I flipped on to Google News this morning and caught this article on steroids and baseball via the New York Times. It reviews Mark McGwire's mea culpa for using steroids during the magical home run derby of 1998 where he demolished Roger Maris's record of 61.
The writer contends that this mea culpa (among others in baseball) is simply a well-manicured show; throw a few tears and a few 'forgive me's' and baseball hopes all is forgotten. As well, he surmises that although the commissioner says that with testing this is all in the past, it is not the case at all.
I find what baseball is going through is extremely interesting from a sports marketing perspective. In the old days almost everything to do with drug use was covered up (and is/was in many sports), or simply not spoken about. Today that has all changed. Twitter, facebook, TMZ, youtube.... they all spread things like wildfire. Meeting challenges head on seems to be the only way to combat problems.
In racing we have a parallel. Drugs are a part of the game, whether their use be small, big or almost non-existent (I am not smart enough to know). On backstretches it is rarely spoken of. On chat boards, twitter, facebook, in simulcast centres, it is commonspeak - e.g any time a horse wins with a form reversal via a trainer change, the reason was the 'juice' . There seems to be a fairly healthy debate in racing about how to tackle these perceptive, or real problems - throw people out forever, throw only the egregious violators out, talk about it openly, keep it behind closed doors. Ask ten people, get six or seven different answers.
As I have said before, I have no solution how to tackle this issue. I would like people who are caught using drugs who have no intent to harm the horse, the public, or their fellow owners to be treated like human beings. The others who are harming horses and our game with visceral intent, I would like thrown out forever. On a case by case basis, this is easier said than done. Like baseball, or the Tour de France, or football, it appears there are no easy answers. There rarely are easy answers to a complex problem.
The second parallel I see combing the web is the chatter about racing showing races (or data, which invariably the discussion goes to) free and easy on the web. As most know, a popular youtube site with many many races was recently shut down, due to copyright problems. I compared that earlier to boxing (for an excellent look at boxing and racing, Equispace wrote about it here) and their lack of foresight in digitizing and producing their footage, and feel quite similarly today when I look at racing.
I was watching ESPN (TSN up here in the Tundra) and they had a one hour show featuring Mike Tyson's best knockouts. As anyone over 30 who watches the sweet science would remember, Mike Tyson was a brute. He was completely unstoppable in his early career. I remember having to study one night for an exam and listening to one of his bouts on the radio. It lasted 22 seconds and that was pretty much the norm for his early fights. This brutality even spawned a catch phrase. When someone was confronted with something they did not want to do: "I'd rather get in the ring with Mike Tyson", was heard quite often.
The produced "best of" show was not overly well done, because much of the footage was grainy and it seemed cobbled together. Some of the knockouts were missing, as well. Enthralled with some of them, however, I began to surf the web for a DVD of some of the great bouts over time, including Tyson's. What I found was a hodge-podge of DVD makers, some sure to be pirated, but no compilation DVD's from anyone in a position of power. One would figure that the World Boxing Council, or one of the myriad acronyms in the sport would have all of the great bouts throughout history digitized, available and documented. Should not Liston-Clay, Foreman-Ali and the hundreds of amazing bouts in history be there for all to see?
Forty some years ago NFL films was created so that the sports entire history - every snap, every play, every locker room shot, every news item, everything - could be kept in a vault. Should they need it, it is there. Should local news need a clip when doing a story, it's there. For historians or fans, it's there.
Did it happen by accident? Of course not. Back in 1964 Commissioner Pete Rozelle asked for $12,000 of seed capital from each team (like herding cats I imagine) and they bought an existing company who was taping games. The rest is history.
What did it do for the sport. According to the Wiki: "The real value of NFL Films is how it packages and sells the game and many credit it as a key reason that the NFL has become the most watched league in the United States."
NFL - foresight and strong leadership. Boxing - a mess.
Which one is racing? It is pretty obvious, is it not. I remember about four or five years ago wanting to see Secretariat's career on DVD. I could not find it. I went to the web to see if I could find his Belmont win. Nothing. Recently much of this has popped up on the web, but uploaded by individuals, just like we see in boxing. In fact, try and even get the historical running lines for some horses - either you can't or you get charged money for it.
Boxing has fallen on hard times. There are several competing belts, no one knows who is a champ and who is not, the best don't fight the best, they worry about other things (if a boxer was a horse he would probably not be going to the Breeders Cup to face a foe in a bout that fans want to see), their history is hard to find, or watch. Their TV ratings are abysmal now, after a half-century of being highly rated. It had no leadership, fighting factions, lack of foresight, and a fan-base that looks nostalgically at the game, wishing that things were like they were.
If that sounds eerily familiar, it should, because its us.
Over the years we have fought about rules, we have raised takeouts in the face of paid-for studies telling us not to, we have wrung our hands at government interference, we have considered bettors a necessity rather than a customer, we have worried about this week, or this month; because thinking any further ahead was too tough. Sooner or later these things bite you in the butt.
There are parallels with racing to many sports and many of these sports' problems. Easy answers, no. But it would be nice if we start recognizing problems and working towards solutions. Our future probably depends a great deal on it.