Nike terminated its contract with Lance Armstrong today, a rare move for a company known for standing by its embattled athletes.
For context, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, and Marion Jones were all Nike endorsers when their respective scandals blew up, and the company didn't terminate any of them.
Interestingly, Nike also stood by Alex Rodriguez when confessed to using steroids in 2009.
Here's what Nike said at the time (emphasis ours):
"Nike does not condone the use of illegal substances in sport and agrees with Alex Rodriguez that they should not be used. We will have no further comment at this time."
And here's what they said about Armstrong today (emphasis ours):
"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."
Nike made similar statements, but they took different actions.
The company didn't terminate Rodriguez when he admitted to cheating. Instead, as ESPN's Darren Rovell points out, they did what they almost always do in these situations: they waited for the endorsement deal to expire in 2010 and didn't renew it.
While Rodriguez still wears Nike gear, he is not under contract with the company today, Rovell reports.
A-Rod's case reveals one key fact about the nature of Nike's firing of Armstrong — it wasn't just because he cheated. While Nike has always condoned steroids use, the company doesn't have any precedent of canning cheaters on principle.
It takes something extraordinary to get terminated by Nike. Only Michael Vick and now Armstrong have ever managed to do it.
So the likely real reason Nike canned Armstrong — the extraordinary, fireable offense — is actually hidden in the first part of their statement this morning: He "misled Nike."
The suggestion that Lance lied to them and betrayed the company is the only thing present in the Armstrong statement that isn't present in the company's handling of other known PED users. It wasn't the PED use, it was the professional betrayal that did Lance in.
This isn't to say that Nike was wrong for terminating Armstrong. But the notion that Nike is making a statement about the morality of PED use by firing him is false.