New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman wants to beat Kyle Larson’s ass. Former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush wants Larson to “apologize deez nuts.” Former MLB outfielders Adam Jones and Preston Wilson have taken public notice of Larson’s usage of a racial slur too.
Meanwhile, Larson’s fellow NASCAR drivers have largely remained silent.
Among the drivers in the top 25 in the points standings through the first four races of the 2020 season, just Joey Logano and Bubba Wallace have publicly addressed Larson’s usage of the racial slur and subsequent firing by Chip Ganassi Racing. Logano’s comments came in a scheduled NBC interview on Tuesday.
“I hate to see that happen to Kyle,” Logano said. “I feel for him and his family. Obviously, a huge adjustment from what it was two days ago. But things like that are not accepted in our society, and it shouldn't be."
After the silence that followed Logano’s NBC interview, Yahoo Sports reached out to representatives for the other 23 drivers in the top 25 on Thursday morning for a comment regarding Larson. As of the time of this column, all of the representatives contacted either declined comment on behalf of their drivers or didn’t respond to Yahoo Sports’ inquiries.
“What Larson said was wrong, whether in private or public,” Wallace wrote. “There is no gray area.”
It’s easy to understand why a driver wouldn’t want to publicly comment on Larson’s self-inflicted firing because of a personal relationship or any other reason. And to be 100-percent clear, a driver staying silent on the topic doesn’t mean that he condones Larson’s language or disagrees with CGR’s decision by any stretch. We do not know what drivers have said in private to each other or their families and associates.
This isn’t the time to lay low, though. Larson’s comments rekindled the ugly stereotypes of NASCAR’s past and, as Dan Wetzel wrote Wednesday, delivered a fragile NASCAR a body blow.
The easiest way to respond to a body blow like that is to demonstrate why it’s undeserved. And imagine how strong that demonstration would be if multiple notable white drivers stepped up and said something.
Both NASCAR and CGR did their part. Less than 24 hours after Larson said the slur over the radio in an iRacing event he was suspended from the team and from NASCAR. Not long after major sponsors Credit One and McDonald’s said they were no longer associating themselves with Larson, CGR’s decision to retain him was made easy. He was fired on Tuesday.
But active drivers have remained silent outside of what Logano said to Mike Tirico and Wallace’s statement. That’s left much of the heavy lifting from the driver side to be done, once again, by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who addressed Larson’s situation on his podcast this week and how it helped bring back those old stereotypes.
“If you don’t have that word in your vocabulary, you don’t have to be careful,” Junior said. “You don’t have to take certain steps to prepare yourself from putting yourself in that situation. [If] it’s not something you use, then you never have to be concerned.”
Earnhardt emerged as the conscience and spokesperson for NASCAR drivers in the second half of his career and has remained in that role since he retired and moved to the broadcast booth. But he deserves some help from myriad active white drivers in the series on this one. Junior’s role as ombudsman needs to be supported, both now and with any NASCAR story that becomes a national one that has nothing to do with the racing product.
Like players’ voices in the NBA, the voices of drivers in NASCAR can carry a lot more weight than the voices of league executives. And, so far, the lack of active public voices shows just how much of a leadership void there is following the retirements of Junior, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and others.
Those who follow NASCAR on a regular basis know that it’s come a long way from where it was over 50 years ago, when many believe Wendell Scott wasn’t initially awarded the win after his first and only Cup Series victory in 1963 because people didn’t want to see a black man with a white trophy girl.
There are still many who don’t know how far NASCAR has come. They still see the Confederate flags that dot infields at various tracks. To them, the image of the rebel south still exists. Active drivers publicly speaking out against Larson’s slur in defense of the series is for those with that perception; not for the diehards who care about practice times and tire compounds.
If NASCAR wants to ever regain the mainstream inroads it made in the mid-2000s its drivers need to do their part to stand up for the series and themselves when necessary. And this is clearly one of those times. Change rarely happens quietly.
There’s no denying that such a statement, in this case, would be tough and even uncomfortable. It’s far easier to stay quiet because there’s a delicate balance between saying such language is unacceptable and not reflective of NASCAR while also recognizing that Larson — like most everyone in life — deserves a second chance after learning from his mistake. But it can be done. Wallace’s statement showed just how possible it is to say something is wrong while also retaining a sense of humanity.
Instead, those statements have largely been nonexistent. Larson’s slur has been a topic that’s largely been publicly ignored by NASCAR’s most recognizable faces. And as the week comes to a close and we move on to whatever happens during Sunday’s iRacing race at Richmond, that public silence could continue until whenever real racing happens again. That stinks.
This was a prime missed opportunity for lots of drivers to defend and reinforce the platform they stand on.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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