Each week I write a racing column on Thursday and this Sunday column. Seldom is there a danger that they will overlap. Until today.|
In case you missed it, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., sent a letter asking that Fox TV not air last weekend's NRA 500 NASCAR race in Texas because it was sponsored by the National Rifle Association.
Sen. Murphy reportedly sent his letter to the network after being rebuffed by NASCAR which took the position that sponsorships are deals between the tracks and the sponsors. It also said that NASCAR takes no political positions.
The senator was upset that the race was taking place in the middle of the debate on gun control legislation. He also took exception to the fact that the winner gets a cowboy hat and six-shooters at the end of the race and that they are fired using blanks.
It is, after all, Texas and that tradition greatly predates the NRA's recent involvement with the race.
The race aired as scheduled, although some on the other side criticized the network for tempering sponsor mentions and visibility of the NRA during the telecast.
Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, was quoted as saying sponsorships are about sports marketing, not politics. He had fewer than a dozen complaints since the deal was announced, he said.
"I can't speak for everybody but I can speak for myself in saying that I would really rather stay out of politics and just race," said NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, the defending Sprint Cup champion. "That is certainly not the situation though. Sometimes we get thrown into it whether we want to or not. I think the best thing is just to acknowledge it and try to move on with it."
The real debate at hand is not about the Second Amendment to the Constitution and the right to bear arms. The real issue is the First Amendment and the right to free speech and lack of government infringement on it.
Regardless of what you think about the NRA, it has the right to advertise its organization and be a sponsor of NASCAR and Texas Speedway without government interference.
Our all-knowing federal officials already decided tobacco products couldn't be advertised, stripping motorsports and others of its involvement with that industry. Then last year some officials tried to ban the various branches of the military from sports sponsorship, even though it was proven to effectively support recruitment. Now this.
I am a big boy. I can determine what events I want to watch and not watch based on who the sponsors are. I can also decide all by myself whether I want to support those sponsors and buy their products because they support auto racing -- a sport many people love.
If it is offensive enough, people will change the channel, viewership will drop, and the free market system will determine if those sponsorships continue. That is how it should be. We don't need a far-left or far-right government hack trying to censor messages that don't agree with his or her position.
That is un-American.
Of far greater concern to the American people than the NRA's race track sponsorship should be who are the people who wrote checks to put Sen. Murphy into office? Are they behind his outlandish demands?
I can't claim originality for this statement, but it sure seems an appropriate end to this column. Those who have said that politicians should wear patches on their suits, like race car drivers, so that we know who their "sponsors" are, are right on target.
Roger Ruthhart is managing editor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moline, IL Details
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