Pretty Boy Floyd
Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd (February 3, 1904 – October 22, 1934) was an American bank robber. He operated in various parts of the Midwest and his criminal exploits gained heavy press coverage in the 1930s.
So by now, I'm sure you've heard about Floyd's confession. The Wall Street Journal broke the story, apparently, and there's an excellent follow up on ESPN.com. I'll let you get caught up rather than recap it here, because I want to get at what I think is the heart of the matter. Before I could even write it myself, Floyd said it to ESPN:
"I don't feel guilty at all about having doped. I did what I did because that's what we [cyclists] did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 years or 12 years of hard work to get there, and that was a decision I had to make to make the next step. My choices were, do it and see if I can win, or don't do it and I tell people I just don't want to do that, and I decided to do it."
I've actually had a blog entry about Floyd percolating for a while. I've been racing with him a lot over the past two seasons since he came back. And much like Tyler, Floyd was (is) always really nice to me. Says hi, smiles, is friendly. He doesn't ride around with an attitude, he doesn't yell at guys in the races, and when he has legs, he works hard. There was definitely a lot of "parade riding" in his first year back where he seemed to just be showing up, going to the bar at night, and not putting a lot of effort into the races. But when his form came back around, he was always willing to work for his teammates.
Floyd was born in Georgia but grew up in Oklahoma, spending considerable time in nearby Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri. He got his start in crime at age 18 when he stole $3.50 in pennies from a local post office, according to an issue of Time magazine, published 22 October 1922. Three years later he was arrested for a payroll robbery, September 16, 1925, in St. Louis, Missouri and served five years in prison.
And so just as I did with Tyler, I struggled when Floyd was nice to me. He was not the same guy I raced with back in the day, when he was a mountain biker dabbling in the road races, or on Mercury after that. I wanted to spit on him. If he was near me in the pack, I made a point of not giving him room. If he was coming back from an attack or I was passing him in a turn, maybe I turned a little wider than I needed to. You can't make room for someone you consider invisible, or a pariah, right?
Well, that kind of negativity eats at you, too. It doesn't feel good to go out of your way to fuck with someone, and it takes something away from you. Eventually I got over it, and tried to just treat Floyd as a human who deserved a certain amount of consideration and respect. All we really want to do is race our bikes. I needed to let Floyd do that, too.
When paroled, Floyd vowed that he would never see the inside of another prison. Entering into partnerships with more established criminals in the Kansas City underworld, he committed a series of bank robberies over the next several years; it was during this period that he earned the nickname "Pretty Boy." When the payroll master at one robbery first described the three perpetrators to the police, he referred to Floyd as "a mere boy — a pretty boy with apple cheeks." Like his contemporary Baby Face Nelson, Floyd hated his nickname.
Late last season, I started to turn the corner even further on Floyd. Maybe it was the collection of Sunday nights at the bar, watching him buy people drinks after races and just generally being a funny, friendly, approachable guy. Maybe it was him saying hi in the elevators at race hotels, shyly, but with that mischievous smirk on his face. Maybe it was just watching how he kept his head down in the races, was just happy to be racing his bike - I dunno, but at some point I decided I liked Floyd Landis. And I didn't really know what to do with that.
In 1929, he faced numerous arrests. On March 9, he was arrested in Kansas City on investigation and again on May 6 for vagrancy and suspicion of highway robbery, but was released the next day. Two days later, he was arrested in Pueblo, Colorado, charged with vagrancy. He was fined $50.00 and sentenced to 60 days in jail.
At the same time, at no point did I think Landis was innocent, or that he hadn't been doping. But every time I'd see him talk about it, I felt like he was always winking while he did it. My understanding of Floyd's position went something like this: "Oh fuck yes I doped. I doped just like everyone else did. I did not invent doping, and I understood that at the level I was at, it was part of my job description, like Lance, like George. So why should I be the only one who goes down for it?" I saw Landis fighting the charges not because he hadn't doped, because like all his peers, he had. I saw him fighting it because he thought the system was fucked up, and I mean the whole system. The team he was on that encouraged him to dope, the labs that didn't follow their own rules, the UCI that had its own interests to protect. Why would any of us expect Floyd to "do the right thing" here, and in his mind, take the fall or be the scapegoat for a system he participated in by choice, but that he sure didn't invent?
In November 1929, he traveled to Oklahoma for his father's funeral. His father had been killed by a neighbor, Jim Mills, who was acquitted but "vanished".
And honestly, why should Landis have confessed at that point? Why shouldn't he fight the charges, if the mindset of the guys at the top level is that doping is part of the job? To understand this, you have to think about doping as the equivalent of slashing or crosschecking in hockey, or traveling in basketball - essentially any kind of play that's subject to a penalty. When someone gets called for crosschecking, you don't think of them as a cheater, do you? But of course, they're breaking the rules. They are absolutely cheating. But it's part of the game, and absolutely mandatory to be successful at the game, to hook or slash or crosscheck as much as you can, while still getting away with it. The point is not to NOT slash or hook. The point is to not get caught. In the previous generations of pro cycling at the highest level, this was the mindset. It's not about morals or fair play. It's just a game. It's not real life, and this is how the game was played.
One of the members of Floyd's gang, "Frank Mitchell" was arrested in Akron, Ohio on March 8, 1930, charged in the investigation of the murder of an Akron police officer, who had been killed during a robbery that evening.
On another hand, you have to also consider doping in the mindset of rider health. It may sound backward, when we're told that doping has long lasting, negative health effects. But when you train and race at that level, you literally make yourself sick with training. Hematocrit is suppressed, hormone levels drop, and the doctor comes in to bring you back up to normal health. The biggest risks appear to come when you go over the top, and try to turn your mule into a race horse. But for those guys, they have mechanics to tune the bikes, so why not doctors to monitor their health? In their insular, narrow world, it doesn't even appear to be an unethical choice. Ethics aren't even on the table. You're just in, or out.
The law next caught up with Floyd in Toledo, Ohio where he was arrested on suspicion on May 20, 1930; he was sentenced on November 24, 1930 to 12–15 years in Ohio State penitentiary for the Sylvania Ohio Bank Robbery but he escaped.
You see the difference after guys come back, and you presume they're racing clean. Tyler and Floyd, when they were racing in the US were good, top level. They were both obviously, always talented. But it was always strange to be racing crits and being competitive with guys who won Olympic gold medals and the Tour. I found it ironic that after all they'd been through, they were right back riding in circles in America with me, like we were ten years earlier. Of course there were plenty of guys who DID say no. Danny Pate, Mike Creed, Tim Johnson - for me those are the glaring examples of guys who had a chance to be pros in Europe (Pate and Creed on Saeco, Tim on Saunier Duval) at a time when doping was still de rigueur, but unlike Floyd and Tyler, just said no and came home. And now, in a cleaner era, you see them competing at the highest level of the sport. I believe in those guys, and I think they're representative of the other path that was available to Tyler and Floyd.
Floyd was a suspect in the deaths of bootlegging brothers Wally and Boll Ash of Kansas City. They were found dead in a burning car on March 25, 1931. A month later on April 23, members of his gang killed Patrolman R. H. Castner of Bowling Green, Ohio, and on July 22 Floyd himself killed ATF Agent C. Burke in Kansas City, Missouri.
So burn down Babylon. Burn pro cycling down. There will still be racing, there will still be races. Burn it down, so we can build it up again new. I condemn Landis' original decision to participate in a corrupt, immoral system. But I'll stand in front of the flames with him and watch it burn.
I'll shake his smokey hand the next time I see him.
On October 22, 1934, Floyd was killed in a cornfield near East Liverpool, Ohio, while being pursued by local law officers and FBI agents led by Melvin Purvis. Varying accounts exist as to who shot him and the manner in which he was killed.
- Text on Pretty Boy Floyd taken from "Pretty Boy Floyd." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 11 May 2010. Web. 19 May 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Boy_Floyd