individuals, institutions, and That Breeders’ Cup Tweet

If you haven’t read Teresa Genaro’s article at Thoroughbred Racing Commentary, The Breeders’ Cup and that misguided ‘locker room’ tweet, please do.  It provides the backstory for this entire discussion, including the original (now-deleted) tweets).

Earlier today, I saw an exchange between Teresa Genaro and Emily Shields, about getting across the point that the biggest step over the line was the Breeders’ Cup’s retweet of Bram Weinstein’s original tweet.

Genaro’s point in the article, and Shields’s point online, made instinctive sense to me even last Saturday during the frenzy of the Breeders’ Cup.  Bram Weinstein’s original tweet was crass enough, but the Breeders’ Cup imprimatur somehow made it seem worse.

I have a thought on why.

In the public discourse, many recent conversations center around individual bad actors versus systemic problems.  We talk about individual people doing bad things — and the institutions that excuse it, that make it seem normal.

People try to dismiss individual police officers who shoot Black citizens with hair-trigger ease as individual bad actors, but when police departments and prosecutors choose not to prosecute those officers, their actions gain institutional support.

People try to dismiss Brock Turner as an individual bad actor, but the fact that he got such a light sentence after being found guilty of sexual assault (after his father dismissing it as “20 minutes of action“, no less) suggests that the court did not take his actions seriously even though he had been found guilty of sexual assault.

Individuals may be bad actors, but institutions normalize their behavior.

The same principle applies here to a microcosmic extent.  Of course, I emphasize the micro here: butt pictures and big race days do not rise to the same level of importance as murder, rape, and the power of government entities.

Despite the massive difference in scale, that same idea from the broader social context still sheds light on this.

Bram Weinstein’s original tweet reduced the women in it to objects, to decoration.  Looking at it in the most charitable possible light, if he asked permission from each of its subjects to take the picture and caption it so, then maybe it was a little crass.  No one has to like it or agree with it, but if everyone was a willing participant, then so be it.  If he didn’t ask, then objectifying them without their consent was not a nice thing to do, but it was still by no means illegal.

But, this was done from a personal account.  Yes, Weinstein’s personal behaviour may reflect poorly on the institutions for whom he serves as a public face — like ABR, like ESPN Radio — but it was still a personal comment on a personal Twitter.  It would be a stretch to say an institution had the force of his words.

The Breeders’ Cup’s retweet, with its snidely approving “Nice View ;)” comment, was where it crossed the line from individual to institutional.  Just like the Calder ad and the Churchill Downs ad cited in Genaro’s article, it is a racing organization (and not just one crass fan) using the objectification of women to promote the sport.

And, that is where the retweet from the Breeders’ Cup goes beyond “normal” track behaviour: it gives institutional imprimatur to that individual’s action.  The action in this case is the original tweet’s objectification of women, and the institutional imprimatur means women can expect to go to the Breeders’ Cup, be objectified, and have the organizers approve of that objectification.

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