|FOX Sports Live's Donovan McNabb|
Not long ago, ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser accused NASCAR of rigging the outcome of its events, saying a media source told him there was “a 60 percent chance” the sanctioning body had willingly allowed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to qualify an illegal car at Daytona International Speedway in 2012.
Last night, former Philadelphia Eagle-turned Fox Sports 1 commentator Donovan McNabb ignited a firestorm of controversy when asked to rank the most dominant athletes of the last decade. McNabb initially ranked Johnson third -- behind golfer Tiger Woods and NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant – before suddenly declaring, ““Do I think he’s an athlete? Absolutely not. He’s not an athlete. He sits in a car and he drives. That’s not athletic.”
FOX Sports Live host Charissa Thompson offered McNabb an opportunity to back away from his remarks, pointing out that Johnson is favored to clinch his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship this weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway. McNabb declined, saying that while NASCAR is indeed a sport, Johnson – and by association all racers – are not athletes.
The outcry was both swift and decisive.
Fellow panelist Andy Roddick leapt immediately to Johnson’s defense, calling McNabb’s comments “disrespectful.” And within minutes, the Twitter hashtag #PeopleWhoAreMoreAthleticThanDonovanMcNabb became the No. 1 trending topic in the United States.
|Johnson is a triathlete in training|
McNabb knows nothing about that, of course. In fact, the six-time Pro Bowler knows very little about NASCAR, and nothing that can’t be learned from the comfort of a Barcalounger on Sunday afternoon. He has almost certainly ever attended a NASCAR race, and likely never will, despite numerous offers to strap himself into a NASCAR-style stock car and learn first-hand about what he speaks.
Jimmie Johnson currently has five NASCAR championship rings. Donovan McNabb never won an NFL title. Under the circumstances, perhaps a little jealousy is understandable. It’s easy to be angry with McNabb today, but maybe it’s better to simply take the high road, discounting his comments as those of an uninformed observer who was unable resist the urge to play “expert” on a topic he knows nothing about.
After all, this is the same Donovan McNabb that was benched by Redskins coach Mike Shanahan during a 2010 practice – we’re talkin’ practice – for being out of shape. It’s the same McNabb who vomited in the huddle during the late stages of a Super Bowl XXXIX loss to the New England Patriots. Cookies weren’t the only thing McNabb tossed that day. He also threw three interceptions en route to a 24-21 loss that made the entire city of Philadelphia gag.
This isn’t the first time an NFL player has expressed disdain for NASCAR drivers. In 2011, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate commented on Johnson’s Male Athlete of the Year ESPY Award nomination, tweeting, "Jimmy Johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo. Driving a car does not show athleticism."
Tate felt the wrath of NASCAR Nation that day, eventually begging Johnson to, “get these rednecks off me." McNabb is likely feeling the same wrath today, after insulting a fan base that takes its sport very seriously and has little tolerance for those who do not.
Johnson has not responded to McNabb’s comments. He’s busy tending to the business of winning his sixth series title. But two years ago, he said of Tait, “it's easy to make a comment when you don't know. In a lot of situations, people haven't been to a race or been close enough to our sport to understand what takes place."
Apparently, ignorance is an excuse, after all.