The other night I was watching the movie Ransom, a thriller in which a dirty cop named Jimmy Shaker (played by Gary Sinise) kidnaps the son of wealthy airline entrepreneur Tom Mullen (played by Mel Gibson). The movie reaches a point where Mullen is going to make the drop of the money, and during the jaunt between destinations that Shaker orders him to take, Mullen asks Shaker, “Why me? Why come after me?”
Shaker thinks about it for a second, and then reminds Mullen that he was willing to pay off a union-connected mob boss to stop a strike that would have hurt his airline. “Because you buy your way out of trouble,” he tells Mullen. “You’re a payer. You did it once. You’re gonna do it again.”
Up until 2003, before the sport’s “Drive for Diversity” began, NASCAR had been contributing to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition, supposedly to help increase the number of minorities in auto racing. So far, no one can cite any specific achievements of that partnership, which reportedly cost NASCAR $250,000. The late NFL star and minister Reggie White, someone who was not often accused of insensitivity to the plight of blacks in his life, said out loud that Jackson’s association with NASCAR was a fraud: “It’s really disappointing to me that Jesse and his organization would take a quarter of a million dollars from NASCAR and not do anything with it to try to get black drivers into the sport.”
Paying off Jackson was poor judgment on NASCAR’s part. Even without considering Jackson’s reputation among political conservatives – which make up a large part of NASCAR’s base – as nothing more than a shakedown artist, it was a symbolic gesture, one that had no real earmarks of genuine desire to change the status quo regarding driver ethnicity. It was almost a sheepish admission that NASCAR was not as diverse as some would like. NASCAR’s fans were not happy about the sport paying Jackson what clearly now (and it wasn’t all that foggy at the time) appears to be hush money; not because they are racist, but because they resent the implication that they are.
Think about why the NHL doesn’t have these problems. I googled “NHL Jesse Jackson” and didn’t find anything, on the first two pages of links at least, about some sort of similar arrangement between the NHL and Operation PUSH.
But the NHL wasn’t born in the South, the part of the country where supposedly everyone is still fighting the Civil War. NASCAR clearly feels guilt about being a Southern sport despite their having nothing to do with slavery, as demonstrated both by their association with Jackson and Brian France’s disdain for the Confederate flags flown by some at NASCAR events.
Fast forward to today and Mauricia Grant’s $225-million lawsuit against NASCAR.
Had she wanted to do the right thing, Grant could have taken a different avenue than a demand of $225 million from her employer for employing some ignorant people. She could have taken her story to the New York Times, CNN, or most any other of the ubiquitous left-leaning news sources in America – heaven knows, they would have been elated to give ample attention to evidence of a traditionally right-wing institution harboring an unacceptable amount of racism. And she could certainly have made a nice buck from a book deal (which she still might).
By choosing that route, she also could have brought the issue to light in a way that NASCAR could not have ignored. Guilty parties would rightly have been fired and innocent remaining employees would undergo more training in what they cannot say or do. That she is instead demanding a gargantuan sum of money as payback for NASCAR’s supposed “culture” of racism, which is at best defined as hiring and occasionally defending a couple of ignorant racists, diminishes her moral high ground.
Unfortunately, for her as well as everyone else involved, someone from the Selachimorpha Superorder got to her first. (I know “Selachimorpha Superorder” sounds like a religious cult, but it’s really just the species name for sharks.)
Benedict Morelli, Grant’s shark – er, lawyer – has called NASCAR an “old boy network” run by “a bunch of nudniks” who need to catch up with the America of today. Now there’s the voice of the tolerant and open-minded! If that is what Morelli thinks of those who run NASCAR, certainly his view of the sport’s fans cannot be much different. He cites an incident involving fans in the lawsuit.
Here is a quote from someone once associated with NASCAR, if Morelli is interested in some extra evidence for his case: ”One thing I know, Negroes can drive cars fast… go through red lights, even at night with [their] lights off.”
Who made that insensitive stereotype? None other than the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Where is the lawsuit against the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and where is the grandstanding attorney decrying the “culture of racism” in that organization?
Morelli is not only sounding elitist and hypocritical, he also isn’t appearing to be very bright. It might help his case to get NASCAR fans in his corner, which could certainly be done with dispassionate presentation of the facts; but inflammatory public remarks like that aren’t going to do it, the generally low opinion of NASCAR’s leadership notwithstanding. This chest-thumping self-righteousness is irksome enough coming from someone whose own profession has a more than ample share of sleazeballs and lowlifes. But it is especially galling coming from a litigator who is demanding $225 million from a corporation because one of its employees had a difficult time working there. It may be the first time NASCAR fans support Brian France since he’s taken over the sport.
Morelli knows exactly what he is doing. He is taking the actions of a few morons… assuming what Grant says is true, which for the moment I believe… and publicly painting the entire sport with the broad racist brush because Tim Knox and Bud Moore (the suspended members of the Nationwide Series accused of harassing Grant) don’t make enough money to buy Morelli a new Lamborghini. He is also well aware that “not many blacks in an institution” plus “institution has Southern roots” equals “institution is racist” to a great many people. And Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Petty and all of the rest of the decent Southern gentlemen in the sport should be offended by that.
If what Grant is saying is true, I am sympathetic to what she has endured. I would not tolerate some of the named incidents in any company that I ran, not even from the “military” types as Grant claims Nationwide Series director Joe Balash called the offending parties. By any measure of common sense, this is what should happen here: if some were guilty of making Grant’s work environment unbearable (which it apparently wasn’t… she did stay employed there for three years), they and any of their supervisors who were aware of their behavior should be terminated. And that’s it.
I’ve had rough experiences in the workplace too. I’ve worked in hostile environments. I’ve worked for supervisors that truly did make the job miserable. I’ve been wrongfully terminated. I would think it absurd to assume that that entitles me to millions; yet that is exactly what America’s litigious culture has taught us – all so lawyers can have beachfront properties.
With all of the blacks that have attempted to work with NASCAR to truly help them with diversity – including Reggie White, Julius Erving, Brad Daugherty and Randy Moss – it is more than a little surprising that Grant’s lawsuit is the first that some NASCAR fans have ever heard of regarding the hostile environment that surrounds blacks who participate in the sport. If Magic Johnson came out and defended NASCAR and their diversity efforts, would that make him a “sellout”? What about Bill Lester? Or Marc Davis? Have they experienced the type of racism and harassment Grant claims to have endured? If they are, why haven’t they come forward, especially now knowing that they can sue for almost a quarter of a billion dollars? I am interested in seeing what the answer to that will be.
The lawsuit claims (in addition to stressing that Lester was the ONLY black driver competing in the major series, emphasis theirs) that NASCAR “retains an unwritten yet unflagging policy limiting the advancement of black and female employees.” Indeed. As Randy Moss has just proven, like Julius Erving and Brad Daugherty did before him, the glass ceiling for blacks in NASCAR is “team owner.”
Should this case go to trial, in order to justify the huge amount named in the lawsuit, Morelli will likely argue to the court that the only way a corporate giant like NASCAR will wake up to the need to change their ways is if they are hit hard in their wallets. That, he may claim, is his real motivation for making Grant (and of course, himself) independently wealthy, not the desire to make himself independently wealthy as some of us old-boy nudniks might suspect. He would probably be insulted that anyone would suggest that it’s about the money. It never is, is it?
Morelli claims that he wants to “change the culture of NASCAR.” He’s not trying to get richer; he is Fighting the Power… the “Power,” of course, being the inherent and covert racism that dominates the thinking of all wealthy corporations; who are ignorant enough to be consumed with inexplicable hate, yet somehow were so cleverly able to conceal it for decades until a few good ol’ boy hillbillies let the secret out. That is what Morelli is going to try to convince a jury. If he wins a fraction of $225 million, it will ironically be the “Power” that makes Morelli an extremely wealthy man. It’s always a stitch when slithery attorneys manage to convince even themselves that they are fighting for the Greater Good. Just like how they fought the good fight for equality in reducing both of my parents to near-destitution in their divorce.
Morelli sees clearly that NASCAR is vulnerable, partly because of its Southern roots, and also through NASCAR’s sensitivity about its apparent lack of diversity. There’s blood in the water and sharks in the vicinity.
One of the uglier things about racism is the behavior of those who profit from it.
- I know Loudon is different from the other tracks and all, but I just can’t get into the racing at this joint. Something about the way the cars go into turn 1 at an awfully slow speed for a 1-mile track, I guess. But at least fans have been showing up for the New Hampshire races… at least for now.
- Nothing against Jon Wood, but I’m glad to see that Marcos Ambrose is sticking around. He was great at Sears Point and it’s cool to hear an Australian accent in interviews. I don’t think he’ll crack the top 20, but he was fun to watch last week.
- What’s all this stuff with Mark Martin? I’m sure it’s been said many times, but he’s becoming the Brett Favre of NASCAR. Not that I’m complaining mind you… his taking over the No. 5 would make him a prime fantasy pick.
- If you haven’t yet read Matt McLaughlin’s column on the death of NHRA star Scott Kalitta, check it out. It’s the finest tribute to Scott and his life I have yet to read… and it will make you reflect on your own existence.