Why did Lance Armstrong's decision to stop fighting doping allegations—and thereby consent to being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles—drive up donations to his charity so sharply? Armstrong gave up the ghost Thursday; on Friday donations to the Lance Armstrong Foundation rose by a factor of 25.
In announcing his decision, Armstrong issued a statement that, while it was surprisingly light on direct denials of doping, was otherwise designed to drum up sympathy. On Thursday night, the reality was pretty mundane: Armstrong had simply run up against a deadline for deciding whether to accept or formally challenge the USADA's sanctions. But Armstrong's press release about the choice portrays a man defiantly making his priorities known, above the influence of deadlines and insensible to the likelihood of losing in court. Armstrong claimed to be the subject of a "witch hunt," the victim of bullies, threats, and double standards, and the target of personal vendettas. The statement even injected a little drama—a "hunt" of any kind is a lot more exciting than the inevitable outcome of a bureaucratic testing process that has slowly but surely ensnared just about every successful cyclist since Armstrong came on the scene. If you weren't already convinced Lance was the good guy in all this, the last paragraph mentions "families affected by cancer," "underserved communities," and contrasts the goals of his foundation with the "pointless distraction" of the USADA investigation.
Memo to any other popular athletes mired in doping scandals, hoping to protect their businesses and charitable ventures: do all that. This article quotes Stacey Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, saying that Armstrong's organization has "demonstrate[d] that they're much beyond what his role is," and Armstrong himself saying that the Foundation is "completely unaffected by any noise out there," but that's exactly wrong: the noise was Armstrong saying "fuck this" to a new round of legal battles, and the effect was an enormous increase in unsolicited donations. The press release that painted Armstrong as a victim and spun his disinterest in fighting the USADA as taking the high road worked very well in the short run. Whatever the country's columnists think of him—surprise, surprise, some of them are upset—a lot of people like it when popular athletes tell amorphous government watchdog organizations that their investigations are pointless bullshit.
It's a credit to Armstrong that he's at the head of an organization that's pumping a huge amount of money into cancer
awareness, even if its most visible legacy is dumb rubber bracelets. It's also yet another reason for athletes with extra money to set up charities that are, you know, real.