A customer leaves Mellow Johnny's in Austin, Texas. Anti-cancer… (Aaron M. Sprecher / AFP /…)
Sports heroes rise, and sometimes they fall. When they do, they're usually quickly forgotten as their names are expunged from the halls of fame, championship rolls and other records of their tainted achievements. But not Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong isn't just a sports hero, he's a story, an inspiration, a beacon. That might explain why, in the midst of the most spectacular celebrity fall from grace in recent memory, he retains vocal legions of supporters and his cancer foundation is doing fine. But that isn't likely to last. As the evidence that his Tour de France victories were marred by illegal performance-enhancing drugs becomes harder to deny, support for the legendary cyclist and his Lance Armstrong Foundation is bound to fade. So it's not enough for Armstrong to step down as chairman, as he did Wednesday; he should sever all ties to the charity, whose reputation is more important than his own.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation is one of the country's best-known cancer charities. What started out as a resource for testicular cancer patients, in honor of its founder's inspirational battle against that disease, now benefits people fighting all kinds of cancer, helping them deal with insurance, mental health and other challenges. It has for years been unofficially known as Livestrong, the message emblazoned on the yellow cancer awareness wristbands it sells to raise funds. Now would be a good time to make that name change official.
PHOTOS: Lance Armstrong through the years
Armstrong maintains that he is innocent of blood doping. Yet that argument became very shaky when he decided in August not to contest the charges against him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, even though he knew it would result in being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, and it became all but untenable last week after the agency released detailed evidence of Armstrong's involvement in a sophisticated conspiracy to evade drug testers while using banned substances. And when Armstrong's sponsor Nike dropped him Wednesday in the face of what it called "seemingly insurmountable evidence" of his guilt, it pounded a 6-inch nail in the coffin of Armstrong's reputation.
So far, this hasn't hurt Livestrong. It was flooded with donations on the day in August when Armstrong was stripped of his titles, and revenue for the year to date is up 2.1%. Nike and other sponsors that have dumped Armstrong, meanwhile, say they'll keep supporting the foundation. Their loyalty could falter if he continues to be so strongly tied to the organization; Friday night it will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a gala headlined by Armstrong and such celebrities as Ben Stiller and Sean Penn, and Armstrong remains on Livestrong's board of directors. He appears to be a flawed man who created a worthwhile organization; he should let it go before he brings it down.