Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The "Thought Police" Ride Again

Crewchief Kevin "Bono" Manion dropped the "s-bomb" on national television Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, and it didn't take long for The Thought Police to work themselves into their usual, holier-than-thou lather.

In the moments following a hard crash involving Martin Truex, Jr., Manion attempted to calm his angry driver by saying, "Don't ever give up on this team. We missed the set-up today, it was a piece of s--t. But don't ever give up on this team." Manion was unaware that his comments were being broadcast to a nationwide audience, and he certainly had no idea of the uproar that would result. Before FOX's broadcast had left the air, "American Family Association" President Donald E. Wildmon had already filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission about Manion's verbiage. "Family Policy Network" President Joe Glover filed a virtually identical complaint, charging that “NASCAR and Fox Sports have a responsibility to keep profanity off of broadcast television, especially during daytime hours...when so many families are watching.”

I would be willing to bet this week's salary that neither Wildmon nor Glover heard Manion make the statement in question. In fact, I'm guessing neither gent would know a panhard bar if it hit him upside the head. (Not a bad idea, come to think of it, but I digress.) Within minutes, however, both organizations had posted official FCC Complaint Forms on their websites -- conveniently filled out in advance with all the pertinent information -- allowing their horrified minions to express their complete and total disgust with Manion's expletive; despite the fact that they had not, in fact, heard it.

We've had plenty of opportunities to discuss this topic on "Sirius Speedway" recently. In March of 2004, Johnny Sauter was fined $10,000 and docked 25 championship points for using "inappropriate language" in a broadcast interview at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In May of that year, Ron Hornaday received an identical sanction for using the same word during an MRN Radio interview at Dover. In October of 2004 -- in the most notorious instance so far -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost $10,000 and 25 points after unleashing his own "s-bomb" in a live TV interview at Talladega. And in March of last year, Shane Hmiel was fined $10,000 for "flipping the bird" at Dale Jarrett, an act caught and broadcast to the world by Hmiel's own FX in-car camera.

Every time this situation arises, the same points get made.

1) A family should be able to watch the race together on Sunday afternoon without having to explain to little Johnny what "that word" means.

2) In many homes, Mom and Dad use words MUCH worse than Dale Junior's, and the language on the average elementary school playground is often enough to make a longshoreman blush.

3) People get defensive when a bunch of Bible-thumping, right-wing, religeous zealots attack their favorite sport, especially when the zealots in question know very little about the sport.

I understand and agree with all those points, and I'm as adverse as anyone to being preached at by groups like the American Family Association and the Family Policy Network. But the bottom line -- as I see it -- is this. It's my decision whether or not to expose my kids to salty language, and NASCAR (and its broadcast partners) should do absolutely everything in their collective power to ensure that it remains MY decision. Not Bono Manion's, not Ron Hornaday's, and not Dale Junior's.

I believe more can be done to prevent situations like what happened Sunday. When Ron Hornaday's blooper hit the MRN airwaves back in 2004, the network reacted quickly, instituting a seven-second delay on all broadcasts from that point forward. The network did so to protect its affiliates from the threat of FCC fines. They also did it because it was the right thing to do. Many of NASCAR's TV partners have instituted similar delays, ensuring that offensive language cannot get on the air. Others, however, have declined to do so, for reasons I cannot fathom.

NASCAR Vice President Jim Hunter said yesterday that a technical malfunction in the FOX production trailer allowed Manion's comments to reach the airwaves Sunday, adding, "They assure us they're looking at ways to make sure it doesn't reoccur.”

"Bono" Manion was an innocent victim in all this. He will not be fined or sanctioned by NASCAR, and he is owed an apology by FOX Sports. But NASCAR can (and should) do more, mandating that all its TV and radio partners institute a seven-second delay on all broadcasts, effective immediately.

That's the only way we'll ever get The Thought Police out of our business.


  1. Anonymous4:37 PM

    Dave, I dont know if I agree with you. I dont think there should be any delay on the broadcasts. People watch NASCAR for the emotion and true life of the drivers and, I feel with a delay you would take away from some of that emotion. Parents should know that their is the chance that their children would hear a "dirty word". Now, im not saying that they should not let their children watch our sport, but be it like Dover when i go there. They allow us to walk around with our beer and if you notice alot of people dont take advantage of the "privilage". Basically what im saying is teach you children young about the ins-and-outs of this world casue you cant baby them forever, and some point in their life their going to have to break the chord and maybe hear a dirty word.

  2. Anonymous12:45 PM

    This effects more than just children. There are plenty of adults who are offended by that type of language as well, regardless of the situation. On the other hand you can’t expect individuals to all react the same in the heat of battle.

    The 7 second delay makes perfect sense, and is something everyone should be able to live with. Only the offending word gets bleeped out, so those who crave salty language can still figure out what a person was saying at that moment in time, while at the same time not offending viewers who don’t care for that type of language.

    Considering Fox’s history, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to institute a delay in their broadcasts.

  3. I had the race on but Bono was talking so fast I didn't notice the word he said. What I did notice was Larry, Darrel and DW saying "That's going to cost him money." I suspect that if they hadn't said anything, most people wouldn't have noticed. Fox may want to suggest that the commentators not point out such things. This would make it more challenging for these watchdog groups.