I put my first Livestrong bracelet on in 2004, the year it came out. There were several elements that combined to inspire me to make it a permanent part of my wardrobe. The simplicity struck me: just $1, durable rubber, and two words pasted together to form a powerful message. Most importantly, however, my uncle had recently died of a sudden attack of cancer and the bracelet's presence on my wrist served as both memorial and reminder that life is short and often out of our control. All the more reason to live strong.
For a few months after Armstrong's scandal, I kept wearing the bracelet. After all, it exists solely to raise money to support cancer survivors, I told myself. Just because Lance cheated doesn't justify punishing the charity associated with his name.
But again and again, friends and acquaintances would call me out on wearing it, claiming its message was now tainted and obsolete. I resisted at first, then eventually acquiesced and took it off. I did so for the wrong reasons.
Think back to before the scandal.
Armstrong strengthened Livestrong’s symbolism by living one of the strongest lives one could imagine. Not only did he survive cancer, but he also he won seven Tour de Frances in a row, cementing himself as one of the most dominant athletes in history. If he had simply survived one bout of cancer and otherwise lived an ordinary life, he already would have been living strong. But he surpassed, with superhuman accomplishments (literally, it turns out) and the brand thrived.
Then, Armstrong fell, as far as an athlete, icon, and idol can fall, and hit the ground hard. Livestrong, intentionally bearing the better part of his last name and riding his image since its inception, has not plummeted quite as dramatically, but has reported a 4.8% decline in sales of the bracelets and 22% decline in revenue, compared to last year.
Many have since removed the bracelet in disgust, and criticized those who still wear it for supporting and idolizing a lying, cheating phony.
However, to view Livestrong bracelets simply as support for Armstrong is incomplete and inaccurate. Livestrong as a brand was working off the information that they had to most effectively market their product, which meant more effectively raising money to support cancer survivors. Livestrong didn't dope Armstrong's blood — he did. Don't misplace the blame.
The bracelets don't say 'Armstrong,' they say 'Livestrong.' Yes, they were originally associated with his name, and yes, they grew under his fame and accomplishment. But the idea is bigger than him, or any other one athlete or cancer survivor. The concept is still powerful: Live your life to the absolute maximum, especially when it is hard.
Today, I permanently disassociated Lance Armstrong from Livestrong and put my bracelet back on, because I still believe in its message and its cause. If you can't think of another example of a person who lives (or lived) strong, then you're just being lazy. And if you think it's productive to punish Livestrong, then you're missing the point.