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June 13, 2014

NASH: It’s right to remain silent

In a 1993 Nike shoe commercial, basketball great Charles Barkley proudly announced to the world that he was not a role model. His point as it has been dissected over the 20-plus years is that sports figures are not necessarily people to be looked up to. They may be tremendous athletes but at the end of the day they are simply entertainers, they should not be considered educators.    

Over the last several weeks there have been a couple of people in the world of sports that have gotten a lot of attention for the things they have said. In both instances the person in question was not one of the athletes that so many people hold in high regard, but a member of ownership that employs the “athletes.”

The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was recorded making racially insensitive remarks and almost instantly lost his NBA franchise. The recording was reported to have taken place in his home and was directed toward his mistress. Some have suggested that a private conversation should not have been grounds for him losing his property. Others have said in this country you have the freedom of speech so you can say anything that you want.

It is true that this country was founded on a principle of freedom of speech and you are allowed to say just about anything that you want to within reason. That doesn’t mean that the things you say don’t come with consequences. The NBA concluded that his words damaged the league and the brand that they were presenting and moving forward with him as an owner would be detrimental to their business.

The next sport’s figure that has made a name for himself lately by running his mouth was the owner of the race horse that won this year’s Kentucky Derby. Immediately following the Preakness Stakes win of his horse California Chrome, he made disparaging remarks about the treatment he and his partner received by the people at Churchill Downs. He said Churchill could learn a thing from the people of Pimlico the home of the second race of the Triple Crown.

He claimed that after asking for accommodations for the wheelchair-bound mother of his partner were denied. He said their treatment led to his partner not even going to the Preakness. Later a picture of two men carrying the woman to the winner’s circle appeared online. This seems to refute what he was saying. The partner went on record saying he was celebrating his anniversary and had never planned on attending the race.

When this guy arrived in Louisville he was one of 20 race horse owners. Why should he be treated better than anybody else? When he left and headed to Baltimore, he was a Kentucky Derby champion. Going from a small fish in a big pond to the leader of the pack he should expect better treatment.

Flash forward a few weeks and the Triple Crown contender is upset in the Belmont Stakes. Immediately following the race of a lifetime he begins a rant for the ages. In front of a huge television audience he called the owners of the winner of the race cowards and cheaters for not running in the first two races of the Triple Crown. His comments were out of line and in very poor sportsmanship. He showed that he was a sore loser and a poor spokesman for horse racing at a time when they need as much help as they can get.

During his rant, some of his points about changes to the Triple Crown may have been valid, but were lost when he started attacking the other horses in the race. Spacing the races out would make a lot of sense but not to help to insure that we would have a Triple Crown winner more often. Adding time between each of the races would help the health and safety of the horses which should be the chief consideration.

Only allowing horses that qualify for the Kentucky Derby to run in each of the other races as he insisted would really limit the competition for the subsequent races. The rules of the Triple Crown have been around since its inception and probably shouldn’t be changed so that it is easier to win. If California Chrome’s owner wants to win with rules that severely limit the contestants than must be a product of a participation trophy society.  

Under the rules that he suggested there would have only been three horses in the Belmont Stakes. How many people would attend a major stakes race that only three horses ran in? No money would be wagered on a horse race with only three entrants and unfortunately that is what drives the industry.

People in sports and athletics are often times put up and a pedestal to be admired. They are looked up to for having done things that others cannot. Team owners are usually well respected because of the level of success they have been able to achieve and the money that they have accumulated. Maybe they can take some of that hard earned money and use it to hire a decent public relations firm.

— Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com

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