ESPN erred with ESPYs
ESPN handed out its yearly ESPYs Wednesday night in Los Angeles in a ceremony that aired live on sister network ABC. For motorsport fans, especially NASCAR fans, there was at least one glaring omission. Personally, I think a case could be made for two omissions.
Motorsport competitors only received nominations in one category — Best Driver. And, really, what other kinds of athletes would receive nods in that category. And, in case you missed it, the Best Driver ESPY went to reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.
The omission being discussed in NASCAR circles, both among fans and individuals in the sport, is the omission of four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon among those recognized and honored as sports icons. Icon Award recipients Wednesday night included Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning and Amy Wambach.
Did ESPN not get the memo that Gordon recently retired? No, I’m not trying to suggest that any professional athlete deserves to be recognized as a sports icon upon retirement, but we’re talking about Jeff Gordon, here.
Gordon’s accomplishments at NASCAR’s top level include, but aren’t limited to, four championships and a wins tally that puts him in third position on the all-time wins list in NASCAR’s premier series, trailing only NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and David Pearson. If you ask me, not that anybody is, Gordon’s destined to be a first ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer as soon as he becomes eligible for consideration. I think he more than made his mark in his sport of choice.
And Gordon’s contributions to the US’s No. 1 motorsport isn’t limited to on-track accomplishments, either. He played a big part in taking NASCAR mainstream. We are, after all, talking about a guy who hosted “Saturday Night Live” and guest co-hosted national talk show “Live with Kelly” several times. And since I mentioned that show, I’ll also mention that reports have Gordon as the top prospect to be a permanent host on the popular morning talk show.
Brad Keselowski and Gordon have butted proverbial heads, and some of Keselowski’s comments rub some fans the wrong way, but a tweet from the 2012 Sprint Cup champion Wednesday night in response to another tweeter commenting on Gordon’s omission as an icon summed up what a lot of fans seemed to be thinking Wednesday night and Thursday, judging by social media.
“Part I find most interesting is that NASCAR @JeffGordonWeb were a key cornerstone to build @ESPN to where it is,” Keselowski (@Keselowski
Was Gordon’s omission bitter grapes on the part of ESPN with NASCAR no longer on its broadcast schedule? I hope the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” isn’t that petty. I like to think that’s not the case, but I can’t help but wonder. Was the omission because Gordon now works as a broadcaster for a competing network? Maybe that’s it. But Gordon working for FOX sure doesn’t take away from his beyond well-deserved status as a sports icon.
As I mentioned before, I see a case for another NASCAR omission. I think Busch deserved a nomination in the Best Championship Performance category. I wouldn’t cry foul if he had been nominated but didn’t win, but I definitely think he deserved a nomination, at the very least.
We’re talking about a guy who went from the sidelines to champion in a single season. In case you missed it or somehow forgot, Busch missed the first 11 races of the 2015 season after a crash in the NASCAR Xfinity Series season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. After giving everyone else an 11-race head start, Busch, soon after his return, posted four wins in a stretch of five races to get himself in the top-30 of the points standings and obtain a Chase berth. He then made his way to the round of eight, in which he posted three straight top-five finishes to make himself one of the four drivers to battle for the championship in the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A fifth 2015 win at Homestead then made him the 2015 champion.
No, you don’t have to remind me that I was one of the people critical of NASCAR for granting Busch a waiver after missing 11 races, but the rules are the rules and Busch played by those rules and won the championship by those rules with an amazing comeback performance. Best Championship Performance ESPY nomination worthy? You betcha.
Right now, I’m questioning how seriously I should be taking the ESPY Awards, especially after seeing a report that’s not NASCAR-related but does pertain to the ESPYs.
Apparently, surfer Bethany Hamilton backed out of an ESPY nomination. She was originally nominated for the Best Female Athlete with a Disability Award but then notified ESPN that she wished to withdraw her nomination.
Hamilton and ESPN, both, seem to be keeping fairly mum on the situation, but ESPN did release a statement to E! News that stated, “Bethany expressed to ESPN that she was appreciative of the nomination but didn’t feel it was a good fit for her, so ESPN removed her from the category upon her request.”
To quote that 90s C+C Music Factory classic, “Things that make you go hmm.” Good luck getting that song out of your head, now.
Maybe Hamilton’s decision was something simple and uncontroversial as not wanting to be classified as disabled or not wanting to win an award for being disabled, waning to, instead, be recognized for her athletic accomplishments and abilities, disability or not. But since neither side is saying much, we may never know. Conspiracy theorists may be thinking ESPN’s just not a fit for her, like she doesn’t want to be associated with the network. But I’ll go with the first possibility I mentioned.
Hamilton’s withdrawal aside, I realize these are fan-voted awards, but I don’t really have a problem with the winners, based on the nominees list voting fans were presented, but I can’t help but question the nomination process. Something, here, just seems fishy to me.