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The Horse Racing Anti-Change Culture is Impenetrable

In those best selling corporate books, speeches from good leaders, and in a lot of every day places, you will often hear about "changing a culture". It's probably overused, but for people who have changed a culture in a sport, business or even family, they stand behind the concept vehemently.

The NFL has a real problem with violence on the field. Today the players are bigger, stronger and can inflict tremendous damage to opposing players. The NFL, a few years ago now, started to demand more from the coaches, players and rule makers to address several issues, like leading with a helmet, late hits, hits over the middle, 'defenseless' players; anything that is deemed far too violent has been looked at.

Early on, the players hated the changes, as did the fans. Several years later, it's changed.

A few weeks ago, Broncos tight end Owen Daniels was nailed by the Bengals' Reggie Nelson.

Nelson played that exactly by the rules, turning his head, not wanting to hurt Daniels. Daniels appreciated it and tweeted out this:

“The more I thought about the play,” Daniels said, “the more I appreciated what Reggie did. People like big hits. It’s one of the reasons football’s so popular. Reggie could have really done some damage to me. I just wanted to point out after this huge hit that I appreciated what a clean play it was. I just gave a shoutout to a guy who played the game the right way.”

Nelson: "The other thing that goes through your mind is what we have been taught here. Hit the body. We’ve had to adjust. If you don’t, they’re gonna keep fining and flagging you. You’ll be out of the league.”

"Most definitely the league has changed the game dramatically. It took me a while to learn, because I love to hit. But I think it’s better for us. We have to take care of ourselves out there."

What strikes me most about this change of culture is how quickly it has come about. It's almost like a sea-change. This change is filtered down to coaches, from pro, to college, to little league. It's big.

What is not so obvious is the return on investment of such moves, and let's face it, sports leagues like money, and money, and more money. They ain't charities. If players don't like it and the NFLPA is whining, and the fans don't like it, and the fans are whining, why bother, right? It's causing trouble and it's much easier to just back off. That didn't happen.

The NFL is looking longer term, after ignoring issues like this for so long; ROI be damned.

Culture changes in racing seem to follow a path that's similar, right up to the end game.

If the NFL wants to protect players and sees it as a long term gain, what about protecting the horses? Polytrack, vet inspections, etc, are all a part of that.

The NFL wants the pipeline filled - parents signing their kids up for football, better demographics watching the sport etc, so the way it's presented (as 'non-violent' as possible) is important. In horse racing this is excess whipping, kicking, buzzers, penalties and just about everything else along those lines.

It's very true that changing a racetrack might not cure ills, but the blow back ensured we'd never really know. Off track vet inspections, vet record keeping, Hong Kong type vet reporting to customers, well, it's "not your horse".  Shuddup.

Reggie Nelson said, "We’ve had to adjust. If you don’t, they’re gonna keep fining and flagging you. You’ll be out of the league."

In racing we have guys who have had 50 kicking fines, costing them a Starbucks coffee and a little bit of inconvenience. There's no adjustment needed, just keep doing what you're doing. "You'll be out of the league". Laughable.

The NFL is dealing with the qualitative, yet they had enough juice to begin to change a culture, even without being able to hold up cost-benefit analysis, or profit and loss statements at the end of the day. The jury is still out of course, but it's been pretty clear the changes have done what they're supposed to have done.

In racing, that's darn near impossible. Even if you are holding up analysis that shows a change is working, it's ignored, simply because the anti-change culture in this sport is impenetrable.

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