Some of the commentators covering Kurt Busch’s phenomenal driving as of late have uncomfortably tried to frame it as a Cinderella-style comeback. Mike Joy cranked that awkwardness up to 11 today, declaring Busch’s Sprint Cup Toyota Owners 400 win as going “from suspension to redemption.”
Problem is, that suspension was over ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll’s allegations of domestic violence, an extraordinarily sensitive matter in its own right.
For commentators to acknowledge that Busch has been driving incredibly well lately is a no-brainer. He has been. There’s been a chance for Kurt to win in nearly every single race lately. He’s driving like a man who’s trying to prove that he belongs in his race seat, and if you ignore everything that’s happened off-track, the dude’s just been driving the wheels off his cars lately. His job as a driver is to bring home the points, and he’s been doing a tremendous job of it. With today’s win at Richmond International Raceway, he’s now in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at the end of the season as well.
However, because of what’s happened off-track, commentators really shouldn’t be framing this as the Comeback of the Year. Not in that context. Not everyone is 100% comfortable with how NASCAR reinstated Busch when there was enough evidence to assign a restraining order based on Driscoll’s side of the story in a civil case. There wasn’t enough evidence to prove Driscoll’s allegations by the criminal standard (beyond a reasonable doubt), and that’s why Busch was allowed to race.
There is no “redemption” here. You don’t “redeem” a suspension over a restraining order. You can only redeem that in a court of law.
Fellow commentator Darrell Waltrip mentions “what he’s been through,” but let’s not forget that Busch went through all of those proceedings for a very serious reason. Domestic violence is never a subject that should be treated lightly—even when discussing the allegations.
Yes, the court proceedings were bizarre at times, but when it comes to the heart of the matter, we’re not talking about watching Seven Years in Tibet naked. We’re talking about the reasonable doubt that some fans still have as to whether Busch did or didn’t commit an act of violence against an ex-girlfriend. Let’s not brush that aside as if there isn’t still a restraining order. One court declared that Driscoll was probably telling the truth based on the “more likely than not” standard of proof used for civil trials, and that decision still stands.
No matter which side (if any) you’ve taken on the whole Driscoll vs. Busch case, it’s incredibly inappropriate for the commentary team to treat the reason Busch was sidelined for a while so casually. Even if you’re convinced that Driscoll was 100% in the wrong, for the commentators to gloss over that whole case by framing Busch’s season as an act of “redemption” cheapens the entire discourse surrounding acts of domestic violence.
Had the commentators mentioned redemption in the context of Busch’s recent history of mid-field, so-so results, I don’t think anyone would feel uncomfortable with Joy’s comments at all. Busch’s driving has improved. However, in bringing up Driscoll’s allegations in the same discussion, they make it sound as if he can drive himself away from those court cases and brush some very serious allegations under the rug with a win.
There’s good reason why some fans are extremely uncomfortable with how this story is being told. Let’s leave Busch and Driscoll’s private matters out of the conversation when it comes to how well Kurt Busch has been driving. If he’s redeeming anything, it’s his on-track performance at Stewart-Haas Racing.
UPDATE: Mike Joy posted this morning that he was, in fact, referring to Kurt Busch’s on-track performance after all:
Joy has been doing a lot of that lately: responding to fans who were confused by how the redemption comment was framed. He reached out to us this morning to provide more explanation as to why the comments were made one after the other:
My “redemption” comment in Sunday’s telecast addressed the on-track effect of Kurt’s suspension, which he overcame by reaching the top 30 in points and winning a regular season race.
I was not commenting on the reason for his suspension, which, we agree, is unrelated to his on-track performance.
Monday’s major news stories led with Busch’s suspension and personal struggles. FOX would be remiss in failing to mention Kurt’s off-track troubles this year, and just as guilty if we dwelled on them. He spoke about it in his victory lane interview, and our brief narrative provided context for his comments.
I understand that some people read more into my statement than I intended. I’ve spent much of last evening and this morning on twitter responding, and clarifying my position.
The problem, obviously, was one of clarity on the broadcast. As happened yesterday, when someone mentions Busch’s recent legal issues, and then heads right back into talking about race results, some may assume that they’re blending all those together into one big set of circumstances to overcome, or redeem. It’s extremely difficult to condense all of that information into an easily digestible broadcast mention.
Hopefully, given the feedback and Joy’s thoughtful response, it’s more clear in the future when the commentary team goes from mentioning this highly sensitive topic back to the racing itself.
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