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After Lance Armstrong doping: Time for Nike to just do it – fairly

By taking the initiative to donate funds to anti-doping agencies and research, the company would not only help redeem itself ethically after steadfastly backing Armstrong and other Nike athletes who’ve doped. It would also boost its brand image – and surely its market share.

By Tito Morales / February 6, 2013

Lance Armstrong crosses the finish line during the 15th stage of the Tour de France cycling race in Verbier, Switzerland on July 19, 2009. Op-ed contributor Tito Morales writes: "I believe that the general public deserves more answers – and accountability – not just from Armstrong but from his endorser, Nike."

Laurent Rebours/AP/File

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Okay. So now that Lance Armstrong has “come clean” (at least partially) to Oprah about his various doping transgressions in winning seven Tour de France titles, it’s time for everyone to move on, right?

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After all, when it comes to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and sport, it seems inevitable that there will always be another scandal right around the corner. Within days of Mr. Armstrong’s confessional interview, fresh allegations surfaced that Yankees baseball star Alex Rodriguez (ARod) follows a heavy doping regimen. And golfer Vijay Singh admitted to using a banned substance.

But we shouldn’t put the Armstrong affair behind us quite so quickly.

Much like Travis Tygart, CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the man who brought down Team Armstrong, I believe that the general public deserves more answers – and accountability – not just from Armstrong but from his endorser, Nike, Inc.

Countless millions wear the company’s apparel, play and compete using their equipment, and idolize their spokespeople – a recipe that has pushed Nike’s annual revenue past $20 billion. Despite a mountain of evidence against Armstrong, Nike stood by its endorsee until the bitter end. When Nike finally did sever ties with Armstrong, the company issued a muted statement that “it does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner” and it believes “in the integrity of competition.”

Now is the perfect time for Nike to prove it. By taking the initiative to donate funds to anti-doping agencies and research, the company would help redeem itself ethically after steadfastly backing Armstrong and other Nike athletes who’ve doped. And the company would also boost its brand image – and surely its market share.

As far back as 2001, in fact, when rumors were running rampant about Armstrong’s suspected doping, Nike, instead of investigating the matter in the name of corporate responsibility, chose to run a defiant, almost smug commercial called “What Am I On?” The answer, according to a grim-faced Armstrong, who is shown sweating and laboring along challenging roads, was that “I’m on my bike, busting my [butt] six hours a day.”

To the casual observer, what Armstrong did might not seem like such a big deal. It’s just another case of a star athlete massaging the rules to gain an unfair advantage. Besides, if everyone else was doing it then the ends justify the means, right?

But not everyone else was doing it. That’s just yet another yarn Armstrong would have us believe. Dreams were quashed, reputations ruined, and livelihoods destroyed as a result of the cyclist’s actions.

As anyone who has ever competed can attest, sports have always been about much more than simply winning and losing. Lessons about discipline, good sportsmanship, dedication, teamwork, honesty, selflessness, and fair play are passed down from one generation to another on playing fields across the planet.

While few children who engage in sports will grow up to become professional athletes, they will go on to become teachers, airline mechanics, construction workers, physicians, and (fill in the blank).

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