It’s only been a week or so now, but Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner who broke his leg in his next race, was euthanized as a result of those injuries. During an ESPN telecast, one of the Sports Center reporters referred to Barbaro as “America’s Pet.”
I won’t deny my essential feelings of disinterest on this topic; however, I want to say how sad a commentary on our priorities I think the reaction to this story is. No doubt there is a profound sadness for his owners, trainers and riders. There certainly was a great emotional and financial investment both prior to and after the injury.
But the national spotlight on this story reflects the excessive value we place on winners. Barbaro, undefeated entering the race, won the Kentucky Derby by 6 1/2 lengths. Perhaps history was in the making. Perhaps a Triple Crown winner was finally among us. Yet horses are injured everyday without making headlines. If Keyed Entry, the horse that finished last in the Kentucky Derby, had broken his leg would this be a story at all? The answer is :”no” as evidenced by the hundreds of similar instances which take place out of the national spotlight every week.
I must conclude that we value Barbaro more because he was a winner. And that is a sad commentary on our priorities. We elevate the winners to unjustifiable heights. We eschew the value of the processes of competing and living well. Our interest is in winners.
I was just a boy in 1970 when the Marshall football team died in a plane crash, so I am hardly the gate keeper for national sentiment on the topic. But I can tell you that I was talking to a young man a few weeks ago after I had seen the movie “We Are Marshall.” After I recapped the story line he said to me, “At least it wasn’t Notre Dame.” Of course, because losing a “winning” program would have been so much more of a tragedy.
We are America. And I suspect it is in our very nature to value winners more than losers. Our competitive drive is what has made us great for 200+ years. I shouldn’t be surprised. But I am sad to see our country as shallow as it is.