In the words of tennis great John McEnroe, “You can’t be serious!”
Emotions run high in sports. From rants and tirades to hilarious acts of violence against inanimate objects, spectators have seen what happens when tempers flare in the world of competitive sports. So when NASCAR racer Jeff Gordon intentionally crashed into Clint Bowyer Sunday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway just a couple of laps from the finish, many weren’t surprised. But we should have been outraged.
Racing at speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour, NASCAR stock car racers can do more serious damage to their competitors than in most any other sport, except maybe football - just ask running back Marcus Lattimore. And for that reason Gordon being penalized 25 championship points, fined $100,000 and placed on probation for the rest of the season just isn’t enough. He should be suspended for his bad behavior – a loss of cool that could have cost others their lives, and not just his intended victim.
Sometimes sports are more than just sports and Gordon’s actions – though many would say Bowyer’s actions earlier in the season prompted them – are not to be dismissed.
NASCAR said they looked at everything that happened both on and off the track on Sunday before deciding on the penalties and fines. We think officials should have stopped the escalating tensions before they got to the point they did Sunday – regardless of how good they were for the ratings.
Many, including retired racing giant Dale Jarrett, took up for Gordon. Jarrett called Gordon a “true champion” and said all drivers “have been in situations where we’ve lost our cool. We have to remember these are human beings inside these cars. Sometimes the things that make them great are the things that get them into trouble too.”
A passion for the game is noble but blowups, meltdowns and downright tantrums should be discouraged, not lauded from the sport’s governing body or broadcasters needing to fill talk time. The world of professional sports is a high-pressure atmosphere and that can get to even the coolest of stars but they, like us, should learn to vent in constructive ways. Let’s take our cues from the likes of stoic tennis player Roger Federer, not basketball coach Bobby Knight whose antics have included throwing a chair across the court while arguing against a call.
Who among us would encourage our children to follow the footsteps of Chicago Bulls bad boy Dennis Rodman who kicked a cameraman after he fell over him during a 1997 game, causing the cameraman to be carried off in a stretcher. Kicking someone out of frustration is something an ill-behaved two-year-old would do and we shouldn’t accept the behavior from professional athletes.
It’s one thing when a tennis star like Serena Williams – widely known for her temper on the court – spouts off expletives to judges. Remember a 2009 tirade where Williams screamed, “I swear to God I’m (expletive) going to take this (expletive) ball and shove it down your (expletive) throat, you hear that?”
Instead of running into his opponent’s car, Gordon should have taken tips from Minor league Braves Manager Phil Wellman who, in June 2007, became enraged over a call by the umpire and started running around the field like a mad man, stealing bases and army crawling through the dirt, before finally tiring himself out and leaving the field – with a base tucked under his arm.
If Gordon had finished the race, strolled over to Bowyer’s pit area and stole say his helmet, tucking it under his arm and making off with it, that would have shown more guts. And besides that – it’s much more entertaining.