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After seven months of disgraceful delay, the Kentucky State Racing Commission has handed down its findings in the Kentucky Derby drugging case. It has ruled that Forward Pass, who finished second, will receive the winner's purse. At the same time, it said that its findings do not affect the official order of finish (those who bet on Dancer's Image to win were paid off on Derby Day and now, presumably, the colt's name will appear on souvenir julep glasses and other places of distinction).
We are not satisfied. All that the commission has done is reaffirm what the Churchill Downs stewards did last May—disqualify, in effect, a horse and slap his trainer on the wrist. Neither the stewards then nor the commissioners now have done anything to restore the image of this sadly tarnished race. That a Derby winner was drugged was a stunning blow, but early and decisive action could have nullified the effect of that blow. Yet the world of Kentucky racing—commission, stewards, lawyers, breeders, squint-eyed men leaning on fence rails at the breeding farms—has spent seven months beclouding the central issue, hoping that things would quiet down and pass away. Kentucky racing kept worrying about "the courts," Never mind about the courts, A sport must be able to police itself. Let court proceedings come later, if they must. The much-disputed chemical tests have been supported, which means the commission agrees that the horse was indeed dosed illegally. But who did it? Will the commission try to find out? Or is the commission saying that the 30-day suspensions imposed by the stewards on the trainer and assistant trainer will suffice, that this settles all responsibility in the case? Doesn't Kentucky really care?
As long as we are picking on sports that do not seem able to govern themselves properly, let us jump upon baseball for a while. When the owners abruptly forced General William Eckert into retirement a month ago, the action was publicly criticized for being cruel and heartless but secretly admired for being evidence of a new, refreshing trend. Baseball was finally catching up with the times. It had recognized at last that it needed vigorous leadership, and the often warring owners had united in a search for that leadership. Then, in mid-December, came news that an all-night session of baseball's hierarchy had failed to produce the new leader, and that the 19 fruitless ballots had split along narrow lines of league prejudice. Baseball had gone out and bought a new, modern, slimline suit, but the same old potbelly thinking was ruining the fit.
Maybe baseball can still get lucky and come up with a winner, as the NFL did when it took on Pete Rozelle, who is an owners' man but who runs their business with a ruthless insistence on doing what is right for them, whether they like it or not. Maybe baseball will, but right now it sure doesn't look like it.
EAST IS EAST
An award is given to honor the man. Sometimes the man honors the award. Bill Russell, our Sportsman of the Year for 1968, said last week after receiving the Grecian amphora as a symbol of excellence; "I'm really excited about this award, more so than for anything else I've ever received. I knew a long time ago that I was a great athlete—a lot of people knew it—but not many people knew that I was a man. But being a man—that's what this trophy is all about.
"I have tried to do everything I can to make this world a better place for my children by doing what I think is right. Not what is expedient, but what is right. I want to make it possible for my children to succeed or fail on their personal merits. If they fail, they fail; I'll still love them just as much. But if they have what it takes to succeed, then all they have to do is work at it. Now, I have never discussed my trophies with my children. I don't even talk basketball with them. That's my public life, and we have a thing going in our private life. But I will discuss this award with them. I will discuss it with them because it says, 'Your father is recognized as a man. Not as an athlete, a tall guy, a black man. Just a man.' "