For the last decade, NASCAR has tried to shed its legacy as a sport indelibly linked to the confederate flag. Motorsports bosses have understood that if their sport were ever to go global, burning rubber couldn't be associated with burning crosses. However, despite efforts to buff their image, it's still a sport where racism pulses below the surface and sexism in the form of bikini clad NASCAR eye-candy is proudly paraded around the speedway, as much a part of the scenery as the stars and bars. NASCAR has for years been in danger of being crushed by this contradiction. They’re attempting to reach an upscale international audience while clinging to the worst kind of provincial sewage.
NASCAR execs' preoccupation with having their cake and eating it too has long been a recipe for disaster. And now we have the ingredient that could ruin the entire corporate feast: Mauricia Grant. In 2005, Grant became the first black, female inspection official in the sport's history. Two years later she was fired. Now Grant has filed a $225 million harassment lawsuit against NASCAR alleging "racial and sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination."
"I loved it. It was a great, exciting, adrenaline-filled job where I worked with fast cars and the best drivers in the world," Grant told The Associated Press. "But there was an ongoing daily pattern [of harassment]. It was the nature of the people I worked with, the people who ran it, it trickled down from the top."
The lawsuit details twenty-three specific incidents of sexual harassment and thirty-four specific incidents of alleged racial and gender discrimination over a two-year span. It is a fairly mind numbing recitation of verbal abuse that goes well beyond anyone's notion of political correctness.
In addition to the verbal barrage, Grant has accused two NASCAR officials, Tim Knox and Bud Moore, of exposing themselvesto her as well. They are now on "indefinite administrative paid leave" although NASCAR suspiciously says it has nothing to do with the lawsuit. (If you believe that, you must think Jesse Helms is in heaven.)
Grant claims she was called "Nappy Headed Mo" and "Queen Sheba." She had a coworker who liked to talk casually about the Ku Klux Klan. Another white official named, oddly enough, David Duke, sent her a text message that read, "I love all Yall mofos i am that nigga. HAHAHAHolla. PIMPALICIOUS."
So far, NASCAR's response to Grant's allegations has been to go into attack mode. Chairman Brian France said, "The disappointing thing is she makes a lot of claims, none of them reported, The fact that it went on as she stated, for many months, but never bothered to tell anyone at management what was going on--which is what our policy says--is very disappointing." Grant claims she did tell others but that she was told to let it go because her tormenters were "former military guys" with a rough sense of humor.
Mike Wilford, who is named in the suit and has since left NASCAR, told The Associated Press that Grant was in on the offensive "jokes" the whole time. "Graphic and lewd jokes? She participated in them. She laughed, she would never say it was inappropriate," Wilford claims. "She asked to be called the only two names she was ever called. She called herself Mo Money all the time."
Needless to say, this scandal could destroy NASCAR, or at the very least, put it in permanent marketing purgatory. Ironically the person perhaps best-equipped to save NASCAR from itself is Mauricia Grant.
Grant has said, "We have to work together to change the racist culture. Anyone that has an interest in motorsports, they should be allowed to work in that environment without having to deal with racism or sexism."
Grant's love of motorsports is so intense, so pure, that she can separate the beauty of the sport from the ugly underbelly desperately clinging to its wheels.
Grant has also commented, “It’s not an easy place to work, but if this is what you want to do, you have to work hard and fight for it, put your time in and demonstrate that you’re capable of doing the job.”
It’s a nice sentiment. But when it comes to NASCAR, workers may have to do more than “demonstrate that [they’re] capable of doing the job.” They may have to actually demonstrate. At Daytona. In Talledega. Handing out flyers to the folks streaming inby the thousands. Can you imagine? One can almost hear Jesse Helms spin.
Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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