Nike finally ended its endorsement of Lance Armstrong this morning with a statement citing “the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade.”It’s also worth asking whether Nike’s decision was prompted by two of Armstrong’s old ads. Those were the ads in which Armstrong addressed the doping rumours that surrounded him, and dismissed his critics.
In hindsight, the ads are a humiliation for Nike — they make it appear as if the brand was lying to its sports-obsessed fans. Or, as Nike’s statement says, that Armstrong “misled” the company when he made them.
The ads look particularly strange in light of the recent U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report, which alleges that the cyclist did indeed take banned substances, and spent years as a master manipulator of the system.
In both ads, Armstrong talks about doping and banned substances. One ad actually shows a technician drawing blood from his arm, presumably for a drug test.
In both ads, Armstrong implies that his talent comes from his work attitude, not illegal performance enhancers.
But in both ads — and this is the really weird bit — Armstrong doesn’t explicitly deny doping. Instead, he elides the issue by suggesting that his critics are losers.
Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles will likely be stripped from him as a result of the report.
In the first ad, from 2001, Armstrong intones:
This is my body and I can do whatever I want to it. I can push it, and study it, tweak it, listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my arse six hours a day. What are you on?
All of that is technically true, whether he took drugs or not. The phrase “I can … tweak it” now seem especially prescient. And he avoids the answer to his self-posed question, “What am I on?”
Here’s the ad:
In the second ad, Armstrong discusses the cancer survivors who inspired him to set up his Livestrong Foundation:
The critics say I’m arrogant, a doper, washed up, a fraud, that I couldn’t let it go. They can say whatever they want. I’m not back on my bike for them.
Again, technically Armstrong didn’t deny being a doper, even after raising the issue himself.
There are two explanations for the double-coincidences. Cynics will argue that as Armstrong knew he would be lying if he outright said he was clean, he deliberately ensured the script never said that.
The alternative explanation might be that both Nike and Armstrong were trying to make commercials that were cool. There’s nothing more uncool than re-enacting a Nancy Reagan-style “just say no” message, and thus the spots are deliberately subtle.
Whatever the explanation, Nike has now essentially disavowed them and their star.
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