Nike have a proud tradition of sticking by their beleaguered sports stars. Despite his worst husband of the year (top 10 of all time?) tag, Tiger Woods enjoyed the the unwavering support of the swoosh and the sporting giant stuck solid by disgraced track star Justin Gatlinn after positive drugs test in 2006. With a precedent of sorts set, Nike had stood by their man Lance Armstrong until last night when they released this statement.
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. Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner. Nike plans to continue support of the Livestrong initiatives created to unite, inspire and empower people affected by cancer.
The only shocking thing about Nike’s decision to to drop the tainted cycling star was that they didn’t do it earlier. Standing by Tiger had its own merits. Where other sponsors fled, Nike acknowledged their role in Tiger’s career and assumed a degree of responsibility in ensuring he sorted out his shit. To their credit and judgment, the decision has paid off with Tiger associated merchandise accounting for substantial profits. But this is an entirely different scenario. There was little in the way of bravery or social awareness on display when Nike dropped the retired cyclist. It’s clear that the dead horse that was Armstrong’s career could not be flogged anymore and the cancer cash-in on the end of their statement only confirmed that Nike are a brand scrambling to save face.
But Nike were mislead for years! That sucks. So were millions of Armstrong fans but they haven’t been accused using $500 000 to cover up positive drug tests . Despite the Armstrong dump, Nike will carry the drug scandal stink for sometime and none of the we hate cancer bullshit can change that.
This 2001 Nike ad gives a pretty clear indication of how far their heads were up their arses. Ouch!
Nike’s decision to drop Armstrong has been followed by several other high profile terminations including Radio Shack and energy food producer Honey Stinger with other brands preferring to save face and fade into the shadows rather than risk further negative press through a public separation from Armstrong. In addition, Armstrong has stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation: “I have had the great honor of serving as this foundation’s chairman for the last five years and its mission and success are my top priorities. Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship.”
Despite the self empowering mythos, Nike has never been a clean company. Child labor is as grubby as it gets but that’s never really stopped me employing my middle-class selective memory when spotting a sweet pair of kicks on sale. But it’s the kind of slimy, condescending grab for the higher moral ground that should see Nike take a hit where it hurts. No matter how many cancer patients they hide behind.
Picture by Bryn Lennon at Getty Images