The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s incriminating reports placing Lance Armstrong in the middle of ”the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” has spurred anger and disappointment in many fans. Then, there are those who couldn’t care less about how he achieved his cycling success; it doesn’t change the inspiration he provided when they (or their family, friends) battled against cancer. And then there are all of the questions about whether his folly will (or should) make Armstong’s Cancer Awareness foundation, Livestrong, go the way of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
In the eyes of USADA and many fans, his athletic accomplishments are illegitimate and his image in sports is ruined. His go-to response, as several others have pointed out, has been “raising the cancer shield,” i.e. seeking shelter under the banner of Livestrong, the most ubiquitous cancer awareness campaign fueled almost exclusively by his fame. His Twitter feed just barely acknowledges the scandal’s new heights; the few tweets he’s sent out at all are almost exclusively focused on Livestrong and his accomplishments as a cancer awareness activist, and he’s readily changed the topic to his cancer awareness work in the face of tough questions about doping in the past, too.
To be fair, he and his fans have a good point: Even if he did some despicable things to get there, at least he took advantage of his position at the top of the cycling world to help cancer patients.
Except…not everyone thinks he’s really helping cancer patients.
USADA aren’t the only ones excavating Armstrong’s inside dealings; critics are also questioning Livestrong’s real beneficiary: and a lot of people think it’s mostly Armstrong himself. Bill Gifford, an adventure journalist who called Lance Armstrong a jerk long before USADA proved anything about his doping history, wrote an article for Outside earlier this year that called out the organization for its lack of tangible accomplishments in fighting cancer or supporting patients.
He seems to conclude that Armstrong isn’t sucking up the non-profit’s funds into his own coffers, but he also wonders what the organization really accomplishes–cancer research? Nope. They started phasing out cancer research funding in 2005, he says, and stopped completely by 2010. Nowadays, Livestrong’s handsomely-paid CEO, Doug Ulman, says their mission is to support patients, not cures:
“We are all about people,” he says. “Most organizations are about the disease. They’re about trying to solve a disease, and we are about trying to improve the lives of people that are battling the disease.… What can we do today to improve their lives? As opposed to saying we’ll fund research that in 15 years might help somebody live a little longer.”
Just don’t tell that to everyone who talks about Livestrong’s success as one of the big players in the race to find a cure for cancer. (Which has included Armstrong, even after the organization stopped giving money to research at all.)
On examination, Livestrong’s hazy goals, fat C-level pay packages, and questionable budget breakdown is alarming. But its bigger challenge now is hardly how they spend their money; it’s whether they can still rally support under the banner of Lance. And if Susan G. Komen’s rift with Planned Parenthood has taught us anything, it’s that non-profits really can’t afford to get bad PR.
Would you still donate to Livestrong, despite this week’s revelations about his career?
Photo: Juan Soliz/Pacific Coast News