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Nike, others say goodbye to Lance Armstrong

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Nike, others say goodbye to Lance Armstrong

From Comcast SportsNetAUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Already an outcast in cycling after a massive doping report, Lance Armstrong absorbed hits much closer tohomeWednesday: to his wallet and his heart.Armstrong was dumped by Nike, Anheuser-Busch and other sponsors, and he gave up the top spot at Livestrong, his beloved cancer-fighting charity, a week after an anti-doping agency released evidence of drug use by the seven-time Tour de France winner.Armstrong stepped down as chairman of Livestrong in an attempt to minimize the damage caused by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's report. USADA banned Armstrong from the sport for life and has ordered that his Tour titles be stripped, which could come before the end of the month."This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart," the cancer survivor said in a statement. "Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship."Minutes later, Nike dropped its personal sponsorship contract with him and issued a blistering statement that the company had been duped by his denials over the years."Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him. Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner," the company said.In 2001, the apparel company produced an anti-doping commercial, narrated by Armstrong, addressing allegations that he had used performance-enhancing drugs by mocking the question, "What am I on?" and answering that he trained on his bicycle "six hours a day."Brewing giant Anheuser-Busch followed Nike's lead, saying: "We have decided not to renew our relationship with Lance Armstrong when our current contract expires at the end of 2012."Soon after, other sponsors also cut ties with him. Among them were Trek bicycles and Honey Stinger, a maker of foods and gels for athletes."We are in the process of removing Lance Armstrong's image and endorsement from our product packaging," a Honey Stinger spokesman said. An image of Armstrong's signature that was on the site's front page earlier in the day appeared to be gone late Wednesday.The FRS Co., which makes energy,diet and healthdrinks, said Armstrong had resigned from its board.If there was a silver lining in the day for Armstrong, it was that his major sponsors said they willcontinueto support the charity, which started as the Lance Armstrong Foundation 15 years ago.Another longtime sponsor, sportswear maker Oakley, said it is withholding a decision until the International Cycling Union -- the governing body for cycling -- decides if it will fight USADA's sanctions against Armstrong. UCI has until Oct. 31 to appeal USADA's sanctions against Armstrong to the world Court of Arbitration for Sport. If not, the penalties will stand.Armstrong, who Forbes has estimated is worth about 125 million, was not paid a salary as Livestrong chairman and will remain on the charity's 15-member board. The duties of leading the board will be turned over to vice chairman Jeff Garvey, who was founding chairman in 1997.Garvey will be responsible for big-picture strategic planning and will assume some of the public appearances and meetings that Armstrong used to handle.At the entrance to the Livestrong headquarters in Austin, autographed framed yellow jerseys from each tour win are mounted on a wall near the entrance. Armstrong had aconference call withemployees on Wednesday to explain his decision."I've been better and I've been worse," Livestrong President and CEO Doug Ulman quoted Armstrong as telling employees when asked how he was feeling.Armstrong denies doping despite USADA's report, intended to explain its decision in August to punish Armstrong. He claims to have passed hundreds of drug tests but chose not to fight USADA in one of the agency's arbitration hearings, saying the process was biased against him.Crisis management experts say the denials aren't enough to mitigate damage to Livestrong. Gene Grabowski, executive vice president of Levick, a Washington, D.C.-based crisis and issues management firm, called Armstrong's move a good one for the foundation."It helps take the bull's-eye off the chairman's back," Grabowski said. "It enables the charity to show it is taking the situation seriously. It probably won't satisfy everyone, but it will satisfy a good number of people. It's a step he had to take."Kelly O'Keefe, professor of brand strategy at Virginia Commonwealth University, said it may be too late to completely salvage Livestrong's reputation. And Armstrong may never be able to fully resume his public role with the group, he said."From the brand perspective, Armstrong is done," O'Keefe said.Unlike Tiger Woods and Michael Vick, athletes who also were embroiled in off-the-field scandals, Armstrong is tainted by charges of cheating in his sport, not transgressions in his personal life. After time away, Woods and Vick could return to the playing field to help redeem their public image."Armstrong doesn't have that. He's just a retired athlete with a tarnished image," O'Keefe said.Nike's statement was notable both for the sudden decision to abandon him and the tone condemning an athlete it had strongly supported just a few days earlier. Armstrong tweeted earlier this month about a visit to Nike headquarters in Oregon.The USADA report also had the disadvantage for Nike of putting previous allegations back in the spotlight, such as a claim from a 2006 lawsuit deposition given by Kathy LeMond, wife of Tour winner Greg LeMond, in which she accused Nike of paying cycling's international governing body to cover up a positive Armstrong drug test. Nike has denied the claim.Other cancer organizations lauded Armstrong as an advocate in the fight against the disease."Armstrong has been a world leader in addressing the physical and emotional challenges that cancer patients face, both during and after treatment. He has personally campaigned tirelessly for increases in cancer research funding. He and this foundation have also been advocates for better access to quality cancer care -- for all people," said Dr. Larry Shulman, director of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.Armstrong's inspiring story of not only recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain but then winning the world's best-known bike race helped his foundation grow from a small operation in Texas into one of the most popular charities in the country.Armstrong drew legions of fans -- and donations -- and insisted he was drug-free at a time when doping was rampant in professional cycling. In 2004, the foundation introduced the yellow "Livestrong" bracelets, selling more than 80 million and creating a global symbol for cancer awareness and survival."As my cancer treatment was drawing to an end, I created a foundation to serve people affected by cancer. It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors," Armstrong said in his statement. A spokesman declined comment on Nike ending its releationship with him.Ulman had said last week that Armstrong's leadership role would not change. Armstrong's statement said he would remain a visible advocate for cancer issues, and was planning to speak at Friday night's 15th anniversary gala for Livestrong in Austin.

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

FOXBORO -- Stay low. Drive off the tight end's inside shoulder. And whatever you do, keep your feet. You don't want to be falling into kicker and picking up a penalty. 

Those were the kinds of things that were bouncing around somewhere in Cassius Marsh's subconscious as he lined up to try to block Falcons kicker Matt Bryant's field-goal attempt from 37 yards away at the end of the first quarter. Swimming past his blocker off the snap, Marsh got both arms extended and into the path of Bryant's kick, knocking it down and giving his team a boost. 

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"Guys work hard on that every week," Bill Belichick said after his team's 23-7 win. "Cassius has gotten some opportunities in practice. It’s hard to block Steve [Gostkowski]. Steve gets good height on the ball, gets the ball off quickly. I think this one with not quite as much height maybe as Steve's ball, or at least what Steve's balls were in practice, Cassius got a hand on it. 

"It was a big play for us because, again, we worked so hard on that and that’s everybody across the board. That’s all 11 guys, not just the guy that blocks it. The other guys have to do their job and if they block Cassius and take him away then that gives somebody else an opportunity so we never know how that’s going to go. We just want everybody to come hard and do their job right and wherever the opening is it is. That was a big play for us . . . 

"You can see the whole team – we were all excited. Sideline, players, guys on the field. That was a big moment for us. Our special teams units work very hard. They take a lot of pride in their job. The return teams, the coverage teams, the field goal and the field goal block team. It’s good to see that hard work pay off in a big play like that."

It was a big enough play that it earned Marsh a high-five from his coach. Marsh laughed about his reception on the sideline, remembering that the last time he got that kind of recognition from Belichick it came after a Week 4 sack.

"That's pretty much it that I can remember," Marsh said, beaming. "He only really smiles in situations like that so you've gotta cherish those moments."

The Patriots recovered at their own 26-yard line and embarked on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to get them on the scoreboard.

"With the defense playing as well as they were, to be able to preserve the shutout at the time was big," said special teams captain Matthew Slater. "Those are huge momentum plays when you're able to block a kick. It's not a traditional play that happens every game. Huge play. A UCLA guy stepping up, who would've thought? 

"You gotta tip your hat to those guys because they coach that, they work that and sometimes it seems like, 'Man, why do we continue to do this?' But it paid off for us tonight. You tip your cap to not only Cash but the rest of the guys on that unit." 

While Marsh's block was the highlight, it was a strong night overall for New England's special teams units. Every Falcons drive started inside their own 30-yard line, and Gostkowski had kicks returned to the 12, 19 and 18 before they were stopped.

Slater called it the most complementary game the Patriots played all season. Offense, defense, special teams. They all worked together to make Sunday perhaps their most dominating performance of the year. 

"That's the effort that we've been looking for and striving for all year," Slater said. "I think that's a good starting point for us. Lot of football left. Nine games left so we're going to have to continue to do it and be consistent week in and week out."

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Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

As safety Duron Harmon emerged from the showers following the Patriots 23-7 win over the Falcons, he noticed a crowd gathered by his locker. As one of the captains of the team - and a man nicknamed by teammates as “The Voice” because of his ability to articulate the right words at the right time, the affable safety is a must listen postgame. But for a change, Harmon knew the mass gathering of media wasn’t there for him - at least not yet. We were there for Malcolm Butler, who had just played his best game of the season.

“You all want to talk to Malcolm?” Harmon sang. “I’d want to talk to Malcolm too.”

Devin McCourty got in on the act as well with some good-natured chirping in Butler’s direction. Both safeties were energized by the victory but also, it seemed, by the performance of a player they’ve come to rely on in games just like this. 

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“Awww man, Malcolm. . . Malcolm was great for us,” said Harmon later. “We need that.”

It's hard not to draw the parallel between Butler having his best performance of the season a week after making two of the biggest plays in the game against the Jets. He did all this while the man who indirectly caused so much of the 28-year old’s troubles - Stephon Gilmore - hasn’t been able to play because of a concussion. Meanwhile, an undrafted player in his 6th year, Johnson Bademosi, has emerged opposite Butler to play very sound football.

“Communication,” said Butler of the team’s defensive improvements. “Just playing smarter and better. That’s all.”

Butler himself didn’t want to spend much time analyzing his own performance. That’s usually not his thing. And it wasn’t as if that performance was perfect. Far from it. But Butler’s energy was evident right from the jump. He stuck his nose in there on running plays to his side, including a terrific submarine tackle of Tevin Coleman in the opening quarter. Butler also got his fair share of Julio Jones over the course of the night. Even though he surrendered that late touchdown to the Falcons wideout, he showed not only a willingness to play the big dog, but to go right at him. That is - after all - a Butler trademark. 

“Just competing,” said Butler. “Great player; you just got to compete.”

It’s not just competing, but it’s playing with confidence, something Butler said was an issue for him in the aftermath of his snap reduction in New Orleans. But now? That seems long gone and hard to find.

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