Friday, June 13, 2008

More on NASCAR and diversity

Mauricia Grant lawsuit update:

Many bloggers of the stick and ball sports, some mainstream media journalists, and even a few NASCAR bloggers have written of their assumption that NASCAR would try to settle the discrimination and harassment lawsuit out of court. They reason that NASCAR has an image of being racist, citing the organization's Southern roots and the lack of African-Americans racing full time in the upper tiers of the sport. They say that, even if the charges brought by Ms. Grant's attorneys are false, NASCAR should settle quickly out of court, to hush up any hint that there may be trouble in the organization.

That doesn't seem to be the case. According to NASCAR officials, Ms Grant never reported any instances of harassment or discrimination to the Human Resources department of NASCAR. Not only that, but she has said herself that she was happy with her job. These statements, if they are in fact true, are enough in themselves to have the case thrown out of court. NASCAR doesn't want to seem as though it is covering anything up. An out of court settlement would make it seem like that is true, and would even be seen as an admission of guilt by many. In fact, NASCAR would rather clear itself in court.

NASCAR is investigating the allegations, and will publicly take action in any of them that are true. From what has been said by some of the individuals named in the suit, some of the alleged comments were made as workplace banter, encouraged by Mauricia Grant's participation in the banter. That is, if a person jokes around in a certain way, those around that person are going to be encouraged to joke in the same way. And, if that person goes along with that type of banter, even laughing along with the others, there is no indication that something might be amiss. We could safely assume that Grant never felt harassed or discriminated against until her attorneys told her she was.

In my opinion, it seems to me that the attorneys thought they had an easy money deal going on. They probably felt the same as many of the aforementioned journalists, that NASCAR was certain to settle such a suit out of court, to prevent negative publicity. Since the usual attorney fees amount to around sixty percent of the settlement, they were expecting about $150 million of the $250 million asked for in the suit. Since NASCAR is willing to appear in court over the issue, Ms. Grant's attorneys may find themselves hoping for a $25 million out-of-court settlement. That may be possible if NASCAR does indeed take action against any employees that have violated its human relations policies. Demonstrating that they are proactive in human relations matters would only help NASCAR's defense in court.

NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program is the most aggressive equal opportunity program in any major sport. The goal of that program goes beyond attracting minorities who are already involved in racing--it's purpose is to get more members of minorities interested in racing. The program includes a youth racing program, and active recruiting of non-Caucasian and Latino individuals, as well as women. In fact, the "flagman" for the Craftsman Truck Series, in NASCAR's top tier, is actually a woman.

For those who talk about the lack of African-Americans currently racing full time in NASCAR's upper tier, it is a matter of numbers. There are thousands of drivers every year attempting to get into the upper tier--the Craftsman Truck Series, the Nationwide Series, and the Cup Series--and a very small percentage of those even get chosen for consideration. It is a very competitive and very difficult level of racing to attain. Racers begin at a very young age, and to support a life long racing career takes large amounts of money. There is the matter of interest in the sport, often generated at a young age by role models in a particular sport. This is why we not only lack African-Americans in auto racing, but in tennis and hockey, as well. It could also be noted for the same reason that there are no women quarterbacks in the NFL. Very few young female athletes dream of being an NFL quarterback when they grow up. The interest, historically speaking, has just never been there.

The late, great tennis superstar Arthur Ashe, or Venus and Serena Williams did not get into professional tennis because they are Black, but because they were good at the sport. The same can be said of Warren Moon, or Kareem Abdul Jabbar. They were successful in their respective sports professions because they happened to be exceptionally good at what they did.

Give NASCAR's Drive for Diversity a little time and there will be results. Former NBA star Brad Daugherty has been a team owner in NASCAR's Truck and Nationwide series, and plans to be co-owner of a Truck Series team next year. Randy Moss has also announced plans for ownership of a Truck Series team. Marc Davis is a very competitive young African-American driver who will soon find his way into one of the top tier NASCAR series. Chase Austin, another promising young Black American driver is slated to drive some Nationwide Series races in Rusty Wallace's number 64 car later this year, beginning at New Hampshire on the 28 of this month.

In view of the policies and programs within NASCAR, it seems that it would be very difficult for a judge or jury to find discrimination in NASCAR at a corporate level.

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