Saturday, 22 June 2024

What Kyle Larson said was wrong: Enough with the ‘whataboutism’

Posted On Tuesday, 14 April 2020 01:16 Written by
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Kyle Larson has seen much success driving for Chip Ganassi in the Cup series, but his future is now in doubt after using a racial slur during an iRacing event on Sunday. Kyle Larson has seen much success driving for Chip Ganassi in the Cup series, but his future is now in doubt after using a racial slur during an iRacing event on Sunday. Wikimedia Commons

I’ve never liked the ‘what about?’ crowd.

You know the type. Any time somebody says or does something so wrong that everybody knows they shouldn't do it, this group is quick to jump online and defend, saying, “What about _______ ?” (fill in the blank for a completely unrelated matter that in no way excuses what was said or done).

If a politician says or does something inexcusable, the retort from this crowd is, “What about that unrelated thing their opponent did 10 years ago?”

If a person says something clearly offensive, they say, “What about if so-and-so said that? Would it still be offensive?”

This stupidity literally never ends. It’s one of the worst parts of being on the Internet. Everybody thinks they are correct, and there are always ‘two sides to every issue’.

The reality is, of course, that on many issues, there is only one side.

Kyle Larson using the “N-word” during an iRacing event this week, with a hard R no less, is one of those cases. It was wrong. Period. Full stop. No debate needed.

He admitted it was wrong in an apology video, and is already suffering the consequences, rightfully so. The ‘what-abouts’ need to stop defending it. I don’t care about hypothetical examples.

Specifically, defines “whataboutism” as: “a conversational tactic in which a person responds to an argument or attack by changing the subject to focus on someone else’s misconduct, implying that all criticism is invalid because no one is completely blameless”

And I’m seeing way too much of it in relation to Kyle Larson’s choice of language, and the effects it should or shouldn’t have on his career.

I understand that there are some situations where nuance is applicable, and multiple views can be seen. To keep it in NASCAR terms, let’s say two drivers are beating and banging for a few laps, then one ends up in the wall. Maybe one came down, or the other came up the track. Either way, it’s debatable. It’s a product of hard racing, and the drivers can move on to the next week without any clear blame to assign. There are two sides to this example.

On the other hand, let’s say one driver comes off pit road, targets someone they had beef with from earlier in the race, and drills them hard into the wall, clearly on purpose. No hard racing involved, they got dumped in a dangerous way, and there should be consequences for the driver (as there were, for example, when Kyle Busch retaliated against Ron Hornaday under caution in a truck series race back in 2011). There are not two sides to this example. The driver who did the dumping is wrong. Period. No need to say ‘what about?’

So let’s get back to Larson. In the 24 hours since that unfortunate choice of vocabulary, Larson was indefinitely suspended by Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR and iRacing, and lost several key sponsors. He was then let go by the CGR team on Tuesday, April 14th.

In its short statement, NASCAR said: “NASCAR has made diversity and inclusion a priority and will not tolerate the type of language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event. Our Member Conduct Guidelines are clear in this regard, and we will enforce these guidelines to maintain an inclusive environment for our entire industry and fan base.”

Yet some folks online are still what-abouting this, a disappointing thing to see in 2020.

Look, I like Kyle Larson.

I think he’s a hell of an entertaining race car driver who can handle anything on four wheels better than most people on this earth. I look forward to watching him race for years to come, as I don’t expect him to retire from racing at 27 years old (yes, he’s that young, even though it seems like he’s a veteran in the sport).

I don’t believe he is a racist, and I don’t think he is a bad person. Quite the opposite in fact. I think he’s someone who made a terrible mistake, and recognizes there will be consequences for a while as a result of that mistake.

But whenever this Coronavirus madness ends and we start up this racing deal again — and I hope it’s soon so we move past this video game stage and get to real racing again (nothing against iRacing, it’s just not the same) — I don’t expect Kyle Larson will be in a Cup series ride for a while due to his suspension.

This was Larson’s last year with Ganassi most likely anyway, and they've now ended their relationship early, making Larson a free agent immediately. Once his suspension ends, and he is available to drive, maybe another team picks him up, maybe he sits the year out. But I’m confident he’ll find a seat for 2021, with so many quality rides opening. He’s too good not to get hired, even with this controversy. It might not be the 48 car anymore, which was rumored, but someone will hire him.

In the meantime, let’s all recognize the fact that the language used by Kyle Larson was not appropriate, his team and NASCAR and his sponsors are all appropriately offended by the outburst, and let’s stop offering hypothetical situations that other drivers could do and analyzing how they might be treated differently.

It’s a pointless exercise, and makes NASCAR and its fans look like we’re eager to get back to the days where Wendell Scott wasn’t allowed to celebrate his Cup series win in Victory Lane. Fans using ‘whataboutism’ in the Larson situation are making the sport look bad, after a decades-long effort to end the stigma of racism that was attached to it.


Matt Myftiu can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or reached on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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