And I thought Phil Mushnick’s “New York N—ers” column in the New York Post would be the most despicable piece of journalism this weekend.
On Sunday morning, one day after a NASCAR Nationwide Series race was sullied down the stretch by a tragic accident involving eight-year driver Eric McClure, a new post on ESPN.com’s “Playbook” (nee “Page 2”) titled “Are NASCAR Races Becoming Too Safe?” reared its ugly head. (NOTE: The item has since been taken down, but we’ve saved an image of the offensive portion of the item and posted it below.)
Everything about it is ugly. Not just the content, but the timing. According to the account on ESPN’s own website, McClure had to be airlifted to an Alabama hospital via helicopter, and while someone representing McClure confirmed that he “is alert,” he was still being held overnight for “further observation.”
So I guess in the mind of Greg Hardy, the “Playbook” contributor who authored the piece, since a driver involved in a serious crash in Talladega on Saturday was A-OK, then it was dually A-OK to greenlight a demented piece that, even without McClure’s injury, or the intentional wreck of Sam Hornish, Jr. by Danica Patrick shortly after Joey Logano won the race, had no place being on the Internet, let alone on ESPN’s website.
“We at ESPN Playbook have strict rules when it comes to ‘safety first,'” starts Hardy’s piece which mocks safety precautions not only in NASCAR, but at the Worldwide Leader. “We’re forbidden to start typing unless we’re wearing a batting helmet, shoulder pads and wrist braces, and the entire cubicle has been sprayed with shark repellant.”
Wow. What biting wit. I can’t believe he’s not writing for Comedy Central’s website at this point in his career!
Noting that the previous three Sprint Cup races were run “with nary a multicar pileup,” Hardy wrote, “we start to wonder.” (Of course, “we” meaning “Greg Hardy and Greg Hardy alone.”)
The Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, pens Hardy, “all but guarantees a few mind-warping fender benders.
“But if 43 cars cross the finish line in Alabama with nothing worse than rouge tobacco spittle on the windshield, we’ll really be scratching our heads.” (Again, “we’ll” meaning “Greg Hardy and only Greg Hardy.”)
He then offered “hypothetical suggestions” that “would make future races pretty interesting,” such as: “For every 25 laps without a crash, require drivers to whip out their smartphones and post a Twitter update about how lucky they are that no one’s crashed. Eventually, the distracted driving will result in a spin-out. Problem solved.” So you’re encouraging drivers to tweet while at speeds of over 170 MPH? Great. Did you know, Greg, that many states have laws that make it illegal to text while driving a vehicle? I’m pretty sure even Brad Keselowski is not exempt from that rule.
Here’s another helpful hint from the fecund mind of Greg Hardy on guaranteeing “pretty interesting” races: “Play only Wreckx-n-Effect songs over the pit crew radios until someone can’t take it anymore and slams his brakes in the middle of the pack.” I guess this cat needs to brush up on his hip-hop, since Wreckx-N-Effect broke up over fifteen years ago. I know that their most famous hit song, “Rump Shaker,” has what sounds like a motor revving in the beginning of the song. Maybe that’s where he was going. Or maybe he wanted to use a group with the word “wreck” in their name. Heck, even Crash Test Dummies are more famous than Teddy Riley’s old New Jack Swing outfit.
But here is the most boneheaded of Greg Hardy’s “suggestions” to make upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup races “interesting” for, if not race fans, then only for Greg Hardy: “Is it a night race? Turn off the lights. Duh.”
Note that the next three races following the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega – the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington, and the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway – are all either night races, or in the case of the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day, races expected to be finished at night.
It’s one thing to write a satirical piece poking fun at auto racing safety precautions. It’s another to even conceive such a satirical piece, let alone approve it, in the wake of a horrible accident that took place less than 24 hours earlier. True, Hardy’s piece concentrates solely on Sprint Cup races, but that doesn’t make it right. The fact that he forecasted “mind-warping fender benders… at Talladega Superspeedway” in the Sprint Cup race the day after a potentially fatal wreck marred the Nationwide race at that same Superspeedway the day before is absolutely jarring.
Does Greg Hardy remember the last time NASCAR was in action at Talladega? It was the Good Sam Club 500 last October 23 – just days after a driver named Dan Wheldon perished in a crash at the Indycar season finale in Las Vegas.
After the post has been live for more than three hours, ESPN finally took action. What do you suppose they’ve done: Yank it and issue an apology, citing bad timing, or bad taste, or both? Nope: The ESPN Playbook Twitter feed tweeted out another link to the article. Brilliant.
The members of ESPN’s “Sports Nation” commenting on the piece are letting Hardy have it, and rightly so. “Are you kidding, ” wrote rustygirl56, “because right now, this is not funny. Real fans do not watch NASCAR to see whom will wreck. We watch to see how our driver will finish… NASCAR was lucky that Eric McClure was not injured worse than he was. Watching a driver wreck, whether it is one of your drivers, or a driver you strongly dislike is never fun, and cannot be called entertainment!”
“This is one of the worst articles I’ve ever read on ESPN,” writes stewcrew_14. “Sports are never “too safe.” And safety is huge in NASCAR. The fans have watched drivers lose their life right in front of their eyes. We don’t want to watch that kinda stuff. Neither do people inside NASCAR… Safety is not a laughing matter; and you, your editors, and ESPN should be embarrassed.”
And STLBluestorm5 weighs in with this: “Really, Greg Hardy? Obviously, you didn’t watch yesterday’s race WHEN SOMEONE WAS AIRLIFTED TO [the] HOSPITAL!!!”
Just one more before I get accused of becoming a modern-day Phil Mushnick… From a sports media perspective, this tweet seems to say it all: “Wow, ESPN… Great NASCAR partner.” Yes, I doubt this is not what the head honcho of NASCAR had in mind when he stressed that ESPN should be “a better partner” with NASCAR.
Maybe this was a piece that Hardy had been working on throughout the week, and for his sake, I hope it is. How can a person with a soul fathom offering up “hypothetical suggestions” such as driving at night without sufficient lighting, or merely texting while driving, live with himself?
And furthermore, who approved this drivel so close to McClure’s crash at Talledega? Has Anthony Federico been hired back at ESPN?
Even Sarah Phillips probably bets this was a stupid move on her former employer’s part.
Let’s see if this will result in Greg Hardy eventually referring to ESPN as his former employer.
UPDATE: Shortly before 12 Noon ET, SBNation’s Jeff Gluck has confirmed that the post has been removed from ESPN’s website. “Think they realized it was in poor taste,” he writes.
I’ll tell you what was in even poorer taste: less than twenty minutes before ESPN took the item down, the Playbook Twitter account had tweeted out another link to it – adding insult to injury. (That tweet has since been removed, by the way.)
So, it appears that we’ll have three people with some explaining to do: that person behind the Playbook Twitter account; the person who approved that item in the first place; and of course, the genius behind that item, Greg Hardy.