NASCAR suffered a devastating blow to it’s public image on Saturday when a crash caused severe injuries to several fans during a practice run of the first race in the Nationwide Series season. But to add to the unpleasantness of the weekend, NASCAR has suspended driver Jeremy Clements “indefinitely” after he reportedly used a racial slur in an interview.
“During the course of an interview, Jeremy Clements made an intolerable and insensitive remark,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. “NASCAR has a Code of Conduct that’s explicitly spelled out in the 2013 NASCAR Rule Book. We fully expect our entire industry to adhere to that Code.”
Clements issued an apology on his Facebook page that likely isn’t going to help matters:
“I apologize and regret what I said to the NASCAR writer and to NASCAR, my sponsors, my fans, and my team. NASCAR has a Code of Conduct that everyone must follow and I unintentionally violated that code. I will not get into specifics of what I said but my comment to the writer was in no way meant to be disrespectful or insensitive to anyone or to be detrimental to NASCAR or the NASCAR Nationwide Series. I will do what I need to do in order to atone for my error in judgment.”
It is not yet known exactly what slur was used by Clements, but the issue isn’t going to help people’s stereotypical views of what NASCAR represents. To those who fancy themselves “better” than NASCAR, the sport is nothing more than rednecks racing in a circle with other drunk rednecks watching. Like it or not, that’s still how more than a few people view the sport.
NASCAR just isn’t popular across the board in America, case in point being, you don’t see Tom Hanks or Billy Crystal with their faces presses up against the fence at a NASCAR race the way you see them plastered all over your television anytime the Knicks are on ABC.
I’m not a NASCAR fan, but I understand what it is. I understand that it’s something I could never do which is why people who judge it unfairly need to re-examine how they view the sport. It’s messy, it’s violent and it’s fast — kind of like every other professional sport in the world. But it’s that stereotypical undercurrent of what the South used to represent that is hurting the sports national appeal, and it’s stories like this that bury it even further into the ground than it already is.
Jeremy Clements isn’t helping NASCAR or race relations in this country, he’s severely damaging them even if he honestly didn’t mean to do so.
Are all NASCAR drivers racist, gun toting conservatives with Sean Hannity screaming inside their headphones — absolutely not. But when a guy like Jeremy Clements uses a racial slur, the gotcha liberals in the world feed off of it and point to it as a reason NASCAR is nothing more than redneck racing.
NASCAR has a not so glorious past when it comes to race relations, as they were so backwards on the matter that they refused to allow Wendell Scott to accept a trophy for a race he won. I railed against the NHL for locking itself out at a time when it’s popularity was finally being restored to what it was, but this is much worse than any lockout. NASCAR has ESPN behind it and it’s popularity is beginning to become national, so to have a driver vomit a racial slur in an interview is as stupid as it gets.
The headlines should be about how amazing it is to be a regular human being an drive what is essentially a metal cage at 200 mph and make it look easy. Instead the headlines today are about a driver using a racial slur.
This puts us in a sticky situation, as anyone who defends Clements comments as “an innocent mistake”, as Clements is trying to claim, will only further reflect the disconnect some people assume NASCAR fans have from reality. In his apology, Clements implies that he let the slur slip and even though we can’t hear or read what was said, judging from Clements apology the slur slip was a casual one.
It’s inexcusable to casually throw a racial slur into an interview and unless Clements’ comments have been horribly taken out of context, it appears that was the case and he’s being justly punished for it.
But the damage has been done and it will take more than a suspension to fix things. We all like to ignore the uglier side of our history and NASCAR would love nothing more than to pretend this incident didn’t happen, but the fact of the matter remains we live in the 21st century where we have newspapers on portable tablets and the ability to literally grow human life in a petri dish yet we are still can’t get past our racial intolerance.
Clements comments are his own, but they reflect a deeper issue in out country today, an issue we just can’t seem to get over and that’s the biggest tragedy of them all.