Nike Drops Sponsorship Of Armstrong Over Doping

Lance Armstrong is stepping down from his role as Chairman at his cancer-fighting foundation, Livestrong. He's also been dropped by Nike, which ended its relationship with him on Wednesday.

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We begin this hour with major fallout for Lance Armstrong. Last week's scathing report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency linked Armstrong to a widespread doping program in cycling. Today, Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the foundation Livestrong, which he created to support those with cancer. Armstrong also lost major sponsors, including longtime supporter Nike. NPR's Tom Goldman begins our coverage.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Livestrong, Lance Armstrong said in a statement Wednesday, is incredibly dear to my heart. To spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship, he said - a startling statement for sure, and we'll hear more from the foundation's CEO after this report. But first, a major and very public Armstrong supporter has reconsidered.

Last week's U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report appeared damning with its 200 pages online, showing, in the words of the report, extensive banned drug use by Lance Armstrong and a massive and pervasive doping program designed, in large part, to benefit him.

Still, there was, as always, that Lance Armstrong cushion of support, including his corporate sponsors. The biggest one, Nike, said at the time: Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position. Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Today, Nike reaffirmed its support for the foundation, but said this about Armstrong: Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him.

PAUL WILLERTON: It's a big day today, so I think that our message carried a long way.

GOLDMAN: Former pro cyclist Paul Willerton led a small protest outside Nike's Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters yesterday. He showed up at 6 a.m. in the pouring rain, carrying a sign asking Nike to stand up for clean sport and let Armstrong go. As employees arrived for work, he said he got a few middle fingers and thumbs down, but also honks and smiles and thumbs up. Today, Willerton praised Nike for getting the message.

WILLERTON: That people will not tolerate the use of corporations to further their cause and to further non-truths.

GOLDMAN: It makes a nice story to think a band of 10 or so protesters moved a Fortune 500 company to take a moral stand. University of Oregon sports marketing expert Paul Swangard thinks a couple of other factors came into play at Nike over the past week.

PAUL SWANGARD: You know, a thoughtful review of, you know, the most recent report and really having an internal discussion about what it revealed.

GOLDMAN: But also, Swangard says the Lance Armstrong relationship was bigger than merely building a cycling business. It was about the Livestrong brand, including those 85 million or so yellow wristbands and the fight against cancer, which Nike says it will continue to support.

Several other Armstrong sponsors reacted today. Anheuser-Busch announced it will not renew its relationship with Armstrong at the end of this year. Energy food company Honey Stinger says it's removing Armstrong's image and endorsement from its product packaging. Oakley says it's reviewing the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report, as well as its relationship with Armstrong.

When asked today whether Nike's action and Armstrong's resignation from Livestrong is an admission by Armstrong that the report is accurate, an Armstrong spokesman said no. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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