A Week Later: 5 Questions from the Darren Chiacchia Arrest

If you just came back from a three-week hike in the Sahara and didn’t take along a computer with a wireless card, click here and scroll down for full information on Darren Chiacchia’s arrest last week.

1) How does this story affect the public’s perception of eventing and equestrian sport?  ESPN, USA Today, and Sports Illustrated all covered the story by publishing the same AP release.  This makes it one of the few non-racing sport horse stories that will be covered by the national media in 2010, and serves to support many unfair and incorrect misconceptions about equestrianism.  I can only imagine what Joe Six-Pack said about riders when he read the story on ESPN; there is no positive way to spin this.  Many people might not care what non-horse people think about our sport, but any increase in fans, sponsorship, or membership is closely affected by our sport’s image.

2) How should the eventing media cover negative news?  The Tiger Woods fiasco presented an interesting paradox in journalism because the only media outlets not talking or writing about Tiger’s affairs were the golf channel and publications.  Similarly, the story drew attention from international horse outlets, such as Horse & Hound, and national US outlets, such as ESPN and SI, the two largest eventing news sites in the US, USEA and COTH refrained from even mentioning the incident.  While EN took a different approach, I think ignoring the story was a valid course of action, and our friends at those outlets certainly avoided a lot of criticism that we took here.  We chose to publish the incident because many, many people wanted to know what happened– and rather than let rumors run wild, we felt offering the facts of the police report was the right thing to do.  It is a sad situation, and we will avoid making judgments of those involved.
 
3) What medical information should we require riders to disclose when that information could help protect volunteers and competition officials but might violate a rider’s right to privacy?  This topic received a lot of interesting discussion on the COTH Forum before the threads were shut down, and those discussions led to this question:  In a situation such as HIV, where a volunteer could be placed at risk by assisting an injured (bleeding) rider, should we require disclosure by the riders?  One solution that would protect both the volunteers and the rider privacy would be to ban volunteers from touching injured riders, waiting instead for medical personnel; but this seems hard to ask and impossible to enforce in the heat of the moment. 
 
4) What is next for Darren?  Without speculating, it is worth noting that we are talking about a felony charge, and that the police report claims that the Sheriff’s department has a tape of Darren admitting to both knowing of his positive test and not disclosing those results.  It is in the hands of the court system now, and all we can hope for is that lady justice prevails.  
5) Does the Florida law in question prosecute a victimless crime if the ‘victim’ does not contract an STD?  This is a dangerous one, but the US justice system seems to have no problem prosecuting crimes between two consenting adults.  In some sense though, it does seem extreme to potentially send someone to jail for years when no one was physically or materially harmed.  It all comes back to the issue of whether or not the justice system is meant as a deterrent or punishment, but in this case it is certainly being used as a deterrent if the victim does not contract an STD.

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