I thought it was a positive development when cyclist Lance Armstrong became the global poster child for cheating in professional athletics. Really, it was high time for a change.
Few people under 40 could remember Ben Johnson’s steroid-tainted world-record 100-meter run at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. While the Major League Baseball players implicated in the Mitchell Report were of a fresher provenance, they weren’t exactly global figures, baseball’s popularity being limited to a few countries.
Meanwhile, almost everyone in the world was familiar with Armstrong’s unctuous bro-smirk and bald-faced denials in the face of a mountain of evidence he not only had engaged in a blood-doping regimen of colossal proportions but had performed such elaborate subterfuge to avoid detection that his exploits wouldn’t have been out of place in a John le Carré spy novel.
Granted, it seems far more likely that a Tour de France cyclist has been a human needle-cushion than he hasn’t been. However, none of them won seven straight Tours, and none of them dissembled so frequently and smugly about his cheating. In 2012, Armstrong was banned from cycling for life and stripped of all of those Tour de France titles — as well as all of his results from 1998 onward.
Since then, our bro-cheat has been on a desperate mission to prove he’s really a great guy — if not to the world then at least to some people. And there’s no surer way to do this in Armstrong’s home of Austin, Texas, than liberal politics, something that Armstrong’s quite comfortable with.
Back before he became toxic, he was considered a potential Texas gubernatorial candidate. (He decided against it, telling fellow future pariah Charlie Rose in 2005, “Why would I want to go from pro cycling, which is stressful and a lot of time away, straight into politics?”)
In 2018, he endorsed challenger Beto O’Rourke in his run against Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz — an endorsement that, for whatever reason, the O’Rourke campaign didn’t particularly emphasize.
— Lance Armstrong (@lancearmstrong) August 24, 2018
And now his bicycle shop wants everyone to know they’ve got no truck with the police.
Armstrong is the owner of Mellow Johnny’s, which describes itself on its Twitter profile as “Austin’s cycling hub.” Indeed, it seems to be: How else would it have gotten a three-year city contract worth over $300,000 to provide bicycles to the police force back in 2019, as per KXAN-TV?
Back then, the idea of providing bicycles to police seemed lukewarm-woke. Yes, it was the popo they were selling bikes to, but patrolling the neighborhood on a bicycle was a lot more green than doing it in a Crown Victoria.
The wokeness temperature on that contract has changed considerably in the past few months — particularly, as the Washington Examiner notes, when police on bikes were seen doing crowd control during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Last week, Mellow Johnny’s decided to place itself on “the right side of history” by severing its contract with the Austin Police Department.
In a statement that managed to seriously contradict itself despite its brevity, the management at Mellow Johnny’s said Wednesday it was ending the contract after a discussion among employees following the Black Lives Matter protests.
“It’s difficult in these times to balance the needs of a business and a community,” the statement read. “Our entire employee group was engaged in this dialogue and we delved deep into our community to understand how we could best do our part to keep our customers safe and this city moving in the right direction.”
“Businesses can no longer be non-participants in the communities they serve. We chose what we think will do the most to suture these divides and place our community on the right side of history,” Mellow Johnny’s management added.
However, there was also this: “We are not anti-police. We do believe our local police force will protect us from the very threats we are receiving right now.”
— mellowjohnnys (@mellowjohnnys) August 6, 2020
There are two threads in the statement as to why the people at Mellow Johnny’s are ending the contract with Austin police, one explicit and one implicit. They cannot be “non-participants” in what’s going on in Austin, and not dealing with the police is positive participation that “keep our customers safe and this city moving in the right direction.”
The implicit thread, when they talk about how they did this after evaluating “community policing in Austin,” is how bicycle-riding police officers were deployed as crowd control during the Black Lives Matter protests. If not, what they’re admitting is that they didn’t know about community policing before bidding on the contract back in 2019.
The contradiction comes in when they try to hedge their statements. The Mellow Johnny’s folks say they “are not anti-police.” But if they’re “no longer be non-participants” in community ideological debates, then what does severing a police contract after evaluating “community policing in Austin” tell us? Mellow Johnny’s is, by its own words, an active participant actively turning away police business. There are inferences you can easily draw from this, and they aren’t unfair.
Then: “We do believe our local police force will protect us from the very threats we are receiving right now.” As the current demonstrations go, Austin isn’t a particularly dangerous corner of the world, although a man was shot and killed late last month after a confrontation at a Black Lives Matter protest, according to CNN.
However, it’s worth asking which threats they’re talking about.
Are they coming from protesters unhappy they were selling bikes to police? From police backers unhappy they’ve stopped selling bikes to Austin police? Just general threats?
Furthermore, if you believe the role of police is to protect individuals and property from threats and that they’re able to carry out that role, why stop selling them bikes? The mind boggles. Apparently, they still expect protection from the police while actively refusing to sell law enforcement the equipment they need to protect them.
In other words, if you think this doesn’t sound particularly well-thought-out, you’re not wrong. The answer might be a bit less complex: Activist employees were angry about selling bikes to cops and management decided it wasn’t worth the effort to fight back.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, the Austin Police Department’s Christopher Carlisle said in a now-deleted Facebook post he’d been told by a sales manager at Mellow Johnny’s that “they have three employees who work for them that are complaining about providing bikes to the police department in this time of social unrest in protests and disturbances. They stated to ownership that they did not like the fact that we use bicycles to help us manage crowds and crowd movement.”
One guesses an argument was eventually built up around this, one that involved close deliberation of community policing and bicycles.
It seems unlikely that Armstrong was involved in the statement, although it’s unclear what his role was in terminating the contract. I would assume, given his ownership interests, someone at least gave him a heads-up via text message — and given the size of the contract, there was probably a bit more Lance-centric decision-making than that.
Whatever his input, this is on-brand for Armstrong and his shop.
In 2018, Mellow Johnny’s dropped cycling brands that were owned by a gun manufacturer.
Last year, Armstrong made a national joke of himself when he told his Twitter audience about how he “blew the f—in’ doors off” Vice President Mike Pence while biking in Nantucket, only to be reminded he was a former professional cyclist who used a galaxy of PEDs to thrust himself into the global consciousness.
He seems to desperately want the people he likes in his liberal home of Austin to like him back, no matter what his past sins. Maybe people in America will like him back, too.
Or maybe, in a few months, we’ll all simply remember Armstrong is a cheat and Mellow Johnny’s decision will affect little but the $300,000 it was set to receive, to the extent we remember it at all. That seems a more likely — and appropriate — outcome.
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