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Cancel Culture Affects NASCAR

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

One NASCAR driver has had his career sidetracked because he said one forbidden word during a video game competition with other professional drivers. It seems that when one says certain words, they are given the career death penalty and never forgiven – while some well-connected people don’t get punished at all. 

Sometimes the punishment is worse than the crime.

Kyle Larson was one of the hottest drivers in the NASCAR circuit. On Easter Sunday, he was participating in an online racing event that has proven popular with NASCAR and other professional racers who can’t race on real tracks thanks to the coronavirus. Another NASCAR racer hosted a race at the virtual track, Autodromo Nazionale Monza. The track is long and considered unsafe for real racing, but fun for an iRacing event. As reported by Racing News, “NASCAR driver Kyle Larson was involved in a crash on lap 6 of the 30 lap event. After the crash, Larson dropped the N word.” Larson thought he was on a private conversation with his spotter but was broadcasting to all the drivers and people watching the event. The next morning, NASCAR announced an investigation.  

On April 13, 2020, NASCAR announced that Larson would be suspended indefinitely. That same day he apologized in a video posted on Twitter where he said: “Hey, I just want to say I’m sorry. Last night I made a mistake and said the word that should never, ever be said.” He went on to say that the “damage is probably unrepairable” and that “I just want to let you know how sorry I am.”  This was not good enough for some. 

Bubba Wallace, one of a handful of African American racers to participate in NASCAR, received a personal apology from Larson. Wallace said that there is no place in conversation for that slur and “I am not mad at him, and I believe that he, along with most people deserve second chances.” While Wallace accepted the apology, sponsors ran away from Larson. Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet, Credit One bank and McDonalds all terminated their relationship with Larson giving him the functional equivalent of a career death sentence for his one-time use of that banned word.

Let’s put this in perspective. 

In politics, it seems that some are insulated from the cancel culture if they are liberals. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam confirmed that he was in a 1994 photo of the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook in either a KKK outfit or blackface. This seems far worse than saying the “N-Word” once. Gov. Northam’s punishment was nothing, because he had the political support of the Democratic Party. When you are a politician with the backing of your party, you can get away with almost anything.

In different sports, incidents are treated differently. In 2017 the L.A. Times reported, Houston Astros player Yuli Gurriel made an anti-Asian gesture with his eyes and hands, then used a racial epithet during the World Series towards Asian member of the Los Angeles Dodgers Yu Darvish. Gurriel received a five-game suspension for the act to be served during the next season. If you are in a sport that does not have to worry about sponsors fleeing, you get a more reasonable punishment. 

The sad news breaking this week is that Larson is selling both his homes in North Carolina and he has been relegated to dirt track racing. It seems sad that a racer with such promise can be kicked out of the sport for something less than a violent crime, drug use or cheating. The Houston Astros have been embroiled in a sign stealing scandal with not one player suffering any suspension or punishment. There are a number of MLB and NFL players who have been involved in domestic violence incidents who serve out suspensions then are allowed back to play. It is hard to imagine that using the “N-Word” once in a video game competition would lead to a more draconian punishment than beating up another human being or cheating to gain an advantage at a sport.

Political correctness and the outrage culture can make any small incident a big deal.  I assume that the handful of people who actually listened to Larson say that bad word were offended, but not in need of counselling, nor permanently psychologically injured. To make the Larson incident out to anything more than a minor incident that deserves a couple of race suspension at most would be to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Larson is a victim of our out of control cancel culture that has claimed another victim and ruined another life. Hopefully NASCAR will stop cowering to the cancel culture and suspend Larson for a few races before allowing him back. Larson has been punished enough already.

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