by | Oct 10, 2004 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Well, shut his mouth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., a race car driver of great fame and even better lineage, fell from first to second place in the overall standings of his sport last week — not because he lost and not because he cheated.

Because he cursed.

In winning a race last Sunday, Earnhardt, in a pique of jubilation, answered a TV reporter’s question about how it felt to win on that track for the fifth time.

“It don’t mean (expletive) right now,” he gushed. “Daddy’s won here 10 times!”

Daddy, of course, is the late Dale Earnhardt, who might be rolling over in his grave right now. Junior’s business daddies are NASCAR and the FCC. And both are spanking him hard. NASCAR not only fined Earnhardt $10,000 but docked him 25 points from the Nextel Cup standings, dropping him to second with just seven races left in the season.

The FCC, meanwhile, that paragon of virtue, is reviewing the case for possible indecency violations. You remember the last time the FCC tried this? The Super Bowl? CBS got fined, Congress passed a law, and Janet Jackson got more famous.

And that was just a wardrobe malfunction.

Forget 15-yard penalties

Of course, the Jackson incident, now that we have some perspective, was ridiculous. And so is this one. I applaud NASCAR for trying to promote to a family image, but honestly, men going 200 miles an hour with a bevy of blonds waiting at the finish surrounded by crowds of beer-guzzling fans isn’t exactly a G-rated atmosphere, is it?

Can anyone be shocked that Earnhardt let the S-word slip? He wasn’t even angry. He wasn’t cursing at somebody. He was actually using it as a noun!

Nonetheless, NASCAR has strict rules on this, and earlier this year, those rules were changed to include point reductions — because fines weren’t working. You can’t take the blue out of some folks, no matter how much green you charge.

Still, can you imagine a football game taking points off the board because a lineman used a dirty word? Can you imagine docking NBA teams one basket for every swear word used? (Is it possible to have a negative score?)

How many times have sideline microphones inadvertently captured a mouthful of expletives? How many cameras have caught players mouthing the F-word? How many times do you hear a crowd at a game burst into a rousing chorus of “Bull(blank)! Bull(blank)!”

More directly, whose ears are we protecting here? It would be one thing if NASCAR ran its races in a church. But on that same TV where a driver might let one slip, you can flip channels and see endless killings, semi-naked sex romps and wives being swapped.

And that’s not even cable!

Shock jocks and stock cars

Last week, Howard Stern, the popular shock jock, signed a deal to move to what is, in effect, cable radio. There, instead of battling the FCC and its forbidden words or innuendos, he will be free to say and do as much cursing and sexual clowning as he wants. And you know what? You still will be able to hear him in your car, assuming someone has paid for the service. And kids still will be able to hear him from the backseat — just as they are able to hear the dirty words on cable or satellite TV, which most homes have.

Which makes me wonder, who are we protecting here? We all like the idea of common decency, but that bar has been raised and lowered and bent and snapped so many times, it seems only a matter of switching channels before you find a new standard.

Earnhardt apologized for what he said, but added this: “If anybody was offended by the four-letter word I said . . . I can’t imagine why they would have tuned into the race in the first place.”

Or, to put it another way, it’s hard to work under the hood and not get a little dirty.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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