“It’s definitely questionable,” says Mark Zimbelman, the Brigham Young University professor behind Fraudbytes. “Imagine if the American Red Cross sold its name to Americanredcross.com, and you can go there and buy vitamins. You think you’re donating or helping the American Red Cross, but you’re really not. It’s unheard of.”
ARMSTRONG BENEFITS FROM HIS FOUNDATION in another, less tangible way: everything he does in connection with Livestrong gets him good press, diluting the flow of scandal stories. In September, he made a splash at a UN meeting on noncommunicable diseases, appearing at several forums to, as the foundation put it, “represent the 28 million people around the world living with cancer.” New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a million-dollar donor, threw a lavish party that featured a Livestrong-produced documentary on young cancer patients in Rwanda and Jordan. Nike put up a three-story billboard near Madison Square Garden with Livestrong’s latest slogan, FIGHT LIKE HELL.
That might as well be Lance’s legal motto, since all signs point to a scorched-earth battle in his near future. At press time, Novitzky had been investigating Armstrong for more than 18 months, with still no indictments coming out of the Los Angeles grand jury. Whether that’s good news or bad news for Armstrong remains to be seen, but most observers think an indictment is coming.
The feds aren’t his only worry. Waiting in the wings is the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which has been conducting its own investigation since it received Floyd Landis’s accusatory e-mails in May 2010. And while it remains true that Armstrong has never tested positive, at least officially, nowadays you don’t need to flunk a lab test to be sanctioned for performance-enhancing drugs.
For the past several years, USADA has been handing down non-analytical positives—sanctioning athletes based on evidence, including testimony from teammates, other than direct positive tests. In 2008, the agency banned the cyclist Kayle Leogrande for EPO use based almost entirely on the testimony of a soigneur and a team administrator. Armstrong now has at least two former teammates, Landis and Hamilton, who say they witnessed him using banned drugs—and there may be more if, as 60 Minutes reported, George Hincapie and others told similar stories to the grand jury.
That means Armstrong could be looking at a doping sanction, possibly a lifetime ban, and the loss of at least two of his Tour titles. (The statute of limitations for doping offenses is eight years.)
And while the foundation takes care to distance itself from the doping drama—McLane calls it “issues in the cycling world”—the potential fallout is considerable. If Armstrong turns out to have used drugs, then It’s Not About the Bike—Livestrong’s creation myth—will ring just as false as Three Cups of Tea.
“It’s going to have a huge impact,” says Michael Birdsong, a former Livestrong supporter, now disillusioned, who estimates that he has given $50,000 to Livestrong over the years. “Who wants to support a foundation that was founded by a cheater? Not only a cheater, but a person who lied about it.”