Reaching An All-Time Low
As I indicated last week, I had already planned to not have anything here on Monday. I hesitated to even discuss the tragic episode in upstate New York late Saturday night involving Tony Stewart that left a young sprint car driver, Kevin Ward, Jr., fatally injured. After all – more than enough has been said on the subject. But after seeing the callous and irresponsible reporting done by supposedly credible news sources, I had to speak out.
We all know what Twitter is and we know to take it at face-value. Yes, there were horrible things written about Tony Stewart on Twitter. Some have even used the terms “murderer” and "cold-blooded killer", while claiming to know exactly what his “intentions” were. That’s what you get with Twitter. For no charge, you get fast and timely news – some of which is actually pretty accurate. You also have the chance to interact directly with a lot of interesting people, but with that comes having to deal with the trolls and bottom-feeders of the internet. I get that and I try to follow Pressdog’s advice to “never engage the crazies”.
The thing is, I expect the off-the-reservation conspiracy theories and magnified sensationalism about such things from Twitter. I don’t expect it from sources that claim to be trustworthy and leaders in their field. Unfortunately, the line between Twitter and CNN has blurred to the point that it is hard to distinguish between the two.
I first learned of the accident when I woke up Sunday morning. I checked Twitter and, following the timeline backwards, I could tell something horrible had happened overnight. I went to a couple of links and was able to pretty well piece things together. And yes, I’ll admit – I clicked on a link to the video. I did this not because I get my jollies over watching my fellow man meet their demise, but to compare what I was reading on Twitter to what the video actually showed. I’m not sure how anyone could make an informed statement either way without watching the video. Yes it was disturbing, but I saw what I needed to see.
I will also throw out this disclaimer – I am old and probably considered old in my thinking. I grew up in an age when death on a race track was much more common than it is today. That’s not to say it doesn’t bother me or affect me, but I probably look at it in a way that is considered insensitive in today’s world. Granted, this was different than if the driver had lost his life in the crash. Instead, the twenty-year old driver did what he had seen so many times on television. He unbuckled himself quickly and jumped out onto the racing surface to point his finger at Stewart to show his displeasure for being spun out. We all know what happened from there.
There is no way around it, this was a terrible, terrible tragedy. But our current society must always have someone to blame. And society loves to blame the rich guy with the hot temper, racing amongst kids less than half his age. Those were the only facts that people needed to convict Stewart, regardless of any other facts that might sway their thinking.
As I said, I’m a little more used to death in this sport than others. After I thought about how young he was, how devastated his parents, friends and family members must be, what Tony Stewart must be feeling at that point and how senseless and avoidable this was; I thought beyond the emotional aspects. I knew this was going to rock the sport of auto racing across the board and that the mainstream media would get hold of this and twist the facts and manipulate a story as only they can. Unfortunately, I was correct.
For whatever reason, the first place I went was CNN.com. The headline indicated that Tony Stewart had killed a young driver Saturday night. Someone may have read that and assumed that Stewart had assaulted and killed the driver in the pits. When you clicked on the video, the talking suits said that “…Stewart ran over the driver while he was standing on the track”. If you’ve seen the video, you know he wasn’t standing on the track – he was running into harm’s way, directly toward Stewart’s car.
I checked out the CBS and ABC news sites. They had similar distorted interpretations as to what happened. I was home Monday afternoon and caught one of the worst sources for news and opinions on racing – ESPN’s “Around the Horn”. It may be a sports show, but they need to stick with the NFL pre-season. These people don’t need to be discussing the intricacies of racing. It would be like me trying to sound authoritative about golf – I couldn’t come close to pulling it off.
ESPN’s SportsCenter wasn’t much better. Long ago, they lost all credibility with me. They’ve gone from being sports reporters to hip, stand-up comedians who happen to be talking about sports.
The bad thing is, so many people get their only exposure to news from snippets on the respective websites of CNN, CBS, ABC and the like. It might explain why almost thirty percent of Americans can’t tell you where our nation’s capital is, but they can all tell you who Kim Kardashian is married to. So, have our news services dummied themselves down to attract today’s mindless viewers; or are today’s viewers mindless due to the way they get their news?
I’m not going to tell you what really happened that night. I have no clue. I’ve seen the same video and read the same accounts as these so-called experts that claim to know. Maybe they’re smarter than I am, but I don’t have the slightest idea what happened. I know what I would like to think and it’s what I believe, but I don’t really know and neither do these experts.
But I do know this…Tony Stewart has already been tried, convicted and sentenced in the minds of some of these “objective” reporters who are so quick to throw out their uneducated opinions. They have all been eager to remind us of his well-earned reputation as a hot-head. They want us all to remember that Stewart has undergone counseling for anger management. Yet, while they are so quick to point out these things – they conveniently omit all of the wonderful and caring acts of charity that Stewart is also guilty of.
Tony Stewart is a lot like his idol AJ Foyt. He has a gruff exterior that covers up a heart of gold. His close friends speak of countless charitable acts that Stewart does when the cameras aren’t rolling. He doesn’t do them for the photo-ops or the publicity. He does them because he wants to, and without the credit. Like AJ, he doesn’t want anyone to know that he is really a teddy-bear on the inside. It’s funny how we who follow this sport closely know about them, but the professional journalists fail to bring them up. Why? Because it contradicts the sensational message that they’re trying to get across, that’s why. Who cares if it destroys his career and ruins his life? It’s a heck of a story.
But that brings me back to the worst part about this whole thing. While I’m talking about the mainstream media destroying Stewart’s career and ruining his life – don’t think I’ve forgotten that a life was ended on Saturday night. I’ve heard it said that only Tony Stewart knows for sure what really happened in those few seconds. I’m guessing not even Tony Stewart knows. I’ll bet he has played what happened over and over in his head a million times and still isn’t certain. But according to those closest to him – it is eating him up inside. You know he keeps second-guessing if he had just done this or not done that, maybe things would be different.
Hopefully, all racing bodies will make penalties so severe for stepping out onto a hot racing surface (except in the case of a fire or other danger), that no one will ever even think of trying this again. That was an act that had gotten very old, anyway. If there is anything remotely positive to come from this, that would be it.
I feel for the family and friends of Kevin Ward, Jr. I also feel for Tony Stewart. I cannot imagine what he is going through right now. If he never crawled back into a race car again, I don’t think I could blame him. His life and career will never be the same. It certainly doesn’t help to have the uninformed mainstream media trying to bury him, just so they can have a great story.
Note: Out of respect for the Ward family, there will be no poll question today. – GP