bookmark_borderA tribute to Suffolk Downs

Sunday, June 30th, 2019 was the last day of horse racing at Suffolk Downs. The track was built in 1935 in a span of just 62 days by 3,000 workers. Located on the border of East Boston and Revere, it consists of a one mile long dirt course with an inner turf course. 35,000 fans watched the first day of races on July 10, 1935. Over the years, some of the world’s best thoroughbreds raced there, including Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Whirlaway, John Henry, Funny Cide, Skip Away, and Cigar. The most famous annual race was the Massachusetts Handicap, or MassCap. Cigar won this race in 1995 and 1996 as part of his legendary 16-race win streak. Other stakes races over the years had names such as the Commonwealth Stakes, Constitution Handicap, Faneuil Hall Handicap, Paul Revere Stakes, and Yankee Gold Cup. In 1966, the Beatles played before 24,000 fans on the track’s infield.

If you have not been to Suffolk Downs, you have missed out on a truly unique and unforgettable experience. No, it is not glamorous. It does not have the pageantry or elegance of Churchill Downs or Belmont. But the dirty and dingy aesthetic is part of the charm. Suffolk Downs would not be Suffolk Downs without the uneven concrete floors, wafting cigarette smoke, grumbling and swearing old men, and ripped up tickets scattered across the ground. I will never forget the feeling of awe that I experienced each time I walked across the parking lot toward the track’s entrance. The sight of horses through the chain link fence and the sound of their galloping hooves so close to downtown Boston somehow never ceased to be miraculous. Once inside the grounds, one could get a close-up view of the horses warming up and being saddled in the paddock, line up to place a bet, try to snag a spot by the finish line, head upstairs to the grandstand, or stop for a snack at the hot dog counter or the Deli Grill. TVs scattered throughout the building showed races at tracks all over the country, as well as the occasional Red Sox game. Silks of past MassCap winners hung from the ceiling of the cavernous area under the grandstand, and dozens and dozens of betting windows receded into the distance.

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bookmark_borderGetting rid of guns at the Olympics is a terrible idea

After the New Zealand shooting, I saw an article by sports journalist Alan Abrahamson titled, “At the Olympics: no more guns,” in which he argues exactly what the title would suggest. Abrahamson says that the International Olympic Committee should get rid of shooting, which has been part of the Summer Olympics since 1896, as well as possibly modern pentathlon and biathlon as well.

“The Olympics is about something bigger than each of us and all of us,” he writes. “A higher cause, if you will. Shooting is not that.” Shooting should be eliminated, he says, “as a matter of promoting the best of humankind.”

I could not disagree more.

Getting rid of shooting at the Olympics is just another example of prioritizing safety over freedom, another example of punishing all gun owners for the actions of an individual murderer. Punishing innocent people does not represent the best of humankind and is not a higher cause that anyone should aspire to.

As for Abrahamson’s claim that the inclusion of shooting and biathlon “normalizes and glamorizes the use of firearms,” well… there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no reason why the use of firearms should be viewed as abnormal in any way, and there’s nothing wrong with positively portraying skilled marksmanship and responsible firearms use.

“A gun inherently is a violent instrument,” Abrahamson writes. Although acknowledging that swords and bows and arrows (which are also used in Olympic sports) can be violent instruments, he claims “a firearm is different.”

But it really isn’t. Guns, swords, and bows and arrows can all be used for evil purposes. In and of themselves, however, they do not hurt anyone. All types of weapons are simply tools that can be used for evil or good. Guns are more powerful and efficient tools than lower-tech weapons, but that does not make them morally bad or worthy of being singled out.

Abrahamson compares the potential elimination of guns to the change from shooting real pigeons at the 1900 Olympics in Paris to clay pigeons. “In the 21st century,” he writes, “we have to ask – why?” But the question that should be asked with respect to having guns in the Olympics is not “why” but “why not?” Guns do not hurt anyone by existing. Unlike in years past when real birds were killed, today’s competitive shooters do not hurt anyone by practicing their sport. The burden of proof should be on those seeking to get rid of guns, not those seeking to keep them.

Anyone who truly believes in the Olympic values of “excellence, friendship, respect and, by extension, tolerance,” would welcome the inclusion of a wide variety of sports, including shooting. Every sport is going to have detractors for one reason or another, and the beautiful thing is that no one is forced to watch or participate in a sport that he or she does not like. It is wrong for competitive shooters to be deprived of a chance to compete on a world stage, and Olympic fans such as myself to be deprived of the chance to watch amazing contests of marksmanship and skill, because of some people’s personal dislike of guns.

The right thing to do in response to a mass shooting or other tragedy is to punish and blame the person who did it, not to blame the weapon or punish innocent fans and athletes.

H/T: Firearms Policy Coalition Facebook page

bookmark_borderMemorable moments from the World Alpine Skiing Championships

The 2019 World Alpine Skiing Championships wrapped up Sunday in Are, Sweden. In addition to outstanding skiing, the competition featured emotional and moving moments from skiers of a wide variety of backgrounds and at different stages in their careers. My favorites are below:

“Attacking Vikings” share the podium in downhill – These World Championships were the final competition for Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. At 35, he has been one of the most successful and entertaining personalities in alpine skiing over the course of his 17-year career, with two Olympic gold medals and five world titles to his name. He announced his upcoming retirement on Instagram: “I’m writing this with some butterflies in my stomach, but also a smile on my face. I think that’s a good sign that this is the right decision.” In the World Championship downhill, fighting through chronic knee injuries and a hand injury, he managed to finish just 0.02 seconds behind his teammate and friend, Kjetil Jansrud. Watching the two aging “attacking Vikings” smiling and laughing atop the podium together was heartwarming. (Vincent Kriechmayr of Austria finished third.) “It was a little poetic in that we’ve shared so many hours of training together,” Jansrud said. “With all the previous wins we’ve had and to be able to be on the podium together one last time, it’s like a fairytale.” I will miss Svindal’s amazing skiing and calm, laid-back personality.

Lindsey Vonn’s triumphant retirement – After she crashed in the super G, many people doubted Lindsey Vonn would be able to compete in the downhill. Due to numerous knee injuries over the years, Vonn had announced that these World Championships would be her final competition. “I’ve got a bit of a shiner,” she told the media after the crash. “I feel like I’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler, but other than that I’m great.” Not only was Vonn able to ski the downhill, but she pulled out all the stops, took the lead, and her time held up for a bronze medal. Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia won gold and Corinne Suter of Switzerland won silver. Vonn celebrated her retirement with family, friends, boyfriend P.K. Subban, her dog Lucy and most importantly to Vonn, retired Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark, who holds the record for most career world cup wins. Vonn wore blue and yellow in honor of Stenmark, whose total of 86 wins she was trying to surpass before being derailed by injuries. He gave her a bouquet of flowers at the finish line in a rare public appearance for the reclusive athlete. Vonn called her final race “probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life.” To head into retirement with a crash and a medal in her final two races perfectly sums up Vonn’s gutsy, all-or-nothing style of skiing.

Mikaela Shiffrin’s historic and gritty victory in the slalom – Mikaela Shiffrin is widely regarded as the best skier in the world, having dominated the slalom and giant slalom races for several years and beginning to notch victories in super G and downhill as well. At 23, she has amassed 55 world cup wins and is on pace to easily surpass Stenmark’s record of 86 She has demonstrated tremendous talent, hard work, and a methodical approach to training and competition that has paid dividends. One thing Shiffrin has not particularly been known for is having to overcome adversity. Until Saturday, that is. Fighting an illness that made it difficult to breathe without coughing, Shiffrin finished third in the first slalom run. But her outstanding second run propelled her to victory. In an emotional interview with NBC’s Andrea Joyce, Shiffrin explained that she and her mom were considering withdrawing from the competition, but she decided against it: “I’m out here. I want to do it and whether I win or not, I just wanted to try. And when she said ‘you don’t have to,’ then I was sure that I wanted to.” With this win, Shiffrin became the first skier in history to win the same event at the World Championships 4 years in a row. And she showed courage and determination that not everyone knew she possessed.

bookmark_borderRed Sox Parade of Champions 2018

Today the Red Sox and their fans took to the streets of Boston to celebrate their outstanding, 119-win season and World Series victory. Before tens of thousands of cheering, sign-waving, beer-throwing fans, the rolling rally inched its way from Fenway Park, down Boylston Street, past the Boston Common, to City Hall plaza, spewing confetti in its wake. Check out my photos of the celebration below:

Pedro Martinez proudly holds the 2004 World Series trophy

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bookmark_borderNo, Roy Halladay did not “get what he deserved”

Talk radio host Michael Felger recently made some pretty insulting comments about the tragic death of retired pitcher Roy Halladay.

“It just sort of angers me. You care that little about your life? About the life of your family? Your little joyride is that important to you that you’re going to risk just dying? You’re a multimillionaire with a loving family, and to you, you have to go get that thing where you can dive-bomb from 100 feet to 5 above the water with your single-engine plane with your hand out the window… He got what he deserved.”

Halladay, an amateur pilot, died when he accidentally crashed his plane. I’m going to add my voice to the chorus of those criticizing Felger’s comments. I don’t understand why someone would be angered by another person’s choice of hobby. Flying a plane is a risky activity, and Halladay certainly knew that choosing such a hobby entailed some chance of injury or death… and he had every right to make that choice. The fact that he willingly took a risk doesn’t make his death deserved. It means that he had bad luck and was the victim of a tragic accident.

Felger seems to think that Halladay did something wrong by choosing a risky hobby, especially given the fact that he had a wife and children. I strongly disagree with this. Having a family does not negate a person’s right to choose how to spent his or her time or which hobbies to pursue. Halladay was not risking the life of his family; he was only risking his own. Of course, all of his family members must be grief-stricken at his death, but that does not give family members the right to dictate which activities someone can pursue, nor does it mean that he wronged his family members in any way. It was his body and his life, and he had every right to take the risk that he took.