"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Who Won the Kentucky Derby?

This might seem like a simple question. California Chrome won the race in 2014. That is to say, the horse by that name won. As the Derby is a race, a jockey would have played a decisive part in the win. The aptitude may well be in the horse, but the racing skill lies with the person perched on the animal. So the jockey, Victor Espinoza, won the race. If his role was essentially that of coaching or directing the horse, which unlike a racing car is a living creature with a brain to boot, then could the argument be made that the horse’s trainer—in this case Art Sherman—also won? Although Sherman quipped during a post-race interview that he had felt like he was on the horse for the last 75 years, surely a distinction can be drawn between a player and a coach. After all, Babe Ruth hit all those homeruns—not his coach. To win a race, the winner must presumably be in the race—and not vicariously. Least of all can it be said that the “horse’s owner”—an expression like “slave owner” in that a living being is “owned”—won the race. Otherwise, a person could simply wave money around in lieu of actually running to qualify for an Olympic context in track and field. To give wealth such power—coming at the expense of reason itself—would surely point to a rather distorted set of societal values. I contend that both NBC Sports’ post-race coverage and the Derby’s trophy ceremony reflect and in fact affirm the hegemony of business values in American society.

Just before interviewing the jockey, a NBC Sports journalist prefaced, “We interviewed the owner, then the trainer, and now the jockey.” Lest it be pointed out that the jockey had been busy, the trophy ceremony followed the same pattern. Kentucky’s head of state handed to trophy to Steve Coburn, who with the other owner, Perry Martin, were all too pleased to speak on their win. In fact, the governor made it quite explicit by announcing, “To the Martins, to the Coburns, our victor.” The horse and jockey were not even in the camera shot. Wealth had won the race without breaking a sweat. Next came the trainer’s turn, and then, last and apparently least, the jockey.

Imagine running a race, and winning it only to watch the metal being given to your sponsor. “To Coke, our victor.” In enabling a runner, horse, or jockey to train, a sponsor is not the winner (for otherwise the sponsor would be enabling itself). While it is understandable that wealth is highly esteemed in the business sector, the imposing of this “top dog” in society itself distorts non-business activities into the prism of commerce. In the context of managerial capitalism, particularly where managers style themselves as “coaches,” it is no accident that coaches and trainers in sports come to be treated  as ends rather than means—as the winners rather than as facilitators on the sideline. It is important to remember that Art Sherman was not on the horse that won the Derby in 2014.  


In short, the priorities evinced by NBC Sports and the Derby reflect those in the business world at the expense of the world of sports; overreach can thus be seen rather clearly. Put another way, the horse race provides us with a snapshot of just how much American society has formed around the ideological crucible of Wall Street. At least from the jockey’s standpoint, the over-reach both in terms of ownership and managerialism violates the ethical principle of fairness (i.e., the trophy should have gone to the jockey, as he is the person who actually raced). Sadly, the exaggeration or over-reach was already so engrained in American society even before the race that I bet few if any Americans even noticed how very odd the trophy sequence is.