North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

September 11, 2013

Robert Carter: Crimes and punishments in football and in NASCAR

By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News

COMMENTARY — It’s been a week or so of handing out penalties and punishments for crimes on the playing field, or in one case, on the asphalt.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association brought to a close the ugly incident between Walker and Cullman high schools, banning the Vikings from post-season play while giving the Bearcats “non-restrictive probation” — that is to say, they are still eligible for the post-season.

The truth is that both schools would have gotten non-restrictive probation, except that Walker was already under such for an incident last year. The post-game brawl between Vikings head coach John Holladay and Bearcat defensive coordinator Matt Hopper was a probation violation for Walker, hence the more severe punishment.

Frankly, both schools should have gotten the tougher penalty. AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese had it within his power to ban both teams, and he should have. A fight like this one left not just black eyes on those directly involved in the fisticuffs, but on all of Alabama’s high school sports. If you want proof, just Google “Alabama high school football fight” and look at all of the news media that ran stories about the incident, most showing the video from the Jasper television station or the photos of Hopper from The Daily Mountain Eagle newspaper.

It’s not hard to see that the whole state lost in this fight. The AHSAA had a chance to mitigate the damage by taking swift, severe action. They were swift, but not severe enough.

On the other end of the spectrum we have NASCAR, which is going through tough times as crowds at races have diminished precipitously. In last Saturday’s final race of the regular season at Richmond — the race which would determine who moves on to the Chase for the Sprint Cup — driver Clint Bowyer spun out in the final few laps, bringing out a caution flag that helped keep Ryan Newman out of the winner’s circle, and allowing Bowyer teammate Martin Truex to qualify for the Chase in a wild-card spot instead of Newman.

Fans and opposing racers alike suspected something was fishy about Bowyer’s move, and NASCAR officials did not look the other way. Instead, on Monday they docked all three Michael Waltrip cars — Bowyer, Truex and Brian Vickers — 50 points in the standings. That knocked out Truex and restored Newman. The Waltrip operation was also fined $300,000, Executive Vice President Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely and all three crew chiefs were put on probation.

The “ripple effect” of Bowyer’s stunt, though, also knocked Jeff Gordon out of the Chase, and he wasn’t happy that NASCAR’s resolution of the situation did not put him back in the post-season as well. After the caution, the Waltrip cars stayed back, which allowed Joey Lagano to move up and claim the last Chase spot instead.

Gordon lit up Twitter after the announcement, then finally stopped for fear that he would also incur the wrath of VP of Competition Robin Pemberton.

The Bowyer violation was fairly easy to spot and correct, especially when radio chatter about the move is heard. Gordon’s situation was not as clear, and therefore harder to affix blame and penalties. NASCAR did the best they could out of a bad situation.

They needed to do that, because the last thing NASCAR needs to do right now is run off more paying fans.