Monday, June 9, 2014

The Choking Bum of a Horse

On Saturday, California Chrome failed in his effort to capture horse racing's Triple Crown--finishing fifth in the Belmont Stakes.  In all of the post race analysis--on TV, Radio and on-line--the general consensus was that Chrome just didn't have it on Saturday and that a fresher, faster horse--Tonalist--ran a better race.  Racing insiders said the result showed just how hard it is to win a Triple Crown and how California Chrome's close call was good for the sport.

What you did not hear was anyone saying that the horse "choked".  None of the analysts said California Chrome "blew it".  There was no trending hashtag on Twitter mocking his inability to win.  And this morning, we do not consider Chrome to be the worst racehorse in the history of the world.

Yet if it had been a human athlete that lost such an important event--after the same amount of buildup and hype heading in--those are exactly the terms we would be using to describe his (or her) performance.  Color commentators like Johnny Miller, Cris Collinsworth or Charles Barkley would be raking a similar loser over the coals--questioning his (or her) "heart", "desire" or "effort".  Screamin' A Smith and Skip Clueless would dedicate an entire hour of ESPN airtime to whether or not such a human athlete is a choker or lacks the guts to step up in the "big situation".  Twitter muscles would have been flashing big time Saturday night with memes of the "loser" being beaten by a sloth or a tortoise.  And we'd all be putting that athlete into the dustbin of history as "overrated".

The Buffalo Bills made it to four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990's--yet nobody talks about them being among the greatest dynasties in the history of football.  Instead, they are considered among the greatest LOSERS of all time--and were a national punchline for a decade.  Joe Namath, on the other hand, wins one Super Bowl--never comes close to playing in another--and he is considered a "greater" quarterback than Jim Kelly. 

Now you could say that a horse doesn't comprehend "pressure"--so it's not possible for him to "choke".  But if pressure is why some athletes fail to win--then why didn't California Chrome run better?  He had no idea what was at stake Saturday--except that by running faster, the tiny man on top of him would stop hitting him with a whip.  Perhaps it's because we know that a horse doesn't feel shame or embarrassment that we don't heap scorn upon it when it loses.  It just doesn't give us the same "good feeling" to put someone else's effort down--when we don't even play the game.

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