There is a verse in the Bible’s book of Proverbs that tells us, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” For about the last 125 years, or ever since Dr. John Pemberton poured the first glass of what was, at first, a drink of patent medicine at Jacobs' Pharmacy in Atlanta, a long line of great Southern gentlemen have been keen in their intent on making that belief a virtual cornerstone of the Coca-Cola Company.
Trouble is, the verse in Proverbs you just read is in the 22nd chapter. There is another “biggie,” though not as well known, that comes before – up in the 10th chapter – and while it says much of the same, it makes certain people nervous.
It reads, “The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.”
I want you to think about “rot” as I explain to you that the Coca-Cola Company has just publicly announced it is not sponsoring nor endorsing the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration between Aug. 22 and Sept.1 this year. But there is this -- the fact that Coca-Cola still has anything at all to do with it has the great majority of those who work for the global company that now operates in over 200 countries so embarrassed and forlorn they hardly know what to do.
You see, just last week the Cola-Cola Bottling Works of Tullahoma, which is a small independent company that hails itself as a long-time supporter of the local community, jumped at the chance to become what is legally called “the beverage provider” of the National Celebration’s main arenas and, in my way of thinking, tore down in a single day much of the great respect it has taken years for Coke to build. Pepsi, which had sponsored the Celebration until scathing proof of sadistic depravity was aired on ABC’s “Nightline” news show in May, immediately and very rightfully bolted the very next day, severing any and all relationships with the Celebration and its leaders. Since then, an avalanche of horrors has beset the Shelbyville-based horse industry and it now appears there are more among the Celebration elite with past and present violations of the federal Horse Protection Act than there are without.
Yet, after almost a half-century of repeated scorn and 40 years that the federal Horse Protection Act has been skillfully dodged, it appears that a healthy 90 percent of the half-million owners of Tennessee Walking Horses have finally had enough of the criminal crowd and, with federal prosecutors and the Humane Society vowing to the American public that animal abuse must end, the industry’s annual show in Shelbyville is almost as popular with clean and honest horsemen as leprosy.
Horse abuse in Tennessee just became a felony. Stiffer federal laws have been promised and prosecutors – with the first guilty pleas since 1970 – are eager to bring such pressure to bear a criminal would rather join the Foreign Legion under an alias rather than now harm an animal, be it livestock or domestic. Now what is sick is the legal jargon. Today’s legal slicks claim that the Coca-Cola Bottling Works of Tullahoma is not sponsoring or endorsing the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, either, but have simply agreed to supply beverages for events like high school commencements, church retreats, Chamber of Commerce meetings, and … you know, 10-day horse shows at the hottest time of the year.
In other words, it’s just a money deal. What we lovingly call “Big Coke” doesn’t have anything to do with the independently-owned Coca-Cola Bottling Works of Tullahoma except when some bookkeeper writes “For Deposit Only” on the back of the checks the Tullahoma owners mail in to headquarters. Please understand, nobody from Coca-Cola wants anything to do with those with guilty pleas that will be sentenced in Federal Court on Sept. 10, or the lawsuit by the Shelbyville crowd angrily filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or the continuing violations of the federal Horse Protection Act by the top trainers in the game. Or goodness only knows whatever is next for “the Country Club Crowd” in Shelbyville. A just-released statement clearly illustrates that all the Coca-Cola crowd wants is the money. You see, it contains this flowery paragraph that reads, “The Coca-Cola Company cares for the welfare of animals and supports the proper treatment of animals. It has a strict animal rights policy in place for all events and attractions featuring animals. The Company's trademarks must not be used to promote an event or attraction that violates local, state or national laws or is contrary to the Company's policy and guidelines.”
Then on the exact same piece of paper – so help me this is true – there is another sentence that had to be written by some future Supreme Court justice: “The Coca-Cola Company’s trademarks will not be used to market or promote any events held at the arena.” Are you kidding me! What are they going to call it – soda pop?The whole thing would be ludicrous if it weren’t so blatantly shameful. During my life I’ve had the great pleasure and honor to know and befriend some of the giants of the Coca-Cola Company. Men like Summerfield Johnston, Jack Lupton, J. Frank Harrison, Crawford Johnson and Carl Navarre all knew exactly how – and when -- to take a stand like Abraham Lincoln unashamedly wrote about one time.
About 150 years ago President Lincoln stated, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong." Call it what you will – pouring rights, beverage supply agreement, dancing with the devil – I could give a rip. When Pepsi withdrew from the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, it was clearly the right thing to do and championed the ideas and values our country celebrated so fondly just yesterday.
Coca-Cola's latest statements show its crowd is apparently more into silver and gold.
Celebration CEO Doyle Meadows, left, with representatives of the Tullahoma Coca-Cola bottling plant