Donors standing by Lance Armstrong's foundation
New York • Lance Armstrong's reputation may be permanently stained but in the eyes of corporate and individual donors, his charity still wears an unsullied yellow jersey.
Armstrong announced last week he would no longer fight the doping allegations that have dogged him for years. He was subsequently stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles and banned from professional cycling.
But in the days after the announcement, the Lance Armstrong Foundation was showered with donations and pledges of continued support for its mission of promoting cancer awareness and research.
Public relations professionals say that while the famous cyclist and cancer survivor remains a polarizing figure, even his naysayers will have a hard time turning their back on the foundation and its trademark Livestrong yellow bracelets.
Armstrong's decision not to contest the doping charges may allow both him and his charity to finally move on, they say.
"He never said he's guilty, he said he's sick of fighting," said Peter Shankman, a vice president at the public relations firm Vocus Inc., noting that none of the allegations against Armstrong has been proved. "He becomes a hero in this."
Armstrong, who retired a year ago and turns 41 next month, denies he ever took banned substances in his career, calling the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's investigation a "witch hunt" carried out without any physical evidence. He said Thursday he would no longer challenge the USADA's allegations and declined to enter the agency's arbitration process.
On Friday, the USADA wiped out 14 years of Armstrong's career and barred him from the sport for life. The agency took Armstrong's decision as an admission of guilt, branding as a drug cheat the man who had built a legend reaching cycling's pinnacle after overcoming life-threatening testicular cancer.
That same day Armstrong was banned, the number of donations to his foundation nearly doubled, to $60,900 from $32,300 the day before. And the number of donations nearly tripled, to 937 from 313, the day after, according to the foundation's data.
The money kept coming on Saturday, with 373 people donating a total of $22,658. In comparison, just four people made donations on the previous Saturday, the foundation said.
"The foundation was grateful to be overwhelmed by an outpouring of support in the last few days," Doug Ulman, the foundation's president and CEO, said in a statement. "The number of spontaneous donations and messages of solidarity from partners and supporters were amazing."
Corporate sponsors, including Nike Inc., Anheuser-Busch and sunglasses maker Oakley, have pledged their continued support for the charity. Johnson Health Tech, which licenses the Livestrong brand for a line of exercise bikes and other work-out equipment, has also said it's sticking by the foundation.
And the home of Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas City will continue to be called Livestrong Sporting Park. The club, which has promised to donate $7.5 million in stadium revenue to Armstrong's foundation over six years, says it will not consider renaming the Kansas City, Kan., venue.