Nike's decision to sever ties with Lance Armstrong is a break from its course of standing by other athlete partners during turbulent times.
The difference, say some agency sources, is that Armstrong allegedly cheated at his sport. Nike continued to sponsor Tiger Woods after he admitted infidelity in 2009, and it released a commercial featuring Woods when he returned to golf several months later. The company dropped NFL quarterback Michael Vick after he was convicted of funding a dog fighting operation, but resigned him following his release from jail.
Nike said Wednesday it was ending its relationship with the cyclist because of “seemingly insurmountable evidence that 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,” Nike said in a statement, adding that it will continue to support Livestrong initiatives in the fight against cancer.
It was also reported on Wednesday that Nike would remove Armstrong's name from a fitness center at its worldwide headquarters in Oregon.
By breaking with the cyclist, Nike sent a message about the company's integrity, sources say. While it will undoubtedly continue to be a loyal supporter of its athlete partners, it will be interesting to see how Nike handles other sports controversies going forward.
The same day as Nike's announcement, Lance Armstrong said he had resigned as chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
“To spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship,” he said in a statement released by the organization.
The organization posted the statement on its website, and on its Facebook and Twitter pages.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation has worked with Edelman since 2010 on Hispanic outreach.
Some communications experts believe the foundation's brand will rebound from the Armstrong controversy because of its work fighting cancer. The Livestrong brand has matured enough that most people associate it primarily with the fight against cancer rather than Armstrong, sources say.
But how the organization moves forward without a powerful name like Armstrong's is still up in the air. One agency spokesperson suggested the foundation might take on other athletes as spokespeople.
Back in August, Livestrong's VP of communications Katherine McLane said the organization was “relieved” by Armstrong's decision to stop fighting doping accusations because it brought an end to years of speculation about his record. Now that Armstrong has officially left his role, the charity has a fresh opportunity to turn its message back to its work.
RadioShack told The Wall Street Journal Wednesday it had also stopped working with Armstrong. Last week, the company parted ways with Armstrong's former manager Johan Bruyneel. Bruyneel left the RadioShack-Nissan cycling team after he was named in a US Anti-Doping Agency report that said Armstrong drove “the most sophisticated, professionalized, and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
The USADA released the 202-page report earlier this month with testimonies from 26 people, 11 of whom are Armstrong's former teammates. The document describes Armstrong as a serial doper who bullied his teammates into cheating as well, helping to orchestrate a doping program along with the team doctors. At that time, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Nike stood by the athlete.
Both organizations also backed Armstrong in August when he said he would stop fighting accusations that he used steroids during his record-setting career. The USADA stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life from the sport.