It was just over a year ago that NASCAR’s chairman and CEO, Brian France, came out and called one of the sport’s broadcast partners, ESPN, on the carpet for not being “a better partner”.
On the day after a wreck that aired live on the network as part of its coverage of NASCAR’s Nationwide Series – a wreck in which around two dozen spectators needed medical attention – the headline on the front page of ESPN.com has to have people scratching their heads.
Granted, there were no casualties as a result of the accident at the Drive4COPD 300, in which a race car driven by Kyle Larson crashed, sending parts of the vehicle and other debris through and over the catch fence – including an engine from Larson’s car, as well as its right front tire, which weighs around 200 pounds. A viral video shot by a fan focused on the tire, which looked as if it had been blending in with the thousands of other fans in the stands.
So imagine my surprise when I go to ESPN.com the morning after the wreck. The very first article spotlighted is about the Daytona 500. No, it wasn’t focused on its polesitter, Danica Patrick, which is an improvement. But then again, it didn’t focus on any particular driver at all. It was an overhead shot of the track at Daytona with this headline: “Give The Wheel A Spin.”
“Who’ll hit the Daytona jackpot on Sunday?,” read the subheadline. “In America’s greatest race, you never know.”
The article is obviously about the possibility of a racer coming out of nowhere to win the race, as Trevor Bayne did a couple of years ago.
But on the heels of a horrific accident – in which a rogue tire could have easily impacted the life of a fan in its path – an editor at ESPN’s website managed to gamble away its sensitivity and hit the jackpot on foolishness.
Think about it: when the first two headlines on the right column of ESPN.com are about the scary finish to the Nationwide race – “Fans injured during Daytona wreck,” “Daytona eyewitness: It was like a war zone” – the last thing you’d want to do is make light of it by focusing on a story with the headline, “Give The Wheel A Spin”, in giant font on the very first page of the website – especially with a tire running loose into the stands.
Again, none of the spectators involved in the accident lost their lives, which is a true blessing.
But does that make it okay for ESPN to use such a heinous headline after the fact?
This happens roughly a year and a week to the day that an ESPN editor used the phrase “Chink In The Armor” for the headline of a New York Knicks loss, the first in the Jeremy Lin-starter era.
Certainly, “Give The Wheel A Spin” isn’t that controversial of a phrase, but after Saturday afternoon’s events at Daytona, it makes ESPN once again look really, “wheel-y” dumb.