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Must Read: Livestrong facts and fiction

It's not about the lab rats

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Outside: In Febuary’s issue of Outside, Bill Gifford looks critically at the Livestrong Foundation and how its funds are spent. Many believe that Livestrong is in large part a means for Armstrong to boost his own credibility should he stand trial for doping charges. Questions began to arise regarding where the Livestrong Foundation spent its money once Greg Mortenson was exposed for using money donated to the foundation he promoted in Three Cups of Tea to promote his books.

The questions that Gifford ultimately found needed to be addressed were: where does Livestrong end and Armstrong begin, and what would come of one without the other.

“In a sense, Livestrong and Lance are like conjoined twins, each depending on the other for survival,” wrote Gifford. “Separating them—or even figuring out where one ends and the other begins—is no small task. The foundation is a major reason why sponsors are attracted to Armstrong; as his agent Bill Stapleton put it in 2001, his survivor story ‘broadened and deepened the brand … and then everybody wanted him.’ But the reverse is also true: Without Lance, Livestrong would be just another cancer charity scrapping for funds.”

Gifford did not uncover any legal misuse of Livestrong funds. That being said, he reported that, “Livestrong spends massively on adver­tising, PR, and ‘branding,’ all of which helps preserve Armstrong’s marketability at a time when he’s under fire. Meanwhile, Armstrong has used the goodwill of his foundation to cut business deals that have enriched him per­sonally, an ethically questionable move.”

Gifford found that the brand name was used in an unusual way, as there is a for-profit active lifestyle website also called Livestrong. In addition, the foundation has scaled back its research funding, although many people still assume Livestrong is a research-based foundation. 

Livestrong’s CEO, Doug Ulman explained the motivation for pulling research funding. “Most organizations are about the disease. They’re about trying to solve a disease, and we are about trying to im­prove the lives of people that are battling the disease.”

According to Gifford, the benefit Armstrong gains most from the foundation is the image of himself as a charitable individual. Good press from his foundation gives him credibility for his good character when scandal allegations arise.

Conversely, should the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency uncover proof to substantiate Floyd Landis‘ doping accusations, Armstrong’s name would subsequently bring his foundation to ruin.

Gifford’s conclusion is that, “if Armstrong turns out to have used drugs, then It’s Not About the Bike — Livestrong’s creation myth — will ring just as false as Three Cups of Tea.”

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