Sept. 25, 2012
The main topic of conversation on Tuesday morning was not political or a television reality show, but rather surrounded the end of the previous evening’s football contest between Green Bay and Seattle. Then on Tuesday the National Football League came out with the anticipated press release backing the decision of their officials. In retrospect there were a lot of mistakes made on Tuesday and it takes a lot of arrogance to ignore what is evident even to the untrained eye.
I was struck by the inability of the richest group in sports, owners of NFL franchises, to utilize the best practices available to keep the league’s image squeaky clean. In the face of the technology age, they totally bungled and will continue to do so. For a change I can look at a lot of racetracks and see how they’ve responded to the clamor of the public to get things right. We’re not always happy with the result, but at least we know the whole story has been reviewed.
In racing, when there is a claim of foul, the stewards are the final resting place for the “buck.” But even the stewards are cloistered away where they can make a decision away from the public and in accordance with the rules. They sometimes take longer than we might like, but they have a way of getting it right a majority of the time. I believe the reason they do is that they have the tools to do the job and are willing to explain their actions.
There was a time when all was not that smooth in racing. There were a whole generation of stewards who didn’t like having their decisions questioned. Eventually videotape made most points of the race so clear that they couldn’t just hit the “as is” choice and “not rock the boat.” Stewards were forced to back up their decisions and often explain them in a timely way to the public.
Clearly the transparency rule applied to stewards has been a step in the right direction. You don’t have to have ridden a horse to make an intelligent decision about interference in a race, but you have the ability to consult with the riders before you commit yourself in any one direction. People, their money and the use of their discretionary dollars hang in the balance. Generally speaking racing stewards take all the time in making a decision because they understand all of the elements involved. The final decision of a race by the stewards is an arm of public relations for the sport. For that element of racing to be ignored, racing would commit a mortal sin in customer service. The customer may not always be right, but the customer is certainly entitled to an explanation as to why there is something incongruous between the way things are and the way the customer sees it.
On Monday and Tuesday the NFL showed its arrogance. But, it may have also cost some of its most enthusiastic customers hundreds of millions of dollars. Both racing and football, whether the latter wants to admit, are driven by the almighty dollar. Angry customers, whether gamblers or not, are never amused by the spin doctors so prevalent in our world. Racing has figured out a good way to utilize technology and common sense in dealing with problems. The NFL and many others who are still living in past decades, believes it can say “tough luck” to its customers and ignore the consequences.
By simply putting a toe into the waters of technology, the NFL has missed the opportunity that it may never again enjoy, to expand its base, solidify that base and be the undisputed king of sports. What a waste.
And they have the blueprint for solving their problems from the experience of many of America’s racetracks. So many mistaken calls could have been corrected in the NFL if a “technical judge” existed to throw a flag or correct one which was thrown and obviously in error. There are many foul claims on the racetrack which are ruled without merit. But they get a hearing, through the stewards. If an owner, trainer or jockey think they were wronged, they have the chance to voice that to the stewards. The stewards don’t limit the number of claims allowed per day. So far the majority understand that there is no sense in making a frivolous claim. As a matter of fact there have been enough fines handed out in those situations, that there are very few.
Until other sports learn from the lesson of racing, they will continue to have integrity ramifications. That doesn’t mean that racing is always guaranteed 100% correct, but it means that racing has proven itself more wide awake to the times and is more responsive to its customers by using the available means and being willing to explain the basis for its course of action.
At the racetrack the stewards are stewards. They are required to prove that they are properly educated and trained in being stewards before getting the job or they don’t get the job. That doesn’t necessarily include those who have made major financial contributions to the campaign of a victorious politician and received the appointment to the stewards stand on a “quid pro quo” basis. Most don’t happen that way, even though there are some who do.
But in the NFL their officials have other full-time jobs back at their homes and are officials on the weekends. They are not full-time officials. There is a big labor dispute on right now, which might eventually lead to full-time officials. The NFL lags far behind in that arena. Once again racetracks have it right.
The arrogance of power exists on many levels in our society. It may exist in your home, your job, your boss, your boss’s boss, the business owner, etc., extending right up to the very leaders of the countries of the world. But I believe that the abuse of that power will be the undoing of many of those power-crazed individuals. Not responding to the rank-and-file because someone thinks they are better, either genetically or on the job, will be revealed and the results may not be attractive. Racing has most of the time followed the best rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
For whatever problems one may find in racing, there are people who are set into solving them. For the rogues who want to cheat, we endeavor to find you and run you off. We have been way to slow in some cases, but better to let someone continue on than to hang an innocent man. One thing racing is good at is paying attention to the collective voices of its customers. My guess is that on this day the NFL would be happy to change places with racing.
What the arrogant NFL leadership hasn’t figured out is how to compromise, take a gamble and do the right thing. While the leadership of that group has closed its eyes to the situation in front of it, the league has driven its vehicle to the end of a cliff. Racing’s been there and it’s a lot slower turning around and heading back. Still it gives you some real hope before you irreparably damage your vehicle. Of course you can pursue with your arrogance and drive right off the cliff under the presumption that you won’t be hurt. I hope we don’t have to watch someone clean up that mess –on our way to the races.