Hearne: Star Columnist Puts Sporting KC on Hot Seat Over Lance Armstrong Ties

What did I tell you two years back about Sam Mellinger?

The then green in the gills Kansas City Star sports scribe was facing a daunting challenge. To fill the oversize shoes worn so long by ousted sports shit-stirrer Jason Whitlock and effusive-to-a-fault but quite popular wordsmith Joe Posnanski.

What did I tell you? Check it:

“Kansas City Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger has totally eclipsed heavy duty forebears Joe Posnanski and Jason Whitlock.”

Not everyone was convinced and perhaps I was a tad early hopping on Mellinger’s bandwagon.

“Mellinger’s fine, but he’s no JoePo,” Rick in PV commented.

“Mellinger is doing really well, but come on,” echoed my pal Cliffy.

“Mellinger isn’t bad but he is not as good a writer as Posnanski, at least not yet,” said noted Roman Emperor Markus Aurelius. “He also isn’t as good yet at taking on a hot button issue like Whitlock. I don’t think many people think of Mellinger’s columns as ‘must read’ yet — maybe some day but I think you’re a bit quick with the trigger on this one.”

“Mell is quite solid, but eclipsing the now nationally renowned Jo-P and Whitlock?” Ed Connealy wrote. “I will continue to not take you seriously…at all.”

Fair enough.

But it’s time for the naysayers to lay down their arms – and for the jury to reconvene – especially after today’s column taking on the naming rights controversy of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong‘s group Livestrong and the owners of Sporting Kansas City.

“Sporting KC’s playoff game Wednesday at Livestrong Sporting Park will presumably bring the cancer-fighting charity for which the stadium is named its most significant shot of non-doping publicity since Lance Armstrong was effectively proven a fraud and a bully by the United States Anti-Doping Agency two weeks ago,” Mellinger writes

“Which means Sporting has a fascinating issue to tackle: whether to keep the Livestrong name on the stadium. The owners themselves aren’t sure what will happen.”

There you have it.

Mellinger didn’t just wade into battle waving a chainsaw as Whitlock might have. Nor did he drown readers in a sea of picturesque verbiage, beating for so long around the bush that who knew where, if anywhere, he stood.

“The franchise brain trust that’s effectively undefeated in making good decisions the last few years must weigh the fight against cancer against the potential harm of associating with a proven sports cheat,” Mellinger continued.

“Outwardly, co-majority owners Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig have remained mostly silent on this topic. But privately, the men in charge are talking and thinking about this and know it will become one of their most pressing issues whenever their season ends.”

Uh, what did I tell you guys in August? And again two weeks back.

And to his credit, Mellinger didn’t leave unreported a fact that’s all but been lost upon the general public after Armstrong stepped down as chairman of Livestrong,..

That he remains on Livestrong’s board.

I seriously doubt Whitlock for sure and possibly Posnanski would have waded into reporting on this topic anywhere near to the extent that Mellinger now has.

Mellinger reports that Sporting has a out clause.

And he reminds of the somewhat obvious, that Sporting does benefit by getting a tax deduction for the monies and naming rights donated to Livestrong.

“The key will be whether Sporting’s owners believe their own carefully cultivated brand will be harmed by continued association with Armstrong’s creation, and whether Livestrong can fulfill its mission of inspiring cancer patients while its own founder has been so shamed,” Mellinger proffers.

And major props to Mellinger for properly hammering Armstrong with references to “Armstrong’s despicable record of lies and bullying in the cycling world.”

Here’s where Mellinger somewhat misses the boat.

Look, I totally get it that Sam’s gotta live to tell the story here and not completely burn bridges with local sports teams and management. All beat reporters are mindful of this fact and kudos to Mellinger for having the guts to raise the subject and take it to this level.

But saying that “the easy thing would’ve been for Sporting to walk away from Livestrong already,” is a little naive.

That would totally not have been easy.

It’s late in the season with Sporting heading into the playoffs. What were they supposed to do, call Armstrong and Livestrong out and hang a tarp or over the lettering on the stadium for the final two months?

No, the easy and proper thing would have been for Sporting’s management to step forward – as it did a couple months back in stating they were standing by Livestrong and Armstrong – and say they were disappointed by Armstrong’s behavior and would take a look at what direction to go in at the season’s end.

“As long as Livestrong holds up its end of the bargain by continuing a mission that’s beyond reproach — even beyond Armstrong’s despicable record of lies and bullying in the cycling world — then abandoning the cause now would be cowardly and counterproductive,” Mellinger concludes.

“That’s a significant if, and maybe Livestrong’s decision-makers need to present their case to Sporting’s.”

“But if Livestrong can continue to be a force of inspiration to millions who face a nasty and potentially deadly disease, Sporting can take an admirable stance here: that fighting cancer is more important than grandstanding on a sports star’s fall.”

Hold it right their Samsonite…

“Grandstanding on a sports star’s fall.”


Tucking your tale between your legs and making a hasty and awkward exit is hardly grandstanding. Penn State wasn’t grandstanding when it axed Joe Paterno. Arkansas wasn’t grandstanding when it fired football coach Bobby Petrino.

The general public is far from being up in arms and calling for Armstrong’s head.

There’d be little to no glory in bailing on Livestrong because of Armstrong.

The bottom line being it would neither be easy nor grandstanding.

And just because Sporting’s owners have ties to cancer survival it’s not like there aren’t other well-established cancer charities out there worthy of Sporting’s naming rights. There obviously are.

Now here’s the part Mellinger left unsaid.

The obvious other option, if Sporting is leaning towards sticking with Livestrong, is to call upon the charity to severe its ties with Armstrong completely.

Do you think Penn State would have left Joe Paterno on its board?


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4 Responses to Hearne: Star Columnist Puts Sporting KC on Hot Seat Over Lance Armstrong Ties

  1. the dude says:

    And they will probably push for his ouster for the name to stay on the stadium after this season or drop their naming rights. This is not an etched in stone thing, stadiums change names all the time.

    Once again, Armstrong may be a cheat and a dirtball but as far as cancer goes he didn’t cheat that. And that is what ultimately matters here, even Nixon and Bubba got their chances to help people after their falls from grace.

    • admin says:

      Know what you’re saying, dude but…

      There just isn’t any way to divorce the two. The whole empire was built by a really bad guy on a platform lof lying, cheating and bullying that continues to this day.

      And the fact that Livestrong doesn’t have the good sense (or ability) to divorce itself from Armstrong speaks poorly of the organization. There are just too many other cancer organizations out there to choose from that don’t have this baggage.

      Plus that to this day Armstrong remains unrepentant and continues to lie and deceive speaks volumes about him. Did he start the charity – like most pro football players – merely to capitalize on his bout with cancer and garner favorable PR?

      Why doesn’t he have the decency to step down? Let alone step forward and own up to what he’s done.

      Those are questions Sporting doesn’t need to be involved in frankly.

      Why not cut the cord?

  2. Scoop says:

    Personally, I like the fact that Mellinger has been devoting some of his recent columns to soccer, which has gotten the short end of the publicity stick in The Star and among the talk jocks for a number of years now. Until such time (if ever) when Kansas City lands an NBA or NHL team, soccer is firmly entrenched as the No. 3 sport in the area and deserves an appropriate amount of ink or chatter. Sporting’s season could very well end tonight, at which time it would be in order for the club’s brass to reconsider their affiliation with Livestrong. Yes, it’s not the best of situations in light of Armstrong’s off-course activities, but perhaps some good can continue to come from it. It would be premature at this point to take down the Livestrong Sporting Park sign and replace it with something else, even Cerner Park.

    • admin says:


      It is nice to see the SKC coverage. The truth is most sportswriters still consider soccer barely a notch above log rolling. The lower tier, entry level reporters are assigned to cover it and thirst for the day when they can matriculate into the Chiefs, Royals, KU, K-State or MU beats.

      I had a great column several years back written by an old school, highly respected, national soccer scribe.

      He laid out exactly why traditional American sports fans and media resented and feared soccer so much and sports editor Mike Fannin actually reached across the aisle into the FYI section and killed the column.

      Totally arbitrarily.

      The fact being he couldn’t take the heat from a respected sportswriter because it hit too close to home. Frankly, I was astounded at how small he was in that thinking. Killing an opinion that struck a nerve too close to home.

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