ESPN Tries and Fails to Turn Kyle Larson's Victory Champagne Into Vinegar

AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

Yesterday, a year after serving what turned out to be a season-long ban from the sport for using a racial epithet, NASCAR driver Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup Championship. A feel-good story of personal redemption and growth, right? Not if you’re ESPN’s Ryan McGee, who pounced on the provided opportunity not to praise Larson for growing and overcoming, but rather to further flail away at Larson for his misdeed.

McGee is of the stated opinion that in response to his triumph, Larson should do, well, something:

His potential impact as an educator and a game-changer for the audience that watches the sport he loves more than most anyone? This part of the gig was not his dream. This is the burden he’ll always carry because of the nightmare, one of his own ignorant creation. But if he does what he could — what he should— he might very well make some racing dreams come true for someone who thought their race might keep them out of racing.

Here is where McGee falters badly. Larson is a minority; he’s half-Japanese. As I noted yesterday, his maternal grandparents spent World War Two in a Japanese internment camp. Larson went through and emerged from NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. Exactly what else do you want the man to do? McGee doesn’t say. But, by King Richard the 43rd, he’d better do SOMETHING!

One would think last year would have been enough. Larson directly made amends to multiple people, including fellow driver Bubba Wallace. He went through all the required training. He worked with and alongside remarkable people such as Anthony Martin at the Philadelphia-based Urban Youth Racing School. Larson has continued putting his time and money into the school even after being reinstated to NASCAR. Does this not qualify as doing something? Not to McGee.

If he chooses to do nothing for the short-term sake of taking the path of least resistance, he would be lowering his visor to the long-term damage. Silence will only bolster those who see NASCAR as still stuck in 1968, the perceived free pass given to the driver who dropped the N-word and then won the championship one year later. But Larson owning it publicly and carrying it with him as prominently as a sponsor on a car hood is the only way to convince anyone that anything has actually changed.

So what would you have Larson do, McGee? Start every single conversation with, “Hey — remember that time I used a racial slur?” Grab the jack out of the jackman’s hands at every pit stop and beat himself with it? Nail himself to a cross? If African-Americans working to make a difference in their community are willing to show Larson mercy after showing him the error of his ways, and Larson continues to work with them not because he has to as part of trying to get his suspension from NASCAR lifted but instead because it is in his heart and mind to do so … again, does this not qualify as doing something?

McGee’s screed perfectly illustrates the problem with woke white scolds taking it upon themselves to be the great and terrible distributor of punishment to the transgressors. It is so much spitting against the wind. Larson has no obligation to live up to McGee’s dictums. He has done penance for the people who were offended and put in the work to eradicate whatever inside him led him to say what he did. In bettering himself as a person, he has also freed his full potential as a driver. This is something to celebrate, precisely what Anthony Martin, alongside his wife, did yesterday at Phoenix. McGee is playing protector for those who don’t need him in the least and whose deeds, not words, have demonstrated the power of forgiveness and growth. This is a moment to savor triumph’s sweet champagne. Let McGee have the vinegar to himself.