This past Saturday was the first full day of a weekend that was extraordinarily jam-packed with sports activity of note. Not only was Major League Baseball experiencing its first Interleague Play of the 2006 season, there was hockey, basketball and the Preakness. And on top of that, Barry Bonds hit his 714th career home run, tying the total number of home runs hit by a non-steroid user named George Herman "Babe" Ruth.
So what, after all the dust has settled, are we discussing? We're discussing the Preakness favorite, a horse named Barbaro, breaking his leg and ankle in multiple places. Firstly, for those who are unaware, a horse who breaks his/her leg on the track, more often than not, is euthanized -- on the spot -- because horse bones, apparently, do not heal, and since horses live their entire lives on their feet (for the most part -- ie, they sleep standing up) a horse who breaks his/her leg is usually put down. Horses, as it were, cannot be placed in a reclining position for any length of time because they will experience organ failure in a prone position.
What bothered me about this whole situation involving Barbaro, a highly-regarded thoroughbred, is that this life-threatening injury has been chronicled with nearly the kind of CNN-like precision that followed John Hinckley Jr.'s attempt on Ronald Reagan's life. ESPN did round-the-clock coverage of the horse's ICU status, including updates every 15 or so minutes, showing the x-ray's of the horse's leg, and interviews with on-site ESPN reporters who were quoting the doctors who performed the subsequent surgery on Barbaro in an attempt to save his life. People were bringing get well cards for the horse; apparently they believe he not only can run like the wind but he apparently can conjugate verbs and read english.
Perhaps it should have been a touching moment when one female ESPN reporter quoted the senior surgeon who performed the operation (a five-hour procedure involving metal plates and 23 screws) as saying "Barbaro's fighting for his life...but it's clear he is an athlete." It was that at that moment, hearing a doctor speak about a horse as if he were human, that I realized how misguided and distorted we as a society really are.
Many of the commentators observed how sad it would be if this horse, who has a 50-50 survival rate, would not survive this incident. Certainly, as a human being and as a caring person, I concur; to go from being a possible triple-crown winner to being put down is quite a sad, unfortunate turn of events. But here's a newsflash: if you're so concerned about the horse and his health, stop racing horses and stop training them to do things which they are barely capable of doing.
Every time I hear someone on TV or read an article about how tragic it is this horse might not survive, I wonder why the speaker/author doesn't question the entire "sport" of horseracing. Plenty of people have suggested that perhaps the environment at the Preakness on Saturday afternoon caused or help cause this particular injury; it seems to me that we could point to the actual conditions during the race for causing this injury, but if Barbaro wasn't trained to race, this incident might never have occurred. Horses, presumably, weren't put on this planet for short, lightweight humans to ride in circles; and every response to this sentiment usually invokes the rich tradition of horseracing in this and other nations. My response to that is this country once had a long, rich tradition of slave ownership, and humanity and sanity won over convenience and bias. I'm not equating horses and african-americans; I'm actually comparing the snobbery and the arrogance of rich white men owning and manipulating african americans and owning and manipulating horses for their own use and/or entertainment.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against horseracing -- although, truth be told, it seems to attract a lot of guys who have some time to kill between AA meetings and appointments with their parole officers (been to OTB lately?). It seems to me, however, that the 80% of the sport that is dominated by the "degenerate gambler" is no match for the attitude of the 20%, an aristocracy that can rationalize spending $500,000 or more on an animal.
I'm not decrying the sport, although I have, basically, no interest in it. I just find the entire situation in which people are reporting on Barbaro's condition so closely as if he is some sort of dignitary is the height of hypocrisy.
I remember the Monday Night Football game when Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Theisman's leg; the entire incident was nationally televised and was indeed sickening to watch. However, this was a human being who willingly risked his health in order to play the game of football. People bemoaning Barbaro's perhaps tragic fate, while compassionate, seems to omit the obvious fact -- if the concern is really for this particular animal, perhaps not pushing horses to perform in this manner would do more to save the lives of horses all over the planet than simply to report every 15 minutes on Barbaro's ICU status.
Worse yet, I don't think they sell "get well" cards for people suffering with interminable, ridiculous bouts of hypocrisy.
Not yet, anyway.