Saturday, August 9, 2008

TV Build-Up For Sunday Not About That Race


Several months ago, the focus of the NASCAR media was drawn to events away from the track. Text and video content from the Internet mixed with reporting on ESPN's NASCAR Now and other TV shows to give fans the first glimpse into the Mauricia Grant lawsuit.

Now, this (click here) long and diverse article from new ESPN.com writer Ed Hinton sets a very firm foundation for that focus to return to Ms. Grant.

Friday afternoon, NASCAR itself finally came out publicly with a reaction to the Grant lawsuit. NASCAR's legal response is (click here) contained in this ESPN.com story. Apparently, the time had come for NASCAR to begin this potentially long and costly legal fight.

All of this media attention will come to a head on Sunday at 9:30AM ET when Bob Ley will host a special ESPN edition of Outside The Lines. Ley and his team of journalists will focus on what ESPN is calling "the work culture inside the NASCAR community."

This is not a program from The NASCAR Media Group or the people who produce the races on TV. It is, however, a program from NASCAR's largest TV partner. That already has some fans speaking out about its potential objectivity.

OTL is an ESPN news franchise. Ley has over twenty-five years at the network and is the only original ESPN anchor still appearing on a regular ESPN TV series. His Lead Reporter is an ESPN veteran named Kelly Naqi. She has been involved in a number of controversial interviews for OTL on a variety of subjects. Sunday, she tackles NASCAR.

In the most recent (click here) promo page on ESPN.com for OTL, there is a statement that may well get the attention of NASCAR very quickly. In describing the upcoming Sunday episode, ESPN.com says the following:

"In light of Grant's allegations, Outside the Lines' Kelly Naqi spoke with other minorities and women, some of whom expressed similar experiences of racial discrimination and sexual harassment in NASCAR circles."

While the video clip linked at the bottom of the page contains only a small taste of this episode, it certainly does serve the purpose of painting a broader picture of issues in NASCAR relating to race and gender. That is exactly what NASCAR does not want to happen.

Recently, one feature on OTL about the criminal records and behavioral problems of players on the Penn State University football team changed the reputation of that university in many minds and resulted in a slew of national publicity. None of it was good.

This is a critical time for NASCAR. Only 34 Craftsman Trucks will start the Saturday night race in Nashville, TN. Many of those teams are searching for sponsorship and some are clearly funded privately. How many more races those teams can run is anyone's guess.

In the Nationwide Series last week, 11 cars that started the Montreal race ended that effort with less than 20 laps gone in the event. A total of 9 cars had parked before lap 10. One of those was Stan Barrett. He is best known for being the first man to reach the speed of sound in a ground vehicle. That feat was accomplished in 1979. Mr. Barrett is now 65 years old and wanted to drive in a NASCAR race.

While the Sprint Cup Series continues to attract a full field of 43, names like The Wood Brothers, Yates Racing and even Petty Enterprises are beginning to fade from the limelight. With tough economic times affecting the auto industry, NASCAR's highest level of national racing is facing a litmus test like none before. That test can only yield two results.

Often lost in the treatment of Grant's lawsuit on TV is that only the Nationwide Series has been the focus of these allegations. Should ESPN lose sight of this during OTL, fans will be less likely to give credibility to the TV program. On the other hand, if the resulting interviews hint at a broader problem, ESPN may be paving the way for additional legal actions from others.

Sunday morning at 9:30AM ET on ESPN may well be a moment in time that brings change to the sport. The current NASCAR minority and female professionals interviewed on OTL will have their opinions shared nationwide. That may change some current workplace relationships in a hurry.

The OTL content will also live for a long time on the ESPN.com website in both text and video form for worldwide access anytime.

How and where NASCAR chooses to respond to OTL will be of interest. It may well come on the Sunday NASCAR Now program on ESPN2 at 10AM or the Sprint Cup Series pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown at 1PM ET.

If rain comes to Watkins Glen on Sunday, infield host Allen Bestwick and his panel may have one new topic to discuss. While it may not be pleasant, one thing is now certain. It is not going away.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for stopping by.

33 comments:

Tracy said...

I doubt Bestwick et al will discuss the discrimination allegation before the Glen. I didn't see any evidence before when the suit arose that any of the ESPN talent were willing to discuss any issues that didn't pertain directly to the day's race in the prerace shows.

I'd like to be proven wrong.

Daly Planet Editor said...

tracy,

ESPN has been the one network to handle the issue head-on. That has included NASCAR Now, ESPNEWS and even a tightly-scripted story on a pre-race show.

Your point is well-taken. It should be very interesting to see how and when NASCAR responds if the OTL show paints a bad picture of workplace tolerance.

What may be even more interesting is to see how and when SPEED steps into the issue. Shows like Tradin' Paint and Trackside have avoided it like the plague.

JD

Dmo said...

I have the DVR set for it. Fwiw, NASCAR's response to lawsuit was expected (standard, check-mate legal tactics 101). I believe that NASCAR's response to the OTL report, and producer ESPN, will be the more fascinating story when Monday rolls around. The American stock car racing enthusiasts await with collective baited breath...
-D

Dot said...

Will they report that it's the NW series involved in this, or all levels? Today during NW practice, Jamie Little was talking about KyB's problem with his car. She was referring to him as the series point leader. True, if it were Cup practice.

When the non race fan thinks of racing, it's only Cup. This story is going to taint all NASCARs' series. Sad.

What will make this worse is on Monday when Brian F makes a statement while wearing a rumpled shirt. That, or he sends one of his minions to respond.

I am really surprised that ESPN can do this show. Seems kind of weird to me. You show my product and then air my dirty laundry?

Karen said...

Ed Hinton's article pulled no punches. I expect OTL to do the same. If NASCAR had any sense, it would pay up and be done with it.

Anonymous said...

I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of Hinton's article. I hope that OTL does equal justice to the subject.

I would have hoped that the media who regularly cover NASCAR would have contributed more stories of substance on the Grant story and the culture and diversity issues in general. It seems that they prefer to chase silly season rumors or whine about COT issues or tires.

The vast majority of media covering NASCAR seems to have an incestuous relationhip with NASCAR. They behave as if what is good for NASCAR is also good for the media. You can criticize small parts of the NASCAR scene as long as it is trivial, but no serious criticism is tolerated. They are great at ignoring the elephant in the room.

Michigan fan

Anonymous said...

Despite your hype JD, I predict it won't ruin the sport at all.
Yes, it will once again show how USA white folk are the most horrible people in the world and every other group and country never ever engage in this kind of behavior, but it won't harm the sport. After all, we are all like the folks in NASCAR. That's what I always here on the news. I know you will delete this post even though I'm just being real here.
But I'm going against the hype so it won't be tolerated.

Tracy said...

Anon at 4:50a.m. - I agree with you that this lawsuit won't ruin the sport. It will make the France family business look bad, however. I'm separating the sport itself - the racing - from the business practices tolerated by the corporate head honchos. Therefore, if there's a problem with the implementation of a stated corporate policy on discrimination of any type, it needs exposure so it can be corrected. I certainly hope the ESPN piece on Sunday presents an accurate and balanced report on the situation.

ESPN has said more than Speed about this lawsuit, that's for sure. The fact that Trading Paint has avoided it so assiduously is sad, very sad. But I still don't think prerace shows will tackle it. And why should they? They should be about the racing that's about to happen. Hopefully, if it doesn't rain . . .

Tracy said...

Just read Ed Hinton's article. Spot on, as the Brits say.

BTW, what is Hinton's professional background? His name is so familiar -

Anonymous said...

Sadly Ms Grant does not have her own corporate PR army to spread stories about NASCAR . Sure would be entertaining if she had the resources to dig into Brians' background . I imagine she could find much more than drunk driving in Daytona . ESPN needs to be very carefull to avoid smearing this woman by accepting the " facts " NASCAR gives them as being the truth . As we have seen many times , NASCAR will use any means deemed necessary ethical or not , to crush opposition .

Anonymous said...

The NASCAR Drive For Diversity consists of an ad campaign , a logo ( can't have a cause without a logo ) and a very small , very quiet group of employees who are mostly unpaid interns . NASCAR has no intention of actually achieving anything with this program , but just in case anyone questions them on diversity in the sport , they have something to point to .

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 4:50AM,

"Hype" and "ruin" are nowhere in my column. The results of this TV program will not be known until the show is over.

Why you continually choose to address me instead of the topic being discussed like our other posters continues to be confusing.

Anon 8:31AM,

Here is a quote from a recent news article on that topic:

"A spokesman for the public relations firm representing Morelli and Grant in this suit said the case was never settled because Grant began working for NASCAR and was busy traveling for her new job. It was unclear Thursday if the issue had been resolved, and Morelli did not make Grant available to the AP."

Ms. Grant has a PR firm working with her and her attorney.

JD

Rockin Rich said...

Re – Tracy @7:25 AM today:

Ed Hinton's used to write until recently for a big Florida paper, can't remember its name at the moment. His name became well known to everyone, (NASCAR fans anyway), when he got involved in a lawsuit against Teresa Earnhardt, (and I think DEI), over the state of Fla. refusing to release the autopsy photos of Dale's body after his fatal crash at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500. The recriminations got pretty ugly.

Rockin Rich said...

Correction to my post, (wish we could edit these things):

The lawsuit was against the state of Fla., not Teresa. Teresa was deeply, and publicly involved in not wanting the photos made available. It really got very ugly.

Tracy said...

Rockin Rich - that must be where I've heard the name before. Thanks.

red said...

some thoughts in re: the coverage of the lawsuit:

hinton's article is a "must read" for those who wish to be informed in their commentary about this lawsuit. great historical perspective balanced with the contemporary drivers, a clear effort made to be fair to both sides, didn't back off the hard questions. thanks, mr hinton. (and, for some reason, i have a vague recollection that hinton and earnhardt sr had a falling out before earnhardt died? i might be confusing him with another reporter of that generation and i apologize if i am.)

fox has 2 men commenting on the lawsuit and its ramifications and don't believe i've seen either of them do nascar columns on that site before: jason whitlock and kevin hench. even more fascinating, both are taking a strongly-worded anti-nascar stance. hmmm.

speed doesn't seem to have anything at all -- but then again, that site is so difficult to navigate that i may have missed it.

it seems to me that the story has clearly moved out of the normal boundaries of nascar coverage and is now setting up to mainstream in a BIG way. in that case, it would be extremely intelligent of nascar to keep france out of the media and use only professionals in the role of spokesmen for the governing body. france has already committed some major pr blunders and nascar might want to muzzle him immediately.

right now, we're heading into pr full court press mode: if you think it was tough going to this point, look out! and i believe that nascar has made a very big mistake in commenting on the personal history of the plaintiff. a smarter move would have been to say nothing, allow (or facilitate behind the scenes) the revelations to become out in the press and thus be perceived as being above the muck that's being slung.

again, i have to ask as i did when this first hit the media: is there no one in nascar headquarters who is a professional in media management?!? i see little sign of it at this point, although the law firm they've hired should be able to help them with it.

and jd, yes, ms grant does have a pr firm engaged. but that pales in comparison with the resources that nascar has at its disposal, including reporters and commentators who are friendly to the point of fawning and many, many tv shows which can conveniently ignore the issue all togther. an individual pr firm, no matter how efficient, against nascar's media machine equals "no contest" in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Ed Hinton is a 1970 graduate of the University of Mississippi. He began working for the Orlando Sentinel covering NASCAR. He later moved to Atlanta to work for the National - a sports daily newspaper which folded after a few years. In 1993, Hinton wrote a book with Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. He was then hired by Sports Illustrated as a senior writer. In May 1999 he was involved in a controversy when he wrote an article about a fatal accident at an IRL race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte. A tire went into the grandstands and killed three spectators. The IRL was critical of the article and revoked Hinton's credentials for the INDY 500 later that same month. Several newspapers announced they would boycott the race, and Hinton's credentials were restored prior to the race. In 2000 Hinton returned to write for the Orlando Sentinel and Chicago Tribune newspaper chain. His periodic articles on motorsports were run in a variety of U.S. newspapers which were members of the chain. Dale Earnhardt (senior) was a long-time friend of Hinton, and Hinton suspected that he had died of a basilar skull fracture as had Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty. Hinton had recently written a series of articles on safety in NASCAR. There was a concern by some that the circumstances surrounding Earnhardt's death would not be fully investigated or revealed to the public because of NASCAR's influence. In January 2008, Hinton left the Sentinel/Tribune chain, and ESPN announced hiring him in July 2008.

The above information is primarily taken from Wikipedia.

I followed Hinton's writing on-line while he was writing for the Sentinel/Tribune. He was the only writer I routinely followed. In my opinion, he is one of the few people covering NASCAR who is worthy of the description "journalist". I don't always agree with him, but he is a serious writer willing to deal with serious subjects in depth.

Michigan fan

Newracefan said...

This entire issue has troubled me greatly, I actually find myself looking for minorities (both by gender and race) when looking at those working on the cars or fans at the track which is something I did not do last year. I will DVR the OTL show but I will most likely look at posts here before I actually make myself watch it. I agree NASCAR needs to stay out of the direct mud slinging in the media and Brian France needs to keep his face out of this mess unless he gets some big time coaching.

Anonymous said...

John john john.....you seem to be like everyother media outlet and blowing this whole thing out of proportion. I am really sick of hearing about the lawsuit. I think most fans are past it now. I don't think this will be the top story of NADCAR countdown. Its old news now.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon...Anon...Anon,

You seem to be like every other complainer who wants to blame a real life event on the media.

This has not even started, and it has nothing to do with the media. If you want to find someone to blame, try the suspended NASCAR officials who exposed themselves to a single female employee and thought it was funny.

That happen in your workplace?

JD

Lisa Hogan said...

A lawsuit against NASCAR has been filed with the court. NASCAR has filed a reply to this lawsuit with the court. What else is there to be said on the weekend racing shows?

NASCAR racing and the weekend support programs are my entertainment and escape from my real-world problems.

If the support shows on any TV network suddenly turn into Nancy Grace or Dr. Phil and the panelists on Tradin Paint decide to play legal scholars and discuss the merits of a lawsuit, I will not be watching.

Daly Planet Editor said...

lisa,

ESPN's show Outside The Lines has been interviewing the other female and minority professionals who work in NASCAR.

The goal was to try and get a snapshot of whether there was a true culture of trouble or Grant's allegations were just trumped-up by an emloyee struggling in her job.

Like it or not, the results of this one TV program will be all over the place on Sunday.

Might be interesting if things turn in NASCAR's favor after the results of the iterviews are aired.

JD

Daly Planet Editor said...

oops...employee!

Lisa Hogan said...

JD, I understand that.

Outside the Lines is not a NASCAR racing weekend support show, which is what I was addressing.

As I said in the comment section of the Outside the Lines column,"If I remember that it is on, I will probably watch.

GinaV24 said...

I plan to DVR the OTL show because I won't be around to watch it live. I will be interested to see how the issue is addressed on this show. Being a female, and having experienced some harassment in the past at work myself, I have been following this story with interest. I've been a race fan for a long time and I have no problem with diversity and I sure am in favor of equality in the sport-- but I want it to be the real thing, not some trumped up corporate policy or overhyped driver. I'm sure that NASCAR would much prefer to be able to bully everyone into seeing it all their way since that is their usual method of operation. I don't think covering this issue correctly (and I don't mean in the shouting head media like Nancy Grace) will ruin the sport, I think that having an IROC car out there and bad racing will ruin it.

Richard in N.C. said...

From seeing Ed Hinton on Wind Tunnel in the past I was impressed with the detail and evenhandedness of his article. I may be wrong, but my impression is that he lost his job with the Orlando paper as a result of downsizing. The one thing I am sure of is that no matter what OTL shows, Jason Whitlock will write a hatchet job on both NASCAR and ESPN.

Jo said...

I will watch OTL I have the DVR setup.

As far as Mr. Hintons article it was very well written, very in depth.

Bill H said...

Looking at the guide I see that the reair of Tradin Paint is on at the same time. After reading yesterdays comments on Trading Paint, I am going to watch it.

I really don't care for ESPN trying to inject tabloid journalism into NASCAR. I don't understand why they are willing to "waste" a 1/2 hour of broadcast time on their flagship station discussing allegations, but can't even broadcast a 1/2 hour of a scheduled program (Friday's rained out qualifying set to end at 5:30, they left at 5) on their 2nd channel.

Daly Planet Editor said...

There is a new post up about the Outside The Lines program on ESPN Sunday morning. Thanks.

JD

darbar said...

Wow, this is one amazing show. One question that popped into my mind is, what will sponsors such as Hefty and Kingsford do once they see this program? No matter what, these allegations, if true, reflects poorly on these sponsors and could appear to the general public that there is some kind of tacit approval of discrimination.

But, as a woman who worked in one of the most macho environments, a trucking company, I really have to shake my head at the woman who said she was called a whore because she was pregnant. A fellow co-worker of mine at the trucking company was pregnant out of wedlock, and the men from all generations treated her with respect. While I don't doubt that comments are made by overly testerone-filled Neaderthals, I just have a hard time believing that a pregnant woman would be called a whore, unless there was some kind of knowledge of her behavior that these men were aware of. But to ridicule a woman just because she is expecting, I just don't bite on that one.

One interesting thing I noticed, why didn't the woman reporter verbalize the team name when speaking of the individuals who experienced harassement? Yes, the crawl on the screen said what team, but all she would say is "the 57 team or the whatever number team".

Another thing. Isn't it up to each individual team owner to take care of such harassment issues? Nascar can't police each team and their issues, so this is a team problem if the issue involves team members. But did you notice, the two team members who reported no problems were from very high profile teams, Hendrick and JR Motorsports? Does that say anything?

Jo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jo said...

The OTL segment just aired.
The most puzzling part is the fact that Mark Scwartz & Kelli Naqi do not realize(or care)that NA$CAR does not "own" the teams unlike the NFL. They definately used the "stick & ball" model of sports. That showed a lack of complete preparation. And they made it sound as if everyone works in 1 giant garage every day.

That said was there racism at the different independetly owned teams, yes undoubtedly.I noticed each of the men dealt with it in a different way, yet got the same results, respect & long term employment.

Is it worse than other workplaces? Mostly. Auto industry & other blue collar workplaces can be just as bad. (I use auto & factories as my reference because thats where I worked. I am a woman) It was like that in the late 70's & early 80's when I worked there. I would hope that would have been a thing of the past by now.

2 women NASCAR employees claim to have had a very rough time, 2 women at SEPERATELY OWNED TEAMS not NASCAR had & have an easier time of it.

I liked what Lisa Smokstad ( sp?)said she "demanded respect".

As far as NA$CAR, the common thread is they worked DIRECTLY for NA$CAR, and both women dealt with Starr in HR. Both times she screwed up, and if she is in charge of "diversity training" that explains how it got to this point.

Mr. Jadotte was fairly well spoken, I wish Mr. Schwartz would have not tried to talk over him, just let him finish a sentence & ask the next question, then edit it.

Sometimes this type of lawsuit is whats needed to drag an employer to the right way of doing things.

Basically it was a balanced report,but, not earth shaking.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Just a reminder, there is a new post up about the Outside The Lines episode on ESPN Sunday morning.

Thanks,

JD