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 Riseupandregister.com. 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.
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 Daddy.com 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.
So what happens next for the No. 41 team? A writer for the Frontstretch.com 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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