News that both second-place finisher Zenyatta (18 votes) and seventh-ranked Rachel Alexandra (10 votes) garnered support for The Associated Press’s 2009 Female Athlete of the Year—ultimately won in a landslide by tennis pro Serena Williams (66 of 158 total votes)—is apparently being well received in industry circles and much ballyhooed in the mainstream press as well.
NTRA president (and industry cheerleader extraordinaire) Alex Waldrop boasts: “We already knew it was an impressive year for the sport with not one but two females distinguishing themselves as all-time greats. With this vote by the AP, their historic campaigns transcended horse racing and captured the attention of sports fans around the world.”
Frankly, I don’t see it the situation the same way as others apparently—and I preface my comments by reaffirming I am (obviously) a huge horse racing fan. Both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, along with a host of other talented fillies and mares, put together a year not soon to be forgotten in the history of thoroughbred racing.
However, from the perspective of a woman, I’m appalled that human female athletes are so disrespected in our society that two horses warrant greater consideration than real human beings as athletes. Again, no disrespect to our equine friends, but I don’t see a single animal among the male vote-getters this year—nor in 2008 when Curlin and Big Brown dominated headlines, nor in either 2007 or 2006. I’m not the only one to express displeasure over these votes—check here, here and especially here for thought-provoking commentary.
Thirty-seven and one-half years after Title IX became law, and thirty years after the founding of ESPN, the explosion of cable sports television and internet sports coverage has only further marginalized women’s sports—to the point where two female animals, in a sport that routinely draws miniscule television ratings and a decreasing audience share for even the biggest racing events (Breeders’ Cup, Triple Crown), gather more votes than human athletes. That’s a damn shame, in my opinion, and not particularly something to be proud of—whether you are human or equine.
Then again, these same AP newspaper editors awarded their Male Athlete of the Year award to NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson—a man whose “athletic” abilities consisted of literally sitting on his ass driving a machine, as opposed to runner-ups Roger Federer and Usain Bolt who actually exerted themselves.
Come on, let me have it. What do you think?