This quip, originated by George Washington and later “borrowed” by Ronald Reagan, is among the most compelling arguments around for embracing, or at least acknowledging, an organization’s history when crafting reputation management strategies. Despite the “spinning” that may occur while events are happening, time tends to clarify history, separating fact from fiction. Given this, those who look to stray from the truth do so at their own peril.
I started my career in sports and event publicity and worked for a time as a broadcast publicist at Santa Anita Racecourse in southern California. For those not familiar with thoroughbred horse racing, Santa Anita is among the sports “cathedrals.”
Given my history with Santa Anita, my attention was caught when ESPN’s Outside the Lines was airing a story on Santa Anita and its role in the shameful internment of Japanese Americans during the early stages of World War II.
No one would blame Santa Anita for wanting to distance itself from its role in executing Executive Order 9066, which called for the internment of all U.S. citizens and resident aliens who were at least 1/16th Japanese. Acknowledging that the internment 68 years ago is a part of its history, the racetrack made a laudable decision: Rather than running from that part of its history it is embracing, it with an invitation to those internees who are still able to come to Santa Anita for a day at the races with VIP treatment.
That VIP treatment includes a tour of the barn area that many called home in 1942 and a chance to meet Corey Nakatani, annually among the leading jockeys at Santa Anita, who, ironically, has a grandfather who was interned among the very stables where Nakatani is considered royalty today.
Through all this Santa Anita is showing the world what those in thoroughbred racing have known all along: It’s a class act, with a reputation to match.