OTTAWA — The Canadian women’s hockey team will proudly wear black and yellow Livestrong jerseys in its first game of the world championships. Still, players and coaches harbored conflicting emotions about the cancer charity’s connection to Lance Armstrong after the cyclist admitted to doping.
“There are going to be comments and people who are going to associate it with Lance Armstrong,” coach Dan Church said. “I asked those same questions. I wanted to know about where the money was going. I wanted to know about that relationship.
“My perspective personally is Livestrong may be the greatest achievement Lance Armstrong had as an athlete. Beyond what he did on the bike and winning and beyond his cheating and what’s happened to his reputation lately, this is a really positive thing. It’s important for us to look at what it does for the millions of people as opposed to what one person did.”
Nike’s line of Livestrong apparel raises money for the organization established 16 years ago by Armstrong, a cancer survivor. The cycling star’s relationship with the charity ended last year after revelations that he took performance-enhancing drugs and lied about it for years.
While distancing itself from Armstrong, Livestrong continues to raise money to help people with cancer through its programs and services.
That cause is why Canada’s Olympic champions will be wearing the gear tonight against the rival United States in Ottawa.
Church’s father died of cancer in January at age 70. Forward Jayna Hefford’s father died in 2007 of the disease. Captain Hayley Wickenheiser’s sister is a cancer survivor.
Defenseman Tessa Bonhomme, who is sponsored by Nike, is a poster girl for the Livestrong jersey campaign. Her grandmother is a breast cancer survivor.
“It’s hard because growing up, Lance Armstrong was a huge hero for me,” forward Caroline Ouellette said. “I read all his books. It was such a story of hope. I bought so many Livestrong clothes in my life and it was just like my heart was broken.
“But when I see Tessa wearing the jersey, I feel pride because for me, she’s someone that lives strong. She’s the message we need to send to every child that should take on sport and the benefits that sport can bring and also the help that foundation can give to people that are battling with cancer.”
Nike says it has helped raise more than $100 million for the Livestrong Foundation and now emphasizes the organization is “about a cause and not one individual.”
“Nike has committed to the Livestrong line for the next two years,” said foundation CEO Doug Ulman.
Nike would not answer questions about the Livestrong brand’s plans after Armstrong and how the Canadian women’s team fits into that strategy.
It’s common for Canadian hockey teams to wear a special jersey in their first games of international tournaments. The uniforms are auctioned to raise money for various causes.
“It might be a little soon with what’s gone on with Lance, but the fact they’ve disassociated themselves from the connection with him and what it stands for, which is raising money for cancer, is a good thing and what I’m all about,” Wickenheiser said.
During meetings with the company’s reps a year ago, the decision was made for the women to wear the Livestrong colors in Ottawa, according to Hockey Canada chief operating officer Scott Smith.
There was no pressure from Nike to do so, he added.
Hefford, who is also sponsored by Nike, said that after she learned more about Livestrong, she got past any qualms about associating with it.
“I was sort of like everyone else and really what you thought of was Lance Armstrong,” Hefford said.
‘’Obviously (Nike) wants to rebrand and take themselves away from the negative side of his athletic career,” she added, “but it’s so much bigger than just one person. It’s about helping millions of people every day.”