NEW YORK — Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France cycling winner stripped of his titles on charges he cheated, has resigned from the board of the Livestrong Foundation, the charity he began 15 years ago after testicular cancer nearly ended his career.
The move, coming 18 days after he stepped down as the group’s chairman, is designed to further distance him from the Austin, Texas-based foundation as a way help it survive the fall from grace of one of the world’s best-known athletes, officials said Sunday in announcing the move.
Armstrong’s last day as a board member was Nov. 4, said Katherine McLane, a foundation spokeswoman. While the group’s officials said they have sufficient reserves to overcome a contribution downturn, supporters said they were concerned the move may not be enough to overcome the damage already done.
“It’ll take years until people think of it as something other than being” Armstrong’s charity, said Steve Schooner, 52, a testicular cancer survivor whose fund-raising won him a bike ride with Armstrong in 2009 and brought in $50,000 for the foundation. “He is the engine behind most of the high-profile fund-raising and events. Even a tour of the headquarters, with his jerseys and bike art, makes clear he’s the focal point.”
The foundation’s mission is to connect cancer patients with resources to help with their care, and to inspire them to live active lives, a goal Schooner, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, said he still supports.
For Armstrong, the board resignation caps a difficult two- month period.
In early October, he was targeted by a report released by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that alleged he was part of the largest sports cheating ring in cycling history. While Armstrong hasn’t admitted to using performance-enhancing substances, as the report alleges, he has chosen not to fight the current round of charges against him. That has allowed the USADA and the Union Cycliste Internationale to strip him of his wins.
A week after the USADA report, on Oct. 17, he stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong Board.
Armstrong later decided to quit the board entirely “to spare the organization any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding his cycling career,” wrote Jeff Garvey, the group’s new chairman, in an email Sunday. “We are deeply grateful to Lance for creating a cause that has served millions of cancer survivors and their families.”
There is some evidence the cheating allegations may have already hurt the group. In an annual survey published last year, Livestrong was ranked 343rd among the top 400 charities in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list. This year it fell out of the rankings, though it remains the top athlete-founded charity.
McLane, the foundation spokeswoman, wouldn’t say whether Armstrong would have any unofficial involvement going forward, such as fund-raising or speaking at events.
“Lance remains the creator and inspiration of the Livestrong foundation and for its mission — providing free financial, practical and emotional support services for cancer survivors and their families,” McLane wrote in an email. She declined to provide a statement from Armstrong, referring to his comments in October when he said he was quitting as chairman to avoid harm to the charity.
Schooner, the George Washington University law professor, was among the top 50 individual Livestrong fund-raisers in 2009, according to the organization. He still backs Livestrong’s mission that people with cancer can go on to live active, full lives. Yet its continuing ties to Armstrong had made it harder for him to be a booster, he said.
After the allegations against Armstrong were detailed last month, Schooner’s yellow Livestrong clothing sits in the back of his closet and the organization’s trademark yellow bracelet that he’s worn since 2004 has been more like a weight than an inspiration, Schooner said.
Many of Armstrong’s most fervent supporters have been demoralized by the cyclist’s alleged used of banned performance-enhancing substances, he said.
After the anti-doping authorities released their report, he said he and his family “started having daily conversations at home whether it was time to take the yellow band off,” Schooner said in a telephone interview before Armstrong’s decision to leave the board was announced.
“I don’t want people who don’t understand the nuance of the situation to think, ‘Wow, that guy up there sympathizes with people who lie and cheat,’” he said.
Livestrong is deeply wrapped in the image of its founder. The bracelets are golden yellow, the same color of Armstrong’s yellow victory jerseys. And key to its message — empowering cancer survivors to aspire to full, vigorous lives — is Armstrong’s inspirational story of beating metastatic testicular cancer, then winning the world’s biggest bike race seven times.