Livestrong Supporters say the Organization is Bigger than Disgraced Lance

In a sense, Fred Schuster has a permanent reminder of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong etched into his skin.

But to the 48-year-old New Jersey resident, the Livestrong Foundation bracelet tattooed on his wrist isn't about Armstrong or his long-awaited admission to doping as a professional cyclist. It's a symbol of his father's struggle with cancer and the bond they shared, Schuster said.
Moreover, any time he's tempted to pick up a cigarette, the recovering smoker is reminded of why he stopped in the first place.

"My decision to get the tattoo had absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Armstrong, and subsequently, these revelations do nothing to diminish the meaning it has for me. The tattoo was and will always be a symbol of the love that my father and I shared," Schuster said in a CNN iReport.

"The effect he had on the foundation was huge, but they both should be able to stand on their own. The foundation should not be held accountable for his deception."

Armstrong admitted this week in an interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey that he used an array of performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles. He had denied the drug use for years, often angrily. The first of the two-part interview aired Thursday night.

Others who have worn the yellow bracelet or supported the cancer charity that Armstrong started in 1997 say Livestrong is now bigger than him. As long as people like Schuster continue to view Livestrong as an entity separate from its fallen founder, the cancer charity will likely withstand whatever controversy befalls Armstrong, charity experts said.

"The organization has done a lot to separate itself from Lance's image over the years. As a result, many people identify it as a cancer organization, which is why it's not already crumbling," said Stacy Palmer, editor of the The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a Washington-based news source for the nonprofit world.

After all, this isn't the first time Armstrong has been mired in controversy in the past decade, and Livestrong is still around. Since 2004, when doping allegations against Armstrong first came to light in a book by French sports journalist Pierre Ballester, the foundation has experienced steady year-to-year revenue growth, according to financial records, with the exception of a dip from 2005 to 2006, the year Armstrong was cleared of allegations stemming from a 1999 drug test.

Many nonprofits look up to Livestrong as a success model, especially for its social media campaigns, thanks in part to Armstrong's hands-off leadership, Palmer said. He hired a staff of experienced fundraisers with a history of running charities and nonprofits, which can be unusual among celebrity-driven charities, she said.

"He's allowed them to go ahead without micromanaging, which some celebrities have a hard time doing," she said. "For foundations started by one person, It can be hard to get past the celebrity because that's how they've gotten so big."

Livestrong has also built alliances with other organizations to fundraise and raise awareness around positive messaging, she said, which also makes it stand out from other cancer charities.

In other words, If Livestrong was going to crumble under the mountain of scandals and deception now synonymous with Armstrong, it probably would have happened by now. That doesn't mean the foundation won't face some fallout, but its overall future probably won't hinge on Armstrong, she said.

His decision to step down as chairman and leave the board has helped distance Livestrong from the controversy and give the impression that the foundation is charting an independent course, Palmer said.

"It was one thing when there were a few weeks between him stepping down as chair but still remaining on the board that were questionable," she said. "But now that he's not on the board, it shows that (the board) is trying to become a new generation of the organization."

Livestrong has indicated this would be part of its strategy going forward, regardless of what Armstrong revealed to Winfrey.

SOURCE: Emanuella Grinberg
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