Where Is The Sportsmanship in NASCAR?

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IJune 6, 2009

At first glance it would appear that a professional athlete only has one obligation: show up on time, play hard and  get to go home. 

Unfortunately, everyone knows that's not the case as an athlete can be pulled in many different directions during the season. 

And one of the biggest things that is closely monitored and then quickly criticized, is how an athlete handles themselves after victory and defeat.

When it comes to NASCAR, drivers have no problem celebrating the good times and making sure their frustrations are know in the bad times.

Sportsmanship isn't in their vocabulary.

Only a few drivers have it in them to get out of the car after a 500 mile race and muster up something pleasant to say.

Denny Hamlin gained much attention and respect when he was able to climb from his No. 11 FedEx Toyota and have nothing but nice things to say after getting booted out of the way by Jimmie Johnson in Martinsville.

Others throw whatever can be picked up: Robby Gordon throwing a helmet at Micheal Waltrip at New Hampshire in 2005 or Kevin Harvick and Ricky Rudd playing hot potato with their Hans Device at Richmond in 2003.

Some use their cars as weapons: Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick at Pocono in 2004 or Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Casey Mears at Phoenix earlier this year.

And then there are those that provide the sound-bites of the year by calling another driver a piece of s**t on national television.

To some sportsmanship is not something they want in their sports or athletes.

They want raw emotion and the guy that hates to lose and has no problem expressing it. 

But as more and more people are pointing out and arguing about, a driver can still hate to lose and be mature about it.

The only problem is, that's not what's happening.

Drivers have begun to avoid the media and show their ugly sides.

Granted, no one wants to have a microphone shoved in their face after something has gone wrong. But no one is telling that driver to immediately jump out of the car after the race is over.

Sit there with the window net up and take a moment to collect your thoughts.

Or tell the media member wanting to interview you that you would like to change clothes and get in the right frame of mind before talking.

I'm pretty sure they will be more than willing to allow you to do that. Not attempt to tie you down on pit road until you answer their questions.

Except, instead of doing that drivers, most notably Kyle Busch, will storm away from the media, run from the track and leave everyone wondering what happened.

This needs to stop.

NASCAR is a sport where no matter how good you are, you are not going to win every weekend. Now, it's time to learn to deal with that.

If you enjoy and know how to win, then know how to lose.

For so long people used to make a big deal over the fans misbehaving when something happened to their favorite driver and media members said that the fans didn't show good sportsmanship. 

That's pretty easy to explain since they have immature NASCAR drivers as role models.

Yes, I said it and it's time to accept it.

Athletes of all sports, whether anyone wants to believe it, accept it or understand it, are role models.

Repeat after me: athletes are role models.

They're in the public eye, something they wanted when dreaming of growing up and making it big, and people are going to look up to them.

Athletes need to remember that someone is always watching them and half of those people are most likely young children.

It's time for NASCAR to step up and make it an obligation for their drivers to man up and act like the professionals they say they are and is in their job description. 

Take a lesson from the National Basketball Association.

After his Cleveland Cavaliers lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic, LeBron James took a lesson from Kyle Busch and left the court and the facility without talking to anyone. 

NBA commissioner David Stern wasn't about to let that slide and he fined James $25,000, saying "He [LeBron James] asked that I express to the media, the Magic and the fans his apology, and particularly the young fans, because he knows he has a responsibility to all our fans, and that sportsmanship is appropriate whether you win or lose." 

In layman's terms that means whether you win or lose, learn to take it like a man.

The past few weeks have seen individuals who at first were all for driver antics like Busch's, now see them changing their tune and expressing distaste with it.

After a while it just becomes old and ridiculous. 

If a driver wants to enjoy the cameras and talk to everyone in sight on a good day, how is anyone supposed to take a driver seriously and view them as an adult when they run off like a little kid who just found out that Santa Claus isn't real on a bad day?

No one is looking for nor do they want the driver to get out and turn into a robot.

Thank the crew, the car and sponsors, smile for the cameras and then walk away.

There's no harm in getting out and saying "I screwed up" or "He screwed up" or "This and that happened and I'm mad as hell."

This will leave everyone satisfied: the driver has done their job, the media has done their job and ironically everyone wins.

The driver not only gets to vent their frustration and the media not only gets their story, but the fans can end their day with an understanding of what occurred.

A suggestion for NASCAR would be to stop waiting for physical contact between drivers to hand out penalties and then hide behind rule 12-4-A, "Actions detrimental to stock car auto racing."

A better one would be the Sportsmanship Rule that forces drivers to grin and bear it when a media member comes looking for an answer.

A driver that provides an answer, whether it's one people were looking for or not, can move along with their day.

If instead that driver decides to act like a big baby, they should then hand over $25,000 and instead of NASCAR putting that money into their year end fund, they should consider using it as a donation to the struggling economy or car manufacturers.

Maybe something good can come from someone being bad. 


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