NEW YORK (AP) — Nike has severed ties with cyclist Lance Armstrong, citing insurmountable evidence that he participated in doping and misled the company about those activities for more than a decade.
The clothing and footwear company said today that it was terminating Armstrong’s contract “with great sadness.”
“Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner,” it said in a statement.
Armstrong said today, just minutes before the announcement from Nike, that he was stepping down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer-fighting charity so that the organization can steer clear of the whirlwind surrounding its founder.
A representative for Armstrong could not be immediately reached for comment.
Nike Inc., based in Beaverton, Ore., said it plans to continue its support for Livestrong. Anheuser-Busch and the sunglasses company Oakley have already pledged ongoing support for the organization.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a massive report last week detailing allegations of widespread doping by Armstrong and his teams when he won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005.
The 41-year-old Armstrong, who overcame life-threatening testicular cancer, retired from cycling a year ago. He announced in August that he would no longer fight the doping allegations that have dogged him for years.
Nike’s courting of top celebrity athletes is well known, as are the inherent risks companies assume when doing so.
After Tiger Woods ran his SUV over a fire hydrant in November 2009, eventually bringing to light his infidelities, Accenture, AT&T Inc. and Gatorade cut ties with him. But EA Sports and Nike stood by the golfer.
Nike signed NFL quarterback Michael Vick to a contract during his rookie year in 2001, but ended that pact in August 2007 after he filed a plea agreement admitting his involvement in a dogfighting ring. Vick spent 21 months in prison.
Nike re-signed Vick, who plays with the Philadelphia Eagles, in July 2011. The company said at that time that it didn’t condone Vick’s actions, but was supportive of the positive changes he had made to better himself off the field.
Shares of Nike edged slightly higher in early trading.
6:31am: Lance Armstrong Quits Cancer Charity
By Jim Vertuno/AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong said today he is stepping down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer-fighting charity so the group can focus on its mission instead of its founder’s problems.
The move came a week after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a massive report detailing allegations of widespread doping by Armstrong and his teams when he won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005. The document’s purpose was to show why USADA has banned him from cycling for life and ordered 14 years of his career results erased — including those Tour titles. It contains sworn statements from 26 witnesses, including 11 former teammates.
Armstrong, who was not paid a salary as chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, will remain on its 15-member board. His duties leading the board will be turned over to vice chairman Jeff Garvey, who was founding chairman in 1997.
“This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart,” Armstrong said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press. “Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship.”
Foundation spokeswoman Katherine McLane said the decision turns over the foundation’s big-picture strategic planning to Garvey. He will also assume some of the public appearances and meetings that Armstrong used to handle.
Armstrong strongly denies doping, but did not fight USADA accusations through arbitration, saying he thinks the process is unfair. Once Armstrong gave up the fight in August and the report came out, crisis management experts predicted the future of the foundation, known mainly by its Livestrong brand name, would be threatened. They said Armstrong should consider stepping down to keep the charity from getting dragged into a debate over doping.
Armstrong’s inspiring story of not only recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain but then winning the world’s best-known bike race helped his foundation grow from a small operation in Texas into one of the most popular charities in the country.
Armstrong drew legions of fans — and donations — and insisted he was drug free at a time when doping was rampant in professional cycling. In 2004, the foundation introduced the yellow “Livestrong” bracelets, selling more than 80 million and creating a global symbol for cancer awareness and survivorship.
“As my cancer treatment was drawing to an end, I created a foundation to serve people affected by cancer. It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors,” Armstrong said.
As chairman, Armstrong did not run the foundation’s day-to-day operations, which are handled by Livestrong president and chief executive Doug Ulman.
Ulman had said last week that Armstrong’s leadership role would not change. Armstrong’s statement said he will remain a visible advocate for cancer issues, and he is expected to speak at Friday night’s 15th anniversary gala for Livestrong in Austin.
“My family and I have devoted our lives to the work of the foundation and that will not change. We plan to continue our service to the foundation and the cancer community. We will remain active advocates for cancer survivors and engaged supporters of the fight against cancer,” Armstrong said.
CharityWatch, which analyzes the work of approximately 600 charities, lists the foundation among its top-rated organizations. That status normally goes to groups which “generally spend 75 percent or more of their budgets on programs, spend $25 or less to raise $100 in public support, do not hold excessive assets in reserve” and disclose of basic financial information and documents.
Livestrong says it had functional expenses totaling nearly $35.8 million last year and 82 percent of every dollar raised went directly to programs, a total of more than $29.3 million.
The foundation reported a spike in contributions in late August in the days immediately after Armstrong announced he would no longer fight doping charges and officials moved to erase his Tour victories.
Daniel Borochoff, founder and president of Chicago-based CharityWatch, said last week it may take some time for donors to digest the allegations against Armstrong.
“Individuals that admire and support an individual who is later found out to be severely tarnished, don’t want to admit it, don’t want to admit that they’ve been duped,” Borochoff said. “People, though, do need to trust a charity to be able to support it.”
Armstrong thanked those who have supported the foundation over the years.
“I am deeply grateful to the people of the foundation who have done such hard and excellent work over the last 15 years, building tangible and effective ways to improve the lives of cancer survivors,” he said. “And I am deeply humbled by the support our foundation has received from so many people throughout the world – survivors, world leaders, business leaders and of course, the cancer community itself.”