When an athlete is in the public spotlight, it is their responsibility to maintain their image in a positive manner. That goes for everything, including the ever-so-sensitive usage of social media. The way they carry themselves on their Twitter, Facebook or Instagram may be on their own accord, but they nonetheless speak for the organization they're a part of, even if they don't realize it.
NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Nelson Piquet Jr. was recently fined $10,000 and ordered to attend sensitivity training after posting an Instagram comment with a gay slur on fellow Nationwide driver Parker Kligerman's account. Piquet described the matter as no more than a joke between two friends, but (spoiler alert!) a fan snapped a photo of the comment, where NASCAR ended up catching the snafu.
It may have been nothing more than "witty" banter between two competitors that also happen to be friends, but the fact of the matter is that it was an insensitive comment in a sport that already suffers from negative stereotypes. We've been accused of racism and sexism, and to add homophobia to the record is a setback even if that wasn't the intended result.
NASCAR is working hard to become a more progressive sport, and by all means their payoff should be more than what it is right now. We have the capability to be viewed in a much more positive light than we are right now. We have something to offer everyone, and we could reach such heights as to be the American answer to Formula One.
But in order to move ahead, the competitors have to go along as well. They need to hold themselves to a higher standard. Already this year we had another setback when Nationwide driver Jeremy Clements used a negative racial term while speaking with an MTV News blogger. Clements was suspended two races as a result.
Was NASCAR right in penalizing Piquet for using a homophobic slur?
There should have been something learned from that incident, but apparently there wasn't. What makes it worse is that little things like that are what cost NASCAR a potentially bigger fan base that could encompass more minorities. We could reach out to people of all races, sexual orientations and so on. Our Drive for Diversity, although wonderful, isn't enough for that. We have a number of Hispanic-American drivers, several females, a number of African-American drivers and a Japanese-American driver.
But that isn't enough. We're still a predominantly white, predominantly male sport. If the drivers cared anything for the direction NASCAR was going, they too would do what they could to help the growth of the sport. A legacy isn't just defined by what you do on the track.
What if there is a driver in the ranks who is a homosexual that isn't ready to go public with their news? Such actions from a fellow driver would certainly keep that driver from coming out. That's not saying that Piquet is a homophobe by any means. But with such news this year like NBA center Jason Collins coming out in April of this year and WWE wrestler Darren Young coming out in August, such news could do so much for the growth of NASCAR.
This is 2013, not 1963. These days, ignorance isn't tolerated by anyone, even if it was a "joke" or banter between friends. If you're in the public spotlight, word choice is everything. A slip of the tongue could bring everything that you've worked for down in a crushing heap. I applaud NASCAR for dropping the hammer down on Piquet. It goes to show that they do take the growth of the sport seriously and do not need such nonsense hindering their progress.
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