Since Janet Jackson's infamous wardrobe malfuntion during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2005, the networks have been very touchy about what is said and done on broadcast television. Not only has it made network executives nervous, but it has given NASCAR officials ulcers whenever drivers are being themselves. But don't we think that these officials have gone a little too far?
Jeff Owens, of NASCAR Scene posted an interesting article on Fox Sports on MSN, in which he suggests that fines and points deductions have taken the personality out of the sport.
"According to many fans, NASCAR has totally sanitized the sport of all color and personality.
It has done this by cracking down on drivers who show any hint of temper or emotion.
Take a swing or a shove at someone and you pay a big fine. Spin somebody on purpose and you get fined and possibly suspended for a race. Defy a NASCAR order and you get all of the above, plus a tongue-lashing like you haven't seen since kindergarten.
And God help you if you let a curse word slip on TV. Do that and NASCAR may: Suspend you for a race; take away valuable championship points; make you film a public service announcement; and fine your mother"
Not only do I agree with him here, but I have to think that maybe this is the real reason for the decline in television ratings.
We want to see our drivers as they really are. Part of being a NASCAR fan is arguing with other fans of other drivers about how your driver was right about that altercation, and the words or actions by the man himself prove it! We thrive on the controversy about what Jeff says about Matt, or Kevin's observations on Juan Pablo's driving ability. If the drivers have to keep a tight reign on what they say or do, for fear of being penalized points, we are deprived of that portion of the entertainment.
We know that NASCAR broadcasts have not always been so sanitized. Owens writes:
"Many of NASCAR's biggest stars would never have survived in today's climate.
Dale Earnhardt? He'd be broke from paying all the fines levied for rough driving. Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers? They'd be banned for life for fighting.
Darrell Waltrip and his legendary tongue? Well, let's just say he wouldn't be able to afford a TV, much less have a career in broadcasting.
And NASCAR officials are scratching their heads wondering why TV ratings are sinking."
Granted, we don't want to see a situation where the main attraction of NASCAR is the altercations and grudge matches. But we were highly entertained and interested in the six month long feud between Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch a few years back. That is another thing that we wouldn't see happen in today's NASCAR.
I say bring back the personality, but don't let it get out of hand. As Owens concludes:
"Obviously, NASCAR can't totally ignore violent incidents that endanger lives and publicly embarrass the sport. But it can give its drivers a bit more leeway when it comes to stirring things up and showing raw emotion.
Drivers and officials concede that NASCAR today is as much entertainment as racing.
So let them entertain."