Why I'm Still Wearing My Livestrong Bracelet

Lance Armstrong makes more sense to me after his Oprah interview. And my wristband still means the same thing it always did.

lance oprah 615 day 1 solomon.jpg
AP/Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc., George Burns

I was wearing one of those yellow Livestrong wristbands yesterday, pre-Oprah. It's still on.

It isn't about Lance Armstrong, I've explained to my kids. It's about me. I survived prostate cancer five years ago, and it changed in useful ways how I think about life—aiming high, not putting things off, that sort of stuff. I rather like the continual reminder. I've never cared much for cycling, for myself or on TV, but it's hard not to admire a man of determination who keeps coming back.

Watching Lance Armstrong last night, I was prepared to feel betrayed and to dislike the guy who split up with Sheryl Crow when she had cancer. But I found I didn't. To my surprise, I liked him. I'm not proud of this, or saying I'd ever forgive him if he'd personally wronged me the way he wronged so many. But everything he said—and did—made a certain sense.

A fact: Lance Armstrong is a driven man. Whether because of genetics, a rough childhood, whatever the reason(s), he's a man of outsized ambitions whose outsized talents are inextricably mixed with outsized flaws. They come as a package, as they do for many truly accomplished people who struggle to the top. Think of Bill Clinton or Newt Gingrich or Steve Jobs. In a crowded and competitive world, that's often what it takes.

Fact No. 2: In the world of cycling, getting to the top required doping. Riders who ride up the Pyrenees clean ride down the Champs-Elysees near the back of the pack. Armstrong accepted the rules of the game. He could have done the "right" thing and just said no, except for Fact No. 1. Oh, and ...

Fact No. 3: The world offers humongous rewards to the people at the tip-top and far, far less to people below. You can tell Armstrong he shouldn't be greedy, but he's a person of flesh and blood who saw his chance for success and fame and grabbed it. The guy who finishes 111th doesn't have a fan club or raise millions of dollars for cancer or for himself.

Armstrong might, as his critics say, have decided differently—and we'd never have heard of the man. This was his choice, and he made it. And I suspect he'd make the same choice again.

In my case, many months after my wife gave me the "tacky" (as The Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger called it) yellow wristband did she confess that she'd found it in a parking lot, by the local CVS. So, I've never donated a dime to Lance Armstrong. But I've profited from him.

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Burt Solomon edited The Atlantic's upcoming special issue on World War I.

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