31 08 2012

Unless you have been living in a cave, or visiting a third-world country without modern communication, you know that US cycling legend Lance Armstrong has been in the frying pan. Last Thursday he announced that he would not longer fight the USADA’s allegations of doping; in so doing, he effectively relinquished his seven Tour de France victories. The maillot jaunes he fought so hard to win are no longer his.

The only problem is that, while Lance remains fabulously wealthy, he heads a prominent non-profit leading the fight against cancer. Armstrong formed Livestrong after his own miraculous return to form following a nearly-deadly bout with cancer. But with a tarnished career (not an admission of guilt, but it may as well have been), how does one even begin to market after the flame has gone out?

Like this.

Gone are the Lycra jersey and shorts of a cycling champion, replaced by the all-business starched white shirt and tie. Never mind that, for many fans, Lance is still a demi-god, the victim of a witch hunt guided by motives still unclear. In fact, last Friday, the day after he walked away from it all, donations to Livestrong jumped 2500% over those of the day prior.

Not bad in light of the controversy.

But Livestrong needs to keep people in the mood of donating. Friday’s flurry of giving was no doubt inspired emotion, and likely consisted of one-time givers showing their support for the man and maybe not so much the cause.

Lance’s video shows him to be a man about his greater business, though. He acknowledges that he has been through the fire, but that the work goes on. Cancer does not stop just because a career has ended, trophies returned.

Furthermore, since the act of donating is one of utmost personal volition (it is voluntary, unlike buying groceries and other necessities), Armstrong knows his foundation is extremely vulnerable.

And perhaps no other group knows this better than another cancer-related charity, the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Earlier this year, SGK announced it would cease funding Planned Parenthood; PR hell broke loose on the media and social graph, the result being significant drops in donations and race participation. Oh, and a completely unintended consequence occurred when Planned Parenthood noted an increase in donations.

I told you these things can be emotional.

Armstrong, though, is handling things much better than SGK. Sure, there are still many nagging questions about Lance’s guilt or innocence, but he is not letting that cloud interfere with Livestrong’s business.

And for that I doff my helmet to the man who won his own battle with cancer, tore up the French countryside, and dedicated himself to finding cures to far greater problems than allegations of his own improprieties.

That’s a win in my book.

Dr “Long Live Mellow Johnny” Gerlich



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