There is one phrase I have used time and time again over the last few weeks. “I just want my football to be about football” … the malaise had set in. My fantasy that Lance Armstrong would slowly walk away into the sunset leaving his admirable LIVESTRONG foundation to carry on doing the good work it has and continues to do died with it. Walking away just isn’t his style. Whenever you think he might just wanna stick his head in a noose in a quiet garage he has a way of popping back into the news. He is that annoying bit of crud you just can’t seem to scrub off of your Pyrex. The annoying lump of shit that simply won’t flush because it has a bit of peanut stuck in it.
Vitriolic? Yeah, that is me. Hostile? Extremely.
I don’t hold the same animosity towards Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire or even corked bat, steroid shooting Sammy Sosa. Diego Maradona punched England out of World Cup with his ‘Hand of God’, got kicked out of another for juicing – I freaking love the guy. Ditto for Thierry Henry who hand balled France into the last World Cup at the expense of the Republic of Ireland – they were in their time villains for show but none of them went onwards to form a spectacularly big Cancer Charity and proceed to gut it by simply being himself.
While Bonds, McGuire, Sosa and co. haven’t all come clean, they are not constantly in the media the way Armstrong is – they are simply gone and all that will happen legacy-wise for them is inevitable arguments over moral character by old men voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Maradona, on the other hand, has simply turned out to be mentally flawed, with an eccentricity at its cocaine-fueled best that rivaled his talent. That talent was undeniable, however; he was simply a little fat genius. Henry? He is a small freedom fry, but it is my fundamental belief that most of his pratness emanates from being French, if he simply popped his collars and injected just a little more Cantona into his being the world would learn to love him as a person and not just this guy who was really good when he played at Arsenal a long ass time ago. Hell, as an Englishman I rather enjoyed what he did to the Irish. It made up for Jack Charlton.
But Lance? …. Lance is still front and center. Bobbing around like a cigarette stub in a urinal. A target that will not go away. Trying to pick a public figure that fits him wasn’t easy – If Landon Donovan hadn’t assumed the mantle of being soccer’s Princess Diana then Lance Armstrong could have fit in there nicely. He is always in the news, albeit without MTV Real World confessional booth crocodile tears and the all-too-public angst. It didn’t feel right. I instead opted for Don King. A man you know would look you straight in the eye and lie … and then try and sell you a shirt. It fits, right down to the day Lance Armstrong arrived in Kansas City.
I sat in the press conference the day the new stadium name was unveiled, wondering if it was possible that a man could look any more reptilian than Lance did without having scales. He looked … dry … sinewy, like and bit of jerky, like a 180 year old dried up Croc. I sat there, knowing that the barbs about his cheating would not be too long coming, that sooner or later we’d be dealing with issues surrounding his cheating, but they were smothered handily by something else. We – that is Sporting KC – would be playing in a stadium running under the name of a noble charity, a charity that supported survivors of a terrible disease, one that has ravaged and killed every family member I have known in my 37 years that have died bar one equally dried up looking alcoholic uncle.
It felt good. It felt right that a nugget of altruism had found its way into my footballing world, that the team I support and love were looking to herald and raise money for LIVESTRONG just by virtue of our stadium existing rather than going for a simple cash grab. I was proud, very proud of my team even though I learned as the days, weeks and months rolled on that that altruism also came with a tremendous bump in being associated with LIVESTRONG, and that the team hoped LIVESTRONG would point partners towards LSP as a venue and destination. It didn’t take long for talk to emerge from within the Sporting KC camp that LIVESTRONG were not meeting that side of the agreement, that although the commitment to raising revenue remained, Sporting Club didn’t feel like they were getting the benefits they ought to. It was all off the record, all “hush-hush, my job depends on this.” I didn’t really care though – I wanted money to be raised and I was proud we were doing it. If Sporting Club getting the shaft meant that millions of dollars went to a good cause, I could live with that; it wasn’t like the PR buzz included the tremendous networking opportunities LIVESTRONG could export to Sporting Club on an executive networking level.
But Lance … oh Lance … the allegations kept coming, investigations, new story after new story, and MLS fans and news outlets started to question the link. Was this bad for Sporting KC? Does this agreement need to end? Resoundingly the answer was no. You don’t just dump an entire cancer charity because the guy that set it up is as honest as a two-bit Las Vegas whore on the hustle. No no – you make sure people appreciate the two entities are separate, you make sure you let everybody know that LIVESTRONG is LIVESTRONG and Lance Armstrong is Lance Armstrong. The divorce ultimately, finally happened. Lance stepped down from the charity, left the board and finally there it was – a little daylight between good and evil and never the twain shall meet … again at any rate. The moment felt like a rebirth for the embattled charity, and Sporting KC continued to make noises indicating that there was no desire to change name. I thought it would all blow over. Naively maybe.
Mounting allegations against Lance kept him in the news however and slowly chipped away at me. My growing negative sentiment reflected the growing feeling that we unnecessarily complicated life by getting in bed with a sponsor that was a charity, that when these things go south it is hard to manifest a divorce without somebody having to be the good guy, and somebody having to be the bad. Who wins in this situation? The answer is nobody.
After spending much of the first year of the deal wearing my LIVESTRONG bracelet and making sure that I always always used the correct stadium name when I tweeted, wrote, broadcast I found myself worn down a month ago… News that Lance was going to finally confess on Oprah was the tipping point. I, as a fan, was no longer proud of the arrangement but exhausted by it. I began to realize that for me LIVESTRONG and by association Sporting KC were never going to get out from under the yoke of Lance, that he’d be our stinking cross to bear for as long as we had ‘that name’ on our stadium and my charitable inclinations went out of the window.
“I just want my football to be about football” … not altruism, not charity, not politics and certainly not about a crusty old cheat. Unlike my surface nugget with the peanut there was no laying a sheet or two of four ply over this son of a bitch and flushing it away … no no … if only this was that simple. Armstrong had proven himself the all-singing, all-dancing evil Mr Hankey and somehow Sporting Kansas City, my perfect escape from the world had become part of his messed up little circus tour. Hi-De-Ho Oprah … frigging Oprah. Friends opined, that only in America could such a fundamentally flawed character could make money out of going on TV and confessing. I wonder if the sum Oprah is paying him covers the $5 million CBS are reporting he offered the feds to make this go away.
Of course tonight we heard that LIVESTRONG and Sporting have parted ways. It has come with the mess you might expect at the end of the High school romance. LIVESTRONG accused Sporting of only paying $250,000 of the $1 million they had agreed to in 2012, and Sporting KC accused LIVESTRONG of putting it in an untenable position and seemed content to allude to Lance Armstrong time and time again in statements. Who managed to pull the plug first is up for debate, but in the best spirit of being 16 it really does feel like Sporting KC are yelling “You can’t break up with us, we are breaking up with you”. Whether payments have been made remains to be seen, I would earnestly hope they have been despite any shortcomings LIVESTRONG may or may not have had as an organization. Whether the commitment to charitable work continues is a whole other thing. The pledged figure of $7.5m is still being generated by fans – if the team truly wishes to put this stink behind them I’m guessing The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and any number of other brilliant organizations can and will accept donations gladly.
Ultimately when this is all done, the furor will finally die down. Lance Armstrong will be remembered as a cheat, a liar, and a charlatan. Unfortunately the world might forget that he also founded one hell of a great organization and then helped near kill it by refusing to simply walk away early when the writing was one the wall. If he had, LIVESTRONG would still be a part of the landscape of Sporting KC, and the charity, which almost seems doomed right now would be a damned site healthier and would have continued helping millions. Whatever good he did there seems undone right now, we’ll have to wait and see how LIVESTRONG do going forward. As for me? I am glad this is all but over. I’m sure we’ll hear about it from rival fans, and from commentators for a while but nothing they can say or do can top the stink created by Lance. That said, as a fan, I feel like this was our organization’s Icarus moment. Lured in by the potential of grand ideas and associations and ultimately burned by it, we flew too close to the sun. I would like a nice simple sponsor (if we go that route at all) that pays the team some money so they can keep on keeping on … sometimes simple profiteering really is best.
Now can we get back to the football?