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Given the evidence at hand, the Iditarod's directors had to make the decision to ban musher Ramy Brooks from the race for abusing his dogs. Two years out, three years on probation seems fair enough.
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The message is strong and straightforward: You can't beat your dogs. You can't lose control - no matter who you are or what your record. It's a message the race must send and live by.
Ramy Brooks has denied he abused his dogs. But consistent witness accounts describe a man who lost his temper and walloped his dogs to an extent that disturbed and angered those in Golovin who saw the incident.
A little perspective: Rare is the musher who hasn't lost it with his or her dogs. Ramy Brooks isn't the first and won't be the last. He knows it, and that probably makes the penalty harder to take. The Iditarod board knows it, and knows that justice hasn't always been done.
The Iditarod is an adventure, and that means risk in more ways than one. One of those risks is that a musher, bone-tired and frustrated, may lose his temper with his team in front of witnesses, that days and nights of unseen exemplary care may melt away in an explosive minute.
That doesn't excuse Ramy Brooks or any other musher of that behavior. A standard of the race is grace under pressure, all the way to Nome. That's a standard that's evolved, along with steadily improving dog care, since the first race in 1973.
What makes Ramy Brooks' fall from grace seem further is his heritage - one of Alaska's foremost mushing families that included Gareth Wright, his grandfather, and Roxy Wright, his mother - and his own public service work in encouraging people to seek help for mental illness and depression. He's one of distance mushing's elite, and he inherited his mother's smile.
Redemption will take time. Here's hoping Ramy Brooks comes back to the race in 2010 stronger and wiser - and until then, shows us another example of grace under pressure.