The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: For Christ's Sake by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday April 5, 2012

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MPM2Nite: For Christ's Sake

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday April 5, 2012


Writer’s Note: Some of you might want to sit this column out. With an off weekend ahead, there’s not much going on in racing and this column will deal with religion and politics in addition to what happened to a Nationwide team and their sponsor. If you’re looking for a story about fast loud cars and the greasy bits that they’re made of, move along. I don’t wish to offend anyone but I am going to speak my peace.

When it comes to advertisements during NASCAR races most fans have an opinion that there’s just too darn many of the things and all those commercials make it hard to keep up with the ebb and flow of the race. But there’s one commercial presented by a sponsor of a Nationwide team you won’t be seeing on ESPN or its sister networks.

This is a story about Blake Koch, Rick Ware Racing’s Nationwide Series driver. I know a lot of you are scratching your heads and wondering “who?” but Koch is a talented driver trying to make his way up through the NASCAR ranks like so many other young men and women. In 2010 Koch ran in the K&N West series, with a best finish of second at Irwindale Raceway, with seven top 10 results in nine starts. That left him sixth in driver’s points driving for Steve Portegna, as a development driver for Richard Childress Racing. If Childress sees promise in this guy I’m not going to doubt him. After all Childress saw potential in a young rough as a cob driver from North Carolina by the name of Dale Earnhardt.

Koch drives the No. 41 car in the Nationwide series, and will compete full time this year, and for twenty of those races he’ll be sponsored by Rise Up and Register avows itself to be a non-partisan movement with a goal of registering a million voters for this year’s elections who didn’t vote in 2008. That’s a well stocked pool to fish from. In the hotly contested, politically divisive 2008 presidential race just 64 % of eligible Americans actually cast a ballot.

“Be wary” of this man and his race car, some say. He asks that you to exercise your right to vote, and wishes to profess his faith… which is enough for critics to think he needs to shut up and get back to his iPad like all good sheeple.

Such a low turnout would be a major embarrassment in most industrialized democratic nations. Even in some third world countries citizens risk being shot, tortured or imprisoned to cast their ballot in higher percentages while all we Americans have to worry about is finding a parking space. But that 64% turnout was actually the highest turnout in recent decades here in the US even if it means that 1/3rd of the potential voters sat it out.

I don’t want to belabor this point and start sounding preachy but the right to vote isn’t just a right but an obligation as I see it. Through countless wars too many brave men and women have sacrificed their lives to protect that right in blood soaked fields both here and abroad. Yes, I’m a little lax in voting during off-year elections, but when it comes to presidential years I go out and exercise that duty that cost four of my uncles and two grand-uncles their lives in World War II.

Yeah, I’m like the rest of you, I don’t like waiting in line and I’m anxious to get home and have my dinner after a long day at work but I do it anyway out of sense of obligation to six men I have seen only in pictures. In my book if you don’t vote you’ve lost your right to bitch about the direction this nation is heading too. You could have made a difference. You chose not to. Far be it from me to tell you who to vote for this year but at least give the decision as much thought and study as you would deciding which fast food restaurant to patronize tomorrow night.

I think most of us (or at least more than 64% of us) would agree that Rise up and register’s message is a good one and deserves support. But ESPN feels differently. They have declined to run the Rise Up and Register ad. Blake Koch contends, saying that it was “too religious and political” in nature. (I contacted ESPN through numerous sources over the last two weeks and haven’t heard back from any of them to hear their side of the story.) So I watched the ad in question and here’s a link to it if you want to decide for yourself.

OK, for those of you who chose to watch the video, here’s my question: Did it seem overtly political? Did it seem to ask only members of one race and faith to vote?

I don’t think so. To me the key words are “Every voice is critical so join me and let’s rise up together for our country.” Every voice. What I saw was the typical ad festooned with the old red, white and blue, a nice rural neighborhood, and a good looking young spokesperson. The same approach has been used to sell everything from American-built cars to burgers and “freedom fries.” (Can we at least all admit now “freedom fries” were a really stupid idea?) Naturally I thought there had to be a second more controversial ad that set ESPN’s teeth on edge so I wrote Rise Up and Register and asked for a glimpse at that one. They said there was no second ad. (And of course ESPN never wrote back.)

About the only thing controversial I saw in that ad was the paint scheme on the cool Camaro Rise Up and Register is giving to someone who enters to win it. Blake, if I win, you don’t have to deliver it yourself. Drop it off at my local Chevy dealer to have it painted Steel Cities Gray.

OK, I may have fallen off the turnip truck yesterday but I landed feet first on the grass beyond the curb. I understand demographics. When a register to vote effort decides to use NASCAR racing as a marketing effort they might just be looking for a certain type of voter. Compared to the general American population NASCAR fans are far more likely (though not universally by any means) to be white, conservative, Republican and blue collar, a highly coveted voting bloc. Again, I saw and heard nothing in the contested ad that singled out of even appealed to that bloc.

From many happy afternoons spent fishing I can tell you that you might bait your hook for a bass and hope for a bass but that doesn’t mean that you won’t pull up the occasional Sunny or even pike.

What really frosts my flakes is ESPN doesn’t seem very selective in who they sell ads to. Ads for medicines said to stiffen or elongate the male organ or to increase a man’s ability to perform in the sack or a woman’s ability to enjoy such ministrations are countless and have led to many awkward conversations between parents and kids watching a race together. Thanks to a certain Ms. Patrick and her sponsor Go which are basically soft core porn with enticements to go to their site to see more flesh are constant. I’m thinking of one Go Daddy ad in particular which seemed a slap to the face of every female police officer out there that topped the “Bad Taste” meter.

Offers to the unwary to take out $5,000 dollar loans at a mere 156% APR over six years are allowed. Everyone has their own set of ads they dislike. Teetotalers might not like ads that promote beer and booze. Parents worried about childhood obesity might decry all the fast food ads that promote unhealthy meals. If I never see another ad featuring singing grilles it will be too soon.

But, oh, dear cautions ESPN, let’s steer away from Christianity. That might offend someone.

On March 29th Koch appeared on Fox and Friends and said what made ESPN nervous wasn’t the ad itself but Koch’s own deeply religious testimonials on his webpage

If you go to that page most of the content is about racing but in the Blog and Outreach sections there’s content in which Koch gives his Christian witness as several Christian denominations encourage to Jesus’s followers. After all, their faith and a hope for eternal life were a gift to them and it’s incumbent on them to share that gift with others.

In the interest of full disclosure here my full name is Matthew Patrick John McLaughlin. As such it’s probably not a shock to anyone that I’m Catholic and devoutly so. I am a product of Catholic schools through the eighth grade. My faith and my personal relationship with my Savior Jesus Christ are the bedrock my life is built around. I pray and read the Bible everyday 7/52/365. I don’t write about faith often here in my columns because I’m supposed to be writing about racing and if you follow me you’ll know this column is a rare exception.

The Catholic church isn’t as evangelical as other Christian denominations or perhaps even as much as it should be. And I take a lot of heat time to time for being Catholic with this whole priest abuse scandal (which sickens me as much as anyone) but you know what? There’s crooked cops out there but I still hold the profession of law enforcement in high regard despite the actions of a tiny minority of officers. And I don’t dislike or feel superior to Jews or Muslims, nor do I feel I have any better chance of getting into Heaven than any of them. The world’s three major faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judisim all believe in the same God. We just differ on who’s number two in the hierarchy, Jesus, Muhammad, or Moses. I’m a sinner, perhaps more so than most, and I’m working on my relationship with God as a journey not a destination.

I’m working on seeing God as less of a Santa Claus who owes me a winning Mega-Millions ticket and keeping Him in mind as much when times are good as when they are bad.

Many feel that this ad being banned goes back to the to NASCAR’s two network partners. FOX and its affiliates are typically seen as the most conservative and Republican news outlets. (Though that might be hard to see given the Mothership’s prime time lineup.) ABC, parent company of ESPN is most often seen as the most liberal and Democratic of the news outlet, though oddly enough their lovely and talented World News anchor Diane Sawyer started out her career working for the Richard Nixon presidency. Fox has and almost certainly will run the same ad ESPN black-flagged. Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR on FOX’s chief analyst routinely quotes scripture and confesses his faith on his blog without raising an eyebrow.

I am forced to confess here that I’m sensing a reverse discrimination against Christians not only in ESPN’s decision but in the media as a whole. ABC is after all the network of GCB, which for the clueless stands for “Good Christian Bitches”, ladies behaving in ways far outside their supposed faith. So would ABC air FMJ (Financially Manipulative Jews) or SDM (Somewhat Dangerous Muslims)? Of course not. There’d be a huge uproar and rightfully so. I’d be a part of it.

When Tim Tebow takes a knee to thank God for a successful pass some people see that as quaint or even odd. Would you prefer to see him showboating or spiking the ball on the home team’s logo at midfield? Hey, I’m with Tebow. If nine steroid crazed men the size of boxcars were coming at me with evil intent and possibly even a bounty on my head, I’d be thanking God too. (Prior to pissing my pants and running from the stadium screaming girlishly of course.) In another recent instance, The New York Times ran a full page ad ridiculing the Catholic church and urging Catholics to abandon their faith. When another entity tried running an ad blasting Islam and urging Muslims to abandon their faith, the Times wouldn’t run it saying it is was potentially incendiary and insulating.

How is it that it has become essential we be politically correct towards minorities but it’s OK to ridicule, taunt and even discriminate against Christians? I’ve danced cheek to cheek with the devil enough times in my life I know his work when I see it.

If something as simple as encouraging people to register to vote or share their religious convictions is frowned upon, how long until these patriotic scenes are next to go?

So what happens next for the No. 41 team? A writer for the Newsletter noted that Rise Up and Register sponsorship wasn’t on the car for Fontana. There’s no need to read anything into that because as noted above Rise Up and Register is only contracted for twenty races this season and LA wasn’t one of them. In response to an e-mail RU+R spokesperson Barry Bennett wrote, “Rise Up and Register will not abandon Blake. We will continue our 20
race sponsorship even if ESPN blocks us from reaching Race Fans
everywhere. We will double down.”

Jesus warned us while he walked here on earth that being his follower wasn’t going to be all sweetness and light. He said every day we’d need to take up our crosses and follow Him enduring the same ridicule, insults and jeering he did on his way to Calvary.

I just never thought a sports programming network would get in on the action.

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Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
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The Frontstretch Five: Pleasant Surprises of 2014 So Far
IndyCar Driver Profile: Takuma Sato
Beyond the Cockpit: Tommy Baldwin on Owning His Team, Hall of Fame and the Number Seven


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04/05/2012 08:05 AM

I have almost nothing to add, Matt, you said it all beautifully.

I just wonder if ESPN realizes how much publicity they handed Rise Up and Register…I’d never heard of it before this. Or how much damage they did to their own ratings. Christians are getting pretty sick of being bashed all the time. Yes, we can turn the other cheek. It doesn’t mean we have to support ESPN or ABC. They still have some decent people as commentators, but I won’t miss them.

04/05/2012 08:12 AM

Don’t forget to vote and vote often.

04/05/2012 08:37 AM

Matt – thanks for writing what I’ve been thinking since I heard about the espn deal. I watched the utube clip….didn’t find anything religious about it. Seemed to me an ad, especially towards the younger folks, to register to vote much like “rock the vote” did years ago.

Let’s talk about Mogan Shepherd for a minute….how often have the racing powers to be tried to redirect his “racing for Jesus” car?

I, for one, am sick of the mockery of the mainstream and Tebow’s taking a knee. Let the man alone. Trevor Bayne was broadcasted praying on the radio prior to the daytona 500 that he eventually won. He got sick on a mission trip.

I refuse to watch shows like GCB. Heck, society is even commercializing Easter. The greatest gift we’re given is to be celebrated on Easter, not the bunny. But that’s just me.

Yes voting is a pain and you might get called for jury duty. But, unlike driving a car, which is a priviledge, voting is a right that was fought for. And being a female, it took it an extra amendment to allow me to vote, so it’s very important to me to vote.

It will be intersting to see, once the “primaries” are over with if the “nascar dads/fans” vote will be courted as it had been in the past. To me, the two potential candidates are so out of touch with us average folks, but of course a race is a wonderful photo-op. Whatever!

While faith is personal,I don’t care what folks say, but our laws are based on those 10 commandments that Moses brought down from the mount.

Rob Bolling
04/05/2012 09:03 AM

As a fellow Christ Follower , I applaud your article, tact, and willingness to proclaim your faith when the opportunity presents itself. I find nothing in the ad itself that would be considered overtly religious, polarizing or otherwise offensive. Somehow, ESPN or one of their heavy hitter advertisers has a personal axe to grind with the RUAV message. It is a shame.

I am generally low-key politically and when it comes to faith, I let my actions and regard for others over myself speak for me in lieu of street-corner proclamation, but this one stirs a “boycott” gene somewhere in me and creates a desire within me to write emails to ESPN and their other advertisers.

Well said Matt, well said.

04/05/2012 09:42 AM

Do you think ESPN would have a problem running a Diddy spot for his “Vote or Die” awareness program?

Didn’t think so. Maybe RU+R isn’t ‘edgy’ enough to pass muster – they need a celebrity endorsement apparently…

04/05/2012 10:28 AM

These post are ridic…can we please keep politics out of racing? Sorry GCB is not that bad against Christians and I hate the fact that they think that they are the one’s being bullied in culture. I know gay marriage is totally an attack on your beliefs and GCB is totally a show to get people to think shitty bout Christians and I know fox news is the bible and should be followed without ever being questioned and that the “lame” stream media totally picks on conservatives all the time.

But one thing espn does not do as far as I know is post ads that are as political in nature. Hell I still don’t think santorum should have been allowed to advertise a sprint cup car that was horrible and send a bad message to fans like me just saying….and you wonder why people like me have no desire to go see a race in person?

Also, would espn have put up an ad that linked to pro abortion? probably not but would we be hearing anything about it? nope.

JC Morgan
04/05/2012 10:43 AM

Matt, excellent column. one of your all time best. thank you

Stephen Hood
04/05/2012 11:16 AM

Although the ad is seemingly neutral, if you go to the website to register to win the Camaro, you end up giving your personal data to a right wing political organization based in Fairfax, Virginia. The organization isn’t innocently hoping you will register to vote. The organization is hoping to gather your personal data so they can swamp you with political advertisements and other materials to convince you to vote for candidates that support the organization’s agenda.

Maybe ESPN is blackballing Koch’s race team or maybe ESPN is protecting its viewers from deceptive advertising or maybe ESPN is carrying the water for its liberally biased masters.

Based on my experience of watching NASCAR events for the pasty 10 years and attended races for the past six years, I don’t think the conservative Christian or politically conservative world views are threatened in the world of NASCAR. As a mainline Christian and political independent, I’d like my NASCAR experience to be a little less politically and religiously charged. But I also recognize that most NASCAR fans don’t think like I do, so I put on my headphones on and I tune out the political speeches disguised as prayers and the overt political conservatism on display. I like to watch cars race just like my politically conservative friends so I bond with other NASCAR fans based on our love of racing, not based on a shared religious or political worldview.

I do love my country and I love my Lord, but I don’t need the media or a professional sport to affirm my prejudices. I want my liberal friends and my friends of other faiths to enjoy NASCAR too, but I often feel the sport hurts itself by being so blatantly aligned with the political and religious right. I always enjoy it when the sport heads out West or to the Northeast and a Rabbi or UCC pastor is invited to offer the invocation. I look forward to the day when a rabbi gives the invocation at Talladega. I’ll probably be waiting a long time.

04/05/2012 12:21 PM

BSPN is a very liberal organization and you have know that to understand why they do what they do.

I hope other drivers will mention voting during their victory speeches.

In fact, I urge everyone here to email or tweet their driver about this issue.

And tweet this story so the word gets out about BSPN.

04/05/2012 12:38 PM

I think religion is garbage and Christianity is among the worst for lies, violence, death and suppression of personal freedoms.

But last time I checked, there was no law saying he can’t preach to the masses every time he opens his mouth. And yeah, the sponsor doesn’t seem outright religious. As an atheist I can’t say I’m offended by it. Getting peope to vote is never a bad thing.

BUT, if you dig deeper into the organization, it really does seem like it’s guiding toward voting conservative. And maybe ESPN was more worried about that, not the religious aspect of the driver?

It sure is hypocritical of anyone involved in NASCAR racing to suppress or stifle religious freedom when a driver can’t go 30 seconds without thanking their “god.”

But, just as some would see ABC as stifling and villainizing Christians, FOX does an awful good job of villainizing atheists. Christians may get tired of “being bashed,” but to be an atheist or agnostic in your country, ESPECIALLY in the South? You might as well be a terrorist the way people treat you.

On a side note, It’s a shame we’ll probably never see a racecar sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason. I’d be shocked to hear any NASCAR driver or crewmember come right out and identify himself as an atheist. Or hell, a Muslim, even.

I thought about sending Dawkins a letter to ask for sponsorship on my short track car, but figured I’d be too small beans. :p

04/05/2012 12:41 PM

To summarize my comments, for those who don’t like reading much, I’m playing devil’s advocate: It’s possible ESPN is distancing themselves from the sponsor not because of religious reasons, but because it leads/directs the viewer to a partisan, conservative organization.

04/05/2012 12:43 PM

Excellent Article Matt,keep up the good work!

04/05/2012 12:55 PM

Is there any real evidence ESPN blocked for religious regions rather than political?

ESPN doesn’t air political ads period.

It would be hard for me to understand how an ad encouraging people to register to vote is not political in nature.

Rise up and Register has now received more publicity for saying it was denied for religous reasons than they would have received had the ad simply run. I am skeptical of their story.

Not skeptical that ESPN refused, but skeptical they told them it was for religous reasons instead of political ones.

04/05/2012 01:07 PM

i like that….a rabbi at talladega.

04/05/2012 01:38 PM

I watch sports on TV to GET AWAY from politics and religion.

Carl D.
04/05/2012 01:57 PM

Thanks for the great column, Matt. I too have noticed that the rules of political correctness do not seem to apply when dealing with Christianity.


I’m a lifetime resident of South Carolina, probably the reddest state in the union, and I can’t say I’ve seen any non-Christians here treated with hostility. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen; people can be raging fanatics about anything. Still more people fight over college football teams here than they do religion. Today’s southerners are a lot more tolerant than a lot of people realize. Yes, there’s a lot of churches in the bible belt, but there are plenty of synagogs, mosques, and other religious institutions as well. People may try to convince you to convert to their religion, but by words, not by force or politics. On a personal note, my best friend is an atheist, and I’d defend his right to be an athiest to my last breath. If you have experienced any true hostility from Christians, I hope it was an isolated instance, and that you know that most of us just want to practice our religion in a peaceful, respectful manner.

Red Carey
04/05/2012 02:06 PM

I am pretty much a devout agnostic who supports everyone in making their own decision regarding religion. I have read a small library of books on all the worlds religions so I am well versed in the theological realm. That said….this is one of the best columns you have written. It’s neck and neck with your Tim Richmond and Fathers Day columns with no clear winner at this point. Just so you know I can never make up my mind when ordering from my favorite restaurant menu either. I wish more media members and the public at large could learn the rule of seperating work, friendships, and religion. I hope ESPN reads your column too and learns something but I am not holding my breath on that point. Well done Matthew Patrick John McLaughlin, well done.

04/05/2012 02:52 PM

Amen,Brother Matt.

04/05/2012 04:05 PM

Great article Matt, you delivered a sermon without preaching! And like Red, I think this one ranks up there with “What would Dale Do?”

Way6ne T. Morgan
04/05/2012 04:31 PM

I could give a $%^& less if you are a “con”, a “lib”, God fearin’ red neck what ever. I just want to see good racing at any level and don’t care who has an add or not. Most of the time will go to the local track and watch race later so don’t see adds. Saw a Great Sign on a Church,, “I’m not mad at God. I just don’t like his fan club.”

04/05/2012 04:39 PM

I could not have said it better than Stephen Hood, BRAVO and well said. If these Koch people really wanted to sponsor a team they easily could have kept religion and politics out of it.It amazes me how smart people get fooled by these type of web sites.If this Koch guy is related to the mega rich Koch brothers, they have many businesses they could put on the car. Sorry Matt, I usually agree with you, think about it, but you’ve never been more wrong than this!!

Danny P
04/05/2012 04:56 PM

Amen Matt, Amen. God bless you brother.

04/05/2012 05:45 PM

Indeed, Wayne. Not seeing the forest for the trees, I think. This has little to do with religion and everything to do with (what appears to be) a company that’s a thinly-concealed conservative marketing campaign.

Jeff Meyer FS staff
04/05/2012 06:24 PM

I can’t speak for the rest of the staff but I can say that I am proud to have Matt speak for me concerning this issue!

PTL and pass the ammunition!