Do Racehorses Have A Retirement Crisis, Too?

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This weekend witnessed the last race and retirement of one of the great racehorses of all time – Triple-Crown-winning American Pharoah, who capped off a brilliant career on Saturday winning the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic reminded us why – the advent of Simulcasts and on-line video notwithstanding – horse racing remains one of America’s most popular spectator sports, with millions of us flocking each year to racetracks like Churchill Downs, Belmont, Saratoga, and Pimlico to participate in this rich tradition. But for the overwhelming majority of us, our love for racehorses begins and ends when we enter and depart from the track. The life of a racehorse is not something that often crosses our minds.

If American workers have a lot to worry about as they head into retirement, think about being a racehorse. They have short careers, many times lasting only two years, and often find themselves discarded by the industry without the proper infrastructure to support the rest of their lives.  Tragically – despite the fact that the United States has made horse slaughter illegal – every year, tens of thousands of horses find themselves in kill pens in Canada or Mexico.

In 2012, an estimated 176,223 horses from the United States were slaughtered. Thirteen per cent, or 23,000 of those slaughtered, were thoroughbreds who were bred to race. Now consider this, in that same year, the registered foal crop was 21,720. Yes, you read that right: more horses were slaughtered than foaled in 2012. While the number of horses slaughtered annually usually does not exceed the number foaled, these numbers are not an anomaly. The thoroughbred industry has a “retirement crisis” it needs to address.

Many will assume that it’s just the plodders, the lowest level runners, who meet this grisly fate, but that is not always the case.  In 2002, Ferdinand, a winner of the Kentucky Derby, was slaughtered in Japan. Many in the community mourned his loss, but only a few took action.

And for the horses who are not sent to Canada or Mexico, there are others who are simply neglected. Look at this case of abuse and neglect, where one farmer in Kentucky was found to have 49 dead horses and 15 emaciated horses on his farm. Other cases have been reported where horses are up to 300 pounds underweight. Sadly, these instances are hardly exceptional.

As a nineteen year old who has spent his life around horses, it is beyond disappointing to get this bitter dose of reality. How is it that the industry and individual horse owners alike have not taken greater responsibility for the horses they breed, race and enjoy? Thoroughbred racing celebrates a truly beautiful, breathtaking animal.  These majestic horses are bred to compete, they are a celebrated icon, and they are the foundation of the multi-billion dollar industry we call the Sport of Kings. How can we not have the proper programs in place to save them from slaughter?

It is time to act.  Perhaps I am a bit idealistic, but the problem seems to have a simple solution.  American workers have a 401K which enables them to save with tax advantages for retirement.  Horses need the equivalent – a “401Neigh.”  The concept is the same – a vehicle for systematic savings to better prepare a horse for its retirement. When purchasing a horse, owners should understand – and help provide for – the cost to support a horse throughout its life.  They should also understand the options available for their horse after their racing days are done – from farm pets to jumpers and hunters, to show horses, to participation in emotional and physical therapy programs for returning veterans.

Some incredibly generous and thoughtful members of the horseracing community have started retirement programs for racehorses, but each of these programs face public awareness and funding challenges. The 401Neigh can help address these things.  Here are its elements:

  1. A simple app that we have built that should be supported by all thoroughbred sales companies that help owners understand the cost of a horse’s retirement.
  2. A savings strategy that puts away funds so that a horse doesn’t come off the track and into the queue at a slaughter house.
  3. Mandated fees that become part of the purchasing of racehorses at public auction that will go to Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA) to be used for programs that support race horse retirement.
  4. Within the app, a directory of all the programs that support race horse retirement.

That’s it.  That’s the 401Neigh.  Will it stop all the horses headed off to an ugly end to their careers?  No.  But can the effort make a dent? I think it can.

– Will Crager, University of Notre Dame, Intern

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

School Daze: Fraternities, Sororities and Sexual Assault

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In a few days, I will join the millions of college students throughout the United States wrapping up their summer vacations and heading back to school. While returning upperclassmen reconnect with their friends, get organized for their rigorous coursework, and (most importantly) prepare their face paints for the upcoming football season, approximately 2.5 million incoming freshmen will arrive on campuses for the first time.

These freshmen will face the usual, well-known newbie challenges – from waking up on time for class, to laundry, to crazy roommates.  But there is one surprising and unfortunate challenge all too many freshmen and upper classmen alike will face this year – sexual assault.  Sexual assault is rampant on college campuses across the US.

According to a survey recorded by Best Colleges, one in five women (and one in twelve men) will be sexually assaulted during their four years on campus – and 95% of cases go unreported. National College and University Administrations hoping to tackle this issue have taken a wide range of efforts such as amplified sexual abuse counseling services and sexual assault awareness requirements that students are expected to complete prior to each school year. Despite increased support and media attention, sexual assault has increased by 50% in the past ten years on college campuses.

Though it is difficult to name just one factor as the root cause of this crisis, fraternities and sororities (otherwise known as Greek-letter Societies) stick out like sore thumbs in sexual assault reports. For instance, men in fraternities are 300 percent more likely to commit sexual assault than men not in fraternities. Additionally, women in sororities are 74 percent more likely to experience rape than non-Greek students. These numbers are particularly astounding considering over 9 million college students identified as a member of a social fraternity in 2014, according to Great Value Colleges. The undeniable correlation between Greek Society membership and instances of sexual assault has led many individuals (predominantly members of the media) to focus on the bad behaviors and lack of respect – for themselves and others – many fraternity and sorority members exhibit.

Perhaps nothing underscores the diminished respect for Greek-letter societies like the backlash to the viral #WeAreNotOurStereotypes social media campaign. The photo collage, which was intended to challenge common stereotypes associated with fraternity and sorority members such as a sense of privilege and reckless behavior, was heavily criticized for its attempt to draw sympathy for a comically “oppressed” group. One Buzzfeed commenter summed up this attitude stating, “So glad someone is FINALLY standing up for the oppressed fraternity college students. Hopefully someone will tackle the stereotypes around trust-fund kids next.”

Though staggeringly unsuccessful, the #WeAreNotOurStereotypes campaign did highlight an important distinction among Greek-life societies: not all of them act the way they are portrayed in the media. In fact, several societies have made important strides forward addressing sexual assault and substance abuse on campus. This is not to say that the media has overblown the issue – there are blatant examples of bad fraternity and sorority behaviors all over the Internet – but it is to suggest that not all societies carry themselves in the problematic and anti-social fashion that has become the overarching stereotype.

Though there is no easy answer to the lingering issues surrounding fraternities and sororities, time to think is running out. Public opinion has shifted enough for many to call to eliminate Greek Societies from College-life altogether. That would be incredibly disappointing, considering students involved in Greek Life have, on average, higher GPA’s, graduation rates, and starting job salaries, not to mention the $7 million they raise annually on average for charity. Instead of barring students from joining or creating societies, maybe it’s time for societies to make a serious effort to own up to past mistakes, establish preventative measures, and, most importantly, understand that they can be a force for positive social change while having fun at the same time.

For instance, my social fraternity, Sigma Phi, has taken many recent steps to combat issues of sexual assault, while maintaining the fun-loving atmosphere that draws students to fraternities in the first place. My chapter at the University of Michigan, following the lead of the University of North Carolina chapter, has implemented annual bystander awareness and sexual assault prevention training to arm members with the resources needed to handle a potentially dangerous situation. Sigma Phi Michigan also holds concerts for touring bands, “open-mic” nights, and even traditional college parties, all while keeping a pledge against sexual assault.

The first step on the road to recovery is admitting ownership of the problem in the first place. It is time for America’s fraternities and sororities to look into the mirror and recognize the unsustainability of the current system while there is still time. Like the Talmud teaches, “If not now, when? If not us, who?” The opportunity for dramatic change has presented itself. It’s now time to grasp it.

– Sam Blunt, University of Michigan, Intern

Photo Credit: Penn State News

Dad Bod Is Out, Healthy Living Is In

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Men are not healthy. A pudgy “Dad Bod” is not hot—and celebrating that is what’s wrong with this country. Dr. Ridwan Shabsigh, an expert on men’s health, is on a mission to help men live healthier and longer and give them the tools and motivation to do that. He joins The Big Payoff of WGN Radio along with Tiller CEO, Rob Densen, to discuss the health crisis facing American men.

WARNING: Women – the condition of men and their health can drastically impact your life as well.

Check out the radio interview here: http://wp.me/p3Sjnl-uHO

Medical Debt: Financial Side Effects

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Before reading, take a crack at the following question: Which type of debt accounts for over half of all outstanding debt that shows up on personal credit reports?

When we think about poor credit reports, it’s educational, utilities, retail or banking-related debt that often comes to mind. However, the reality is that medical debt accounts for about half, or 52%, of all outstanding credit report debt.
Those of us with healthcare insurance may feel pretty secure about our ability to cover medical expenses. Don’t be. Sometimes it takes only one accident or emergency surgery to wind up with an overwhelming amount of medical debt on your credit report. And it’s not just Americans who have charged too many vacations or are having trouble paying off student loans. Many consumers with medical debt on their credit report have “otherwise ‘clean’ credit” and “show no other evidence of financial distress,” reported the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau last December.

It’s a situation that millions of Americans are finding themselves in on a daily basis. To be more exact, 63% of Americans in 2014 received a medical bill that was more than they expected to pay. And this year, nearly a fifth of us will hear from medical-debt collectors, and they’ll gather $21 billion in total.

So where is all of this debt coming from? The main culprit is out-of-network charges unforeseen by patients prior to their procedure. The other two are medical billing errors and hospitals ability to charge different amounts for the same procedure. NerdWallet, who released a report in March 2014 stating that medical bankruptcy is the number-one cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States, also analyzed the varying costs of the same procedures in different hospitals across the country. The most staggering example was the highest cost for an inpatient stay due to severe intestinal bleeding in California ($291,000), compared to the lowest cost for treating the same condition in Nebraska ($5,400).

The cases you’ll hear about the most though, are the ones in which a patient has meticulously planned out a procedure to include in-network doctors, and awoke with staggering medical bills due to the last minute inclusion of an out-of-network doctor in the procedure. Often times, insurers will pay the full amount or large portions of these out-of-network fees, which provides incentives for doctors to continue the practice. Unfortunately for the people who are sent these bills, by the time insurers address an out-of-network billing issue the debt has already been sent to a collection agency, often without the patient’s knowledge. Hence the massive amount of medical debt in America.

However, there is some good news. For 15 million Americans out of the 43 million who have delinquent medical debt on their credit reports – medical debt is the only debt they have in collections in their credit report. And those people who paid off medical debt that had landed in collections were also more likely to repay the rest of their debt. FICO also announced their plan to distinguish between non-medical debt and medical debt in order to reduce the impact of healthcare debt on credit reports, so that’s a start.

While the FICO change is helpful, it doesn’t address the underlying issue – keeping people out of medical debt in the first place. Legislation such as the Medical Debt Relief Act, if passed (which it has struggled to do), would be a great advancement towards protecting Americans from medical debt and out-of-network bills. Resources also need to be made available to educate, empower, and arm Americans with their medical payment options. If we can teach Americans the proper ways to allocate funds towards healthcare, as well as provide instructions on how to handle blindsiding fees, we can greatly reduce the amount of people ending up in debt.

In the meantime, Jean Chatzky offers up a few suggestions such as purchasing the best health insurance policy possible and staying fit (no cigarettes and keep your weight in check). Should you be interested in reading about specific instances in which people undergoing surgery were slammed with unauthorized out-of-network charges, check out this New York Times article. Warning, it’s not pretty.

– Lucie Dufour, Associate

Photo Credit: Flickr

Corporate America: A Vehicle for Social Change

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Recently I was asked to be the alumni speaker at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies’ Senior Banquet at the University of Richmond. Did I think I was old enough or wise enough to be the alumni speaker? Absolutely not. Did I go and give the speech anyway? You bet. I did, however, make sure to point out at the beginning of my speech that I am hardly an expert on life at the ripe age of 24. There are, though, a few things I do know, one of which is an unsettling trend I felt compelled to share with the Jepsonites.

Over the last two years, many of my friends have expressed the belief that once they get older and make their millions, then they can become philanthropic and get involved in their communities. We leave social responsibility at the doorstep of our offices to be picked up on our way out.  We have separated business and philanthropy from one another, reasoning that profits from business will go towards philanthropy. But the reality is that we live in a capitalist system where businesses can act as a powerful force for good – and are often rewarded by consumers when they do so.

There is still an opportunity for those of us who do not go to work for nonprofits or public service positions to be change agents, yet the majority of us forget this while we are caught up in our daily work routines. One of the things that frustrates me about corporate America – besides the fact that there aren’t unlimited snacks – is that many businesses still think being an advocate or philanthropic means an outward flow of funds and resources. Reality Check: brands that align with a relatable social issue will create significant benefits – for their consumers and their bottom line.

This is the message I aimed to impress upon the Jepson students. Most of them will go to work in corporate America, and when they do, my hope is that they will remember to align their expertise and competencies with the concerns of their customers. Business goals and consumer insight – paired together with a social issue – will create a brand that will stand out as a leader from its competitors.

I used our recent work with the New York Life Foundation as an example of how an organization can leverage its resources to rally around an issue affecting their customers. The Foundation’s efforts to empower educators to better support their grieving students served to reinforce New York Life’s identity as a life insurance company that cares about the lives of its customers. The results were better training tools for educators, a better understanding of grieving student’s needs, and a better brand for New York Life. We always tell our corporate foundation clients that writing checks is great, but owning a social issue and working to address the root of the problem is even better.

I’m proud to say no one booed me off the stage, or started playing the Oscar music when I went 35 seconds over my allotted time. Rather, students and professors alike seemed to have taken the journey with me and came to the realization that as individuals – and as a nation – we can do better. And we can do this, by using our jobs as vehicles for social change.

While the Jepson curriculum is centered on ethical decision-making and creating positive change, this message applies to soon-to-be grads everywhere. Expect more from yourselves and from our nation, and use that passion to improve the circumstances of others.

– Lucie Dufour, Associate

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Photo Credit: SocialEarth.org

Social Media for Social Impact

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Social media has been getting a lot of bad press lately for its role in cyberbullying – and rightfully so. However, the rise in abuse of social media platforms should not take away from the fact that 47% of Americans learn about philanthropic causes from social media and online channels. Our work with the New York Life Foundation on the prevalent and devastating issue of childhood grief offers one recent example of social media’s power to effect positive change.

First, a little context: In 2012 the New York Life Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) conducted a survey which told us that while 7 in 10 teachers (69%) currently have at least one grieving student in their classroom(s), only 7% have had any amount of bereavement training. At the same time, 92% of educators – including teachers, aides, counselors and staff – say childhood grief is a serious problem that deserves more attention from schools.

The gap between educators’ desire to help grieving students and actually knowing how to do so was too big to be ignored. In response, the New York Life Foundation convened the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, a groundbreaking collaboration of leading professional organizations in the K-12 education space. With the help of Scholastic and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, the Coalition formed a first-of-its-kind on-line resource to empower school communities across America in the ongoing support of their grieving students.

Since 74% of all online adults use social networking sites, we knew we had to incorporate social media into our campaign to reach our target audience of educators, parents, school mental health professionals, and other school community members. Developing a detailed social media strategy has proven to be the top contributor to social media success, so that is exactly what we did.

Our campaign included live tweeting at the event, two hashtags (#StudentGrief and #GriefCoalition), unified messaging post-launch on Coalition member sites, as well as resharing any mention of the issue, Coalition or the website. As a result of these actions, we garnered 3,119 additional page views of grievingstudents.org, accounted for 1,831 visits, and brought 1,761 unique visitors to the site through social media vehicles in only 34 days.

1,761 unique visitors might not sound like a lot compared to the millions of Americans who use social media, but the number becomes a lot more meaningful when you consider the grieving students who will benefit from newly trained educators. Let’s say only 25% of the visitors were educators with direct access to students – the average teacher interacts with 8-9 grieving students per year, so that’s 3,740 additional grieving students getting the support they need in this past month alone, as a direct result of social media outreach.

While recently we have heard about social media as a means to offend and isolate, this campaign served an opposite purpose, as it was used to promote the emotional expression of people impacted by the issue. The floodgates opened and stories of frustration, disappointment, continued grief, and cries for change spread across Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogs. Individuals who had experienced grief were able to connect with one another and offer their own coping mechanisms, as well remind each other they are not alone in their struggle with loss. Using social media as a vehicle for discussion allowed for discourse to flow freely about a subject usually viewed as too personal or too awkward to be shared.

It is our hope that the Coalition to Support Grieving Students and their resources will continue to spread across social media, and in turn, continue to bring comfort to America’s youth.

For More Information: Coalition to Support Grieving Students

-Lucie Dufour, Associate, Tiller

Domestic Violence Is Not a Game

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Fan interest in the NFL has reached a fever pitch with the upcoming Super Bowl, however, many eyes have been fixated on the league all season, and not just for the love of the game.

Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson became notorious for their actions off of the field, but are not the only players in 2014 to be charged with domestic violence crimes. Four other players were charged with domestic violence, not including those whose crimes against women were categorized as assault. Since the start of 2015 alone, there have also been two cases of domestic violence– making domestic violence the number one cause for arrest among NFL players.

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s failure to publicly address both Rice and Peterson’s criminal activity in a timely manner led to an absolute PR nightmare for the NFL.  For a league that has had numerous domestic abuse charges filed against some of its players over the past few years,  it’s almost unimaginable – and certainly inexcusable – that there was not an existing domestic violence policy in place. The NFL’s failure to hand down timely and fair punishments to these  players  disrespects  the game and its fans, makes a mockery of its campaign to attract more female fans, and calls attention to the reactive and self-serving nature of the league. Not good for the game.

Clearly, domestic violence and sexual assault against both men and women is not limited to the NFL. In actuality, the rate of domestic violence and rape cases among NFL players is less than that of the general population.  The news is not so encouraging on our college campuses, where recent reports of abuse and violence against women and men have exposed a toxic environment where violence and sexual abuse is frequently brushed aside – and sometimes even facilitated. Having recently graduated college and compared notes with my friends at other schools, it seems that only recently have colleges and universities revamped their programs on sexual education, bystander intervention, and emotional support for victims to be relevant to today’s society. And when penalties are meted out for the abuser, they are frequently slight and well after the fact. Moreover, imposing policies after an assault is important but does nothing to fix the real issue at hand, the misconception that assault just happens.

As one of the greatest sports leagues in our country, the NFL has an opportunity – and arguably an obligation as a corporate citizen – to change the way our nation addresses sexual and domestic violence from grade school on. The new policy enacted in August is an important first step, but the league has miles to go before they win my vote of confidence.

It is my hope that in 2015, the NFL will take advantage of the opportunity sitting in front of them and set an example for the rest of the country on how to handle sexual and domestic abusers. Indeed, no person – no matter how many touch-downs they’ve scored, or how many tackles they had in college, or how popular their fraternity is – is above swift and fair punishment.  It’s time for the NFL to go on the offensive and take proactive – not reactive – steps over time towards changing the way we perceive assault and combating the current environment that permits the violation of our basic human rights.

Photo Credit: No More

— Lucie Dufour, Associate, Tiller