Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Take On Kurt Busch

After following the Kurt Busch/Patricia Driscoll case for the last couple of months, and dealing with the often-moronic posts on Twitter and message boards, I figured I would come here to get my opinions off my chest, because 140 characters just isn't enough.

First of all, there is no room for domestic violence in this world, period. That doesn't mean that I am taking sides here, because I'm not. And besides, the only people who know what really went down that night are the two of them. Still, the Delaware court system determined there was enough evidence to support that SOMETHING went down that night, so I am going off those findings.

I try to look at things objectively, so when I view this case I'm throwing out the public opinions, that he is an alcoholic, rageaholic time bomb, that she is a gold digger looking for attention, etcetera and so forth. That she had no right going into his motor coach, that all he did was cup her face. Look, it's obvious that this relationship either was or had become codependent or toxic -- however you want to look at it -- and probably any court order keeping the two of them apart is probably a good thing so that they can work through their issues and go on with their lives.

Fact is, NASCAR was correct in their indefinite suspension of Kurt Busch, they did the right thing. While some may argue it was the PC thing to do, and maybe it was, what option did he leave them? Maybe he didn't necessarily "deserve" a suspension based on this one incident, he still has yet to be charged and Travis Kvapil wasn't disciplined for his domestic violence arrest, but his past transgressions really painted NASCAR into a corner.

After all, how could they not suspend him for (allegedly) striking a woman after they had done so for swearing at Dr. Jerry Punch during an interview? How could they not have done so after Jack Roush suspended him in 2005 for being pulled over by cops with the smell of alcohol on his breath -- on a race weekend no less?

The more you do, the less rope you get. That's how the entire world works.

Many people will scream that he hasn't got his "due process", or that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Both of those are true, in a court of law, but employers and sanctioning bodies don't have to follow those same rules. Their responsibility is to protect themselves, and their brand. It's business. Any company would do the exact same thing. No, it isn't fair, but that's how it is.

Several years ago I made a procedural error at work that got me suspended for a week. I was suspended, without pay, and later put on probation, not because of my conduct, but because I had sent a data file to a vendor where I had typoed the name by one letter, meaning it didn't get processed and people didn't get their pension payments. The delay was one day, I was suspended for the next four.

The people above my boss wanted me fired, but he stood up for me and thankfully saved my job -- in fact, I still work there. Was my suspension fair? Probably not, however, the impact was such that it could've become a public issue, it had with other companies in the past, and to merely let me go back to my desk and continue working probably wasn't the smartest PR idea. In fact, I'm sure if it had become public, I would've been canned.

I didn't get "due process", the only time I got to see the people who made the decision was when they called me into their office and sent me home. That's just how the world works. As long as someone else's name is at the bottom of your check, it's their world, not yours.

So just because Kurt Busch is a successful, series champion, millionaire driver, he still doesn't sign his checks. Tony Stewart does, and as part of his agreement as a NASCAR owner, he has to abide by how drivers are disciplined. Again, that's how it works.

He gave them no choice. Usually discipline is handed down procedurally, with each incident more harshly punished by the previous one. Not only that, with domestic violence in sports such a forefront issue right now, the decisions to suspend, or even release, athletes who have been accused of such actions, will come a lot faster than it used to. Yes, most of those decisions will be PR-related, but again, it is a privilege to be a professional athlete, so their standards of conduct must be higher, and having a solid domestic violence policy in place is something I support, because a man should never lay his hands on a woman. In fact, I'm a believer that physical confrontations isn't the solution to anything.

Decisions have been made, and it is what it is. Reality is that Kurt Busch's racing career is once again in the crosshairs, and the only thing he can do is move forward. If something in his personal life needs to be fixed, he has to face up to it and fix it. Not only for his racing career, but so he can just find happiness as a person.

While I know that his comments and interactions with the media are limited due to the legal process that is still ongoing, he needs to get out there and, in the words of my PR-goddess wife, get in front of the story. In the same way I was critical of how AJ Allmendinger's PR team mis-handled his positive drug test a few years back, I don't think Busch is doing himself any favors by letting his lawyer do his talking for him.

I don't need to know what happened that night, and I don't need to hear him declare guilt. However, he would go a long way with a lot of people if he just took ownership of things, whether it is what happened that night or in the past. Despite his nicely-worded PR pieces that say otherwise, I don't think he really, truly has, and that in itself will help with his image in the eyes of the public and the fans.

It did for Dinger. While I think he has a better personality, not to mention better skills at working with the public and media, once he became the face of those comments and statements, he went a long way towards repairing relationships by truly being contrite and willing to learn from his mistakes. In the three years since his positive test for Adderall, does anyone think or talk about it anymore?

I also think Kurt needs to ditch the "Outlaw" thing for good. Because at this point it is racer-speak that really means -- pardon my French -- "Asshole". In other words, it's worn thin. Like most sports prodigies, from what I have read Kurt and his brother Kyle grew up in an environment where their massive talents gave them plenty of free reign for their behavior. That's just not how grown-ups work.

Point to Dale Earnhardt if you like, but off the track Dale was very well-liked and very kind, loyal and accommodating to many people. The Busch brothers could drive pretty much however they wanted on the track if they treated people better and acted better off of it. But in their minds they do no wrong, and are still seemingly surrounded by people in their lives that let them act that way. How else do you explain their repeated acts of stupidness?

But if Kurt wants to repair his image, it definitely shouldn't be in IndyCar. First of all, IndyCar would more than likely honor any suspension NASCAR would hand down to any driver -- and as a professional courtesy, they should -- and second, it would be a dumb move on a lot of levels.

While some might think any publicity is good publicity, in this case it isn't. The easiest way to raise a lot of ire among a large group of people would be to employ a driver who is suspended by another organization, especially for domestic violence. No doubt I enjoyed watching him drive in the 500 last year and would like to see him take another shot someday, but not under these circumstances.

My wise mother once said that saying you are sorry isn't just apologizing for what you did wrong, it's a promise to do your best to not do that thing again. Kurt is only 36 and has a lot of racing in front of him, but I hope in his quiet moments of introspection he someday realizes that he can't continue this way. Right, wrong or otherwise, he's given people too much ammo with which to come after him, and that won't stop until he fixes things himself.

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