Early Wednesday, Lance Armstrong announced that he would step down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer-fighting charity. Shortly after this announcement, Nike redacted its earlier pledge to stand with Armstrong, severing its ties with the cyclist. The sports brand has, however, vowed to continue to support the Livestrong foundation.
In a statement, Nike said “with great sadness,” it will terminate Armstrong's contract, but also that the corporation feels "misled."
"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,” the statement said. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner."
The decision comes just a day after former cyclists and cycling fans gathered outside of Nike headquarters in Oregon to protest the company’s continued support for Armstrong—and just two days after the NY Daily News suggested that Nike may have played an active role in Armstrong’s alleged doping conspiracy.
The News reported that Kathy LeMond, wife of cyclist Greg LeMond, testified under oath in a 2006 deposition that Julian Devries (a mechanic for Armstrong’s team) had told her that Nike and Thom Weisel (the San Fran banker who was a part-owner and sponsor of Armstrong’s team) had transferred $500,000 of under-the-table money to a Swiss bank account belonging to Hein Verbruggen (at the time, the president of the UCI). The money was, allegedly, to cover up Armstrong’s supposed 1999 positive corticosteroids drug test, which the cyclist claims were to treat saddle sores.
Nike “vehemently denies” the accusations, as do Armstrong’s lawyers, who called Kathy LeMond a “long-time Lance hater” and maintain that they have “absolutely no idea” what she is talking about.
Whether Nike is ultimately tied to Lance’s doping conspiracy or not, as USA Today points out, pulling its sponsorship is a big move—the sports brand has maintained its support for several controversial athletes through hard times over the years, including Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre.
Chairmanship of the Livestrong brand will be turned over to vice chairman Jeff Garvey, who, in 1997, was the founding chairman.
"This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart," Armstrong said in a statement. "Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship."
Garvey will take over big-picture strategy and assume some meetings and public appearances in the place of Armstrong, according to foundation spokeswoman Katherine McLane.
"My family and I have devoted our lives to the work of the foundation and that will not change. We plan to continue our service to the foundation and the cancer community. We will remain active advocates for cancer survivors and engaged supporters of the fight against cancer," Armstrong said.