04/27/2015 10:48AM

Bergman: Level playing field solves nothing

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Yonkers Raceway
Harness tracks used to be packed with fans complaining about on-track shenanigans.

There’s this myth that abounds suggesting that great things can occur once there is a level playing field. The concept of equality is aligned with our sense of fairness and democracy, but it has nothing to do with capitalism.

Actually, it would seem more and more these days as the political clock turns towards 2016 and the moneyed set pushes for control of the playing field, that fairness and equality has nothing to do with power and ultimately success.

I’m always fascinated by those in power who are for the most part skilled in the idea of telling voters/people exactly what they want to hear. The idea of one for all and all for one is patriotic, but it has no place in a country that is run and powered by money, big money.

There has been a never-ending outcry that the problems with our sport stem from the perception that it is not balanced. At one time the crying emanated from the grandstand where players routinely tossed tickets to the floor and cursed the drivers. Now what passes for industry people tend to repeat in 24-hour news cycles that some trainers have taken over the game and tilted it in such a way that it has forced “honest” people to leave in droves.

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I kind of wonder what would have happened to this sport had the Internet been invented during a time when bettors had legitimate complaints about conduct on the racetrack?

But the idea that honest people are turned off by dishonest people would suggest that in America people run from competition and don’t fight back. Or for that part, citizens in this country don’t accept with open arms the concept that while all is not necessarily equal and fair, opportunity exists for everyone.

People in all walks of life look for edges and attempt to take advantage. It doesn’t matter whether you’re investing fortunes in politicians to get favorable legislation passed, looking for an inside tip on a stock or asking an owner whether he thinks his horse will win.

Success and achievement is not always honed with ethics or fairness. Many times smarter people that can grab an edge achieve greatness. Very often those who can shade the standards and find gray area between the black and white lines of a program page or a rulebook are the ones that do the best.

Ideally maybe it would be great if everyone started at the same exact position in life. That would truly be the only way a level playing field would be possible. But clearly in this sport and this country there is no going back to the beginning and retracing our steps (probably a bad idea if we did). The field has been set, as have the rules. No one person whether Czar, Dictator or President could change the capitalistic ideals we have become familiar with in the sport or in the country.

It’s never been about good guys versus bad guys or rich guys versus poor guys, or even honest guys versus dishonest guys. Labeling of individuals puts an unfair burden on the players in the game. Any bias leads to conceptions and misconceptions of people.

As someone who frequented the live harness races in the 70’s, it was quite common to hear the name of almost every harness driver followed by the words, “He’s a crook.” Even the biggest names, Hall of Famers now, couldn’t escape the wrath of those placing $2 wagers.

There was an intrinsic belief that “All” races were fixed by so many during that time. It wasn’t a matter of honest people leaving the sport because the dishonest were profiting. It was people eventually finding other places to gamble their money and hopefully lose less of it.

But make no mistake, gambling on racing in many circles is no different than any other form of capitalism, whether the playing field is level or not. Those with money and knowledge (or the last 4 letters of that word) seek to profit from those without either.

The problem with the level playing field concept is that it enlivens so many into a feeling of righteousness. Point fingers at anyone you like and call them a crook. It’s exactly what was going on in the grandstand in the 60’s and 70’s at harness tracks. “Those evil guys on the track are stealing my money.”

Even those with the highest moral characteristics would be hard pressed to walk away if someone came up and offered them a “sure thing.”

Morals do have a place in society and so does civility. It’s just getting harder and harder to find them these days.

This country was founded on the legal concept of innocent until proven guilty. Thinking that people are crooks is not the same as proving them guilty of a crime. It’s somewhat ironic that the most patriotic people in this country are the quickest to shout down individuals that belong to a group but are unrelated to criminal behavior.

Too many people put down others as a means of elevating themselves. Too many bettors shout at the racetrack because they bought a losing ticket.

There does need to be a level playing field in this sport and that field should be of human ideas and the ability to advance our industry in a positive way. Extending the olive branch to others and listening is the most fitting way to achieve democratic values. It may not be the most capitalistic, however.

Unfortunately that’s where the divide exists.

When the conversation is about what I want rather than what We need, it is doomed.