Look up “fight” in the Webster’s New World Dictionary, and the definition you’ll read is an entirely unsurprising one -“to struggle or work hard in trying to beat or overcome someone or something.” However, in reading the words on a page, they’re just that – words on a page. By themselves, they don’t really provide any indication of how to understand the many ways one can fight – or, better yet, what it is to have fight. For me and many a sports fan, American cyclist Lance Armstrong has always represented the personification of fight, providing more context to the word through his athletic prowess and brave affront to cancer than any dictionary definition could hope to achieve.

Armstrong is the winner of an unparalleled seven Tour de France titles and, in the midst of them all, an unprecedented battle with cancer. He became a hero by showing us all that in sports and in life, the best way to respond to an obstacle is to face it head on – enduring a struggle with the knowledge that we’ll be stronger once we make it through to the other side. It’s because the cyclist carried himself with a consistent “no guts no glory” attitude that his Aug. 23, 2012 decision to drop appeals on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) charges become all the more confusing. Opinions on the fairness or unfairness of the charges themselves aside, one can’t help but wonder why the man that sports fans and non-fans alike have labelled the quintessential fighter has suddenly lost all his fight.

What message does Armstrong’s response to doping charges really send?

Mintel’s Marketing to Sports Fans–U.S., June 2012 shows that more than four in 10 respondents who tune in to sports are less enthusiastic for sports stars–and their teams–involved in scandal. These sentiments are likely a reflection of sports fans’ feelings that once they give their allegiance to a chosen athlete his successes become in part their own. In the same regard, when an athlete does – or don’t do – something that causes him to back track, his fans also lose something in the process.

Armstrong justified his decision in the New York Times on Aug. 23 by saying that his seven “…tour victories would always be his,” but the reality is likely closer to the fact that Armstrong has reached an athletic status that has led fans to believe that the victories are also theirs. There may be inherent flaws in the USADA’s process – forcing arbitration as opposed to providing an option for trial in a court of law, for example, or the fact that charges would be brought forward without any definitive proof of doping. However, Armstrong’s decision not to push forward can be perceived as much more than an unwillingness to fight for himself. He may unintentionally be sending a message that he’s also unwilling to fight for the fans that have supported him throughout his unequalled career successes – the same fans that have likely had at least some hand in making his foundation what it is today.

Will Armstrong’s response to doping charges impact foundation work?

The Mintel Inspire trend Celebs and Social Engineering discusses the power of celebrity endorsements in bringing attention to a cause. As a cancer survivor himself, Armstrong has been able to leverage his athletic star power and triumph over the disease to move mountains in the realm of cancer research and fundraising through the Lance Armstrong Foundation. His Kansas City, Kansas-based Livestrong Sporting Park–which melds sports with philanthropy–donates a portion of ticket proceeds to the Foundation’s research. Therefore, while Armstrong’s departure from the world of cycling may afford him the opportunity to focus more on Foundation work, one can’t ignore the influence that sport that will undoubtedly have on it.

Cycling runs through who Lance Armstrong is as a person, an athlete, and a philanthropist. While he will likely continue to make significant contributions to society in whatever he does moving forward, the fact that he’s in some way letting go of what defines a part of everything he is will be tough to swallow. No battle lasts forever, but one has to wonder whether this one may be worth one last fight.

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