This article is by Aaron Kwittken, chief executive and founder of Kwittken & Co. Worldwide.
Everyone is “a-Twitter” over Lance Armstrong‘s
decision not to move forward with the independent arbitration process
over allegations by the USADA over his doping violations.
As a long-time
fan of his and avid amateur triathlete myself, I was saddened and
disappointed by this news but not at all surprised. I am also a realist
and a PR guy. In my more than two decades of experience dealing with
executives and organizations facing similar lose-lose scenarios, I think
Lance knew that whatever path he chose would inevitably result in a
career-ending, painful finish. He just had to decide if he wanted this
to be an endurance race (fight and lose) or a sprint (surrender early
but still lose).
True athletes, especially the elite athletes and super alphas like
Lance, never “DNF,” especially if they think they can win. DNF stands
for Did Not Finish, a term used by race directors to denote when an
athlete did not finish a race. They always finish, no matter what. In
this case, it looks like Lance relied on a combination of legal and PR
calculus to DNF, with the hope that he could put an end to an endurance
race he felt he could never win and instead move on with his life,
salvage his personal brand and preserve his foundation.
Lance now joins a long list of professional athletes who have faced
similar allegations. But Lance’s case is different. He is by far the
most storied and statured athlete to suffer this fate. He is both a
commercial and philanthropic powerhouse with hundreds of millions of
dollars at stake by way of future litigation, as well as potential fan
and donor abandonment. His decision to DNF against his toughest
competitor, the USADA, may help him save parts of his empire, but it
won’t help him save face, ever.
“PR” does not just stand for public relations, but it also stands for
“personal record” in the racing world. Ironically, Lance’s move seems
like a DNF and PR all in one. Is this PR move a good call? I think it
depends on how you define it. Ultimately, he likely made the right call
from a PR perspective to stave off further short term brand agony, but
his reputation is irreparable regardless in the lose-lose race created
by his own hand.