John Bosley has worn a yellow Livestrong bracelet for years, in memory of his sister who died of brain cancer in 2004. When one bracelet wears out, he replaces it. “But it is not and was not about Lance,” says Bosley, 63, chief operating officer of a Boston software company.
Mike Coggins, who cycles with Bosley, stopped wearing his yellow bracelet and now wears a Be Like Brit bracelet in support of the American teenager killed in the 2010 Haitian earthquake while there to help orphans.
“I wore it religiously,” says Coggins, 39. “But I don’t wear it anymore. It’s too closely associated with Lance, and I’m off the bandwagon until he comes clean.”
Lance, of course, is Lance Armstrong, who beat metastasized testicular cancer, established the Lance Armstrong Foundation — known as Livestrong — and went on to win seven Tour de France titles. But with Armstrong accused last month of having systematically used performance-enhancing drugs, and Livestrong announcing Monday that he had severed all ties to the charity, the wearers of the 80 million Livestrong bracelets sold face a dilemma: Wear them, or ditch them?
Michael Connolly, a lawyer from Milton and an avid cyclist and cancer survivor, says he’ll continue to wear one of his half-dozen yellow bracelets.
“Lance can resign from Livestrong all he wants, but from a cancer survivor’s perspective, Lance Armstrong is Livestrong,” he said Monday, “and I think he will be forever singularly identified as Livestrong.”
Nothing, Connolly said, “can take away the fact that he made enormous strides in raising money and awareness for the treatment of cancer victims.”
Armstrong’s charity, which has raised $500 million for cancer research and services, sells the rubber bracelets as a fund-raiser for, and symbol of, cancer awareness.
The foundation, which works to “inspire and empower” people affected by cancer, targets many populations, including young adults; African-Americans, who are 34 percent more likely to die of cancer than whites; and patients whose treatments threaten their fertility.
The $1 bracelets, which are sold at sporting goods and bike stores, have become a cool symbol of either supporting Lance, or a cure for cancer, or both. Businessmen wear them with their suits, cyclists with their spandex, moms with their jeans. Senators John Kerry and Harry Reid wear them, and Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Lindsay Lohan, and Tom Hanks have all sported them.
But Armstrong fell into disgrace when, on Oct. 10, the United States Anti-Doping Agency released a report detailing how he engineered a doping scheme for his team.
While denying the allegations, Armstrong waived his right to contest them. He has been stripped of his titles, banned for life from professional cycling, and lost endorsement deals with Nike, Trek, and others.
For those who wear the bracelets, what to do with them depends upon how they view them: as a symbol of Armstrong, or as support for the cancer cause.
“As I tell people who ask me about it, it’s what Lance has done off the bike that Livestrong is all about,” says Andy Willett of Marshfield, a 43-year-old cancer survivor and cyclist. He has worn the Livestrong bracelet for eight years, since he was diagnosed.
‘I still believe the mission is valid, despite Lance’s doping. I can separate these two. I hope the foundation can continue without needing Lance to promote its good work.’
Willett’s father died of cancer a year before Willett was diagnosed, and a close friend is battling melanoma.
“The Livestrong bracelet has a permanent place on my wrist,” he says. “Livestrong. It’s just a great message in and of itself.”
John Peterson of Milton, who works for an investment advisory firm, has worn his bracelet off and on. “Off” is mostly for professional reasons: “It doesn’t fit very nicely with my suit.”
But he still believes in the Livestrong cause and fears the doping scandal will have a negative impact on it.
“There will be fewer corporate sponsors,” he says. “The frustrating part is that people can’t separate his professional career from what he’s done on the charitable side. He did some good things. That part you can’t take away from him.”
Brian Murphy still wears his Livestrong hat and bracelet. “I feel a little self-conscious these days, but I’m still inclined to do so despite the Lance scandal,” says Murphy, a master’s bicycle racer who lives in Hingham and runs a consulting firm. “Hopefully, the foundation will retain some savvy marketing firm to reposition it away from Lance and communicate their cancer mission in a more pure fashion.”
Ari Shocket agrees that Livestrong should engage in “preemptive p.r.” to highlight its good works rather than people automatically associating it with Armstrong.
“There are so many organizations in the world where you could find people who are pretty unsavory, but the organization itself is inherently good and helps people,” says Shocket, a medical device sales representative. “The Catholic church, for example.”
Shocket, president of the Blue Hills Cycling Club, believes a lot of people will stop wearing the bracelets because of the publicity surrounding Armstrong.
Helen Mao, a cyclist, bought a Livestrong bracelet long ago to support both the cause and the man. She has also bought them for friends who ride or who are fighting cancer.
“As much as I am deeply disappointed by the whole Lance scandal and drama, I firmly believe in the things the Livestrong Foundation has done to benefit people affected by cancer,” says Mao, a project manager for Massport.
And she holds out hope for Armstrong: “He is still young, there are many more years and many more great things for him to bring to people,” she says. “He will redeem himself; that’s my hope and my prediction.”
At the Bicycle Link in Weymouth, owner Jim Quinn hasn’t stocked the bracelets in a while. Since Armstrong’s downfall, one of Quinn’s employees has been removing all things Lance from the store: posters, framed photos, signs. Quinn says most cyclists knew long ago about the doping that went on in professional racing.
“That was the culture, just like in baseball. Mountain stage after mountain stage, at the speed they were going up them . . . and then they’d do them the next day, and the day after that. It’s like, ‘Holy smokes!’ ”
Quinn is holding on to one Armstrong souvenir: a Lance lunchbox. “I think it will increase in value. I’ll give it to my son and see what it’s worth in 25 years.”
As for the bracelets, he still sees them occasionally: “Some movie stars on the red carpet wear them.”
As for Bosley and Coggins, they may be friends, but on the question of Armstrong their views part.
“I still believe the mission is valid, despite Lance’s doping,” Bosley says. “I can separate these two. I hope the foundation can continue without needing Lance to promote its good work.”
Coggins, a biopharmaceutical consultant, still supports the cause, but not the man, whom he met at Livestrong’s annual Ride for the Roses. His best friend, who also rode the last five miles with Armstrong, was battling testicular cancer.
“Lance called him on several occasions,” Coggins says. “He was an inspiration.”
Fully recovered, Coggins’s friend, he says, feels “very let down by Lance.”
Coggins does too, which is why he won’t wear the bracelet. “He abused his name and status and misrepresented himself.”Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.