There’s an element to sports which doesn’t exist anymore — the idea you can separate an athlete’s life on and off the field — but you’d be hard-pressed to convince players, coaches and hardcore fans of that. Recent weeks have proven some haven’t gotten the message (or the tweet, as it were), showcasing a sports world rife with insensitivity, ignorance and pure cruelty.
Perhaps the largest incidence of tone-deaf behavior happened this week following the tragic incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, where NASCAR driver Tony Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. I won’t debate what the video shows or doesn’t show (a video millions have seen and plenty others expounded on in numerous comment posts), but there is one undeniable fact: Tony Stewart killed another man. This, I can assume for most people, is not a common occurrence.
Yet hours later, Stewart’s NASCAR team competition director Greg Zipadelli said it was “business as usual today,” with the thought that Stewart was going to race at Watkins Glen.
Business as usual?
It will never be business as usual for Stewart again, no matter what he does with the remainder of his career. Stewart could become a 10-time champion, but he will always be the guy who killed another man on the race track. Always. The mere thought Stewart was going to race the next day was preposterous, which was made abundantly clear by the vox populi in droves. He reversed course and chose not to race, but it should never have been a consideration to begin with.
The memory of a man’s life is worth more than Sprint Cup Series points.
NASCAR made matters worse with a tweet, since removed, which stated “With heavy hearts, we turn our attention to today’s #CheezIt355”. Yes, because nothing says remorse more than a race sponsored by a baked snack cracker — though I would think Cheeze-It would never condone such a tweet.
Companies have a tendency to know what the audience thinks, big-time sports, however, haven’t a clue.
This was proven by another recent social media mishap where Florida State, home to the national football champion Seminoles, started the Twitter campaign #AskJameis, with the initial tweet reading “Fans: Do you have a question for our starting QB Jameis Winston?”
They sure did, and it had nothing to do with zone offenses or his favorite type of food (actually it did, crab legs, anyone?).
I’ve written about Winston before, the silliness of his arrest at Publix for stealing crab legs, and his disgusting behavior with a young woman who told police the Heisman Trophy winner raped her as his teammates watched. For Florida State officials not to realize questions for Winston would include “When a girl says no, what’s the best way to sexually assault her and not get arrested for it?” and “How do you expect to evade the nation’s top defenses when you couldn’t even evade Publix’s” is, in and of itself, questionable.
Public relations experts they are not, but then again, they are blinded by the fortune of having a championship team.
And why wouldn’t FSU officials think nothing of it, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s actions condone Winston’s behavior. He’s not suspending Winston to start the football season, saying his suspension from the baseball team was enough of a punishment. After the state attorney chose not to charge Winston in an investigation law enforcement bungled, Fisher said his QB was “exonerated,” which was never the case.
He was lucky and he was protected by police, but Winston was never exonerated.
No, Fisher saves his anger and punishment for those on the field, just ask Seminole defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey, a star player, was physical during a recent practice which ended with Winston being knocked to the ground. For the temerity of hitting someone on the football field, Ramsey was threatened with his scholarship by Fisher who said “He’ll decide if he wants to play at Florida State.”
Remember Seminole players, physically attack people OFF the field — the coach is totally cool with that. I’m a big Jalen Ramsey fan, though, and implore him to knock down Winston every chance he gets.
In the professional football ranks, the story of Ray Rice’s violent attack of his-then fiancée and now wife, resonated for quite some time and elicited a poor decision by the NFL and suspect reactions from Baltimore Ravens fans and coaches.
In response to the video of Rice dragging his fiancée around like a piece of luggage, the NFL responded with a two-game suspension for Rice which his coach, John Harbaugh, said was “not a big deal” with Rice simply guilty of a “mistake.”
Ray Rice didn’t take the wrong keys, he didn’t forget to leave the tip. These are “mistakes.” Rice knocked a woman unconscious, tried to hide it, and then held a cringing news conference where the victim had to sit there and say her getting hit was her fault too
Ray Rice is not a man, he’s a coward. He is not, as Harbaugh said, a “heck of a guy.”
Ravens fans have taken to cheering for Rice in the preseason, though it surely isn’t for his recent play on the field. Last year Rice averaged 3.1 yards per carry, good for 197th in the country and just ahead of such elite runners as Bengal quarterback Andy Dalton but just behind dynamic slasher Matt Cassel, QB for Minnesota. Trent Richardson, considered by many to be one of the biggest running back busts of recent memory, checked in at 3.4 yards per carry.
So why are they cheering Ray Rice? Is the new Ravens cheer “When I say domestic you say violence. DOMESTIC! VIOLENCE! DOMESTIC! VIOLENCE!”
I wish I could say this recent run of abhorrent behavior is an outlier, but we all know it’s the norm. Sports has a way of making people forget what’s truly important, and these things do not include checkered flags and touchdowns.