Monday, April 13, 2020

COMMENTARY: There are no winners in Larson debacle

PHOTO: Brock Beard
Last night, during an iRacing livestream, NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson uttered a racial slur that was heard on all channels. Today, as NASCAR, Credit One Bank, Chip Ganassi Racing, and iRacing have all taken punitive action, Larson publicly apologized in a video on his Twitter account. 

What Larson did last night was stupid and reckless. The slur uttered inflames the emotions more than all others. It was shocking that a public figure would exercise such poor judgment on a livestream that he knows is being watched by so many people. I do believe that Larson was sincere in his apology video. But I also agree that this same morning, NASCAR and their partners were right to take disciplinary action – not simply to punish Larson, but as a warning to others. I’m also pleased that NASCAR has offered a road back through sensitivity training. A second chance is an intrinsic American value.

It’s beyond an understatement to say this has been the latest chapter in what has been a horrible year for everyone. This news broke in the midst of a pandemic that has forced us to shelter in place for a nearly a month, with still no clear indication when we can return to our normal lives. We are scared, frustrated, angry, and trying to make the best out of an impossible situation. iRacing – both for competitors and viewers – has been one of the few outlets available for us all to try and feel some sense of normality. It should not have been surprising that everyone’s emotions were running so high in the aftermath. One could even consider it a betrayal.

But the response on social media last night quickly turned ugly in its own right. What began as understandable disgust grew to demands that Larson lose his sponsors and even be kicked out of NASCAR. The fire then grew even bigger as others concluded that he would, even crowning Ross Chastain as his replacement. Some seemed to express near glee in making memes out of Larson. Others insisted this is proof NASCAR has never escaped the worst shadows of its past, unwittingly writing today’s headlines for outsiders who have an ax to grind against stock car racing.

With fear and anger adding more fuel to the fire, the outrage wasn’t focused simply on Larson anymore, but quickly spread to others who didn’t completely agree with the trajectory of the discussion. I was among those targeted when I expressed my distaste for “cancel culture,” where such a concerted effort of online bullying and shaming stemming from a single act is geared toward destroying a person’s entire reputation and career. Social media has granted the court of public opinion so much power with responsibility to no one, and feels no consequences for its collective actions. It acts beyond the law, and should be used with extreme caution.

Some who agreed – as I do – that it is useless to explain intent when using a racial slur were also trying to convince me that putting someone “on blast” is different from “cancel culture.” Others looked no further than my skin color and shouted me down with the same kind of hate that, if said on a livestream, would see this same phenomenon turned on them. This was outrageous and deeply hurtful. I dread to know how much it pales to what Larson must be experiencing.

Nothing good came from last night – not from Larson, and not from social media. No evil was vanquished, and no war was won. I pray that, in our self-isolation, we all take a moment to understand what is important to us, and most importantly, what price we are willing to pay to see it happen. Maybe then, we will all return to our senses.


Stock Car Racing League (SCRL) said...

NO ONE in the world should ever say that word, no matter your race, gender or sex. If one person can get punished the other person should be punished as well.

Equal words gets equal punishment.

Sally said...

Disturbing to me was the casual use of the word, which implies that it is definitely a part of his vocabulary. I'm not sure he should lose a career over this, but as a minority himself who has, I'm sure, been the target of racial slurs, I would hope that he would never consider using language like this.

Unknown said...

I agree with Sally.