The straight dope
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Why Nike broke up with Lance Armstrong, a first in the company's history of endorsements
The swoosh has spoken. A decade full of allegations, testimonies from teammates and loyal lieutenants, and a very detailed report running into hundreds of pages, all providing evidence that Lance Armstrong broke the rules, could not do what one giant tick-mark did, by simply crossing out his name from its endorsement list. Nike, in this case, just did it. It gave the accusations against Armstrong real weight.
In all the years since it signed on Romania's Ilie Nastase in 1972, this is the first time that Nike, the most valuable sports company in the world, has permanently dropped a global ambassador. The swoosh stayed firm on Tiger Woods' black cap all the way through his sex scandal (even as he lost all other major sponsors) and remained on Kobe Bryant's trainers as he faced rape charges. Quarterback Michael Vick's contract was terminated for his involvement in illegal dog-fighting, but he too was reinstated after a prison sentence. So why did Nike, arguably the most forgiving brand in the world, make an example out of Armstrong? A TV commercial, shot in 2001, should illustrate why. Back when the use of performance-enhancing drugs were rampant in cycling, Nike decided to showcase their poster boy Lance Armstrong's cleanliness in an ad. In the ad, Armstrong, while getting his blood drawn by a drug tester says: "Everybody wants to know what I am on. What am I on? I am on my bike busting my ass for six hours a day." Nike had stuck its neck out, putting its image on the block. Armstrong has now chopped it.
The message is simple. Infidelity and harassment happen off the track or field, when sportsmen do not wear their logo, valued at $10.7 billion. But in Armstrong's case, he used the very same Nike fabric to cover syringe marks on his arms. This was unacceptable by the brand's standards, and so, "with great sadness," Nike left Armstrong this week.
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