The good and bad
from talking ‘stupid’

Mar 15, 2005 7:50 AM

There was an interesting juxtaposition of quotes in the world of sports last week, from the ridiculous to the sublime.

On one hand, in southern California, where nothing should surprise, we had trainer Jeff Mullins, caught with positives on his horses, blaming not himself but the betting public, calling them "stupid" and "idiots" for betting on racing. They should know, he implied, that he was juicing his steeds, to give the bettors a better chance to win.

This is a remarkable development, an alleged cheater who makes his livelihood from horse racing, biting the hands that feed him. Dogs that do that get shot. Racing fans at Santa Anita did not shoot Mullins, but they booed him roundly.

One speaker at the joint convention of Harness Tracks of America and the Thoroughbred Racing Associations held in — you guessed it it, California — last week, had an apt suggestion. He was Allen Gutterman, vice president of marketing at Hollywood Park and one of the best publicity men in American racing. Allen has starred coast to coast, from the Meadowlands in New Jersey and the New York Racing Association to his present post, and he appeared at the HTA/TRA convention on a panel with noted Los Angeles Times racing writer Bill Christine. They were discussing negative publicity and how it affects racing.

Christine pointed out that racing often waits too long to counteract negative events, noting that some tracks never acknowledge bad news, and he noted trainers who also have not learned the lesson that it is foolish to fool around with the truth.

Gutterman took a lighter approach, suggesting that Santa Anita hold a Jeff Mullins Day, in which Mullins would proclaim publicly "I am an idiot" and apologize, after which the fans would be given one final chance to boo him.

While this was going on, the best all-around skier in the world was crowned last week with that title in Switzerland, and for the first time in 22 years he was an American.

His name is not a household word, since Alpine skiing is not exactly baseball or football or basketball in this country. The nation should celebrate, but much of it never heard of Bode Miller, and it was interesting that his jersey carried advertising names also largely unknown here, since they represented European products.

Miller was reported to have spent the week of the World Championships reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on self reliance, a quality Miller has shown from the time he was two, when his mother turned him loose to roam the woods and streams of his native New Hampshire. He thrives on self reliance as a non-conformist in a sport of conformists, traveling around Europe in a mobile home, usually reserved for gypsies there, and shunning publicity.

Strangely enough, like Jeff Mullins, he also used the world "stupid" last week, but he was not talking about people who ski or follow skiing.

He was talking about people in New Hampshire who had tried to defy nature by bolting and cementing a deteriorating Lincoln-like image called the Old Man of the Mountain. They failed, and it collapsed two years ago. Miller, a nature lover, thought it was stupid that people thought they could defy it.

Miller says he has paid the price for his self-reliance. He says he has a hard time walking up stairs, and that the pain of the long skiing season is so severe that only a combination of blacking it out psychologically and pumping himself up carries him through competition.

An all-around skier, he did not think it was stupid that he drove his body to its limits in beating the world’s best specialists in downhill, slalom and grand slalom skiing. He had tried before but never quite succeeded, and he told writer Nathaniel Vinton that he was getting to feel like the Boston Red Sox and their "curse," saying that finishing close "had become embarrassing."

Certainly not as embarrassing as going from horse trainer to horse’s ass in one quick sentence, Bode. Ask Jeff Mullins, who made the transition.