Integrity Matters
June 15, 2005

Racer's comments sound like a threat

Question: (E-191)

Dear Jim:

After being rear-ended in a race and swerving out of contention, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon said of fellow driver Tony Stewart: "All I can say is that the next time Tony's holding me up, it won't be very long for him to be out of my way." How dangerous is a comment like that?


Threat of bodily harm from competitive race drivers can have legal ramifications. Gordon has now threatened a colleague - on the record.

So, let's picture these two competitors in a future race. Gordon bumps Stewart and one or more cars crash, causing a fatality. Gordon said he would get him out of the way, and causing a crash is not an accident.

Intentionally causing a wreck at 200 mph might be classified as vehicular manslaughter or even premeditated murder. He has set a disgusting example.

Unfortunately, sporting events, games and entertainment are imitating life at its most brutal level. Athletic competition, at least early on, served to provide socially acceptable forms of controlled combat, avoiding blood and death.

But today, career-ending cheap shots in hockey are matched in baseball with vicious slides into opposing players. Pitchers purposely hit batters. Intensity becomes ferocity as frenzied fans devolve into modern-day "throwbacks" to a time when citizens asked for more lions to eat Christians in the coliseum.

This acrimonious sporting atmosphere smells of gladiators, fighting to the death.

Violence, in too many instances, has replaced finesse, professionalism, skill and sportsmanship. If maturity is grace under pressure, then Jeff Gordon (and lots of other high-profile, spoiled athletes) has failed to live up to the best he could be.

Competition requires a level field. Playing by the rules is expected, all the time.

A sense of proportion also needs to surround all sporting events.

Threats of violence are inappropriate in a civilized society, including the world of sports competition, especially when driving a vehicle 200 mph.

So, how might the rest of us help encourage integrity-centered behavior? Boycott events and products that promote hate, hurt and mayhem. Support "performers" who are positive role models and purchasing products they endorse.

Communicate to sporting leagues and associations the kinds of behavior you approve for yourself, your children and grandchildren.

Cheer competence, sportsmanship and athletic skill.

Replace jeers and "booing" with deafening silence for those who behave inappropriately.

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