LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It's probably no coincidence that my two most-read and recommended columns this year had to do with guys who were gracious losers.
I'm not sure what that says about society, or the Internet, or anything else, but I do know what it says about losing.
Losing is an opportunity. Grace is a rare commodity in today's culture. Stakes are so high and winning means so much that it's rare to see a true display of class and appreciation from someone in the wake of defeat.
Steve Coburn, a co-owner of beaten Triple Crown contender California Chrome in this week's Belmont, took to the other extreme after the race, pointing his finger into an NBC camera and calling those who won "cowards." He was unapologetic a day later before cooling off and realizing what he'd said and done.
He asked producers at Good Morning America if he could return to their program this morning, where he made a full apology to the owners of the winning horse, fans of his own horse, his wife, and those who own and work with California Chrome. He said, "I’m very ashamed of myself. I need to apologize to a lot of people, including my wife, Carolyn."
I thought Coburn's comments, and his decision to stick to them a day later, would be the big story on Sunday. And I suppose, from a national standpoint, they were.
I’m going to be honest, it's not often we get to hear from people his age on many issues. The movers and shakers are younger. But I thought his comments were good, and I shared them in a story I wrote.
I say, "wrote." Really, I did little more than introduce his comments, then string them together with a paragraph or two. I stepped aside and let him talk. Sherman updated the horse's condition after he'd been injured at the start of the Belmont. He stressed that he still felt extremely lucky. He asked for understanding for Coburn and his comments. He reminded everyone that Coburn is new to the sport, and had never experienced the kind of heartbreak it can bring. If Coburn didn't realize how fortunate he was to have such a good horse, it was because he'd not spent years, like Sherman, working with marginal horses.
California Chrome, it turns out, may well have lost because of bad luck. Another horse stepped on his right front hoof at the start, cutting the back of it. The colt bled through the race, but still finished in a dead heat for fourth, beaten less than two lengths. But Sherman wasn't even sweating that, noting that his colt had experienced six perfect trips in a row, and that perfect racing luck can't always be with you.
I thought they were words that needed to be heard, and I thought they deserved a bigger platform than even Coburn's remarks, even if they weren’t "news." Many who read them agreed with me, and passed them on to their friends.
Cardinals senior Russ Smith sat at his locker and instead of frustration and sadness, talked about how grateful he'd been for his career at the school, how much respect he had for Kentucky, and how thankful he was for the fans and coaches.
I think people were amazed, given the rancor and bitterness that can build up in that rivalry, to hear a young player say the things he said, and to display the amount of grace under disappointment that he did.
"If my career had to end, I'm okay with it ending to Kentucky," Smith said. "Those boys play hard. They deserve everything that's coming to them. I respect everything about their program and their coaching staff. For me, I just want people to remember me as a great competitor, a great sportsman, someone who respects the game a lot, and whatever it is, I just want it to be a positive legacy."
In my rather limited experience, that legacy has a lot to do with what you do when you're the most disappointed, as much as what you do when you're enjoying the good times.
There is an art to losing. None of us likes to practice it. But some of us do it better than others. Steve Coburn finally got it right this morning.
I like to think that we're all better than our worst moments. Most of us don't have a camera in our face when we have them. I do think there's more to be learned from how people handle losing. Clearly, I’m not alone.
NOTE: Speaking of losing, I should congratulate Jennie Rees, the outstanding horse racing reporter from The Courier-Journal, who this week will be awarded Kentucky's sportswriter of the year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in a ceremony in North Carolina.
Rees beat out, well, me, in the final statewide balloting. I'm happy to report, there were no cheaters or cowards involved!