Stick With What You Know
It’s not often that I come to NASCAR’s defense. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever come to their aid– not that the France family really needs a lowly blogger in Nashville taking their side on issues. But as uncomfortable as I feel jumping to their defense on anything, I have to take their side on this latest issue.
Earlier this week, Washington columnist and radio personality Tony Kornheiser told his audience on ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption, that NASCAR ensured that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500 to create a great storyline since it is the tenth anniversary of his famous father’s death.
Kornheiser went on to say that (paraphrasing) a longtime NASCAR reporter told him it was 60% certain that NASCAR looked the other way during post-qualifying inspection and that there was a lot of winking going on over this one. The reporter was Washington Post reporter Liz Clarke, who actually has some credibility on the NASCAR circuit.
Kornheiser has no such credibility in racing. He really knows nothing about it, yet thinks he knows enough to cast doubt among his listeners about the legitimacy of the sport.
I don’t claim to know near as much about NASCAR as IndyCar, but I still feel like I can hold my own in most NASCAR conversations. I’ve compared NASCAR to WWE before and have heavily criticized them for their contrived and gimmicky rules. I don’t, however, subscribe to the theory that they follow a script before the drivers buckle into their cars.
Robin Miller has often joked about NASCAR drivers getting “the call”. Whether or not he’s totally serious, I’m not really sure. But Robin Miller has enough skins on the wall in his long career of covering auto racing, to be able to make a statement like that. Tony Kornheiser does not.
I consider Tony Kornheiser to be a comedian, mostly. His former radio show on ESPN was hilarious, but it had little to do with his knowledge of sports. He would generally opine on pop culture or issues of the day. When he did talk about sports, I found him to be entertaining, even if he was on the opposite side of an issue than I was (which was often the case). His current show on Washington’s ESPN affiliate, carried on satellite, follows the same format.
When he was tabbed for Monday Night Football in 2006, I found his presence on the telecast to be awkward and annoying. In fact, I consider him to be the second-most annoying person to ever appear on MNF – just behind Dennis Miller. Keep in mind, this was a show that featured Howard Cosell for fourteen seasons.
To me, Kornheiser hit a new low when Monday Night Football came to Nashville in 2008 to cover the Colts-Titans match-up. Although the Titans were 7-0 after the game en route to a 13-3 season, Kornheiser spent most of the evening making the tired old jokes about Tennessee hillbillies, overalls, rednecks and country music – sort of the way that FOX trots out the same worn-out gambling jokes every time they visit Las Vegas.
Kornheiser wondered out loud how a prestigious school like Vanderbilt ended up in the deep-south. These were lazy jokes. They were the jokes of someone who knew nothing about where he was or what he was talking about; and instead relied on his stereotypical lack of knowledge. We don’t mind poking fun at ourselves, but when the barbs come from a northeastern elitist – it doesn’t set too well down here.
Kornheiser was practicing lazy-man humor again this week by laughing at racing in general, and NASCAR in particular. When a popular (notice I didn’t say well-respected) member of the media sounds off on a subject and pokes fun at a sport that is special to a lot of people; he should at least know what he is talking about.
Tony Kornheiser has a lot of fans, viewers and listeners. He has the ability to influence a lot of people. When he takes swipes at a sport like he did earlier this week, he needs to get his facts straight. Saying that this was somehow staged, makes him sound ignorant.
Does Mr. Kornheiser know who sat on the pole for last year’s Daytona 500? In case he doesn’t, it was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. But the fact that it was the ninth anniversary of his fathers death didn’t raise any eyebrows. It shouldn’t raise eyebrows ever, considering that Dale, Jr. drives for the best team in the business. The fact that Junior has underperformed during his time with Hendrick Motorsports is about the only thing that should raise eyebrows.
It’s arrogant journalists like Tony Kornheiser that give all forms of racing a bad name. People like Kornheiser don’t get auto racing, so all they know to do is make fun of it. I don’t get the NBA, but I don’t make a point to bash their fans every chance I get. I simply ignore it. Apparently, Mr. Kornheiser thinks that being a sports journalist gives him free-reign to comment on all sports, whether or not he knows anything about them at all. I’m just glad that ESPN doesn’t pair him up with Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear at the Indianapolis 500, otherwise he would use that as a five hour platform to ridicule IndyCar fans.
Here’s a hint for all sports writers: stick to what you know best, and know when you are out of your realm. Bloggers are not journalists. Most of us have no illusions of being journalists. But we know enough to stick with what we know and stay away from subjects we don’t know. Mr. Kornheiser should do likewise.