The Costly Silence of Apathy
While Marshall Pruett has done an excellent job in laying out exactly what led up to Randy Bernard’s exit, the IMS board continues to be raked over the coals, and rightfully so, for the way the situation was handled. To be honest, the whole thing has provoked more fan anger than even I suspected. While monitoring Twitter and all the usual sites, I expected to see some support for the board’s actions. But until the Marshall Pruett articles, I saw none. Although the Pruett articles may have helped to justify what the board did, the way they handled it was still appalling. Interim CEO Jeff Belskus didn’t help matters by waiting until Thursday to come public with just more corporate gibberish. I understand that he is limited with what he can say for legal reasons, but he should’ve come public Sunday night or Monday morning.
In the meantime, we fans who were opposed to the way this firing was handled have two basic choices. We can either give up on a series that appears to have no interest in what fans care about and has no idea how to stay out of its own way; or we can decide to stick with a series that has given us so much joy, even though it can be very painful to be a fan.
My father once told me that when faced with a big decision; the choice that presents the tougher path is usually the right choice. Which is tougher in the long run? Giving up watching races on weekends in the spring and summer is not an appealing thought. On the other hand, continuing to follow the drama between selfish owners, a silent board and whoever the next sacrificial lamb with the CEO tag will be – is not an appealing thought either.
We are just a week and a day into the post-Randy Bernard era, and I’ve already made my choice – I’ll continue to follow the series and the Indianapolis 500 until they cease to exist. But there is a big difference between following the series and supporting it.
Growing up and in my early adult years, I was a pretty big baseball fan. I was never as crazy about it as I was football or open-wheel racing, but I followed it closely. I could not begin to count how many MLB games I went to between 1983 and 1993. Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Wrigley Field in Chicago were my most frequent visits, but I also saw many games in the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, the old Arlington Stadium and the Rogers Centre (SkyDome) in Toronto. I was probably what most would classify as a "casual fan" or slightly more than casual. After they lost the World Series in 1994 due to labor unrest, how many games do you think I’ve been to? None.
I never took a stand and said “That’s it! I’m done with baseball!” There was no conscious decision to stop attending games. It’s just the way it worked out. Consequently, I follow baseball from a distance. I check the standings about once a week, and may catch a weeknight mid-summer game if there’s nothing else on. This past World Series, I caught the last two innings of Game Two – and that was it. Twenty years ago, I was glued to every post-season game. This year – I watched about five innings of the entire post-season.
Needless to say, after watching MLB shoot themselves in the foot over and over, it became tiresome for this average fan. I just sort of drifted away in an apathetic haze. It’s one thing for fans to become passionately enraged about what went on last week. That’s a sign that they still care. It’s when indifference sets in that they have a real problem.
IndyCar needs to be careful of ticking off the better than average fan that usually attends the Indianapolis 500 and a couple of other races throughout the year. That pretty well describes someone like me. We buy the merchandise at tracks, we buy tickets to the Indianapolis 500 each year and we do our best to spread the word about the great on-track product. But when the series and the owners continue to repeat history by making the same mistakes over and over, it tests the staying power of even the most fervent fan.
Over the past week, I’ve seen some trying to downplay the board’s handling of Bernard’s firing by asking how many fans really care who runs the sports they follow? The NFL has had three commissioners in my lifetime – Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell. If they were to make a sudden change, I wouldn’t go ballistic because their sport is so successful that it’s hard to mess it up no matter how hard they try. IndyCar is much more fragile. They need consistency at that position. Major League Baseball has had a power vacuum since the mid-eighties and they have suffered from it – and they are in much better shape than IndyCar.
We will learn over time how many people will slowly drift away from IndyCar. Believe me, they lost some good fans after this past week, and it’s understandable. I don’t blame them one bit. The thing is, I think the greatest damage will come from those that have taken no stand. They probably haven’t decided where they stand right now. But their silence will be felt over the next couple of seasons.
The board has spoken and they have made it clear that they don’t really care about the fans. They take us for granted. Like the arrogance of the NHL – they assume that the fans will stick with them no matter what. Time will tell.
What I find amusing were those that went to every blog and mainstream IndyCar site to spew how they are done with IndyCar. They made sure that every comment started and ended with how they will never waste time on IndyCar ever again. I guess that explains why they took the time to go from site to site to vent. I understand the need to vent. I have done my share of venting over the past week.
But I think that those that go to the trouble to yell how much they are done, really aren’t. It’s understandable rage and anger. In none of my rants, did I ever say I was done with IndyCar. I knew not to make such a bold statement because I knew I couldn’t back it up. I’m one of those idiots they know they can count on through thick and thin. They know that no matter how much they kick us in the gut, that people like me will be tuning in to the St. Petersburg race next March and that next May 26th, I’ll be one of the faithful sitting in traffic on 16th Street inching along at dawn eagerly awaiting the feeling of going under that tunnel on race morning.
Most of those that feel passionate enough to scream how “done” they are will be there right alongside me. We may be more jaded, cynical and skeptical – but we’ll still be there. It’s those that don’t care enough to even vent that will end up doing the most damage when they just stop showing up due to their indifference and apathy. Their silence will be deafening.