – he’s a cancer survivor. But so are millions of Americans.

(No)Money for research. I can’t believe there are still individuals, and some very well respected publications, making statements that Livestrong has done a lot for cancer research. The fact of the matter is that relatively speaking, Livestrong has done almost nothing for cancer research. Livestrong realized early on that it was too small to make an impact in research, so it moved to awareness. Virtually no money went to research after 2005 and very small sums were doled out prior. But even with that platform, funds are sometimes used in questionable ways. Not questionable as in fraudulent, but more in the sense of, “does it really make sense for a cancer charity to do this?” This is a great piece on the Livestrong Foundation in Outside Magazine.

Lobbying efforts. A recent story by the Wall Street Journal examined lobbying efforts by Livestrong on behalf of Lance Armstrong. Namely, a lobbyist on Capitol Hill, hired by the Livestrong Foundation, paid a visit to congressman Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) to discuss looking into USADA and its federal financing (all $10 million of it annually). I typically don’t think of lobbying efforts on behalf of a cancer awareness charity involving blocking funding for an organization created to prevent doping in sports. Ask yourselves, what would motivate Livestrong to do this? Protecting its cash cow (and chairman at the time) is the first thing that comes to my mind.

Questionable payments. On Feb. 3, 2012, the Livestrong Foundation donated $100,000 to Planned Parenthood. The other interesting thing that happened that day is that the federal government officially closed its investigation of Armstrong without reason, or explanation, and contrary to the wishes of those in charge of handling the investigation. Coincidence? If so, it sure as hell is a convenient one.

Does Livestrong do good things? Yes, of course. Is it also a PR front for Lance Armstrong? There’s very little doubt in my mind that’s the case. I’ve donated to Livestrong and I don’t feel cheated, or angry, or entitled to my money back. But I won’t be making any more donations to that organization. I will continue to support other cancer charities because I feel my money will be better used and actually go to research directed at curing this horrible disease.

So what now? I believe Livestrong can go on without Lance Armstrong, but two things have to happen first. One, Lance needs to be completely out with no ties to the organization. Two, an independent accounting firm needs to do a complete audit and determine how much money was spent on ultra vires activities. Once those two things happen, the charity can survive and prosper and continue to fill the niche it has self-chosen without Lance casting a shadow of doubt over its motivations.

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