June 15, 2005
Racer's comments sound like a threat
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
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
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
Cheer competence, sportsmanship and athletic skill.
Replace jeers and "booing" with deafening silence
for those who behave inappropriately.