Monday Morning Message with Jason Beem Feb. 20, 2023

February 20th, 2023

A good Monday morning to you all! Holiday Monday today, and seems like a lot of the big tracks are running today, which always makes for a fun holiday. I’ve decided to dedicate my holiday Monday to sitting at home and recovering from the cold I’ve been fighting, and watching racing on TwinSpires. That’s my plan, and I’m sticking to it!

This past Saturday, a nationwide moment of silence was held at racetracks from across the country to not only remember jockey Avery Whisman, who passed away last month, but to raise awareness for the mental and physical struggles that can come along with riding horses as a career. I think every track that ran Saturday participated, and our jockeys at Tampa turned out in the winner’s circle in front of a very big Saturday crowd for the moment, and it was a very nice way to remember Avery.

After his passing, Avery’s family said in a Bloodhorse article that they hoped that some dialogue would happen and changes could be made to help those who are struggling. Mental illness, of course, affects everyone, and I’d wager we all know someone who has struggled to some degree with it. I’ve been very open about my struggles with anxiety and depression, and have always been so touched by people who reach out to share their own struggles with me.

A big part of my struggle was always feeling so alone and detached from society because of my anxiety. Once I realized just how common anxiety issues were, it did help me have some hope that (1) I wasn’t alone and (2) maybe some relief can be found at some point. It took 15 years, but relief eventually did come.

I was thinking on Saturday about the real effect of raising awareness for something. Obviously the word "awareness" implies the overarching goal — to make other people aware that a problem exists and that there is help available. But I don’t think this is one of those things when any change will immediately be seen. I believe the goal is that now going forward, if someone is struggling, maybe they will realize that there is help and that people are there to listen.

Awareness seems like something that occurs over time and with continued vigilance. I remember when I was in an anxiety outpatient program, they always used to say, “When you’re struggling, the phone feels like it weighs 1,000 pounds.” And it’s true. At one of my lowest points, I remember looking through my phone and finally deciding to pick up the phone and call my friend Jessica. She took my call and even though she was at an event, she sat there with me as I sobbed on the other side of the phone. But I got through that bad night. Sometimes just getting through a bad night is just the help we need.

One conversation that came out after Avery’s passing was the discussion about how riders are treated on social media. I’ve always maintained that just like other sports, jockeys are subject to criticism of their performance. There’s not a single sport in the world where the participants aren’t praised or criticized with regularity. But criticism and being nasty or cruel are two very different things. I think there are ways to be critical and still be respectful.

I think social media tends to remove a few degrees of the humanity between us, and criticizing someone and getting your frustrations out about how they might have affected you and your money, is quite easy. People are going to post what they want to, and me telling someone not to be mean on Twitter isn’t going to change what anyone is going to do. I can only speak to my own practice of when I want to rip on someone on social media, I always try to pause and just remember this is another human with feelings that I’m wanting to say something about.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, I just don’t send the tweet.

I suppose I’ll just end with saying I hope people can be kinder to one another. And I hope that we can make many areas of our game a little more caring and warm. Everyone have a good week.