02/19/2017 12:30PM

Bergman: An industry divided by two men

Jeff Gural (pictured) and Joe Faraldo have often clashed.

The discourse throughout this country has gotten so intense over the last decade that at times you wonder whether civility, even in modest terms, can ever return.

Then, suddenly out of the blue an event takes place and you find that there are incredible human beings beneath the surface that can rise to the occasion.

By now most of the harness racing world knows of the plight of Sam McKee. Our thoughts and prayers have been with Sam and his family since his massive stroke. Recent information suggests he’s begun a road to recovery and that’s fantastic news because Sam embodies outwardly the human spirit of an optimist and a harness racing lover.

It’s that optimism and spirit that the rest of this industry needs to reach in order to move forward in the years ahead.

There are many who believe we are doomed. I’m always saddened when those words show up in print after some member of the media interviews Jeff Gural. Sure, most of us know that there had to be an enormous amount of optimism when Gural and others helped to save The Meadowlands. Support was a key issue at the time and those in the industry that felt The Meadowlands’ survival was in fact linked to the sport’s survival pitched in whether financially or by entering horses to race at the track, even though purses and profits could be greater elsewhere.

The outpouring of affection for Sam McKee reminds us that there is a brotherhood of like-minded people in this business willing to come together to help. Sam needs our support and thankfully it has arrived with a speed rarely seen externally or internally in this sport.

Fighting with each other has been a common theme going forward in the standardbred sport as those in power offer hardened stances that at times confound us, but in no way unites us. It’s a theme that can be garnered on any day, in any form of media, as opposing sides provide reams of rationalizations for their views and randomly attack anyone from “the other side.”

It was an act of God that put Sam McKee in his current condition, but it has been an act of greed and selfishness that has propelled the sport to its current position.

Fighting and being right are human traits, but winning is not always about who is right or who fights the hardest. Winning is something that should be looked at through a wider lens. The greater good is a clichéd term, but it clearly represents the outpouring of respect, admiration and support for Sam McKee and his family.

If Sam represents us, the harness community, in its best form, then I believe there is an even greater good that can come from times like these.

There will be a new USTA president with new ideas and hopefully lofty goals to match. But a president can only lead an industry when he has the support of all of the key players. As we’ve seen nationally, there has been no rush to unify our nation. Opposite sides still wage a bitter war each day with neither willing to move an inch to reach a common goal.

I find that no USTA president will have the ability to move this industry forward unless two very different people can come together and achieve a compromise.

Just as it pains me every time I see a leader publicly state that the sport is dying, I am equally perplexed when the SOA of New York and its leader Joe Faraldo take on leadership at The Meadowlands in a public forum.

Clearly there are two sides to this story but neither side is very appealing. If power and maintaining it are the only issues at hand we will all be losers. While it’s not my business how the SOA of New York spends its money, one has to wonder the need to add “bonus” money for SOA members to already the highest purse structure in North America. Could it be to attract more membership?

Self-promotion is part of the era we live in. It has become a natural part of our business world. What we need more of in this industry is selfless promotion and that means whether you own three tracks or run the horseman’s organization that offers the highest purse fund, you need to come together.

Fighting has not shown to lead us in the right direction and an escalation of bickering leaves all of us to be let down.

Winning is extremely important. The industry can’t survive on fourth-place checks.

But winning means that those with the biggest pockets need to contribute in a bigger way. The attitudes and divisiveness must come to an end or we will continue to tread water as an industry.

I have great faith in this sport and after the outpouring in the last few weeks for Sam McKee, I believe there is enough common good in people that there are enormous reasons to be positive.

With Sam McKee, the cause was great and the urgency was present. With an industry and a society led by those that are willing to kick the can down the road as opposed to meet in the middle, there always appears to be time to fix a problem.

If Jeff Gural cares about there being a future for young people in this sport, as he has said on numerous occasions, and Joe Faraldo cares for horsemen throughout North America and not just SOA of NY members, they must reach an accord.

Life is fragile and we never know how much time is truly left. Both Gural and Faraldo have an opportunity to unite this industry and give it a better future.

For now I will pray for Sam McKee to have a complete and full recovery.

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