Nike to Armstrong: No You Didn’t (Do It)

October 21st, 2012 by Don Tanner

The Tanner Friedman blog is wonderful outlet for Matt and I to express our opinions and we are forever grateful to anyone that takes the time to read and, quite often, share their thoughts. This forum is also ideal for showcasing timely stories by top journalists working in our industry, including a new piece by Mae Anderson of the Associated Press on celebrity endorsers and Nike becoming the first company to drop Lance Armstrong in the wake of his doping controversy.

After all, why drop Armstrong while standing behind others, including Tiger Woods, for various transgressions? The answer, posits Anderson who spoke with numerous marketers for her piece, would seem to be the fact that the cyclist’s alleged actions related directly to his sport and performance therein, perhaps over a period of time as long as two decades.

In all fairness to Nike, they have dropped athletes in the past for behavior or remarks that must have constituted contractual morals clauses. Michael Vick is perhaps the most prominent in this group although he was resigned by Nike last year. For other companies, transition after transgression has not always gone as smoothly. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall is currently suing apparel and underwear company Hanesbrands after he was ‘cut’ for making controversial comments regarding the death of Osama Bin Laden and 911. Mendenhall is suing for $1 million and breach of contract/wrongful termination.

As for Nike and Armstrong, another marketer, Atlanta-based consultant Laura Reis puts it very well in the AP piece: “Nike is about ‘just doing it’ and that doesn’t mean drugs. It means hard work and ethics – and this flew in the face of it.” In the realm of adversity management, we typically recommend one of two approaches: If you did it, admit it; explain yourself, show remorse and reassure it won’t happen again (Vick, Woods). If, on the other hand, you didn’t, then fight it and work toward vindication (Roger Clemens). In this case, Armstrong says he didn’t do it but, apparently, has chosen to accept the ramifications. It simply doesn’t add up.

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