In 2004, I represented a young charitable foundation, named for a celebrated American cyclist who had ridden in the Tour de France for Team U.S. Postal Service. No, it’s not who you’re thinking … Tyler Hamilton wasn’t just an average cyclist, he was superlative – a true rising star and one of the nicest, most humble people you’d ever meet. He rose to prominence in 1999, 2000, and 2001, helping Lance Armstrong secure his first three Tour de France victories.
Launched in late 2003, The Tyler Hamilton Foundation (THF) raised money in the fight against Multiple Sclerosis and as Tyler’s celebrity grew, so too did the Foundation’s ability to secure funding and volunteerism. In August of 2004, Tyler Hamilton won an Olympic gold medal in Athens. The victory gave the foundation fantastic leverage to build its funder base and to promote its upcoming series of charity bike rides around the US and in Europe.
Do you know where this is heading?
Just one month later, the floor dropped out from under Tyler when he failed a series of drug tests. Shortly thereafter, Tyler was hit with a two-year ban from the sport. The still young and under-capitalized foundation was powerless to do anything. It had not yet reached a critical mass of donors nor had it existed long enough to sustain itself on the merits of its organizational successes. Within months, most marketing activity for the foundation ceased. THF quietly lives on today, but its impact at this point is questionable.
Last Sunday, on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Tyler Hamilton asserted that Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs throughout his racing career. In a fantastic bonus feature to the segment, accessible online only at http://bit.ly/ivuV2h, the question is asked: “If … [Lance] is a liar and a cheater, does that diminish all of the good works that he has accomplished?” My answer to that question (and one which is thankfully echoed on the 60 Minutes online segment) is a resounding no.
I outline my further thoughts on this subject in an op-ed piece in today’s Chronicle of Philanthropy. What do you think? If Lance was doping, will it change how you regard the Livestrong foundation? Should it?