In the big business that is professional sports, corporate sponsorship is a major factor in the whole show. From stadium signage to television and radio commercials, many varieties of companies and organizations pay significant money to make sure you know their name. Most of the time, fans do not have major opinions on the nature of those sponsors, preferring to try to ignore them instead. I am a pro at completely tuning out commercials, most of the time not even realizing that they are on. Occasionally, though, a sponsor appears that causes an uproar, and the sport involved becomes secondary. One such situation became news this week when Texas Motor Speedway announced that the National Rifle Association would be the title sponsor for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race that will happen at the track in April.
The NRA is certainly no stranger to controversy, and I suspect the organization likes it that way. There is no better way to get your message out than to have a bunch of people calling attention to that message, whether positively or negatively. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings in January, guns and gun-control have been constant topics of conversation and debate around the country. NASCAR has been involved in the issue as well, joining with one of the team owners to run a Michael Waltrip-driven car with a special paint scheme in support of Sandy Hook during the Daytona 500. The auto racing sanctioning body also announced an effort to raise funds for the families of the murdered children. Now, a month later, the NRA announcement would appear to fly directly in the face of the earlier humanitarian efforts.
Race sponsorships are actually deals between the tracks and the sponsors. NASCAR is really not involved, although they do have the ability to veto a sponsor. The criteria that they use to evaluate the sponsors are not public, but it seems that this particular situation is not one that NASCAR feels it would overrule. Sponsorship aside, guns are already a big part of the races at this particular track, so it is not like this is a new issue. The winner of the pole position receives a shotgun, while the race winner traditionally fires off six-shooters loaded with blanks in Victory Lane. It is not shocking that this deal came about, but it is definitely in questionable taste, given the current climate. Stock car racing is fighting for viewers, like other sports, and this season has given them a perfect opportunity to expand its audience. Danica Patrick’s historic run at Daytona opens the sport up to a whole new audience. Controversy is the last thing NASCAR needs or wants right now. Instead, it had a driver using racial epithets during an interview last week, and now it has the subject of guns and gun violence standing front and center.
Eddie Gossage and Bruton Smith, the guys who run and own Texas Motor Speedway, have every right to sell the race sponsorship to whomever they choose. I would never question or hamper their ability to pay the bills and keep the races going (OK, I probably would, but I am not doing so here). As a viewer, a fan, and a guy who is definitely not in support of the NRA, I have the right to not watch that particular race. That is a right I feel certain I will exercise.
Bad sports, continued:
2) Have you heard of the World Baseball Classic? I didn’t think so. It’s kind of like a World Cup for baseball. I guess some people care about it, because a huge brawl broke out during a game between Canada and Mexico on Saturday night. Leading 9-3 in the ninth, Canada’s Chris Robinson bunted for a base hit, which is normally not something you would see in baseball, a sport filled with silly unwritten rules. The WBC uses run differential as some kind of tie-breaker, though, so Canada was trying to scratch out another run or two. The next batter, Rene Tosoni, was hit in the back by a pitch thrown by Mexico’s Arnold Leon, sparking the fight.
3) The official Twitter account of the Syracuse University basketball team mistakenly sent out a tweet that seemed to suggest that long-time coach Jim Boeheim was on the verge of retirement. An apology was later sent out. After Saturday’s game, which saw Syracuse score the fewest points in school history, losing to Georgetown, 61-39, the school might have regretted the retraction.
4) Sprint Cup driver Denny Hamlin was fined $25,000 by NASCAR after criticizing the new car being used this season, saying that the drivers can’t pass and the racing is boring.
5) Liberty University qualified for the NCAA Basketball Tournament by winning the Big South Tournament on Sunday, defeating Charleston Southern in the championship game, 87-76. Liberty’s record is 15-20. I guess this could be in the Good Sports section, as it is always fun to root for the underdog, but it is hard to be happy about a 20-loss team making the Big Dance.
6) At halftime of the title game of the Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament, a guy named Alex Permann thought he had won $50,000 when his half-court shot went through. Hold the phone. This was one of those competitions where you need to hit a layup, a free throw, a three-pointer, and a half-court shot in 24 seconds to win. He somehow managed to totally forget to shoot the three-pointer, rendering his celebration a bit premature.
1) Alabama’s basketball team hit a half-court shot that DID count on Saturday, breaking a 58-58 tie as the buzzer sounded to end its game against Georgia.
2) The Los Angeles Lakers are having a very rough season, which is very unlike that franchise in recent years. On Wednesday, though, the team showed some fight, coming back from 25 points down to defeat the Charlotte Hornets, 108-102.
Bad sports, good sports appears every Monday
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