In sports, fans of opposing teams usually have animated debates over a few brews, then shake hands at the end of the discussion.
In politics, people with opposing viewpoints have very little tolerance over what the other person has to say. It becomes a juvenile food fight. I am RIGHT. You are WRONG. End of discussion.
Sports and politics really don't mix. NASCAR should know that, but apparently, officials in the sport didn't get the memo.
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Accepting a sponsorship from the National Rifle Association for a race in Texas in April is great for business. But it's also bad for NASCAR's public image.
NASCAR = Beer-swilling, gun-toting fans. Cue Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird." Yay-hoo.
The reality is very different, but that's the perception in some circles. Partnering with the NRA only dilutes earnest efforts by NASCAR to break down stereotypes and shape its image differently.
The sport recently welcomed Darrell Wallace as only the fourth African-American with a full-time ride in NASCAR history. Wallace is driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Camping World Truck Series.
NASCAR also warmed to all the hoopla and hype over Danica Patrick at Daytona, where she became the first female pole-setter in NASCAR's 64-year history, eventually finishing eighth.
The sport is at the top of the list among all sports organizations in diversity training, led by Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida.
This isn't about pandering to the politically correct crowd. It's about building and expanding your brand as a major sports organization.
That's why the NFL is king. League owners led a push to drop controversial loudmouth Rush Limbaugh from an ownership group trying to buy the St. Louis Rams in 2009. As Commissioner Roger Goodell noted, "divisive comments are not what the NFL is all about."
Much like Limbaugh, the NRA is a polarizing brand for obvious reasons. And a race sponsorship sends a very contradictory message than the poignant one delivered during the Daytona 500, when Michael Waltrip drove a race car with a paint scheme raising awareness -- and money -- for the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.
"I think that in today's political climate with all gun-related violence that goes on in our country, it's disappointing to see any sports group associated with the NRA," Lapchick said.
Many NASCAR fans will scream and howl at that statement. You are WRONG! Others will shake their head in unison. You are RIGHT!
And those are the crosshairs that NASCAR will find itself in before the green flag drops in Texas on the NRA 500 on April 13.
Why sign up for that? Texas Motor Speedway signed the sponsorship agreement, worth an estimated $1 million, although NASCAR has final approval through its race sanctioning agreements. It's a nice payday in a time when the sport is struggling to find sponsorships on all levels, from teams to individual drivers.
"I suspect we'll sell a lot of tickets to their members and folks who support their position on America's rights and freedoms and the Second Amendment," TMS president Eddie Gossage said. "We know what we're doing. We wouldn't enter into a partnership with someone who doesn't fit us demographically. We both are reaching a similar audience."
He's on point, of course. Just take a peek in the garage area, where team owner Richard Childress is a member of the NRA's board of directors.
And it's important to note that the race winner traditionally fires pistols in Victory Lane. And hey, we are talking about Texas, a state that loves its guns as much as big hats and barbecue.
So in many ways, this is all about preaching to the choir.
There are others, of course, who will hear a different message. NASCAR, by association, is picking sides when it comes to our nation's divisive conversation on gun control and violence.
Obviously, everyone is prepared to move forward despite the repercussions of public perception and the possibility of collateral damage.
Political football. Hot potato. Trigger-happy marketing push.
Pick your metaphor.
Great for business.
Bad for public image.