August 27, 2012


Lance Armstrong's sponsors, including Nike, Oakley, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and FRS energy drinks, have decided to continue to back him. This shows an embarrassing lack of business-ethical leadership across the board.

The doping case against Armstrong is overwhelming, including numerous prominent eye-witnesses and even blood samples, though technically beyond the date of expiration. Courts of law take eye-witness testimony into account so there is nothing unreasonable about doing so here. Indeed, given how easily a champion can manipulate the drug tests, it is often the only way the rules can be enforced.

I suspect that when Tyler Hamilton's damning book comes out next month "The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups and Winning at All Costs", it will deepen the debate in this country and begin to embarrass Armstrong's sponsors to an intolerable extent. It's only normal for the initial American reaction to be one of denial given how hard Armstrong has fought these charges for so many years, along with being not only cycling's greatest champion but also a major force against cancer.

Still, this gloss must wear off eventually.

Indeed, his own fight with cancer becomes tarnished by the possibility that his doping was a causal factor in his contracting the disease to begin with.

When such high-profile sponsors as these double down on denial, it allows the rest of his supporters and other athletes to continue living a lie. It turns blind eye to the damage doping does to athletes already under intense physical and psychological pressure. As Hamilton's book will describe in chilling detail, this atmosphere pushes many to substance abuse, depression and even suicide.

Corporations that ultimately depend on these athletes have a responsibility to do whatever they can to protect them from the pressure to dope. The least they can do to encourage cyclists not to engage in that practice is to drop their sponsorship of anyone found guilty. To continue supporting Armstrong at this point may feel like loyalty. But soon, that loyalty will begin to feel more like craven disregard for the integrity of the sport and the wellbeing of its athletes. For this is not about cancer funding. If these corporations want to fund that, they can do it without retaining Armstrong as a poster boy for their athletic products.

I strongly suggest these corporations get out from under this ethical albatross as soon as possible. Their corporate resonsibility is at stake and ultimately so may be their revenue as this story unravels. Imagine what will happen as Tyler Hamilton begins doing Oprah and Jon Stewart as part of his book tour. Smart companies will get off the Liestrong train if they know what is good for them, the sport, and the culture itself.

Here's a related piece of commentary by Evan Selinger, also a philosophy professor.


  1. Yes, but what makes this situation so exasperating, if we are to believe this CBS Sports account, is that his fame, no matter how ill gotten, did lead to tremendous good:

    "His success helped sell millions of "Livestrong" yellow plastic bracelets as he promoted cancer awareness and research. He's raised nearly $500 million since the Lance Armstrong Foundation started in 1997.

    On Friday alone, the foundation said it received 400 donations that totaled around $75,000."

    The end may not justify the means, but it does soften the blow.

    He could be Clemens, you know...


  2. Fair point, but as Kierkegaard realized, life can only be lived in the forward direction and while it cannot be fully understood without looking at it from the other direction too, we cannot really live that way. So Armstrong cannot be exonerated that way, any more than Gauguin could be for abandoning his family to be a great painter. Even though as luck would have it, perhaps it was worth it in the end.

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  4. Check your facts. While vast amounts of money have been raised, very little if any actually went to fund cancer research (just ask what specific advances resulted from that money, and you will likely get a blank stare). In fact, the foundation no longer accepts research grant applications. It is commited to cancer' awareness' which is just as truthful and direct as 'I never failed a drug test.'