From the shadows of doping: How Livestrong, Armstrong are moving on (12/4/12)

The shadows of the cycling scandal continue to loom. Three days ago, the International Cycling Union (UCI) appointed a three-member panel to investigate and report by June what role the UCI, the sport’s governing body, itself played in the scandal. Today, in Lausanne, Switzerland, the International Olympic Committee will consider, among other scandal-related questions, whether to strip Lance Armstrong of the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Sydney Games.

Saving Livestrong. Shortly after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s 1000-page report on Armstrong became public in October, the Livestrong organization stepped out quickly to save itself while its iconic namesake disastrously fell from grace. In the days and weeks since, the organization has walked a very challenging line of affirming the incredible contribution and inspiration of Lance Armstrong as a cancer survivor and advocate, while creating distance from Lance and his now stained cycling career. The organization has done a good job in a very messy situation.

Here’s some of what they’ve done, externally, to protect the Livestrong brand and keep the organization moving forward:

  • After Lance resigned as chairman of the board on October 17, CEO Doug Ulman did an interview on NPR, affirming its desire to have Armstrong continue to be involved in the work of the organization. Said the CEO, “He’s our founder. He’s been the inspiration for our work for so many years.” Mr. Ulman handled tough questions exceedingly well, focusing on the organization’s key message of continuing the mission to support and serve people living with cancer.
  • The organization changed its name from The Lance Armstrong Foundation and to the Livestrong Foundation.
  • When Lance fully resigned from the board in mid-November, the foundation’s new board chairman, Jeff Garvey, said this:

 Lance Armstrong has chosen to voluntarily resign from the Board of Directors of the Livestrong Foundation to spare the organization any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding his cycling career. . . .  We are deeply grateful to Lance for creating a cause that has served millions of cancer survivors and their families.

  • Livestrong spokeswoman Katherine McLane said Armstrong remains as the charity’s “founder and inspiration and our biggest donor.”
  • The Livestrong Foundation website underwent changes. Among them, the “Our Founder” page features Lance’s cancer diagnosis and his many contributions to the cause. Gone is any mention of his cycling career.

Ironmans and Defiance. For Lance, according to his personal website, he appears to knocking off an Ironman here and there (five in 2012, so far, to be exact), and participating in other triathlon events. His website still has photos from the Tour de France¸ with a good number of shots of his long-held race number (#1). He describes himself on Twitter as “Raising my 5 kids. Fighting Cancer. Swim, bike, run and golf whenever I can.” A couple of weeks ago, Lance posted a picture of himself on Twitter lounging on his couch, surrounded by his seven yellow jerseys. Comments abounded: Lance is in denial; he’s defiant; he’s arrogant.

Yes, that all may be true: perhaps he is in denial, defiant and arrogant.

Here’s another truth—Lance is an incredible athlete. Ultimately, it was his athletic ability, drive and commitment to winning that fueled his fight against cancer, and inspired him to help others. His legacy, even with the doping scandal, will always include the fact that he has inspired and helped millions of people diagnosed with cancer. Critics notwithstanding, there is little denying that he has done vast amounts of good, and his athleticism contributed to that.

I don’t know Lance personally, but I’m guessing this is also true: While he may be in denial, defiant and arrogant, there is a deep reservoir of good in Lance Armstrong. To go through a cancer diagnosis like he did, and turn it into a positive, sweeping movement like he has, comes from a place of good. Though critics may say that Armstrong’s good deeds were just a devious way to deflect attention from his misdeeds, I question whether deceitful ulterior motives would have sustained the powerful momentum of what Livestrong has become. No doubt, Lance Armstrong earned goodwill because of Livestrong, but that’s what happens when you do good—you are in the good graces of many, because you have done right for so many.

Lots of people are waiting to see the innate good and undeniably human side of Lance, wondering when the 60 Minutes exclusive mea culpa will air. I’m not sure what he’s waiting for, but I’m guessing there is some calculating, strategic reason—the passage of time, to see if the arbitration of team director Johan Bruyneel goes forward (in which Armstrong may be subpoenaed), or the UCI’s report in June (assuming the UCI is blameworthy).

Forgiveness will be fast. The general public will be quick to forgive. And while the internet, tell-all memoirs and future Tours de France make it impossible to forget, forgiveness will come fast. There may be those that were so affected by Lance’s actions that they can never forgive, and that’s understandable. But most people want to see the good in others, and most people would rather forgive than forever hold a grudge.

To be human is to be full of contradictions. We all possess both good and bad, and we have all erred—some more than others. If all or even some of the allegations are true, Lance erred a lot. These errors, these shadows, will always lurk. But when Lance admits his wrongs, apologizes and asks for forgiveness, that’s the moment when Lance can begin to move forward, out from the shadows and into the light.

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