HBO premiered the latest edition of its "Real Sports" program April 11, featuring a segment on jockeys and the cancellation of their catastrophic health insurance by the past administration of the Jockeys' Guild. The show will repeat numerous times over the next few weeks.
Bryant Gumbel, who anchored the 15-minute piece, called horse racing "the most hazardous sport to the health" of its participants. The story of Gary Birzer, the jockey who was paralyzed from the waist down after a 2004 spill at Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino, was used to exemplify the plight of jockeys who were unaware their accident insurance had been pulled out from under them.
Birzer's wife, Amy, gave emotional testimony on the program, claiming that then-Guild officer Albert Fiss told her the Guild was going to make an example of her husband because the Guild felt jockeys shouldn't have to pay for their insurance. The Birzers thought Gary's medical bills were covered by insurance until Fiss told them, "It's not there," according to Amy. Watching video of the Birzers trying to make it through a day was the most powerful part of the program.
Gumbel also interviewed former Guild officers Robert Colton, Gary Donahue, and Eddie King. Hiring Wayne Gertmenian to head the Guild was "the worst mistake of my career," Colton said. Neither Gertmenian nor Fiss appeared on the show, but their handling of the Guild's finances was explored in depth. The show included a piece of the Congressional hearing into the Guild's finances, including when Rep. Joe Barton stated, "If I were a member of the Guild, I'd want new management."
Gertmenian and Fiss were ousted from the Guild shortly after the Congressional hearing, but not before writing $217,000 in checks to themselves, according to the show.