Current Event Friday #99

Inappropriate language during video games is a no-no

Another week is ending, and for one NASCAR racer their employment has ended. Today’s #CurrentEventFriday is all about what led to their firing and other consequences stemming from an unwise decision earlier this week.

Kyle Larson, NASCAR driver, fired from racing team - CNN
Kyle Larson, former driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing #42 Car

Kyle Larson has been a top driver in NASCAR’s highest series the Monster Energy Cup Series since he joined the circuit. After finding success in the Xfinity & Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Larson earned a spot with Chip Ganassi Racing at the highest level in 2014. He earned Rookie of the Year awards in 2013 in the Xfinity Series and 2014 Rookie of the Year in the Monster Energy Series. Sadly, all that wasn’t enough for Chip Ganassi Racing to continue employing him after a mistake Sunday evening.

While virtual racing in the iRacing race on Sunday, Larson’s virtual car made contact with another car. Larson became frustrated with his spotter who had failed to inform him of the nearby car. Venting his frustration, he then yelled at the spotter while using a 6-letter racial slur beginning with ‘N’ which was heard by everyone watching the race. Another driver reminded him that the communications were not on a private team channel.

Larson apologized after the race for his language, but it was not enough. NASCAR announced Monday they would be pursuing action against Larson for the error. Several of his sponsors in the next days terminated their relationship with him including Target, Chevrolet, and Clover Financial. NASCAR suspended Larson indefinitely on Monday along with Chip Ganassi Racing. Tuesday, Chip Ganassi then announced that they had terminated Larson’s employment with the team.

Obviously, this was a dumb mistake for Larson. What’s interesting is that Larson is half Asian and earned a spot in NASCAR through its Drive for Diversity Campaign. So, obviously Larson has to know that NASCAR values racial and gender diversity. Besides that, you shouldn’t utter racial slurs anyways. Some have tried to soften Larson’s language arguing that rappers use the word often in their songs, other athletes use language in games, and other drivers use similar or worse language on their radios. That’s a logical fallacy called ‘what-aboutism’ that tries to deflect responsibility away from the guilty party because someone else does similar negative things.

The fallout has also brought attention to fans who aren’t exactly thrilled with the iRacing format that NASCAR is promoting while dealing with social distancing restrictions. Last week, Bubba Wallace quit the race after wrecking and was fined for his failure to continue the race. Critics of the virtual races point out that these are not official NASCAR events, so NASCAR has little to no authority for what happens during these races.

I would guess that Larson will eventually be reinstated by NASCAR and join with another team, and the suspension might overlap with the same time that NASCAR is not holding physical races since the timing would be comparable. I’m also surprised that the punishment has been this serious. Even drivers who have been arrested for DUI weren’t fired by their team or suspended indefinitely by NASCAR like Larson. Considering DUI and other acts are criminal and don’t result in such punishments, Larson’s is surprising. Chip Ganassi Racing will be able to weather the changeover as well thanks to the physical racing hiatus. This will afford them time to reach out to veteran or development drivers to finish the season in the car. One possible replacement is Ross Chastain who has filled in for Ryan Newman after the Daytona 500 crash that resulted in Newman’s hospitalization. Chastain has already had success with Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series and has driven for teams with affiliations to Chip Ganassi Racing. With Larson having had success at all levels, I could see Hendrick Motorsports offering him a ride after this season when Jimmie Johnson retires at the end of the season. Other drivers have stated that they believe Larson deserves a second chance. Bubba Wallace, an African-American driver has acknowledged that he didn’t appreciate the language Larson used, but that Larson deserves a second chance. With his talent, Larson will likely receive that opportunity sooner than later.

Did the punishment fit for Kyle Larson’s conduct?