12/16/2015 4:20PM

Hovdey: Social media commit frivolous claim of foul


Congratulations, social-media jockeys. A healthy portion of the goodwill engendered by the exploits of American Pharoah was just flushed down the porcelain convenience by the ranting and raving over Sports Illustrated’s choice of Serena Williams instead of their Triple Crown hero as 2015 Sports-whatever of the Year.

Behold how the mainstream media characterized the mini-tsunami of protest over a decision that was never a matter of public choice in the first place:

“Horse People Are Mad That a Horse Didn’t Win Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year Award” – Slate.

“People Can’t For Life Of Them Figure Out Why A Horse Didn’t Win ‘Sportsperson Of The Year’ ” – Huffington Post.

“Serena Williams Beats American Pharoah, And Racing Twitter Turns Ugly” – Forbes.

Some of that Twitter bile was ginned up by American Pharoah’s immediate family. Ahmed Zayat shrieked, “ROBBED! ROBBED! ROBBED!” while his offspring, Justin and Ashley, tweeted their crushing disappointments. Marie Antoinette never sounded so betrayed.

This is not the time to go into all the bad things about Twitter that countervail the good. I dabble, lightly, but for the most part, I agree with the British writer and comedian Stewart Lee, who describes Twitter as being like “a state surveillance agency run by gullible volunteers.” Just because someone can tweet does not mean he should.

What concerns me more is that at some point, I must have missed the memo. Sports Illustrated has maintained an entertaining corner of the journalism world for more than 60 years, and without it, the work of writers like Jack Mann, William Nack, Frank Deford, Whitney Tower, William Leggett, and Sally Jenkins might have gone unread by serious followers of horse racing. But when did recognition from a magazine that once covered roller derby and wrestling as legitimate sporting events come to mean more than actual achievement on the field?

American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, just like 11 other horses in history. Serena Williams has won 21 grand slam tournaments, more than all but two tennis players in history. Apples and oranges are easier to compare. For a group of editors to decide which among the many uber-achievers is more worthy of a magazine cover is just another way modern culture has decided to make people feel bad. Now, with social media, they’ve got plenty of help.

“Americans have not, in fact, arrived at a historical moment where it is OK to compare Black women’s athletic prowess to the athletic prowess of animal and then act surprised that Black people react to the specter of chattel slavery,” wrote Brittany Cooper, a Rutgers professor and cultural commentator, on Salon.com. “But since people are obsessed with comparisons, let’s be clear: American Pharaoh would have to win the Triple Crown twice to even be in Serena’s league.”

Of course, he can’t, which is the writer’s wry point. But even though he could not win another Triple Crown, American Pharoah did not need to retire. He could have run on as a 4-year-old, a 5-year-old, soaring ever higher in the sports firmament, crafting an equine career that might have compared more intimately with those of the greatest human athletes.

But no, his people took the short money, and he’s gone, now to be appreciated only for his procreative prowess and held accountable for sons and daughters who will never be able to measure up to old dad. Welcome to Thoroughbred racing, a small dog wagged by a giant breeding tail.

It has been the contention of this corner for some time that Thoroughbred racing – its fans, its stakeholders, its management – should stop trying to think of itself as competing for a piece of the same pie devoured by the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, and the NCAA. The game’s just not ready for the scrutiny that comes with such economic impact, primarily because there is no national governing body to represent its constituents. And there never will be.

In a better world, an office of national racing commissioner could take the repeated attacks from an organization like PETA by the throat and marginalize the impact. A national office could devise incentives for keeping young, healthy males at the races for a few more years. A national commissioner of racing could establish permanent programs to fund and operate facilities to care for retired equine athletes, and then brag about it far and wide.

And not for nothing, a league office could have done a lot toward putting a circulation gimmick like the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year in proper perspective and then issued a statement that would go something like:

“The sport of Thoroughbred racing congratulates Serena Williams on this recognition of her remarkable achievements and is grateful that our Triple Crown champion, American Pharoah, was considered among the elite group of candidates for the honor.”

Instead, left to the disproportionate impact of social media, horse racing comes off the petty loser, while Williams gets the last laugh. Her comments at the free lunch announcing the magazine award included this aside:

“I’ve had my shares of ups and downs,” Williams said. “I’ve had many struggles. I’ve had blood clots in both my lungs at the same time, and I’ve lived through tragedies and controversies and ... horses.”

The Kentucky Derby can’t come soon enough.

victor stauffer More than 1 year ago
What I'm most shocked by (NOT) is that Jay once again feels it's his duty to judge, comment on, and guide the underling masses. Nothing new for the Prince of Pomposity.
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
I believe I have been promoted to King of Condescension because of time served.
victor stauffer More than 1 year ago
You're not alone. Mrs. Stauffer usually refers to me as Nero of Narcissism.
MLS6453 More than 1 year ago
It's a sad commentary when Rolling Stone appreciates what AP accomplished and then you have a writer for DRF who doesn't..... If you can't back racing fans, perhaps you need to find a new employer.... American Pharoah: Who Was 2015's Biggest Star? The Horse, of Course Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/sports/features/american-pharoah-who-was-2015s-biggest-star-the-horse-of-course-20151217#ixzz3ulwHUytP Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
I only read Rolling Stone for the pictures.
Denise Harden More than 1 year ago
Why do you care if the Kentucky Derby comes or goes? Go watch a great tennis match and leave the Sport of Kings to those who appreciate it and understand it. It's all pseudo journalist drivel anyway. It has pseudo-geniuses like Brittany Cooper upset with fans...when it should be SI that should be the object of her outrage.if her observation and interpretation of SI's intent is accurate. the comment about AP needing to run 2-3 more years was inaccurate and a sign of ignorance of the sport. Nice try. All sports fans are competitive by nature...it's was not a comparison or a means by which the contest means more than the sports achievement- It's the idea of winning...winning recognition. These are two different sports with different dynamics- yes apples vs kiwi not close in executing the performance at all. SI - marketing- money- crafty- SI achieved what they set out to achieve and beyond that it really doesn't matter to them. The fans have voiced their passion and anger - more for being duped than anything else. Lesson learned - game , set , match. SI and Time Magazine Year in Review are off the gift list- This one's for you Secretariat.
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
Competition for recognition is not a sport. If you have to be told you won, it is not a sport.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a bunch of B.S., you are race baiter. The spin you are putting on this is tripe and does not belong on this site. Go work for MSNBC.
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
Apparently all the race-baiting comments were deleted from Twitter. Just as well.
Frank More than 1 year ago
AP is nothing more than Horse Racing's version of reality TV.
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
Frank -- Maybe so, but at least it was unscripted and a sight to behold. Except for the retirement.
Chuck Seeger More than 1 year ago
When is the world going to wake up and realize that less than 5% of the population uses Twitter? It's like thinking that the loudmouth fat DB in the back of the room speaks for the other 19. It is nothing but an open mic for any fool to blabber into, yet seasoned journalists like you treat the BS being shouted it like it really matters, that there is substance to what is being said, and it is the populist voice. Please......your better than this. Ignore the nonsense.
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
Good advice.
Moira Clegg More than 1 year ago
Wrong! People I follow on Twitter are interesting, love horses, and post beautiful pictures. They are filling a niche the press seems to have abandoned--don't know why.
HannenCynthia More than 1 year ago
American Pharoah was the biggest sports story of 2015 He was one of 12 finalist so indeed he should have won online Voting had him getting 47% compared to Serena's 1% numbers Don't lie he was robbed
otterbird More than 1 year ago
Thank you for pointing out the obvious- that what fans really should be mad about is the Zayats retiring him at age 3. But somehow, we all just shrug and go, "Well, that's the way it is." The very fact that them keeping him in training rather than retiring him right after the Belmont was held up as some example of great sportsmanship was ridiculous. Show me an owner who chooses to run a 21st Century Triple Crown winner at 4, and I'll show you an actual racing candidate for Sportsman of the Year.
David More than 1 year ago
Well Jay I for one think you are dead wrong. It wasn't a mini tsunami as you call it. 47% of all voters went for AP. Are you saying that all the other sports were not represented as well as horse racing. If anything all the other sports had more fans vote than ours. But they recognized that AP was the most impressive athlete of the year. It sounds like to me that you are sticking up for SI so you can still keep your social friendship on that wing.
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
So true. I will do anything not to compromise my complimentary subscription to SI for Kids.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
This comment has been deleted
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
In fact, many modern quarter poles are made from a durable plastic. But just as dumb.