Rev. Jackson: Jockeys Entitled to Revenue Share

Jockeys must "leverage their share of power" in the horse racing industry and have the right to bargain collectively, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said June 26 as Jockeys' Guild leadership moved toward a decision on the individual or company that will serve as its national manager.

Jackson, a minister and civil rights activist who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, was on hand at the Galt House hotel in Louisville, Ky., to speak to Guild members and throw his support behind Dwight Manley, the California sports agent who is seeking the contract to serve as national manager of the Guild. Manley has represented National Basketball Association stars Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone, among others.

Angie Gimmel, spokeswoman for the Guild, said Manley indicated that, if he won the contract, Jackson would assist by serving as a co-manager for the entity. Gimmel said a decision on a national manager could come the week of June 26, though the board of directors probably would get feedback from members and others before it makes a final decision.

"They're in no hurry," Gimmel said June 27.

Others interested in serving as national manager are Darrell Haire, currently interim national manager, and Dave Stevenson, a former jockey and president and chief executive officer of Stevenson and Associates, a firm that most recently was a simulcast consultant for the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Jockeys gave no indication who they would select as national manager.

Jackson spoke to Guild members during a closed session, but as he was finishing up his remarks, he told them they should be properly compensated for the risks they take each time they ride a horse in a race.

"At the end of the day, you get some roses, but someone else gets the money," Jackson said, apparently in reference to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). "You have to say, 'Pay me for the risk I take. Pay me for the excellent athlete I am.' "

Jackson also questioned the widely accepted status of jockeys as independent contractors. "It's a long word meaning semi-indentured servant," he said. "Contractors have contracts with benefits."

Following his meeting with Guild members, Jackson fielded questions from the media. He said his interest in jockeys is two-fold: He is intrigued by the history of black riders in the United States, and also because "in the evolution of the industry, jockeys were left behind. Of all the professional athletes who are artists that engage in high-risk activity, jockeys are the least protected."

Jackson, who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s civil rights movement, said collective bargaining and revenue sharing are basic to the process in other major sports. He said jockeys must be independent but have protections similar to those of NASCAR drivers, for example.

"That's an old system," Jackson said of the independent contractor status. "These owners, (if they are involved in) other industries, their janitors aren't independent contractors. They know better. They'll do this as long as they can get away with it.

"This is not really new ground; they're (going) down a path that already has been beaten. All those who benefit should be part of sharing the revenue."

Jackson, who said he has long followed horse racing on television, also wondered why there are laws for the humane treatment of horses, but not for jockeys. "I would hope owners, breeders, and racetracks would see the value of workers and treat them as humanely as horses are treated. People who watch racing think the jockey is riding the horse, but the horse is riding the jockey. The horse gets all the credit, the best of food, and insurance."

Jockeys said they were impressed Jackson attended the meeting to speak. "Hopefully, he can get us on the right track and out of a hole," said Edgar Prado, who earlier in the day was honored by Galt House management for winning this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

Manley, who made a presentation to the Guild during the June 26 meeting, said the current model in the horse racing industry is "more than a century old and beyond antiquated." Horse racing, as it relates to jockeys, operates "opposite" of other sports and "screams out it needs to be modernized," said Manley, who also is an avid coin collector.

Jackson said Manley regularly works with athletes and "brings to the table management skills and a reputation of integrity."

Stevenson, who also made a presentation, said after the meeting his firm is well situated to assist the Guild, and that the organization needs representation that understands the industry.

"Stevenson and Associates has expertise in the business, and other factions in the industry would be happy with our ideas," Stevenson said. "A strong Guild is beneficial to the entire industry. We wake up in the morning and have slots managers as racetrack CEOs. I have nothing against slots managers being CEOs, but the more that happens in the industry, jockeys will become more marginalized."

"I think it can be done in harmony," Stevenson said of the Guild having a working relationship with others in the industry. "It shouldn't be us or them."

Haire, who has expressed an interest in continuing assisting the Guild with industry relations even if he's not tapped to be national manager, noted much progress has been made since the Guild fired its previous management team headed by Dr. Wayne Gertmenian. The adversarial relationship led some racing associations to suspend media rights payments to the Guild; some have restored the payments.

"It's clear we were able to regain the confidence of members," Haire said. "Since the termination (of Gertmenian's Matrix Capital Associates), more than six meetings (with industry representatives) have been held, and we're now talking on a regular basis."

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky was scheduled to attend the Guild meeting but was unable to because of weather-related travel difficulties. Whitfield will reschedule his press conference, perhaps for June 28, said his press secretary, Brent Dolen, who attended the Guild meeting.

Whitfield this spring announced plans to introduce federal legislation that would funnel money from simulcasts to a national insurance plan for jockeys and other backstretch workers. He is expected to have more details on the proposed bill, which could involved amendment of the Interstate Horseracing Act.

"Congressman Whitfield is a strong advocate for jockeys in Washington and also is working on legislation to improve on-track insurance for jockeys and level the playing field, so to speak," Dolen said. "Hopefully, we'll have something to present to you in the near future--hopefully this week."

Dolen said the press conference would be held in Washington, D.C.

The Guild is contemplating moving its office from California to Kentucky. The Greater Louisville Sports Commission is making a push to locate the Guild offices in Louisville, and the Galt House has offered office space on the 18th floor of one of its towers for only $1,700 a month. The hotel, which has its "Galloping to Glory" Derby exhibit near one of its entrances, is actively involved in horse racing promotion.

Gimmel said support for moving the office to Louisville is "very, very strong. (Guild members) were overwhelmed by the support they got here."

In other business, the Guild senate elected its nine-member board of directors, including officers. The officers usually serve one-year terms, but because of a delay in the 2005 annual meeting, will serve through December of this year. Others directors will serve two year terms.

Here's the board:

Chairman: John Velazquez
Vice chairman: G.R. Carter
Secretary: Jon Court
Treasurer: Jeff Johnston
Directors: Perry Compton, Mark Guidry, Jerry LaSala, Edgar Prado, and Alex Solis