On Tuesday night, the U.S. men's soccer team will play a game that carries seismic repercussions for the sport's immediate future in this country. And it will do so at Kansas City's Livestrong Sporting Park, a stadium tainted by an association with cheating that could not be more obvious.
The United States is a heavy favorite to at least tie Guatemala and guarantee a place in the next round of World Cup qualifying. A defeat could lead to elimination and an unthinkable disaster that would take years of head-scratching and reevaluation to fix.
On the subject of dilemmas, the fact that this game will take place in an arena that carries the trademark of the greatest cheat in sports history is one that could be solved far more easily.
Sporting Kansas City is an impressive Major League Soccer club that has built a beautiful venue, generated a loyal core of local fans and structured a team that is one of the finest in the domestic league.
When Sporting KC adopted the Livestrong name for its stadium in 2011, it did so for the right reasons and its hierarchy knew nothing of the extraordinary level of corruption and malfeasance the organization's founder, Lance Armstrong, would be accused of by his friends, colleagues, employees and a national anti-drug agency.
But now it is time for a change, time to pull out the paint brush and give this great little stadium a quick touchup on the signage. Sporting KC has pledged to give $7.5 million to the foundation over six years. Yet Livestrong, for as much good as it does, now seems to have been built upon a lie and a personality cult, founded upon exploits that were not just the result of one man's intestinal resilience but, according to a deep and detailed report filled with damning evidence, by the evil genius of his twisted doctor.
Sporting Kansas City needs to get rid of the Livestrong name, and don't think for a moment that by doing so it would be turning its back on cancer in any way. One of the greatest myths put forward by the salivating posse of Armstrong apologists, who love nothing more than a chance to get heated and are swift with their insults and accusations, is that the yellow wristband is the only legitimate symbol for supporting the battle.
Does ACS (American Cancer Society) Park sound so bad? Or Cancer Awareness Park? Or Cancer Research Institute Arena? Or CPF (Cancer Prevention Foundation) Field? And frankly, who cares how it sounds?
Because this should be about doing good, shouldn't it? A good that fights an evil. Not something that is good because it is cool, because it is linked with a champion athlete, but something that fights a killer disease with dedication and brainpower and science and will, albeit without celebrity accoutrements.
I believe Sporting KC should have ditched Livestrong when Armstrong first gave up the fight against USADA and it most certainly should now. One responder recently insisted my stance on this matter, voiced over Twitter, meant that I "hated cancer." It wasn't what he meant, but I most certainly do hate the disease of cancer.
I loathe, detest and despise it with as much passion as I can muster and without going into further detail, cancer is about as personal to me as it could possibly get. I hate it with totality and with fear. I hate it for what it does to individuals and their loved ones and for the fact that it can fight back even when seemingly defeated.
And more than anything, I hate that the fight against it, one so noble and righteous and pure, has been dirtied by something as sinister and corrupt and morally retarded as the activities the United States Anti-Doping Agency pinned on Armstrong and his cohorts.
I hate that, intentional or not, Livestrong became Armstrong's cloak of propriety, protector of his reputation. I hate that normally right-minded people claim that the good he did with it means that his alleged cheating doesn't matter somehow.
I hate that many still see the chief standard bearer of the fight again the disease as Armstrong, despite the work of tireless doctors and nurses, of overworked scientists, of astonishingly courageous parents and of children with dignity and heart that belies their tiny frames.
And I hate a sports franchise that made a charitable commitment so worthy has now been placed in this utterly untenable position. The CEO of Sporting Kansas City, Robb Heineman, is a forward-thinking executive and a good man, but he and his associates are making the wrong call here.
"The reason we created the relationship was to support the lifestyle of people afflicted with cancer," Heineman told Yahoo! Sports in a telephone conversation on Monday. "Clearly there is information around Lance … [but] it does not affect the mission."
But here lies the rub. There is only one way to separate Livestrong from Armstrong, and only one man who can do it. For as long as Armstrong remains the figurehead – he is due to appear as primary special guest at the foundation's 15th anniversary celebration in Austin on Friday, according to the Livestrong website – the two will be ever linked.
"My advice to Lance Armstrong would be for him to step away from being the public face of the charity because of the credibility and trust problem," Daniel Borochoff, president of Charity Watch, told British television channel Sky Sports News last week. "He is on the board of directors, he is one of 16 board members. It probably would be better if he stepped down."
Just as it would be better if Sporting Kansas City stepped away and fought its battle against cancer in a different way. Because while Lance Armstrong hated the word "victim," he has most certainly left some in his wake.
Like the sufferers and survivors who need black-and-white proof that the man who was their inspiration was a cheat and a fraud. Like the cyclists with enough conviction to say no to drugs, who were hounded out of the sport for their courage.
And like the soccer club that made a commitment of honor and philanthropy and decency, yet now finds it tainted through no fault of its own.
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