Sunday, May 4, 2008
Hunter's TV Comments Needed A Response
It was Nicole Manske hosting the Saturday edition of NASCAR Now with Lead Reporter Marty Smith on-site in Richmond. In the program, Manske introduced a "soundbite" from NASCAR VP of Public Relations Jim Hunter.
This very nice man has been the face of NASCAR for some time now. His dedication and knowledge of the sport is second to none. His control and influence over the traveling NASCAR media is legendary. As you may remember from the Tony Stewart "phantom punch" of Kurt Busch at Daytona, what Hunter says travels around the world on TV, radio and the Internet.
That is exactly the reason that NASCAR Now owed it to the viewers to present an expert's response to Hunter's Saturday comments. Right now, there are few topics on the NASCAR stove that are hotter than developing a drug testing policy for the sport.
Below is Hunter's comment on NASCAR Now in its entirety:
"Our Chairman Brian France put together a little inside group to really explore our current (drug) policy, which we think is very good. In lieu of things that have happened, as you are well aware of, I think it's important for us (NASCAR) to really look at it and if there is a way we can improve it...including random testing, getting all of our team owners to test everybody as well. Sort of getting everybody on the same page and figure out a way to eliminate the perception that there are any illegal substances in NASCAR racing. Because, we don't feel there are," said Hunter.
This was a combination of several different thoughts and ideas mixed together in one statement. NASCAR is now at least considering random drug testing or requiring employee drug testing to be implemented by the teams. It is clear that the Aaron Fike story by ESPN's Ryan McGee and the strong reaction by the Cup drivers set NASCAR on its ear.
The problem was that Hunter ended his statement by saying exactly why NASCAR might be open to a new drug policy. Why they "might" be open to it.
It was not to help those with drug or alcohol problems. It was not to safeguard the drivers, pit crew members or officials. It was to "eliminate the perception" that there were problems in the sport.
As Mr. Hunter clearly said, he and the NASCAR executives continue to believe that there is no one in the sport with an addiction issue.
Marty Smith was in the position of following this strong statement from Hunter. Smith said this issue "took NASCAR aback." While Smith suggested that NASCAR may even add a "drug czar" like other professional sports, he was unable to speak to the reality of the issue.
If this had been SportsCenter, First Report or ESPNEWS there would have been more to the story. What this program lacked was an independent voice that could address the drug issue from a professional standpoint.
It would have been mandatory if this had been the NFL or the NBA to have someone address the statement from a high-ranking official that the main reason to implement a drug policy was to clear-up "the perception" that there is a problem.
Across the nation, NASCAR fans are very used to being drug tested in the workplace. Those tests are more regular and more intense for jobs that require skilled labor and have a higher risk of injury or death if done impaired.
To suddenly be made aware that NASCAR's drug policy consists mainly of "somebody deciding that somebody else is not acting right" and reporting it to NASCAR was a shock to many Americans. Perhaps, Hunter's assertion that the primary reason for considering changes in the policy was simply to "prove" that the entire sport is clean was just as shocking.
Should NASCAR Now decide to follow-up on this issue, they need to bring the same attention to NASCAR that ESPN would pay to the other major sports leagues. Walking away from Hunter's statement without putting it into perspective left a major NASCAR story unfinished and incomplete.
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