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Lance Armstrong dropped by Nike, steps down as Livestrong chairman

By The Washington Post

NEW YORK - Lance Armstrong was dropped by Nike and stepped down as chairman of the cancer foundation he founded Wednesday, one week after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency detailed his alleged use of performance-enhancing substances.

Nike, the world's largest sporting-goods maker, said in a statement on its website that it would continue to support Livestrong initiatives to help people affected by cancer. The charity has raised more than $470 million since 1997, according to its website.

"Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him," the Beaverton, Ore.-based company said. "Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in any manner."

Nike said a week ago after the USADA report was released that it "plans to continue to support Lance."

Mary Remuzzi, a Nike spokeswoman, declined to comment in a telephone interview on the financial details of the contract or why the company changed its stance in the last week on Armstrong, 41, whom it had sponsored since 1996.

Nike ended contracts with quarterback Michael Vick following his conviction for crimes related to dog fighting and with sprinter Marion Jones after a doping confession. It didn't end contracts with basketball player Kobe Bryant or golfer Tiger Woods following acknowledgements of adultery.

The decision won't have any financial ramifications for Nike, Chris Svezia, an analyst for Susquehanna Financial Group in New York, said in an interview.

"I'm not overly surprised," Svezia said. "The difference between this and Tiger Woods is that this was a drug that improved and altered his performance and they are all about performance."

USADA's report said Armstrong's career was "fueled from start to finish by doping." Armstrong, the record seven-time Tour de France winner who had his titles stripped by the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based agency in August, required teammates to use banned substances or face dismissal from his squad, according to a 202-page summary of its case against him.

"The evidence demonstrates that the 'Code of Silence' of performance-enhancing drug use in the sport of cycling has been shattered, but there is more to do," Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of USADA, said in a statement that preceded the report. "From Day 1, we always hoped this investigation would bring to a close this troubling chapter in cycling's history and we hope the sport will use this tragedy to prevent it from ever happening again."

Armstrong has repeatedly denied doping, saying he has never failed a drug test. He said Wednesday he was stepping down from Livestrong, which he started in 1996, to "spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career."

Livestrong Vice Chairman Jeff Garvey will take over as head of the foundation.

"This is a great development," Doug White, an adviser to charities who teaches in Columbia University's School of Continuing Education, said in a telephone interview. "You have a charity that's positioning itself for a very important cause and you have the leader of that cause that's very much under the gun for breaking what's considered to be pretty important rules. The question is how can that happen with a charity? It can't." The charity should move a step further and remove Armstrong from the board entirely, White said. Armstrong's personality might be too strong to be ignored by other board members when decisions are made, he said.

"I would rather him be a person that's not connected at all with the organization," White said. "His being on the board does keep that connection and that's not good."

Nike is scheduled to co-sponsor events celebrating the 15th anniversary of Livestrong in the coming weeks, according to a report in Outside Magazine cited Wednesday by cyclingnews.com. It said the company signed a five-year contract in 2010 to pay the Lance Armstrong Foundation at least $7.5 million annually from profits generated by Livestrong merchandise.

Armstrong made $21 million in 2010, making him the 50th highest-paid athlete in the world and the wealthiest cyclist, according to an annual list released by Forbes magazine.

He also has endorsement deals with Trek Bicycle Corp., Anheuser-Busch InBev's Michelob Ultra beer, Luxottica Group's Oakley unit, and RadioShack Corp., as well as smaller companies such FRS Co. and Honey Stinger, which make energy and nutrition products.

Emails seeking comment from Phillip Cleveland, a spokesman for Anheuser-Busch; Honey Stinger marketing director Len Zanni; Costanza Assereto, a spokeswoman for Luxottica Group SpA, which owns Oakley; and Eric Bjorling, a spokesman for Trek, weren't immediately returned.

Armstrong was banned for life from competitive cycling and all other Olympic-related sports and stripped of his Tour de France titles on Aug. 23 after opting not to fight USADA's allegations.

The USADA decision is "a taxpayer-funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories," Armstrong's lawyer Timothy Herman said last week.

 


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