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Lance Armstrong's foundation can go on without him

Lance Armstrong finishes the Power of Four Mountain Bike Race on Aspen Mountain on August 25, 2012 in Aspen, Colo.

Cyclist Lance Armstrong said he's stepping down as chairman of his Livestrong charity today. Nike, Anheuser-Busch and Radio Shack all announced they're cutting ties with the champion, who's been stripped of his titles over charges that he used drugs to enhance his performance. But they also say they will continue to support Livestrong, Armstrong's charity, which has become a powerful and respected brand of its own.

Ken Berger at the website Charity Navigator says Livestrong consistently earns the highest possible rating: four stars. "It's one of our higher rated charities, and has been for some time," Berger says.

He names Livestrong in the top one percent of charities, as it raises tens of millions of dollars a year to support cancer patients. Berger says when a charity's charismatic leader is disgraced the charity usually suffers horribly, or just folds.

"What's really unusual here is that we don't see that," he says. "In fact there's been a slight uptick in its donations."

That's due to years of re-branding the Lance Armstrong Foundation as, simply, Livestrong. Look at anything Livestrong -- from a charity road race to those yellow wristbands -- and you likely see the name Lance Armstrong only in the fine print, if at all. Even as Nike condemned Armstrong today, the company affirmed its commitment to selling Livestrong products.

"It's much much bigger than even cancer at this point," says Morningstar analyst Paul Swinand. He says a look at Livestrong.com makes that clear.

"It's become really a self-help site," he says. "Really an Internet information brand for any medical or physiological questions."

An Internet search for anything body-related is likely to bring up a Livestrong article or video, on topics like the importance of eating meals with your children, or a guided workout to naturally enlarge your glutes.

There's no reference at all to Lance Armstrong's narrative of battling cancer, or his cycling career, once the core of the brand's identity. Under a small yellow banner that notes the site's affiliation with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the site reads, "Welcome to Livestrong.com. Let Us Be Your Personal Guide To Becoming A Better, Healthier You!"

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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