Last week, the U.S. anti-doping authorities asserted that renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong had not only engaged in illegal doping, but also gave banned performance enhancing substances to his fellow cycling team mates.
More recently,Nike, Armstrong's principal corporate sponsor for many years, announced that it is breaking off all ties with Armstrong because of the doping scandal. The disgraced cyclist has also stepped down as chairman of his famous and highly successful cancer charity, The Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Has the famous and celebrated Lance Armstrong brand become so discredited that it can never recover? Is Armstrong, the man, the god of cycling, resigned to disgrace in the public eye? Possibly. But not necessarily. The only thing people love more than the story of a winner is the story of redemption.
Armstrong can conceivably come back from this disaster but it will take enormous discipline and a commitment to reinventing himself. Most importantly, he must become the reverse embodiment of his current public image as the disgraced hero.
(Read More: Armstrong Loses Eight Sponsors in a Day)
The best way to deflect an onslaught of public indignation is to come clean and openly admit your wrong doings. Take your medicine. Human beings are fallible, including even the most accomplished super-achievers of our society. The public has an inherent understanding of this.
People don't really want to feel bad about Armstrong, someone whom they have revered for so long. I know this from personal experience since I'm a pretty serious cycling enthusiast and triathlete. We want to forgive him but only if he admits openly and fully to his misdeeds and genuinely apologizes. He must express the appropriate mea culpas publicly…and quickly.
The sooner he steps into the storm of public opinion, the sooner he can begin deflecting it. Waiting too long will dissipate his genuineness and stir up the controversy all over again. But contrition is only the first step to restoring his integrity and his personal brand.
Once this marker is set, he can then begin the long and challenging task of redefining his public character.
It's not uncommon for reformed criminals to become advisors on how to prevent or detect the very crimes they once committed. I'm reminded of the example of Frank Abagnale, a notorious forger and conman who's story was the basis for the film "Catch Me If You Can." After Abagnale was finally caught after committing millions of dollars of check fraud, he went to work for the FBI, using his specialized knowledge to actually prevent check fraud. He ended up catching some of the world's most sophisticated money forgers as well as creating unforgettable checks. Not a bad deal.
(Read More: Armstrong Leaves Livestrong on a Rocky Road)
In my opinion, this is the model that Armstrong could pursue to great effect.
It seems obvious from the reports that he was more than just someone who used performance enhancing drugs. He was, apparently, at the center of designing various means and procedures by which to distribute these substances to his team mates while keeping the whole conspiracy hidden from the constantly prying eyes of suspicious authorities. And he successfully maintained this operation for many years. He is, therefor, preeminently qualified to cast himself as the world's leading authority on how to detect and prevent the very same misconduct for which he is now indicted.
This is probably the most viable path available to him…taking the sophisticated skill sets he's learned from his immoral behavior and using them to clean up the sport he has both immortalized and disgraced. The world of both amateur and professional sports is rife with abuse of performance enhancing drugs. Over time….and with the consistent discipline he is known for, Lance Armstrong could eventually become a major force for ridding drugs from athletic competition.
This kind of long term commitment to cleansing his reputation could not only redeem his personal brand but also restore the reputation and viability of the single most important aspect of his legacy….Livestrong.
Jeff Lotman, a well-acknowledged leader in the brand licensing/marketing field, has licensed and developed co-branding and brand extension deals for such clients as Motorola , BMW, Ford Motor Company , Sunbeam, Lincoln, MINI, Mrs. Fields and many others. He is often called upon for comment on controversial business news and issues of the day. He has appeared in numerous major media outlets, including USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Red Herring, Brandweek, CNN and Der Spiegel Before founding Global Icons, Lotman was COO of Keystone Foods Corporation, one of the world's largest food manufacturing companies and principal supplier to McDonalds .