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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Unequivocal Sign That Mainstream Newspaper Editors are Morons

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?


Ghostsnapper said...

In 2008, I remember one sportswriter said something to the effect of the most talented male athlete in competition besides Tiger Woods was Curlin (and it wasn't an article on a racing website).

It shouldn't matter if they're animals or not, race horses are athletes through and through. To consider them NOT to be athletes is disrespecting the hard work and talents of these equine individuals. There's a reason that Time Magazine named Secretariat's Belmont one of the greatest moments in sports of all-time.

Valerie said...

No offense, Ghostsnapper, but it does matter that they are animals.

I could throw out any number of examples, but here's the Merriam-Webster dictionary's definition of "athlete": "a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina"

The etymology of the word "athlete" originates from the Greek which refers specifically to human beings (not animals, insects, or any other manifestation of life) that contend/compete in physical contests for a prize.

Secretariat's Belmont was one of the greatest moments in sports; that does not make him a great "athlete." To say it is disrespectful to not consider them "athletes" is absurd. They aren’t, by definition, athletes. It is demeaning to human female athletes that female horses are being considered superior in achievement to them, however. Strange that people can’t seem to fathom that.

Anonymous said...

I just came from watching my sister's high school basketball game. I absolutely love watching her (21 points tonight), but disdain watching women's basketball. In fact, I disdain watching most sports played by females. There is a reason why those events struggle to gain the support and enthusiasm seen with the guys.

But, this year, we saw a couple of gals absolutely demolish their counterparts. Horse racing is different; unlike any other sport with which I’m familiar, watching the ladies run is just as exciting as the watching the boys. I doubt the average individual could name 10 female athletes. Even more, I doubt the average individual has heard of the 2008 and 2007 winners (Candace Parker and Lorena Ochoa). Yet I’d bet my Christmas stocking that the average person has heard of Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not marginalization by ESPN. If I can only catch a couple games a week, I’m going to watch the most exciting players I can. Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra just happened to be a couple of those players this year, and it looks like the rest of the country felt the same way I do.

Anonymous said...


Two things upset me about this. I didn't like that Serena Williams got it given her disrespectful display at the US Open this year. The other thing I didn't like was Zenyatta finishing ahead of Rachel, who had the much more impressive year.

Your comments about Jimmie Johnson are quite off base, and I can safely assume you probably don't understand or respect NASCAR. Athletics are physical ability and reflexes. No sport requires greater reflexes than NASCAR. Driving 200 mph 4 inches away from another car for 500 miles? And this guy won the championship over 40 other drivers four straight years? I am not a Jimmie Johnson fan by any stretch of the imagination, but his current run is probably one of the 10 most impressive feats in sports history.

Ray Paulick said...

While I agree with the headline (!) I would point out that Secretariat was on some top 10 lists as male athlete of the year in 1973 and ranked among the greatest athletes of the 20th century in an ESPN or Sports Illustrated poll.

I'm sure many of the editors who voted for female athlete of the year would be hard-pressed to name 10 female athletes of the human variety. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I could, either.

alan said...

Oh please.

dana said...

Interesting points. I wonder if Big Brown would have been included last year if he won the Triple Crown?

I don't follow any sports other than racing, which is to say I don't know many of the men on that list, but if the voters were so aware of racing this year it seems odd that Borel didn't get at least one vote.

Pull the Pocket said...

I think it is great they were mentioned. The award is super-political generally, and it is interesting to me that when voters don't vote for Track and Field much (drugs) or bike races (drugs), they actually looked at a couple of horses (when we constantly hear how they are all on drugs).

I think female horses who step out to beat males like these two did will always get more props than males beating males like Big Brown or Curlin did. It helps distinguish them from the pack and they will get press.


Anonymous said...

I can't think of any other female athletes that beat their male rivals at the highest level, let alone went undefeated the entire year.

To say that racehorses are not athletes is to disparage the SPORT of horse racing and say it's just a game of animals running around for our betting amusement. Horse racing is a (very) physical competition, for horse and human jockey. Until we think of the horses as athletes, don't expect any respect in the mainstream sports media.

Becky said...

My goodness, Val, I actually have to disagree with you (for perhaps the very first tiime).

As a woman, I don't have a problem with this. I see it as mainstream media finally accepting my sport of choice and marketing it to a larger community who generally sees it as nothing more than mindless animals being forced to do their master's bidding at the end of a whip. Remember when Secretariat was voted the 35th top sports name of the century? People got angry then that a horse got consideration at all. They similarly complained that animals could not be atheletes. I respectfully disagree.

To me, race horses are atheletes. They are my sports heroes way more than their jockeys or any other sports personalities. And as for them not being "persons" per se, I refuse to believe that they lack personality. Heck, in the legal world (where I unfortunately live) corporations are persons. So are trusts and a whole load of other things which have no physical presence whatsoever. If we're going to quibble about language, let's please not.

As a woman, I would be honored to be placed on the same list as either Rachel or Zenyatta. That would be like saying I was equivalent with two other females who give their all and ask for nothing in return...not money, not fame...nothing but carrots and hay and a warm place to sleep. They exist purely for the sport. Graceful and powerful and beautiful; what woman wouldn't want to be associated with such things?

Anonymous said...

Language evolves as society changes. We're not bound to definitions established by the ancient Greeks nor even Merriam Webster.

Language is expansive, and the word "athlete" as used today encompasses the idea that a horse can be an athlete. The dictionary will catch up.

You can't tell me that Secretariat wasn't smarter than - for instance - Mike Tyson.

Anonymous said...

So you are saying that it's okay to reward bad behavior (aka Serena's very public meltdown at the US Open that cost her her third Grand Slam and a record fine?), then it is to reward two horses who changed the way we look at horse racing in the US? I'm sorry, but disagree with this thinking. I lost my respect for Serena after her meltdown. Also for the record, at least Zenyatta didn't lose to a longshot like Serena did. And if you know thing about Auto racing, they have to be very fit just like jockeys do. Even more so in matter of fact.

Steve Munday said...

I agree Valerie, the AP female athlete poll bugged me too. Anthropomorphism skews reality and is almost always misleading.

In terms of physical ability (speed, strength, endurance, etc.), the difference between male & female horses is neglible while the difference between male and female humans is much greater.

So while the accomplishments of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta were extraordinary, it wasn't because they are female race horses. They are simply great race horses period.

Keith - TripleDeadHeat said...

Awesome topic. I believe if females of all species are eligible for the award then horses should certainly be allowed to win. And in this case, I'm shocked that Rachel didn't take top prize for her historic campaign. (that said, I know little of the exploits of the Jamaican sprinter listed in the CBC article.)

If you are saying that the human female athlete is taken for granted at're likely right. Respect seems to reach its pinnacle on the crossover. (And the same held true for Rachel/Zenyatta.)

As an aside, our paper is pushing Chantal Sutherland as Canada's female athlete of the year - she likely won't have to fend off the excellent Milwaukee Appeal for the honours. Details at

SaratogaSpa said...

Valerie-good post which will and has generated many comments on this Christmas Eve Eve..but I must disagree with you. Zenyatta and RA are incredible athletes and were very dominant this year so much to get enough votes over human athletes...and I am not a big NASCAR fan but you are way, way, way off base stating that Jimmie Johnson just sits on his ass.

I would love to get you on a race track and see you attempt to do what he does..maybe we can set this up for charity :)

Merry Christmas to you all fellow readers, bloggers and elves!

coeurdefer said...

I guess I don't understand the human v. animal issue. I consider horses athletes; eventing, dressage, racing, jumpers. I don't seem to be the only person that does, either. Aren't Olympic Medals awarded to horse and rider as competitive athletes; albeit as a team? Only Olympic sports that I know of that allow a nonhuman, living being to compete in unison; that makes 'em athletes to me.

I was pleased to see a generally uneducated and disinterested nonracing group of writers/editors apply some consideration re: RA and Z. No comment re: Williams.

But those mares have cooler and more sensible heads than the "winner". When it comes to choices for this year's award, I really didn't think there was much to choose from.

Eddie D. said...

The problem with women sports in this country is that the powers that be cover the wrong events.

Women's basketball is shoved down our throats even though it's an inferior product to what has been available for decades.

Meanwhile, exciting sports such as volleyball, field hockey, and softball (though that last one has received some improved coverage the past couple years) don't get nearly the face time as women's basketball but they're each at least 100 times more exciting.

I don't want to watch women play basketball anymore than I want to watch men play tennis (it's all serve=yawn), and I don't think people should have to apologize or made out to be sexist because they prefer a specific brand of sport that only happens to contain one sex.

It's certainly OK to prefer women's basketball just as it's OK if you like watching trapshooting or curling, but the media pretends that there's this huge interest in women's hoops and there's not. Show me volleyball or field hockey.

tvnewsbadge said...

As far as "athletes" go, I'd take Secretariat over Tiger Woods any day.

Secretariat represented all that's best in sport, Tiger much that is the worst.

Grown men still break down in tears at Secretariat's grave. Will they do the same for Tiger?

And really, has Ms. Williams ever done anything to inspire the love and affection and sheer joy that both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have done this year?

There's a lot more to being an athlete I think, than just having two legs.

As far as HoY goes, Rachel is going to win, but I'm not sure how unbiased the vote will be.

Andy Beyer, for example, has a serious dog in this hunt after the way Zenyatta made him look bad in the BC Classic.

One things for sure, this debate is not going to end when RA gets the trophy.

They will argue for years if the best horse really won, especially if RA falters in 2010.