Our Own Worst Enemies
Ray Cotolo
December 25, 2014
Growing up in the industry as a member of the journalism cliques, I met all the adversities that come from this game, from releasing a bad report to giving an unpopular opinion. I was lucky enough to be able to enter adolescence and learn many life lessons thanks to this sport, but I have always looked elsewhere.
Partly influencing my Exploring the Multiverse series (which you can read on NAHU's blog with this link), I always had a piece of doubt burrowed within me, a doubt that fueled my thoughts on whether or not this industry was right for me. As a public handicapper, my losing streaks would be the fuel of this doubt. As a journalist, facing public ridicule after publishing a story that contradicted general thought was a fuel of this doubt. Going to high school, where guidance counselors hastily question and guide someone to any job field that "suited them", was a fuel for this doubt. You get the picture?
Outside of this philosophical journey from which I traveled as a means of understanding my duties on this planet better, I looked outside of myself. Was I truly wrong, or were we, as an industry, wrong?
Firstly, this is not a blame game. These are just observations I made as an insider who is of the key demographic that our sport aims towards. But my journey outward began with the track itself, which at one point in my life carried a dark atmosphere.
I would go to my local track frequently over the summer, hanging out with my father and having dinner as we watch both thoroughbred and harness races in the simulcast area. These occasions were on weekdays, and what became evident on weekdays was the desolation of the grandstand. Seeing the regulars, some of whom had clear personal issues, was disheartening to me. Especially at this point in my life, where my ambitions aimed as high as they could go, I felt frightened that my fate would be similar to that of these regulars.
Am I saying all people that go to the track are bad? No. Am I saying that there is a definite solution to this? No, but this does tie into the overall dogma around our industry, one of "grumpy old men", "rich old men", "wisest of wiser guys", and "the bottom of the barrel". I tried my hardest to talk with young people about the industry, and the majority of them just share no interest. One reason I feel is possible has to do with the aforementioned dogma. What is appealing to young people about a game of grumpy wisest of wiser guys? Probably nothing.
Oddly enough, every sport is filled with these kinds of aficionados. In football, if someone were to say Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers was bad, five guys are likely to challenge him on that. The similarity that racing shares with this scenario is the fact that both parties will likely have no change in heart or mind whatsoever. The oddity lies in the question: if all sports have these kinds of fans, then why is harness racing hurting the most from it? Ultimately, it ties into other issues such as advertising and overall cultural impact.
Yet, relating back to the dogma, think about this: you go to a commercial grocery outlet, and on the perimeter of the store is usually the produce section, meats, dairy, and carbohydrates. These are the essential foods, which then means that the inside aisles are all just extras, most of which aren't needed as food, like Goldfish, Pop-Tarts, Chex Mix, and other junk foods. Mix into the fact that these commercial outlets have conducted studies to play specific music and have specific aromas flood the store, and you are more likely to buy more products. It works totally subconsciously.
This dogma must be evident to other people, as I have talked with other people, such as my father, kids who go to my school, etc., and they all share similar opinions. If our complexes have derogatory atmospheres surrounding them, why should we think young people would come? If you were in a house and you have a creepy vibe coming from it, you would probably try to leave as quickly as possible.
In the end, I have noticed this dogma has never departed. On a positive note, the dogma seems to always be shrouded by our signature events, of which I attended this year: the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown. Yet, on a Wednesday out to the track, it is in full force.
Whether you agree with the existence of this dogma or not is up to you to decide. For now, this is just the perspective of a fifteen-year-old journalist and public handicapper.
Ray Cotolo, long time follower of the harness racing industry, is a presenter on North American Harness Update.
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