NASCAR appears to be making noise quite often this year, and perhaps not in a good way. Sparking controversy first over Brian France endorsing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, the critics have moved onto NASCAR’s stereotypes, all of which were out in abundance at Texas Motor Speedway.
How? Look no further than the race name. The title sponsor of this past weekend’s Sprint Cup Series race, Duck Commander, is an apparel company that has the term “redneck” in its slogan.
Apparently, shying away from politics appears to be the last thing on NASCAR’s agenda.
With Duck Commander sponsorship, the Robertson family, known as the stars of the television show “Duck Dynasty,” were out in full force at Texas. After a horrific rendition of the national anthem from one of the lesser-known members of the family, Phil Robertson, NASCAR was thrust into international headlines for all of the wrong reasons.
Articles circulating the internet within publications such as the New York Daily News, Deadspin, Breitbart and even Fox News have called out the television star’s invocation, a diatribe which included the line, “put a Jesus man in the White House.”
Q: Phil Robertson had a rather interesting invocation to start the race on Saturday night at Texas. Should religion be as heavily involved in NASCAR as it is? – Mary P., Columbus, Ohio.
A: As someone who is a proud Jew, I am actually offended by Robertson’s invocation, which has never happened to me before covering the sport.
“Our faith is in the blood of Jesus and his resurrection,” Robertson said during his invocation. “Help us, Father, to get back to that.”
These words are not ones that are accepting diversity, a platform NASCAR has made a fantastic attempt at over the years. With the sport’s Drive for Diversity program each year, there have been female drivers, Hispanics and African-Americans who are being given opportunities to work on racecars throughout every NASCAR-sanctioned division.
Compare that to what we heard during a few short moments Saturday night. Heck, I don’t even know what blood of Jesus stands for.
The sentiment from Robertson, a die-hard conservative, is not what NASCAR needs. In shying away from politics after France’s infamous Trump endorsement, along with the likes of several drivers, NASCAR has done a solid job at remaining quiet. Well, at least until now.
The invocation was vastly offensive. I, as someone who is Jewish, do not pray in any way, shape, or form to Jesus. In fact, most religious Jews question his very existence. When Robertson said his unfiltered words, I was admittedly uncomfortable but like everyone else, I tried to move on and simply rub it off my shoulders.
However, I’m a journalist who covers the sport. What about fans who don’t have the same type of work connection? Where changing the channel and walking away is a two-second switch?
Religion in racing is not just a problem that occurred overnight. No. It’s more than that. It’s the culture of NASCAR.
Every week, there is an invocation before every race at each level, no matter how low of a level it is. Sitting in the media center or press box, I cannot help but notice my colleagues, many of whom are Jewish by the way, look increasingly uncomfortable. Why should that be? Why should we have to sit there and listen to a prayer call to Jesus when we do not believe in the words being said?
“There are many who oppose the act of giving an invocation before every race because they don’t like religion shoved down their throats, but the pre-race prayer is a longtime tradition that NASCAR doesn’t seem to have any interest in abandoning,” Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press wrote this week.
Clearly, the executives down in Daytona Beach believe religion and NASCAR go together quite well. No one is saying to take that away.
Motor Racing Outreach, a Christian organization, was created “to unify and mobilize believers worldwide to support the development of young people, who have a reason to face the future, singles, with a sense of fulfillment, husbands and wives, who honor one another, and create peaceful resolutions to disputes rather than bitterness and regret.” MRO has done a great job at doing just that, and it has brought the garage area closer together than ever before.
Every week, several drivers gather for Bible study, including Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier, Blake Koch and others. It is a tradition that started with Darrell Waltrip and it is important that it continues as faith is a strong part of life, at least in my eyes.
However, all that progress is seemingly destroyed when enabling a voice such as Robertson to speak in a public forum at a NASCAR race. It is one thing to allow him to make an appearance and say that to a large group of fans. But when doing so during an invocation, he essentially offended NASCAR fans that are not of his faith, women and lastly, Democrats. Yes, even Democrats as he stated: “I pray Father that we put a Jesus man in the White House,” which essentially is Ted Cruz, who Robertson has endorsed.
“He said what he felt and believed and there are a lot of people that agree with him and a lot that disagree with him,” Eddie Gossage, President of Texas Motor Speedway, told the Star-Telegram in Texas. “Nowadays, you cannot say what you think because of political correctness. So I guess everyone has a right to free speech or nobody does.
“Bruce Springsteen cancels his show in North Carolina on his viewpoints [on that state’s controversial ‘bathroom law’], and a lot of people agreed with him and a lot of people disagree with him. I defend Bruce Springsteen’s rights to take his position and, if you do that, then you’ve got to defend everybody else’s too.”
While I am still greatly offended, as are plenty of people, it is way too much to ask for NASCAR to stop giving an invocation every week. It is important for the drivers and their families, teams and fans. It represents an America that the southern part of the nation greatly appreciates.
However, one cannot help but associate NASCAR with the “redneck” stereotype when turning on the race to see this insensitivity. It is obvious that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech. But as NASCAR is a private entity, it has the rights to censor what is said and who is saying it. Just look at the fines you face as a driver for criticizing the sport.
No other major sport has an invocation before an event. Usually, a handful of players will gather together and have a quick prayer circle and that’s all. NASCAR believes a pre-race prayer by comparison is something that symbolizes the beauty of the sport, as long as it does not offend anyone.
Remember, this is not the first time that Texas has seen controversy. The National Riffle Association (NRA) sponsored a race at the 1.5-mile speedway in 2013. Besides the controversy of gun laws at the time, a man committed suicide during the race in the infield.
Yeah, No Limits, Texas.
Have a question, comment, or concern about racing? Email me at Joseph.Wolkin@gmail.com and you may find yourself featured in next week’s column!
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