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Jun. 21 2010 - 9:15 am | 3,873 views | 0 recommendations | 13 comments

Lance Armstrong’s tiff with Outside magazine

Lance Armstrong finishing 3rd in Sète, taking ...

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The editors of Outside magazine have posted a reply on-line to Lance Armstrong’s Twitter critique, last week, of the July cover image — an image that he referred to as “lame bullshit” — depicting him wearing a blue t-shirt emblazoned with the words “38. BFD.” That’s a reference to his age, not his shirt-size, and it was Photoshopped atop a plain t-shirt.

We can probably guess that the “lameness” to which Armstrong refers doesn’t have to do with a profane acronym, given his profane statement on Twitter, but with image control. Lance, perhaps, would prefer to call no attention to his age at all.

The editors say:

We understand that our July newsstand cover, featuring Lance Armstrong, has caused a bit of a ruckus. (Thanks, Twitter!). Yes, it’s true that, following our cover shoot with Lance, we had some Photoshop fun on the T-shirt he was wearing. BFD. We cop to it right there on the cover—see the line reading, “Note: Not Armstrong’s real T-shirt”. We wanted to create a provocative image and make a bold statement about the fact that, because of Armstrong’s age, many cycling fans are skeptical of his chances in this year’s Tour de France. Read what we think his odds are.

–The Editors

For about the past decade, Outside has maintained a deep, abiding, clothes-yanking love for Armstrong. If Armstrong and Bear Grylls married, Outside would run a special edition entirely about the wedding, Grylls being their No. 2 mega-crush object (he’s on the June cover, smeared with mud).

So, Outside’s intentions are entirely benevolent, Armstrong’s dislike aside. However, is such an action — Photoshopping an editorialization onto a subject’s body — a legit maneuver? Does the little tag line, “Note: Not Armstrong’s real T-shirt,” in small type nearby, clarify the image completely?

The July issue isn’t out yet, but Outside ran an excerpt on-line, and Armstrong’s age is a central topic, although Armstrong is not quoted in the excerpt.

If at some point in the story, Armstrong says something like, “Really, who cares about age — what is important is performance,” then the Photoshopped text on his shirt does keep in the spirit of his quoted words. The text might be a bit of a liberty, but it does not make Armstrong appear to believe something differing from what he says in the interview. Or, does he have to specifically reference his numerical age to make the t-shirt work?

This might seem like small potatoes, but it speaks to the larger issue of photo-manipulation. Armstrong is also something of a national hero, so any misstatements around him will raise the ire of his ardent fans and the cyclist himself if, as I suspect, image-control is a big deal for him. From a wholly commercial standpoint, Outside’s editors would surely never want to anger the cyclist.

Might the text cause Armstrong some problems with one of his endorsements? Does he have language in one of his contracts that states that if he appears on a magazine cover wearing any clothing with letters or words, those letters and words must be those of his sponsors? That, surely, could anger him, if he had to explain to a major sponsor why he appears to violate a contractual agreement in his appearance on the cover of a national mag.

Even if this proves to be too much of a editorial liberty, once the full text of the story comes out (you can pay for an advance digital copy, if you like), will the cover additionally portray Armstrong in a negative light, or posit a damaging falsity about him in the public’s mind? No, it won’t. Some 10-year-old Armstrong fan might ask his mom, “What does BFD mean?” and Outside will have forced mom to get creative: “It means ‘Bicycling for Fun and Donuts’, Johnny.”

Armstrong surely won’t lose a single fan or reader of his Twitter feed. Most likely, he will gain a few.

* * *

Addendum: My July issue of Outside came today, 6/23, but the guy on the cover is Arctic swimmer Lewis Gordon Pugh, not Lance Armstrong with his fake-o t-shirt. I suppose LA’s image was used to nab newsstand buyers, and subscribers get the other guy.

How much LA does the issue contain? A B&W photo for the TOC on p. 8. He’s in an Oakley sunglasses ad on p. 11. The upfront “Dispatches” section story on LA, “Who You Callin’ Yellow?” by John Bradley, runs pp. 18-29, with a photo on every page, including two of LA wearing a for-real black t-shirt with a for-real red star on the chest (Sovietism?). LA is also in a RadioShack ad sandwiched into the story, on p. 23. The “Rules of the Road: No. 5″ sidebar on p. 29 is slugged, “The Best Source for Tour Information Is. . .Twitter.” Ha, yeah.

A one-page piece on Floyd Landis follows the story, on p. 30. If I were LA, I’d be more miffed about that, and the possibility that in every magazine story for the rest of my life, the editors might stick in ol’ Floyd anywhere they can.

The guy on the cover, Pugh? He gets four pages of dedicated copy, from p. 60 to 66, compared to LA’s eight pages of dedicated copy.

The real meat in this issue? The feature story on killer whales.

via Lance Armstrong – July 2010 Outside Magazine Cover | Outside Online.


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  1. collapse expand

    How can this be such a mystery, both to you and to Outside? The objection, I would assume (I haven’t really kept up with this), has nothing to do with the image being “profane,” and everything to to with it being puerile. Your mythic 10-year-old surely knows what BFD” means–because among everybody in this discussion, he would be the most likely use the construction. Or the second-most-likely, it turns out.

    That’s not the worst problem, though. That would be the fact that Outside apparently didn’t even bother telling Armstrong what they had in mind, much less asking him whether it was OK to put a silly cyberism on his shirt. I know I’d be pissed if some shallow, vacuous editor decided that, for example “LOL” or “BFD” was something I would ever say, and decided to put it on my T-shirt on a national magazine. The tiny, equally vacuous disclaimer on the cover, or course, does nothing to mitigate the problem.

    Maybe Armstrong would have been OK with it if Outside had asked him. Maybe not. The point is, they apparently didn’t even bother, because they don’t think of him as a human, but as a magazine-selling widget.

    • collapse expand

      Dan — Thanks for the comment. I understand what you mean about Armstrong not knowing about the tactic. In fact, True/Slant just did something slightly similar to my blog: The headline on the T/S main page, “So Outside Photoshopped Lance Armstrong — BFD” is not a hed that I wrote. My headline is at the top of the blog post. I wouldn’t have written the one T/S did. Anyway. . .

      Armstrong is a public figure. He actively puts himself in the public eye. Parody of his image would be legit, then. What Outside did isn’t parody, but they took a liberty — they made the image appear as if Armstrong put forth himself the message of his shirt, which he did not. Could he have been talked into wearing such a shirt for the photo shoot? Who knows?

      Do you have to get a public figure’s permission every time you alter his or her image, for the sake of parody, or otherwise? No. What if the cover was an illustration of Armstrong with the same t-shirt?

      One major thing we don’t know if if LA, his agents, and Outside had some sort of standing agreement about how the article would proceed. If Outside had agreed to certain parameters, and then violated them, then they are professionally culpable, but didn’t break any laws.

      If “38. BFD.” had been a cover line, off to the side, no matter, probably. Slapping it on LA gives the impression he said it himself, or believes it. Does this violate the spirit of LA’s comments in the article? We’ll have to read it when it comes out, but most likely it will not.

      As for Outside’s thinking of LA as a “magazine-selling widget” rather than a human being, as you say, the level of Outside’s Lance worship would elevate him far above widget, for sure.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        As I said, I’m not following this very closely. But did Armstrong pose specifically for the cover shot? I assume so, which makes it altogether different from, say, Outside using a file photo and photoshopping the inane message there. That would still be silly and inane, but it wouldn’t be jerking Armstrong around the way the mag apparently did here. And it renders moot your point about Armstrong being a public figure, an excuse that only goes so far. It might give them legal cover, but it doesn’t make this any less of a douchebag move. Nor does any formal agreement they might have had.

        I’m not sure why Outside being a Lance-worshipper makes him any less of a widget. If anything, it’s just the opposite.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        “Do you have to get a public figure’s permission every time you alter his or her image, for the sake of parody, or otherwise? No.”

        I think you’re right if the magazine was publishing a photo that was purchased from a paparazzi or if it was a photo in the public domain. But the fact that Mr. Armstrong sat for a portrait specifically for this cover and was not told about the layout makes this a different story. It’s my understanding that most celebs have publicists who work with the celebrity in question to approve photos appearing in magazines. That means that Armstrong’s people (or possibly he himself) approved a photo for publication without the Photoshopped text, not the one with it. Imagine his surprise when the photo he approved wasn’t the one that appeared on the cover.

        The point isn’t about what the t-shirt said or didn’t say. It’s about control of one’s image. And with all the scuttlebut surrounding his alleged steroid use, you better believe he’s going to be micro-managing every piece of press he can control.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          IMHO — Thanks for the comment.

          Outside has pulled a bit of a fast one with this. Having been on a magazine staff, I can’t imagine that there was no debate in-house at Outside for a while about this. Did they contact LA’s people and get a “No,” or did they just say, “We’re doing it. We don’t have to ask permission”?

          Even if LA did sit for the portrait, the image derived from that is the image of a public figure. Limits exist as to what you can do with that image, and Outside pushed the limit, agree or disagree as you wish. If, as I say in the post, this cover blurb attached to LA keeps in the spirit and meaning of his quoted comments in the article, and does not act to portray him in a negative or false light, then Outside’s maneuver is not egregious.

          I think you’re totally correct that the whole LA operation very closely controls and micro-manages every piece of press about him. This is exactly what might have made the editors at Outside act without notice. They knew they’d get a “No” but liked their idea (cover blurbs are always in need of a different approach) and didn’t see it as harmful to LA or in violation of on-the-record statements, regardless of whether LA actually uses the expression “BFD.”

          We might be taking a non-BFD and conflating it into an overly big BFD when actually its growth potential is correctly that of a small-medium BFD.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Look, I’m no Lance fan by a long shot; he’s an arrogant SOB who thinks he’s untouchable. Worse, his response to Floyd Landis wasn’t a categorical “you’re out of your mind; I never touched the stuff”, it was “prove it”. Doesn’t exactly instill confidence in his words or actions.

            But that said, what really is the difference between Lance taking Outside to task for misuse of his image as Elvis’s estate ordering a cease and desist to a t-shirt company, for example, for not seeking permission to use his image? In fact, Lance should have more of a case because he’s still alive. I’m sure his lawyers are working on it as we speak.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    LA just seems like a grumpy guy- perhaps he’s coming back as a vampire.

  3. collapse expand

    Why didn’t Outside just go with a cartoon image? That would’ve gotten the point across in a light-hearted way, and they could’ve used the posed shot for an eye-catcher in the table of contents.

    I’m with IMHO; Armstrong is gonna micro-manage his persona. Also, i’m biting my tongue, as cyclists on rides do gossip – to anyone who’ll listen.

    • collapse expand

      Gypsysister — A workable idea. The only problem might be that Outside always goes with a cover photo. I can’t recall them every using an illo. Either way, they could have used more creativity like yours. The image in question is a good portrait, but is it a cover shot?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Howsabout 4 shots in a big square? upper left: the 38 BFD, upper right: Say “No!” to EPO, bottom left: TdF 2010 (and in small print “Tour de France vingt-cent dix”, bottom right: the original. If it’s photos (no illo) and photo shopping they want, go for the gold. Do it Stephen Colbert white house correspondents dinner style.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    I've worked as a ghostwriter, a magazine editor, and an acquisitions editor in publishing, and lived for quite a while in NYC. Now I live in the trees and am a freelance "content provider" for print and digital media and for broadcast programming. I also rep the work of angling artist Ernest Schwiebert. I published a short story collection, "The Midnight Fish," in 2001, and the satires, "The Vampire Survival Guide," (2008) and "The Vampire Seduction Handbook," co-written with Luc Richard Ballion" (2009). My novels are represented by Harold Ober Associates, NYC.

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    Spring ‘10: Going fishing, making stuff up, fooling my friends, trying to find an illustrator for a graphic-novel project. Other than those things, the usual: Working on a new long-form project while trying to sell the others.