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.

Kirk Cousins watches Kyle Shanahan's offense carve up Packers

Kirk Cousins watches Kyle Shanahan's offense carve up Packers

Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. His uncertain status has led to speculation presumptive 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan will be interested in acquiring him in the offseason.

On Sunday, Cousins got a first-hand look at his former coach’s offense.

Cousins posted a photo on Instagram from the stands at the Georgia Dome, where the Atlanta Falcons and their high-octane offense blasted the Green Bay Packers, 44-21, in the NFC Championship game.

Cousins wrote the caption, “Watching two of the best in the world do what they do & taking notes to make it to this game next year -score a lot of points!”

Washington finished third in the NFC East and out of the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record.

Shanahan, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, coached Cousins for the first two seasons of his NFL career with Washington on the staff of his father, Mike Shanahan. Cousins appeared in just eight games with four starts in 2012 and ’13.

Cousins' career has taken off in the past two seasons while starting all 32 regular-season games. He completed 67 percent of his passes this season with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 97.2.

Washington placed the franchise tag on Cousins this season at nearly $20 million. He franchise tag is expected to be approximately $24 million in 2017.

If Washington places the non-exclusive franchise tag on Cousins, a team could sign him to an offer sheet at the cost of two first-round draft picks or negotiate a trade with Washington for a lesser amount.

Patriots pummel Pittsburgh, return to Super Bowl to face Falcons

Patriots pummel Pittsburgh, return to Super Bowl to face Falcons

BOX SCORE

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Tom Brady redemption tour is headed to the Super Bowl.

After beginning the 2016 season suspended for four games for his role in the "Deflategate" scandal, the New England quarterback relentlessly carried the Patriots to an unprecedented ninth appearance in the title game, and his seventh. Brady threw for a franchise playoff-best 384 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-17 rout of the helpless Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in New England's seventh consecutive AFC championship game.

The Patriots are early 3-point favorites heading to face Atlanta in two weeks in Houston, seeking their fifth NFL title with Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick as coach. Belichick's seventh appearance in a Super Bowl will be a record for a head coach.

Brady was banned by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when New England (16-2) went 3-1 to open the schedule.

Since his return in Week 5, the only defeat came at home to Seattle, and Brady, 39, had one of the best seasons of a Hall of Fame-caliber career. He punctuated that in dreary weather similar to the 2014 conference title game that precipitated the deflated footballs investigation by flattening Pittsburgh's secondary.

Chris Hogan was his main weapon. The previously unheralded receiver found open spaces everywhere on the field against a leaky secondary. Hogan caught nine balls for 180 yards and two scores.

Top wideout Julian Edelman added eight receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown as Brady tied Joe Montana's playoff record with nine three-TD passing performances. Brady also had his 11th 300-yard postseason game, extending his NFL record, completing 32 of 42 throws.

Pittsburgh (13-6) lost star running back Le'Veon Bell late in the first quarter to a groin injury. It didn't seem to matter much in a record 16th conference title match for the Steelers, who made mistakes in every facet of the game. The franchise that has won the most Super Bowls, six, and the most postseason games, 36, never seemed likely to challenge in the misty rain.

Hogan's second touchdown came on a flea-flicker and he easily beat safety Mike Mitchell to the corner of the end zone. At that point, Hogan had seven catches for 117 yards and the first multi-touchdown game of his four-year career.

His first score made it 10-0 and came after Brady could have taken a nap before throwing, a common occurrence against a nonexistent pass rush. Hogan was all alone in the back of the end zone for the 16-yard score.

Pittsburgh had drawn to 10-6 on DeAngelo Williams' 5-yard run to cap an 84-yard drive. Veteran Williams is a nice security blanket in the backfield, though he's no Bell these days.

Still, he contributed on a 70-yard drive toward the end of the second quarter that appeared to be capped by Jesse James' TD reception. But video review showed James down at the 1, and the Steelers couldn't get into the end zone, Chris Boswell connecting for a 23-yard field goal.

The Steelers never threatened to get back into it.LeGarrette Blount punctuated the romp with a bruising 18-yard run on which he carried nearly the entire Pittsburgh defense with him. He then scored from the 1.

By the end, the crowd was chanting "Where is Roger?" and celebrating yet another Super Bowl trip for the Patriots.

BIG LEG:

Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal to open the scoring set a franchise record with 27, surpassing Adam Vinatieri's 26. Gostkowski is fourth all-time. He made a 47-yarder in the third quarter, a 26-yarder in the fourth, but he missed an extra point.

Boswell, who set an NFL mark with six field goals in the Steelers' 18-16 win at Kansas City last week, missed an extra point wide left and made a 23-yard kick.

INJURIES:

Steelers: Bell's early departure left him with 20 yards on six carries and no receptions.

Patriots: DB Nate Ebner left with a head injury.

UP NEXT:

After winning the AFC East with the conference's top record, New England defeated the Texans 34-16 and the Steelers to reach the Super Bowl. They will take on Atlanta, which beat Green Bay 44-21 for the NFC crown. Super Bowl 51 will be in Houston on Feb. 5; New England won the 2002 and 2005 Super Bowls after beating Pittsburgh for the AFC championship.