At the end of August, The New York Times broke the story that Lance Armstrong dropped his fight against doping charges. My Facebook and Twitter streams, inbox, and text messages were busy with “What do you think?” messages and links to various articles.
I read and responded to all of them. And I defended the cyclist and creator of Livestrong.
As a business owner, there have been many times I could have won a lawsuit in court (cough, Macy’s, cough), but our attorney wisely advised me to let it go because it would have put us out of business—just to prove we were right.
Sometimes you have to make decisions that are best for the health of the organization, even if—in the court of public opinion—it looks like you’re admitting guilt.
That’s what I thought Armstrong was doing. Not admitting guilt, but putting his focus on something else.
My cycling history
My dad has been a cyclist my entire life. For many years it was out of necessity because we had one car and a gazillion kids. But then he upgraded his bike, got into the Tour de France, and began to compete.
I started cycling eight years ago because, after three marathons and countless other races, I had my knee scoped one too many times and the doctor said it was time to hang up my running shoes.
Between taking up cycling and Armstrong’s Tour races, my dad and I had something to bond over that wasn’t work or family.
I remember how much fun we had the day Armstrong climbed a mountain, looked back at the field, grinned, and rode over the top to descend minutes ahead of his competitors. We still talk about that.
And now his Tour wins have been stripped. He had to remove “Seven time Tour de France winner” from his Twitter bio. It all makes me want to cry.
It’s funny I’m this emotional about a person I’ve never met, and how I want to cry at all the allegations that make him look guilty. It’s funny I get so defensive when someone says “I told you so.” Heck, I get downright angry.
This is a very hard article for me to write. I don’t want to hear “I told you so!” from any of you. I know, I know, I know.
The Armstrong PR crisis
The reason I’m writing is because Lance Armstrong the brand (I know some of you don’t believe in personal brands, but he is one) has a huge PR crisis on its hands.
I’ve thought long and hard about this. I’ve read everything people have written about it. I know his PR team is the best in the industry. I don’t understand why he’s silent.
Sure, I get how anything he says, tweets, writes, Facebooks, or pins can—and will—be held against him in a court of law. His attorneys probably have him on lock down.
But I have to believe they knew this was coming. There is one person you can be totally honest with when you’re in trouble, and that’s your attorney. Surely his has a plan for how to deal with allegations should they go public.
And the PR counsel surely was ready for this, as well.
So where is he?
Other than changing his Twitter bio, he hasn’t tweeted anything in a week.
He hasn’t talked to reporters or posted anything on Facebook.
He’s completely silent. He’s pulling a Tiger Woods. And I don’t get it.
The court of public opinion is as important (if not more, these days) as any court of law. Armstrong has more than 3 million Twitter followers. Imagine if just one of them who believes he’s being made the scapegoat for an entire industry of dopers were to end up on his jury.
If he’s guilty (I’m still not willing to admit it), he needs to come out and say so.
It’s going to hurt.
Former sponsors are already asking for their money back. He already lost Nike, Anheuser-Busch, and Oakley. He’s not allowed to race ever again. He lost his titles. Livestrong is distancing itself from him. It can’t get much worse.
Now he needs to come forward and say, “I did this. I’m sorry,” and let his fans know how sorry he is so we can all move on. Heck, so he can move on.
There isn’t a story once a brand apologizes. Say you’re sorry, and let the media move on to the next big crisis.
I’ll still wear my Livestrong bracelet. I’ll still count him as one of my cycling heroes. And I’ll feel better finally knowing the truth directly from the horse’s mouth.