What the BLEEP?
by Whit Bazemore
Every once in a while it's important to
step back and look at the big picture of our sport. NASCAR's mainstream
popularity has put all of auto racing in a spotlight that is sometimes
uncomfortable, to say the least.
Last week when Dale Earnhardt Jr. was docked championship points by
NASCAR for saying the word @#$% on live network television after winning
the race I was stunned. While all athletes have certain responsibilities
to the public I find docking someone points for a championship because
he used a "curse" word absolutely ridiculous.
My question is where was the guy in the production trailer with his
finger on the "bleep" button? Isn't that his or her
responsibility to make sure that such words said in jest, jubilation and
in adrenaline-pumping interviews are not aired on live television?
I don't believe Janet Jackson and/or Justin Timberlake were docked any
"points" or even pay for their "wardrobe
malfunction" during the Super Bowl. The resulting five-second-delay
imposed on live television shows was a good move. When you air live
shows, you take your chances, but the networks should be ready to cover
their own butts. I also don't believe those celebrities who used
profanity on one or two of the live awards shows were docked in any way.
But, I believe, in the Earnhardt incident, with NASCAR such a high
profile sport these days, the sanctioning group was more intent on
proving that it had no favoritism towards Junior (which NASCAR had
recently been accused of). And it wanted to make the sponsors and
families happy by demonstrating that NASCAR truly cares about how its
drivers represent its family-oriented sport. NASCAR does it for what it
considers the bigger picture, but it seems to be inconsistent and unfair
to drivers who are aiming for a championship.
I also remember a live CART race on ABC where A.J. Foyt was interviewed
when he came into the pits with a problem. He took off his helmet,
Velcro-ed up the collar of his driver's suit, slicked back his hair and
proceeded to say something like (and I'm paraphrasing here), "My
crew has their heads up their asses." The guy on the bleep button
must have been asleep at the switch. Everyone got a good laugh out of
it, but I never heard that Foyt was docked any points, or even fined.
It's a sad reflection on society that in today's world where teens
worship MTV, and cable television is as readily available as AM radio,
that someone should be surprised that a curse word slips out once in a
while. Should you cuss on national television during a sports event in
jubilation? Probably not. Should the penalty for doing so affect the
whole reason that you're in the sport? Absolutely not.
Drag racing has its share of similar situations. Last year when John
Force became agitated with (my crew chief) Lee Beard in Seattle he was
supposedly fined $5,000. For what? Getting in someone's face? If there
had been punches thrown, then OK, maybe some sort of disciplinary action
might have been necessary.
But to be yelling and screaming at somebody, having it captured on
camera, then using it to promote the sport (ESPN shows a clip during the
opening of every single television show) and be fined, is total
The same can be said when there's a tragedy on the race track. Because
racing is so much more mainstream now, the reaction to a death is a lot
different than it used to be. Safety is something that always needs to
be addressed for obvious reasons and also for the not-so-obvious
reasons. The not-so-obvious reasons are that if fatalities were more
common the public outcry would surely have big, big negative
connotations for the future of the sport.
Drag racing has always prided itself on safety and it's true the sport
has come a long, long way, but the fact is it still has a long way to
go. It's not the cars, it's not the speeds, but the areas that I think
need improving have more to do with the facilities, the lighting and
maybe the on-site medical facilities.
The bottom line is when you're racing you give it your heart and soul.
When you get out of the car it's virtually impossible to switch gears
that quickly. And the networks and the public should count themselves
lucky that they're allowed in our "locker rooms" at the end of
the race and, in NHRA competition, at the end of the track. The end of
the track years ago was closed off. And the late (TV reporter) Steve
Evans respected drivers' emotions and the effort that goes into winning
and the dismay that comes with not winning.
Nowadays you're expected to be totally unemotional and have perfect
behavior all the time, which is just impossible to do. The irony here
is, however, that although I absolutely respect live television
broadcasts of our sport, I am well aware that the reporters get some of
the best sound bites at the end of the track. If that's what makes for
good television, then the guy (or gal) with the bleep button should be
ready to do his or her job!