A week after it was first reported the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race had allowed musher Travis Beals to compete while awaiting trail on domestic-violence charges, Alaska’s signature sporting event took a strong, public stand against assaults on women.
“The ITC (Iditarod Trail Committee) recognizes that domestic violence is a pervasive problem in the state of Alaska and society in general,” the board declared. “It will immediately implement a process of reviewing its rules and policies, with the assistance of an advisory committee, with the objective of revising those rules for future races to better address this serious societal issue.”
The statement came after the ITC board met in executive session for about an hour and a half Friday morning. It was endorsed unanimously by the board when the members reconvened in public.
It was also announced that Beals would be prohibited from entering the 2017 race and indefinitely banned from competition.
Citing Iditarod Rules 1 – “Musher Qualifications” – and 2 – “Entries,” the board said in its statement that “the duration of the indefinite period will depend in large part on documentation of successful completion of all court ordered rehabilitation.”
A Palmer judge this week ordered Beals, an up-and-coming Iditarod contender, to begin a treatment program for domestic violence offenders.
Iditarod Rule 1 gives the race the power to exclude mushers who fail to “exemplify the spirit and principles of the Iditarod Trail Committee as set forth in the rules, bylaws and mission statement.”
Since the news first broke about Beals’ problems with domestic violence – prior to the latest incident he’d been convicted in relation to another DV-related incident and before that had broken his fiancée’s arm — the mushing community has appeared split on whether Iditarod should take a strong stand against such behavior or leave the matter to the courts.
“People, law enforcement is on it,” Mitch Seavey, a two-time Iditarod champ and the runner-up in this year’s race Wednesday night posted in a comment on an earlier story on this website. “This is not the fault of the race or (trail manager Mark) Nordman. Mushers sign up in June and show up for a race in March if they happen to be ‘at large’ There is no year round contract (nor compensation) like the NFL.
“Careful how much you ask the Race to monitor mushers’ criminal records. Some of your favorites may have never been allowed to enter.
“As for guilt-tripping friends or other mushers, not much can be done if the victim is a volunteer.”
Others had taken an opposite view, suggesting it was unconscionable Beals had been allowed to run this year.
Iditarod is a revered institution in Alaska, and many are protective of it. Alaska media, including the Associated Press, had shown themselves reluctant to touch the Beals story, although the Alaska Dispatch News did send a reporter to the Iditarod board meeting when there appeared on the agenda a reference to “refinement of personal conduct policy and development of mechanics of any disciplinary actions.”
She was joined by the editor of the small Valley Frontiersman newspaper in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, home of Iditarod headquarters, and this reporter. The Frontiersman has followed the story almost from the start and has also questioned the lack of women in leadership positions in Iditarod. There were no other media covering the board meeting.
When the story finally surfaced at ADN.com, the state’s largest media website, the conflicting views on how Alaska’s biggest sporting event should deal with domestic violence began surfacing in comments on the newspaper’s Facebook page, where many appeared unaware that Beals had been once convicted in connection with a DV-incident and earlier this week agreed to enter a program designed to treat men who can’t stop themselves from abusing women.
Many thought Beals should not be banned unless convicted yet again.
The most telling observations, however, might have come from Beals’ sister, Shani Simonds, who took to Facebook to defend her brother.
She accurately observed that “there are two sides to every story and the media makes up their own story. It’s easy to hide behind a computer and spout of nasty comments but until you have lived what they have lived you have no right to judge. We as a family are dealing with this and I would appreciate a little discretion.”
But she later added this:
“He was not made to be responsible for his actions the first time and therefore resulted in getting to this point. But I was not the one who thought he shouldn’t be made responsible. I still defend him because he doesn’t want to be the way he is. He is getting the help he needs to be the better person I know he is.”