NASCAR has taken an extraordinary step by suspending Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements indefinitely Wednesday for saying "an intolerable and insensitive remark" during an interview last weekend at Daytona. In a page from the NFL's playbook, Clements was suspended for conduct detrimental to stock car racing.
What could Clements have said that would spur such drastic and severe punishment? Take a step back and realize that a professional athlete is being suspended, indefinitely, for something he said. Not for drug use or a DUI or dangerous driving. Not a fine, not a week or two off. An indefinite suspension.
In what could create a firestorm for NASCAR, ESPN.com reports the reasoning for Clements' indefinite suspension is because he used a racial slur in an undocumented interview at Daytona...
"Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements was suspended indefinitely on Wednesday for using a racial slur in an interview with a writer at Daytona International Speedway, a source told ESPN.com.
NASCAR officials would not verify or discuss what Clements said to earn the suspension, only that it was an "intolerable and insensitive remark'' and violated the sanctioning body's Code of Conduct for actions detrimental to stock car racing.
Officials did verify that the remarks came during the course of a Feb. 23 interview. That was the same day as the Nationwide opener at DIS."
What word or slur did Clements use? Nobody is talking. NASCAR won't disclose what Clements said and the driver released a statement providing few details...
"I will not get into specifics of what I said, but my comment to the writer was in no way meant to be disrespectful or insensitive to anyone or to be detrimental to NASCAR or the NASCAR Nationwide Series. I will do what I need to do in order to atone for my error in judgment.''
You don't have to be a Rhodes Scholar to see that a NASCAR driver using a racial slur is one of the worst public relations pipebombs the sport can conceive. This is a sport that has worked towards increasing diversity and has several programs in place "to engage women and people of diverse, ethnic and racial backgrounds in all facets of the NASCAR industry." A driver using a racial slur and forwarding an image of racism or any kind of intolerance is a nightmare for NASCAR.
It's incredible though in the TMZ and social media age that a professional athlete could give an interview quote that mysteriously disappears into the abyss. We're not using telegrams anymore. Everything anyone in the public eye says is recorded somewhere. Was the quote Clements gave not taped or written down by the writer or outlet in question? Did the writer in question go to NASCAR with Clements' quote instead of publishing it because it was too damaging or offensive? What does it say about the journalistic responsibility of the writer in question that a damning quote by a NASCAR driver goes to NASCAR instead of publication and then evaporates? There's plenty of questions within this story, and not just about the specifics of what Clements said.
It is not a SPORT. No matter how may times drivers or crew people mention the word in their interviews, which is actually beyond comical, it is not and will never be a SPORT.
The only thing more comical than using that word in their interviews, is their more hackneyed way of getting a mention of their countless sponsors.
"Actions detrimental to stock car racing" is their blanket term for punishing drivers for things they don't like. It's usually used for on-track behavior, though. This move could be NASCAR flexing their muscle as they seem to do in lower series to prove a point to Cup drivers. In 2007, Kurt Busch nearly (deliberately) ran Tony Stewart's pit crew over following a wreck and was only put on "probation". The next week, Ted Musgrave bumped another truck after a wreck in the Craftsman Truck Series and was suspended.
One of these centuries PR directors will realize that it is always better to just get all the facts out in the open immediately rather than creating, or in NASCAR's case perpetuating, a culture of speculation.