The latest evidence on Lance Armstrong is that he is playing the poor, poor pitiful me card. Not a smart move. "I've been better," Armstrong said in Austin over the weekend. "And I've been a lot worse." Monday morning, the International Cycling Union accepted the findings of the USADA and formally stripped the Texan of his seven Tour de France yellow jerseys. His sponsorships worth millions are gone. His celebrity is tarnished. And things will only get worse.
They can. Seriously. The Livestrong Foundation could suffer greatly.
Regardless of the fact that he has stepped down from his cancer charity, Armstrong is the Livestrong brand. And it has been harmed. Early indications this weekend in Austin were that many people in the cancer fight and some in the cycling community are willing to overlook Lance's cheating, lying, defrauding of taxpayers, and bullying of truth-seekers because of his work to fight cancer. 1,700 attendees gave Armstrong a standing ovation at the 15th anniversary gala for Livestrong Friday and more than 4,000 cyclists turned out for his Ride for the Roses Saturday to benefit the Livestrong charity. An estimated $4 million dollars were raised for cancer awareness. Two Trek bicycles from the manufacturer that dumped Armstrong were auctioned off for about $6,000 each.
The big money, though, for Livestrong, is not in individual giving but is, instead, in corporate donors and sponsors. Many of those that have dropped the cyclist have expressed pride in their association and continued support for the charity, in spite of the 1,000 pages of documentation that a fraud and cheater founded the organization. The lights are on now, and quite brightly, and big time funders are not going to run away from a cancer charity. As Armstrong departs, however, the philanthropic value may become less appealing to corporations that are constantly pressured to give to endless charities. Livestrong, to survive, will need to be rebranded under a new name and over time it becomes just another cancer charity competing with countless others for money.
Unless Lance Armstrong comes clean and apologizes.
Here's what he could and should do: call a news conference to make a public confession and ask forgiveness. Hell, there's nothing Americans love more than second chances and fallen heroes. Answer every question from every reporter for as long as they are being asked at the news conference. Offer every minute detail possible of what he did and how he did it. Say he's sorry, over and over and over. And mean it. Tell people that they can punish him and take away his jerseys but they shouldn't punish Livestrong and all of the people who need its help. Apologize to the people he and his consorts bullied and sued. Ask their forgiveness.
That's just the beginning of redemption, however. Lance ought to also become a leader in the anti-doping movement that threatens to destroy him and has almost ruined the sport of competitive cycling. He can use his charisma and celebrity to bring attention to the problem, and young cyclists facing similar pressures might view him as an example of what could happen to their career if they make a bad choice to dope. Armstrong can still have significant impact on the sport that gave him fame and fortune, if he cares to help those coming along in his turbulent slipstream.
But this is really about his cancer charity. Armstrong has to be smart enough to know that a lot of friends and sponsors and donors are on the verge of permanently disappearing. Assuming the fight against cancer has been a part of his motivation to spin and win, Armstrong must understand that his refusal to make admission will, ultimately, jeopardize the future of his foundation. If that's what he truly cares about, he has to come clean; let the critics hit him until there is nothing new to say. But ask them to leave Livestrong alone to do its work. Without an admission, an apology, and a request for forgiveness, Lance places his charity's prospects at great risk. He needs to make full confession.
And this decision is easier than the one about whether or not to dope.
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