Should Lance Armstrong Resign from LIVESTRONG?

The world of professional sports was rocked by yet another scandal. The scandal could also have a significant impact on one well-known nonprofit organization.

While simmering for years, the story involving Lance Armstrong reached a full boil recently when the seven-time Tour de France winner and cycling legend gave up his fight against the doping charges levied by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. That move cleared the way for USADA to strip Armstrong of his titles and ban him from any sports competition following the World Anti-Doping Code.

While Armstrong has decided not to fight the charges, both the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency have the right to appeal USADA’s ruling and are expected to do so. This means the story is likely far from over.

Lance Armstrong, TDU 2010

In addition to being a (former) champion cyclist, Armstrong is also the Founder of The Lance Armstrong Foundation which is also known as LIVESTRONG (LIVESTRONG.org). Armstrong serves as Chairman of The Lance Armstrong Foundation. The Foundation has a partnership with LIVESTRONG.com which is licensed by the Foundation.

For its part, The Lance Armstrong Foundation issued a strong statement of support for Armstrong. And, at least early on, the public also seems to be expressing its support for Armstrong. USA Today reported that by 3:30 PM of the day of the USADA announcement, the Foundation received about $80,000 from online donors, dramatically greater than its $3,000 daily average.

While questions remain about Armstrong and doping, there is no question that the Foundation has had a positive impact on the lives of millions of people. As my wife has battled Ovarian Cancer, I’ve even been one of the frequent visitors to the LIVESTRONG websites. The sites provide a tremendous amount of information and connections to valuable resources.

Since its inception in 1997, The Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised more than $470 million to support its mission to inspire and empower people affected by cancer, according to the organization’s website.

Unfortunately, while Lance Armstrong maintains his innocence citing his negative doping tests, a dark cloud remains over him as a result of the USADA ruling. That’s about the best that can be said of the situation. At worst, the USADA ruling reveals Armstrong to be a cheat and a liar.

Given the damage that has been done to Armstrong’s reputation, should he resign the Chairmanship of The Lance Armstrong Foundation? Putting his ego aside, would it be better or worse for the Foundation to have Armstrong step down?

While my feelings on the situation are evolving, there is one thing of which I am certain: Armstrong should make his decision about his Foundation position based on what is best for the people who benefit from the Foundation’s services. It’s no longer just about him, it’s about them. However, what is best for them remains unclear at this time.

I invite you to share your thoughts below. Also, I encourage you to participate in the poll.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

 

UPDATE: (Oct. 18, 2012): Lance Armstrong has announced his resignation as Chairman of The LIVESTRONG Foundation though he will remain on the board. You can read my full update here.

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17 Responses to “Should Lance Armstrong Resign from LIVESTRONG?”

  1. I don’t really feel like whether or not he doped and/or lied about it has any impact on him running an organization that is saving lives. I think the company needs a big name to continue the successes they’ve had, and I think over time this will blow over, and work will continue at LIVESTRONG. Maybe the concern is what else is he lying about? Well that’s true, we don’t know, but until we have some reason to think he is doing anything wrong at the foundation, his cycling career and his work at the foundation should remain separate, and so should an evaluation of Armstrong.

    • Brian, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Unless you tell me otherwise, I’m going to assume that you are not a relative of Lance Armstrong despite having the same last name. 🙂

      The thoughts you expressed are shared by many. For example, I also hear from Michele Petersen:

      “I think that people that are asking him to step down from the foundation, he founded, for cancer awareness and research, shows what little minds people have. I do not know if he was doping, but this has nothing to do with his charity work for cancer research! He is a survivor of cancer and this is something he appears to be passionate about. Why would we take him off the LIVESTRONG foundation when he is the star that started it. He still has star power. By no means does this make him a person that is not qualified to continue to raise money for this project. He is a perfect spokesperson for cancer! We have to concentrate on curing cancer! There are so many types of cancer that are killing people every day. If we do not have money coming in for research, then lets stop now! But I believe in giving anyone a second chance (not in a relationship) t0 prove to the public that he is willing to continue with raising more funds for research for cancer! We cannot ask for a better spokesperson, especially because he has experienced it himself! Please be supportive! I only see this partnership as a positive one! And I hope others do not think about the negative right now that surrounds him, but what he can do and has done to get more donors to keep this program alive!”

      On the other hand, there are certainly those who feel quite differently. Those who think Armstrong should step down believe that nonprofit organizations should be run by people who are etical and have credibility. Don’t the findings of USADA mean that Armstrong is unethical and a liar? If so, does someone who is unethical and a liar in one area of his/her life, then lack credibility in other areas? And, is such a person really the best spokesperson for a charity? Can the public trust that Armstrong and his Foundation are telling the truth about how to fight cancer, about the financial status of the Foundation, about how contributions are spent? And, given the enormous distraction caused by the USADA investigation and findings, can Armstrong focus on the Foundation work that needs to get done?

      For those who want Armstrong to continue in his position, where should nonprofit organizations draw the line? What misdeeds would tip the scales? Does it matter at all what a person does outside of a nonprofit organization so long as they are behaved when working for the organization?

      What do folks think?

      By the way, Michele clearly supports the idea of cancer research. I just need to point out that the largest block of spending by LIVESTRONG is on “education and advocacy” programs. While I think the work of LIVESTRONG is important, we need to understand that its focus is not on disease research. Also, I want to point out that I have not heard from anyone who questions the value or ethics of LIVESTRONG itself.

      Finally, I want to point out that only a modest percentage of readers have registered their thoughts by taking the poll so far. I encourage all readers to share their thoughts by taking the poll and/or commenting. I’ll be sure that the folks at LIVESTRONG see the results in a week or two.

  2. Jon Kaplan posted the following comment on the poll site:

    “Whether or not he won the Tour de France seven times with the use of doping or drugs, Lance has given a focus to fighting cancer and supporting its survivors in a way and to the extent that no one else ever has. Even if he did use doping and/or drugs (like the other Tour de France competitors who will now assume the Tour title), what it took for Lance to come back from cancer the way he did came from within himself, as did his desire to create the Foundation and serve a purpose far larger than himself.”

    I thank Jon for sharing his thoughts.

    While I commend Armstrong for his work to help those who suffer from cancer, those goods works should not necessarily inoculate him against misdeeds committed in other areas of his life. Armstrong knows what he did or did not do. He owes it to the public to be completely honest.

    Ultimately, whether Armstrong remains on the board of his Foundation or not should have less to do with him and more to do with those the Foundation serves. He must do what is in the best interest of those individuals which may or may not be in his own best interest.

  3. The Livestrong foundation is not a charity, it’s a joke. Barely any of the money goes to cancer research. They say they are raising awareness of cancer. How do you raise awareness of the most recognisable disease in the world. Everyone has heard of cancer, whether or not you know what Livestrong is. The only thing Livestrong does is raise awareness of Lance Armstrong so he can fill his pockets. Sorry Lance, but the time’s ticking. The sooner he removes his face form the public eye the better.

    • Tom, thank you for sharing your feelings about Lance Armstrong and his foundation. You are correct when you make the observation that cancer research is not a major priority of the foundation. As I’ve indicated previously, the foundation is upfront about that. As for the issue of awareness, Livestrong does not seek to create awareness of cancer. Instead, it seeks to create awareness for ways to prevent and live with cancer. It also seeks to help others, particularly the medical profession, to become better informed about the special needs of cancer patients. Livestrong provides one-on-one support services, information, and links to a variety of resources. As the husband of an Ovarian Cancer survivor, I can tell you that my wife and I have personally benefitted from the information at Livestrong.

      While Lance Armstrong may derive personal benefit from his affiliation with Livestrong, that does not automatically make the organization a “joke.” The foundation has value. I want to see that value maintained or enhanced. That was the purpose of my post. Will Livestrong be better able to do that with or without Armstrong? I don’t know. In time, I suspect the answer will become more clear. Meanwhile, my unscientific poll shows overwhelming support for Armstrong, at least for now.

  4. I feel that Livestrong can be maintained without Mr Armstrong being at the head of the charity. As soon as all the evidence comes out against him, he will be a liability to the charity. If you read the following article, you will see why people are starting to question his role at Livestrong, and Livestrong themselves http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/athletes/lance-armstrong/Its-Not-About-the-Lab-Rats.html?page=all

    I hope that Livestrong does come out of all of this mess in tact, as any money towards charity is welcome. However, the number of times people and news reports state that they do so much good to cancer research obviously shows how many people actually read where their donations go to.

    Thanks for the response, Michael, and I wish you and your wife the best in the future.

  5. Michael,

    I appreciate that you jump right in with intelligent conversations about the charity/fundraising aspect of media “scandals” like this and some of the other ones that you have covered.

    It’s a bold move that few are willing to put their brand on the line to do, but it’s helpful to have your thoughts and the discussion created by your readers.

    In the social-profit sector, it’s important for fundraising professionals to think through these ethical considerations in advance of the (rare) chance that they will have to face a similar situation at their own organization in future.

    We’ve had a similar situation this year in Canada regarding the David Suzuki foundation where Suzuki had to step down from his own charity – it was not so much a scandal as a political move, but you may want to read some of the press around that for perspective.

    My opinion on LIVESTRONG – it’s up to the board and Lance to decide how they can continue to have the best impact on their mission – with or without him on board. That’s why (I assume) it’s a public foundation and not a private one – therefore, unfair to say that it’s “his charity.”

    A strange example from history lies in the foundations of the Cistercian monastic order (sometimes known today as Trappists). Their founder is not well-known, but their second leader, Bernard of Clairvaux, stands out in history as an amazingly prolific man who had a huge “media” presence in his day – as much as you could say that there was a media in the 12thC. The name of his home monastery was “Clairvaux” and they eventually started naming him by that name as well – so similar to today’s use of personal name associated with foundation name.

    The cistercian foundation has continued for several centuries now, has produced incredible leaders and recognized saints (seeing as “holiness” is its purpose, this accomplishment matches their mission). So I have hope that if LIVESTRONG or any other foundation is meeting a relevant need and fitting with a Zeitgeist, then the coming and going of charismatic leaders, founders and namesakes should not hamper it’s successes.

    http://www.ocso.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=122&Itemid=178&lang=en

    (yes, those hours spent reading medieval history in Latin have paid off…)

    Christina @GPtekkie

    • Christina, thank you for your comments and the history lesson. While you were studying about the history of Trappist monks, I was drinking their beer. As for Livestrong, you’re right; the foundation has the potential to be just fine. It will certainly be interesting to follow this story.

  6. This is a man, unrelated to his port, who has fought cancer and won, and created a foundation to help others fighting cancer. My daughter was not as lucky as Lance, and died at the age of 18. (I was wearing a LIVESTRONG bracelet during this ordeal.)

    My feeling is that there should have been a statute of limitation on pursing these charges. He passed all anti-doping tests he took. Enough is enough, BUT, assuming for argument sake that he did oxygenate his blood, it does not diminish his win over cancer or the work he and the Foundation have done.

    As a former Director of a Foundation, I would not ask such a public and well respected individual to resign. Yes, some of that respect came as a result of the sport in which he engaged and the number of wins, but the greatest part of that respect comes from the example he has set for those suffering from cancer and giving hope to the families that their love one may have the ability to survive like Lance.

    • Martin, thank you for commenting. Let me first say that I’m sorry to learn of your loss. It’s heartbreaking.

      As for Lance Armstrong, you suggest that character matters. I’ll just suggest that if his character strengths matter, so should his character weaknesses. At the point his character becomes a liability rather than an asset, that’s the point he should resign.

      • Michael,

        If in fact Lance becomes a detriment to the Livestrong Fdn.,, I would agree with you, but as one of your comments noted, Livestrong raised $80,000 online after the announcement, which was $3,000 more than it earned previously. (I do not recall if that was in the prior month or during the same time last year.) It would seem that to date he is not hurting the Fdn. despite the fact your poll seems to indicate more people believe that he should resign.

        But this is a decision that the Fdn. Board must make as they have a fiduciary duty to donors and beneficiaries to, as you indicate, pursue the best interests of the Fdn.; not Lance Armstrong.

      • Martin, you’re correct; the early fundraising results following the USADA news are promising for the Foundation. However, if the public becomes convinced of Armstrong’s guilt, that could change. On the other hand, if the public concludes that Armstrong is innocent, Armstrong’s position will likely remain secure. Readers can look at the latest poll results by clicking the appropriate button above. However, I do want to take this opportunity to correct an error in your comment:

        As of this writing, 43.94% believe Armstrong should remain as Chairman of the Livestrong board while 49.24% believe he should resign from the board. So, you’re correct in the sense that more folks think he should resign than think he should remain as Board Chair. However, an additional 6.82% believe that, while he should resign as Chairman, he should remain on the Livestrong board. In other words, 50.76% of respondents believe Armstrong should either remain as Chairman or, at least, remain as a regular board member of the Foundation. So, there’s actually a slight majority of folks who believe he should remain with Livestrong.

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