By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The reaction to the last “View from the Bleachers” – an editorial on Colin Kaepernick, social injustice and anthem demonstrations – was the most significant in the column’s nearly 10-year history. It was also the most divided: every supportive comment was counterbalanced by one expressing staunch disagreement. All were welcomed and appreciated.
Setting differences aside, this overarching theme was clear: our democracy, freedom of expression and what it means to be patriotic are all deeply meaningful and unsettled matters. This is why I wrote “O Say Can You See”; this is why many readers were compelled to react.
Considering the different political structures around the globe, this wonderful ability to fuss and argue and shape our ever-evolving democracy should never be lost in the discord, no matter the intensity. The right to thoughtful expression and the responsibility to listen earnestly to and respect those opposed – and work toward a palatable, majority-based resolution - should never be overlooked. Those freedoms and that collective responsibility define us as Americans far more than the side we’ve adopted on the issue du jour.
With that, I will scratch a personal itch with this “View”. Bear with me.
This weekend will mark the presumed end of a consequential NASCAR driver’s career. It would be understandable if that lede was interpreted as a prelude to a farewell to Dale Earnhardt Jr., retiring legend of the asphalt and left turns. But it is not. This is about another NASCAR driver whose time behind the wheel could be ending: Danica Patrick.
Within the sport, Patrick’s career doesn’t compare to Earnhardt’s. The latter has been the most popular driver for the last decade-plus and is a constant link to his iconic father; meanwhile, the former hasn’t won a race in an eight-year career.
But outside the sport, it is Patrick’s career, not Earnhardt’s, that’s been more consequential.
One of the hats I wear, and the one donned with the greatest responsibility, is that of a father. More specifically, I have a daughter. She’s old enough now to be keenly aware of gender and the limitations social stereotypes attempt to place on her…just because she’s a girl.
I hate it. I know this awareness was an inevitable and unfortunate part of growing up. I also know I have the ability, thru open dialogue, to disarm foolish, sexist stereotypes, thereby ensuring she has the strength and confidence to transcend any artificial ceilings. But I still hate it - to my core. Because I know sexism exist. Because I know she will encounter men who don’t see her as an equal and consider her incapable or an object for their manipulation (see the alarming #MeToo movement if you harbor doubts).
Call it the curse of boobs. Or is it the psychological corruption of testicles and testosterone? PCT2, if you will. Yes, I like that better.
Despite my best efforts, I’m aware that my gray-bearded male pontifications against gender-based limitations likely do not provide her adequate reassurance. But in Patrick, I have an undeniable example of a woman eviscerating such a stereotype. Patrick stormed her way to the heights of both IndyCar and stock car racing – nearly entirely male sports. She carried herself with confidence, never flinched, freely expressed her opinion and competed with an edge that is common in the still rough-around-the-edges sport of NASCAR. Basically, Patrick acted like she belonged – and she did. That she did all this in the troll-friendly social media age is a tremendous credit to her strength and professionalism.
Of course as time passes, it will still be Earnhardt, not Patrick, who will be the more frequent subject of reminiscent fans. Which is too bad. That’s not a knock on Dale Jr. He’s been nothing but a class act throughout his career and a consistent supporter of Patrick. But Patrick’s career, not Earnhardt’s, carries more social significance. A man unjustly overshadowing a female contemporary: label me disappointed but unsurprised. But then again, maybe Patrick will find another NASCAR team and continue adding to her remarkable accomplishments. I’m one dad of one young lady who isn’t ready for her empowering story to end.