Monday, March 12, 2007

Commentary: Stop The Hate

What makes fans hate certain drivers? Does familiarity breed contempt – as the old saying goes -- or is ignorance more to blame?

I’ve thought about it a lot over the years, and it truly baffles me.

Today’s broadcast and print media give fans more access to NASCAR drivers than ever before. That’s the good news, and the bad news. We get to see Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and the Busch Brothers up-close and personal, just seconds after some of the most emotional moments in sports.

“Hey Mark Martin, you just lost the Daytona 500! Whattaya think about that?”

Sometimes, they don’t react the way we would like them to. They get angry, snappish, foul-mouthed and vindictive, prompting some fans to label them “crybabies” and admonish them to “shut up and drive.” One week later, when they bite their tongues in the face of disappointment, they are criticized for being “NASCAR clones;” afraid to say anything that might offend sponsors, or be seen as politically incorrect.

It’s easy to hate someone you’ve never met. Easy, but illogical. You may think you know Michael Waltrip from what you’ve seen on Inside NASCAR Nextel Cup, but you don’t. There’s also more to Tony Stewart than the videotape SportsCenter ran of that garage area temper tantrum in 2002.

I know most of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series drivers to one degree or another, and I can honestly say that I don’t hate any of them. Not even close. Most of the men who drive Nextel Cup stock cars are the genuine article; sincere in their dealings with the fans, fair and cooperative with the media, sportsmen both on and off the racetrack. A couple of them have public personae that don’t exactly mesh with reality, but all in all, they’re a good group of guys. And yet, an astonishing number of fans across the country willingly use the word “hate” when describing at least one of them.

I am amazed by the passion with which some of these self-described “fans” hate. There are legions of seemingly-sane individuals who will go to their graves arguing that Jeff Gordon’s five championships are illegitimate, due to “Hendrick favoritism.” There are others who believe NASCAR exists only to screw poor Mark Martin. There are fans who pray daily for Sterling Marlin’s demise because “he killed Dale Earnhardt,” and others who believe Dale, Jr., wins only because Brian France orders it to be so.

When their driver falls on hard times, they bombard the racetrack with trash and empty beer cans, then hurry home to flood the internet message boards with paranoid conspiracy theories. They remember decades-old incidents like they were yesterday, assigning blame instantly and hating forever the men unlucky enough to be judged guilty . They wear distasteful t-shirts that encourage their fellow racefans to “F—K (Insert Driver Here),” or question that driver’s sexual orientation.

It’s juvenile, boorish, senseless…and incredibly heartfelt.

It’s baffling, if you ask me.

These fans – a small majority, admittedly -- take a sporting event designed as entertainment, and make it larger than life. They allow it to consume a percentage of their lives that no mere hobby should ever be allowed to consume.

And worst of all, they try to get the rest of us to play along.

Personally, I’m not playing.

In America, you have the right to hate someone because they drive a certain racecar, if you so choose. You also have the right to express that hate, within legal limits. It seems to me, though, that there are far better uses for that energy. Rather than hating someone you’ve never met for something they did on a racetrack 1,500 miles away, channel that energy into something positive. Make a contribution to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, the American Red Cross or the American Cancer Society in your favorite driver’s name. Mow your elderly neighbor’s lawn, or take the neighborhood kids to your local short track.

Hating accomplishes nothing. It ruins your enjoyment of the sport, and mine.

We can do better than that.

14 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:27 PM

    I was exposed to Nascar in 1985. So I instantly became a big Bill Elliott fan and resident hater of al things Chevrolet. The day Dale Earnhardt died, I realized that hate was more respect. I knew Nascar would never be the same. Jimmy Spencer once said he missd the nascar that Dale Earnhardt and Bill France once ran, he knew for sure they wouldnt be headed to New hampshire the week after thanksgiving. I miss that nascar too.

    mr. Q

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  2. Hey Moody...I understand where you're coming from. Being a Spencer fan myself, I've HATED Kurt Busch for a long time. I think in that situation, hating a driver should be understandable, given the facts about that incident. Now that over 3 years has past I dont really hate ol KB anymore in fact I begrudgingly admit he's matured and has become somewhat tolerable.

    All that said, I think you are correct. Some of vitrol I've heard from race fans is outlandish and doesn't belong in the sport.

    However, I still reserve the right to boo Kurt Busch during driver introductions at Bristol next week...lol


    Brett

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  3. Well said Dave. While I still reserve the right to have my favorites, I always feel a little uncomfortable in the midst of the ones who boo a driver during the intros at the track. No matter what a person may think of some of the drivers, you ought to be able to admire the raw talent that gets these drivers into the race.
    Why heck, I almost hate to admit it, but the way Kyle Busch handled the end of Saturday's Busch race almost got me into his fan club.

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  4. Anonymous5:58 AM

    your article is senless it's not people hate were loyal to our drivers like me Rusty fan for years didn't like earnhardt even up to the day he died but i respected his ability as a driver I am now a stewart fan, I don"t like gordon Johnson Earnhardt Jr.etc.i boo them but while there racin but i do not want to see no one get hurt , It is all about the rivialry and fun of the sport something it is lacking now every body is to kissy kissy with each other,racing is no good now boring nascar has gotten to big for it's self it has forgotten what brought them here it use to be a family sport it is now corporate,write about something useful about the falling popularuty of nascar and lets figure out as fans what we can do to help bring the sport back,it might be to late

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  5. Anonymous7:01 AM

    Hey Moody...Flash has won only 4 Championships...95, 97,98 and 2001...THIS year he'll win his fifth.

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  6. Anonymous7:08 AM

    My dad took me to martinsville when it was dirt have seen this hate thing ever since. Not long ago a young punk asked who was my favorite,I told him 43 drivers every sunday,he insisted I had to have a favorite and someone to hate
    thought about it for a while,then decided to hate that little punk.
    I hate that you don't write more often,you're a good read....later tater.

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  7. Anonymous7:30 AM

    Boy, I sure do love to read an article from a "Professional" sports writer that has incorrect information in it. Get your facts right before you put it into print. As for hating a driver, Alot of that comes from Nascar giving special treatment to certain teams. Hendrick comes to mind first. Sunday was a grat example of that. Good ole JJ had a tire get loose on his last stop and nothing happened to him. I guess it was just his time to win. That's were the "hate" comes from mostly. Just how long have you been a Nascar fan anyway? "hate is just another word for rivalry in Nascar. You should know that, oh but wait, you think Gordon has 5 cups. sorry.

    Don

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  8. Anonymous8:18 AM

    Good article. I used to "hate" all chevy's and Big E, but I realized it was a waste of time. I have drivers that I don't care for much as far as their track behavior goes, but I am always aware that I don't "know" these folks, I just see them on TV and catch a glimps at the track. Being a Ford Man, I don't cheer for the other brands, but I don't wish them ill. I love Nemecheck, Sterling, Labonte, Petty etc etc. Gotta appreciate all the personalities.

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  9. Anonymous8:58 AM

    Douglas said! Your article is great! Unfortunately the word "hate" has come to life in today's NASCAR! Used to be the time you had your favorite driver(s), and maybe booed a little those you did not like! But today's NASCAR "fan" has taken it to a new level!

    FAN hatred and reactions to what happens to their driver actually impacts the results of races. NASCAR is afraid at times to penalize certain drivers during a race because of what the "hate" fans might do! (2005 Talledega where JR. won but should have been penalized).

    A sad state of affairs today's NASCAR fan! Takes away from what could have been a good sport!

    Doug
    Augusta, MI

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  10. Anonymous9:02 AM

    Oh, by the way, I agree with Don, a previous writer, that a good portion of this hate thing IS CAUSED BY THE PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT GIVEN CERTAIN DRIVERS BY NASCAR!

    Doug
    Augusta, MI

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  11. Anonymous10:06 AM

    I am surprised no one has mentioned Robby Gordon. There's a guy you can hate. He drives like a total moron, and (this is where the hate comes in) blames other drivers when it doesn't work out for him and the 4 guys he just crashed (including your favorite driver). If he (or any other driver) would say "Hey I screwed up and should not have done that" then hate wouldn't be an issue. I don't think fans hate driver, I think they don't respect them.

    G

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  12. Interesting, isn't it, that all four of the responses condoning hate were signed "Anonymous." I guess my Grandfather was right when he told me, "Any opinion worth having is worth signing your name to."

    Hate is not "just another word for rivalry." You can respect a rival, and even like him/her personally. Dale Earnhardt and Neil Bonnett were fierce rivals on raceday, but best friends in life. Tony Stewart and Dale, Jr. are rivals on the track, but respect each other greatly.

    Hate has nothing to do with rivalry, it has to do with narrow minds believing that trivial racetrack feuds have anything to do with real life.

    And obviously, Jeff Gordon has only four Nextel Cup championships. I guess even "professional sportswriters" like me (?) have brain cramps from time to time.

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  13. Andy B11:17 AM

    I "hate" NASCAR and what it has come to represent. It has nothing to do with the drivers.

    I demonstrate my "hate" by not buying tickets or watching races on TV. Judging by the trend in ratings & attendance, I'm not alone.

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  14. Great commentary! I don't "hate" any driver or anyone else in the sport no matter how much it might seem that they've done my driver wrong. I accept that no one is perfect, the drivers included, and that they may have opinions that I don't agree with or do things I don't like at times. There are some drivers I like more than others, but hate? As you point out, how can I hate someone I don't know?

    It's disheartening sometimes that some fans seem to take more enjoyment from tearing down drivers they don't like (and increasingly other fans), than they do from cheering for and supporting their own favorite drivers.

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