Massive brewer Anheuser-Busch joined massive shoe company Nike today in dropping sponsorship of cyclist and cancer fund-raising champion Lance Armstrong after USADA’s Pyrenees of evidence linking the seven-time Tour de France champion to serial performance enhancing drug use became public. Though heavily suspected and accused for years, Armstrong’s fierce denials and fantastic cancer fund-raising had erected just enough of a firewall to maintain his corporate relationships. Until now.
But corporate America has never been accused of spinal conformity when it comes to support for its pitchmen. Like a fifteen year-old kid applying for his first job being told, “You have no experience”, often it takes one intrepid backer to get you off the schneid. In this case, one rejecter to open the flood gates of dismissal and discharge.
Of course, Armstrong has no one but himself to blame, though he remains defiantly jut-jawed. Despite the avalanche of evidence against him, so powerful has his 70 million yellow Livestrong bracelet program been that he still has champions willing to cleave the sins of the cyclist from the redemption of his philanthropy. And what, exactly, is the lesson to the young ones there? Are ends and means really to be separated so easily?
Armstrong isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, to take image-piercing rounds from a corporate/ media firing squad. An entire baseball generation, most notably Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire, has been a casualty.
In months following Tiger Woods’ admission of serial infidelity in November 2009, several companies re-evaluated their relationships with the 14-time major golf champion. Though the most bankable athlete in the world, Tiger lost everyone from Accenture to AT&T, Gatorade and General Motors. Blade maker Gillette suspended advertising featuring the once unsullied Woods. Tag Heuer dropped Tiger from their ad campaign in the immediate aftermath of the scandal, and ended their relationship for good when their deal expired in 2011. However, in contrast to their abandonment of Armstrong, Nike continued to support Tiger.
Lesser celebs have also been sent off on a metaphoric ice flow in the wake of a social disgrace. On January 16, 1988, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was fired from his 12-year CBS NFL football assignment after commenting to a local TV reporter at a Washington D.C. eatery that African Americans were superior athletes due to the breeding policies of slave owners before the Civil War.
Teaching moments are not the main concern of corporate titans. As Morty Seinfield said, “Cheap fabric, and dim lighting, that’s how you move merchandise.” (more…)