Whether In NASCAR Or Tennis: Debates Rage When Penalties Affect Outcomes

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer ISeptember 13, 2009

MADISON, IL - SEPTEMBER 12: Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Menards/NIBCO Chevrolet is held in the pits by officials after being black flag during the Camping World truck race Copart 200 at the Gateway International Raceway September 12, 2009 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)

Every sport has them, the punishments issued when the sanctioning body deems that a rule of the sport has been violated.  Hockey has the penalty box, field hockey has the red card, and football has the yellow flag with loss of yardage.

But this weekend, serious penalties not only were given by the sanctioning bodies of two particular sports, NASCAR and tennis, but both punishments dramatically affected the outcome of each event, the NASCAR Truck race and the U.S. Open.

There is no doubt that debates will rage in both instances about who was right and who was wrong.  And discussions will also be held as to the fairness of each one of the penalties, particularly given the impact on the outcome on the events.

The first penalty issued that impacted the outcome of an event occurred in stock car racing.  In the Saturday afternoon NASCAR Camping World Truck race, one of the drivers Matt Crafton was having an eventful day.

First, Crafton got into another driver Todd Bodine, who happened to be running in the second position.  As a result of the impact from Crafton, Bodine spun into the outside wall, collecting two other drivers, Colin Braun and Rick Crawford, in the resulting wreck.

Bodine was unable to return to the race and was very angry about what he perceived as the intentional dumping.  "How stupid do you have to be to turn somebody going into the corner with eight laps to go," Bodine said.  "This kid has done this crap his whole career."

On the very next restart, Crafton, who now had assumed the second place position after moving Bodine out of the way, then got into race leader Ron Hornaday.  Hornaday suffered the same fate as Bodine, except that he not only hit the wall but also was hit by another car, the No. 33 Chevy driven by Jason Young, who had nowhere else to go on the track.

Hornaday too was unable to return to the race and made his displeasure with Crafton known.  "It was a slow start, and I guess he wanted to move to the outside and dump me," Hornaday said of the contact with Crafton.  "I saw him do it to Bodine earlier, so it's a shame.  It's just flat stupidity."

At this point, NASCAR officials decided that the two incidents were enough to penalize Crafton for rough driving.  He was black-flagged, held in the pits as pictured above, and placed back to the 12th position in the race.

While Crafton was able to rally to a sixth place finish, Mike Skinner went on to win the race.  "I have to applaud NASCAR," Skinner said regarding Crafton's penalty.  "Sometime we got to stop being able to wreck the leader to win these races."

Crafton, along with his fans argued otherwise, saying these two incidents were just racing deals.  "I got two really good restarts," Crafton said.  "That's the last thing you do is wreck somebody."

While the NASCAR penalty issued to Crafton affected the outcome of the race, a similar situation occured this weekend in the world of tennis.

At the U.S. Open, Serena Williams was playing in her match against Kim Clijsters, when a penalty was issued that would haunt the outcome of her match. 

Williams, who admitted she was not playing her best tennis that day, had her first meltdown after losing the first set.  She was assessed a warning for smashing her racket.

But things went from bad to worse for Williams, who was then assessed a foot fault while serving in the second set, with Clijsters ahead 6-5.

Williams angrily walked over to the linesman, pointing her racket and waving her tennis ball at her.  There were reports that she also used several obscenities in the outburst.

The tournament referee, after conferring with the umpire and the linesman, ruled a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct.  Because this penalty resulted in an automatic loss of a point, the match point went to Clijsters, solidifying her win.

"No, I didn't threaten," Williams said, shaking a bewildered Clijsters' hand and storming off the court.  "I didn't say...I don't remember anymore, to be honest.  I was in the moment."

"What can I do?" Williams continued. "I'm not going to complain.  It was what it was."

Just like in the NASCAR Truck race, a penalty for a rule violation in a tennis match had major impact on the outcome of the match, as well as the ultimate outcome of the 2009 U.S. Open.

Should athletes be penalized so harshly, especially if the outcome will be affected by the assessment of the punishment?  Does the penalty fit the "crime" in these two instances?

Or is it appropriate that rules be enforced and the bad behavior on the track and on the court, as in life, be addressed and accounted for?

There is no doubt that the debates, especially among fans of these two athletes, will now rage.  One only needs to read the sports blogs, particularly the comment sections, to see the vehemence of the debates.

But there is also no doubt that, although an athlete may get caught up in the passion of that particular moment, there must be consequences when that infamous line is crossed.