|Nelson Piquet, Jr.|
NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Nelson Piquet, Jr. was fined $10,000 by NASCAR yesterday, placed on indefinite probation and required to participate in sensitivity training in the aftermath of a recent Twitter comment that violated the sanctioning body’s Code of Conduct.
The incident began when NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Parker Kligerman posted a photo of himself after a recent workout.
Piquet – by all accounts a close friend of Kligerman’s -- responded with a single, three-letter word best classified as a homophobic slur.
That comment caught the attention of NASCAR fan Matthew Breuer, who tweeted, “Will be disappointed if @NASCAR doesn’t take action against @NelsonPiquet’s homophobic slur – should have no place in our sport.”
Piquet responded to Breuer’s comment, saying, “Maybe u should know Parker is a personal friend of mine. If you look properly we have other pictures making fun of each other.”
Breuer rejected that explanation, saying, “Big difference between making fun and using an offensive slur w/o care. Directly offends #LGBT fans. They deserve better.”
Piquet fired back again, tweeting, “Don’t act like you’ve never called your friends names before. We’re not living in the 50s anymore bud. Jokes are Jokes.”
NASCAR is clearly not laughing.
Senior Vice President Steve O’Donnell called Piquet’s comment, “an offensive and derogatory term that cannot be tolerated in our sport,” as well as a violation of NASCAR’s Code of Conduct. That Code states that “a NASCAR Member shall not make or cause to be made a public statement and/or communication that criticizes, ridicules, or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age, or handicapping condition.”
Piquet apologized in a written statement yesterday, saying, “I sincerely apologize to everyone for my poor choice of words last week. I did not mean to hurt or offend anyone. This has been a cultural learning experience that will make me a more sensitive person moving forward."
There is no question that Piquet’s comment was ill-advised. He can arguably speak however he likes in private conversation with his friends, but a highly visible professional athlete should know better than to use such a term in an open, public forum.
He should also know better than to try and defend it. As Piquet himself stated, “We’re not living in the `50s anymore.”
Perhaps Piquet is right. Perhaps his comments can be attributed to simple cultural differences. Perhaps the word he used is less taboo in his native Brazil than it is in the United States of America. Societal differences may explain what happened last week, but they do not excuse.
NASCAR’s handling of the incident has also come in for criticism.
In February of this year, Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements was suspended indefinitely by the sanctioning body for uttering a racial slur. Despite making those comments in a private conversation that never saw the light of day, Clements missed two races while undergoing sensitivity training. He was not fined.
Piquet will pay a $10,000 fine, but is expected to compete in this weekend’s Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway, driving for Turner Motorsports.
No one would argue that homophobic comments are more (or less) severe than racial slurs.NASCAR’s Code of Conduct makes no differentiation between race, color and sexual orientation, and there should be no difference in the sanctions applied.
Perhaps we’ve all got a little more work to do.