NASCAR fans skew conservative. You know that, I know that, politicians know that. An overwhelmingly white fan base, rooted in Southern conservative values (we still have a pre-race prayer, for heaven's sake) ... it's no surprise that NASCAR generally tilts right.
Which would be just fine, if that tilt didn't slide into toxicity. But on Sunday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it did.
Moments before one of the greatest races in sports history, certain NASCAR race attendees — I'm not dignifying these cowards with the term "fans" — showed why this sport will always have trouble getting respect from the mainstream of America: they booed the First Lady of the United States.
Inexcusable. Unforgivable. Don't give me the "free speech" argument. Don't give me the "Obama sucks" argument. Don't try anything you can possibly do to rationalize this away. Why? For a very simple reason, one that supersedes both politics and sport:
You don't boo women.
You don't. Especially not in NASCAR, which reveres Mother's Day so much it won't even schedule races on that day. It's stunning that we've slid this far as a culture that something as simple and profound as respect for wives and mothers is now this cheap.
This is not about politics. This is not about "free speech." This is about being enough of a man (if you're a man) and enough of an American, whoever you are, to recognize that we should hold ourselves to some higher standards in our public life. (And this also isn't about stay-in-the-kitchen sexism. If we can agree to hold open a door for a woman, can't we agree it's acceptable not to boo her?)
If it was President Obama up there? Sure, boo your head off. Same thing if it was former President George W. Bush. The president takes the job, he should deal with the fallout and the negative opinion. But to boo the man's wife? Especially when she's engaged in that most conservative of pursuits, supporting military veterans and their families?
Come on. You just harmed the image of NASCAR worse than anything that Obama ever could have done.
Look, I get the reasoning, twisted though it may be. Michelle Obama is married to the president, and many in NASCAR nation have profound philosophical differences with the president, to put it politely. Whether NASCAR fans who break from Obama have legitimate political arguments with the way the president runs our country, or whether they're just ticked that things ain't as good as they were back when (and nobody ever says that in NASCAR, do they?), they can and should be allowed to express their grievances with him in public. But to do it by attacking his wife?
So, so far beyond stupid. (Let's not even get into the racial aspect of this, which opens up a whole different line of discussion. It's there, but let's stay focused on gender.)
So, for those of you who think that you made some kind of difference by booing the First Lady, you're exactly right ... but not in the way you think. You boo a man, he might think twice about what he's doing. You boo a man's wife, he won't ever think twice about you again. Nice work.