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FILE - In this June 22, 2020, file photo, Bubba Wallace takes a selfie of himself and of other drivers who had pushed his car to the front in the pits at Talladega Superspeedway before the NASCAR Cup Series auto race in Talladega Ala., Monday June 22, 2020. The noose found hanging in Wallace's garage stall at Talladega had been there since at least last October, federal authorities said Tuesday, June 23, in announcing there will be no charges filed in an incident that rocked NASCAR and its only fulltime Black driver. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

#Fakenoose

I wrote about the strides NASCAR has taken — strides that are proper and more brave in terms of any league's fan backlash than any other — for A2 today.

That is unchanged by the noose news, and we'll get to more on that in a second.

NASCAR's efforts are magnified and made more difficult by the knuckleheads like Dustin Skinner and the lines of Confederate flags outside of Talladega Superspeedway over the last few days.
 

And if defending that is impossible, especially Skinner, the son of longtime Trucks series star driver Mike Skinner who posted on social media: "My hat is off to who put the noose at his car" and "Frankly I wish they would've tied [the noose] to [Bubba Wallace] and drug him around the pits because he has single handedly destroyed what I grew up watching and cared about for 30 years now."


Wow. Skinner has since apologized but goodness.

(Side question: As a white man, what's it going to take for the knuckleheads flying the stars and bars to realize that they are not only proving the opposite side's point but make NASCAR — the sport they truly love — look so terrible and give stock and more credence to the criticisms of Jemele Hill and Bomani Jones and others who question the noble efforts the sport has made as a whole and the efforts the drivers have made in supporting Bubba Wallace?)

But regardless of Skinner's ultimate stupidity or the rise of the Talladega Confederate roughnecks, the main storyline from Talladega has centered around the noose.

It started late Sunday night when NASCAR reported that a noose was found in Wallace's garage. The implications were clear, considering that Wallace is the sport's only black driver at the top level and had in the last two weeks called for the sport to ban the Confederate flag. (Which it did at his bequest.)

NASCAR vowed to run whomever placed that in Wallace's stall from the sport and press charges if possible. The FBI was called. There was an investigation. There was national news coverage.The FBI reported late Tuesday afternoon that noose had been there since at least last October and it was a complete coincidence that Wallace was assigned that garage stall.

It has launched a thousand fingers pointed in a whole lot of directions, and the number of folks trying to spin this in a way to augment their side and galvanize their stance. It's sickening, to be honest.

And worse than that, it's 100 percent American these days in almost every way of our lives.

There are those who want to use the hashtag #FakeNoose and compare Bubba Wallace to Jussie Smollett, the former Empire actor who hired guys to beat him up in what was staged as a race crime.

How? Wallace never saw the noose, and if we all concur that the noose was there at least nine months ago, are we to suspect that Wallace or his people worked on this elaborate scheme almost a year ago, planted the noose in the No. 4 stall in hopes that they would get that garage as NASCAR was one of the few sports running amid a once-in-a-century pandemic in an effort to maximize the exposure of race relations in NASCAR? If that's the case, Wallace and his advisors don't need any of this headache since they are so clairvoyant that they could pick three of the next five Power Ball numbers and retire to Aruba.

There are those that think NASCAR used this as a springboard into the national spotlight.

Why? Hey, if I committed a felony, it would make a whole lot of news. Not exactly good news, but hey, what's the saying, there's no such thing as bad publicity right? In truth, if we try to analyze this from the most likely of viewpoints let's review the series of events:

> A noose was found at the end of the garage door rope in Wallace's stall over the weekend. It had been there for almost a year tied as much as a handle as anything for any number of previous teams using that stall;

> A Wallace team member found, and considering the consequences and symbolism around Wallace rightly reported it to NASCAR;

> NASCAR self-reported it to the media Sunday night, fighting the urge to either try to cover it up or dismiss it. And while there are a lot of things that we may have sliding degrees of acceptance or disagreement depending on the issue, I am universally supportive of a few things. Transparency, which it feels like NASCAR attempted in this scenario, is among those that wholeheartedly support;

> Internet sleuths, including some folks at theconservativetree.com, went to work and pointed out some interesting tidbits in old photos. Side question: Why is there not a bigger outrage among us that it took theconservativetree.com 24 hours to crack this case and it took 13 FBI agents 36 hours to get to the bottom of this? Now that's a 30-for-30 I want to see;

> NASCAR announces the official findings that it was a noose, but it certainly was not a hate crime aimed at Wallace.

And the blame game starts because we simply can't accept this as a misunderstanding committed with proper intentions, from Wallace's crew member to NASCAR to those who cooperated with the investigation to the support the entire NASCAR drivers and pit crews showed Wallace.

We can't avoid the spin, the conspiracy theories or the accusations. The media can't accept the simplest explanations these days as it's a race to have the most outrage or the harshest words or the loudest rant and when the facts are altered, well, the gotcha game of journalism — like politics and partisanship — becomes ammunition of angst rather than understanding of acts.Shouldn't, in the big picture, the takeaways of this entire situation, be noticed and praised.

Praise that it was not a hate crime or intentional, which should be everyone's biggest takeaway;

Praise for the crew reporting it and NASCAR being transparent about it;

Praise for the support from Wallace's peers.

Sadly, it feels like that can't be the case as everyone outside of NASCAR figures out how to spin this into their specific narrative. And that's not a NASCAR issue; that's an America issue.

 

Race relations

OK, that got long and I am working on a pretty tight time constraint. That means we have to move quickly and use fewer words. The first one is commonplace; the latter one is difficult for me.

My stance on race in sports is clear. Sports is the most unifying part of American culture and likely all around the world.

My stance on the stick to sports argument is also clear and consistent. There is no sticking to sports, and there never has been to be honest.

But let's not ignore the numbers from the overlap in some of those cases, both in terms of sports and viewer attention.I firmly believe in the causes for equality. I also firmly believe that the nightly protests are starting to run together in terms of impact and effect.
 

Take, for example, the TV numbers from ESPN. A couple of weeks ago, renowned ESPN hater Clay Travis scanned the numbers and stated two weeks ago today was the worst ratings day for ESPN studio programming in its 41-year history.


Yes, Travis has made a lot of money preaching from a side, and part of that side has been taking shots at ESPN. Hey, he's a smart dude who has made a fortune spinning those plates.

But it does not change the numbers, as what Travis called 'WokeCenter' and the other programming on ESPN was shellacked by everything on cable.

Here's what Travis wrote: "First Take" was the highest rated ESPN studio show all day, posting just 211,000 viewers. That was the 93rd highest rated program on all of cable. Putting those numbers into context compared to other shows airing the same day on cable: "Nick Cannon Wild and Out 15" on VH1 had 50% more viewers than ESPN's top show. "Smuggler: Secret Stash" on National Geographic doubled First Take. Not to be outdone, "Craig of the Creek" on the Cartoon Network posted 200,000 more viewers."

Now, know that the ESPYs over the weekend was a record-setting disaster. There were 482,000 viewers on ESPN and ESPN2. The previous low was 1.98 million in 2011; the ESPYs drew 3.87 million last year.

The ESPYs had their traditional awards format and a slew of social commentary. The network is airing another social issue special tonight, and the ratings for that will be interesting to see.

Yes, ESPN trying to 'stick to sports' in normal days is an impossibility, and sticking to sports when there's no sports is even more difficult than impossible. No one is asking ESPN or anyone or any outlet to ignore these important social issues.

But the growing numbers of folks tuning elsewhere looks clear, too, and if you are in the business of attracting and keeping viewers, well, you can't ignore those numbers either.

 

Baseball's back

Bout time.I'm still mad though.

I hope the Dodgers win the World Series.

A 60-game season is intriguing, and will make every game more meaningful, and every decision more important.

I'm still mad though.

New rules like universal DH and the international tie-breaker used in softball with a runner being put on second to start extra innings.

There will be no spitting and pitchers can't lick their fingers. OK.

Here's betting that Ronald Acuña is going to be fun to watch.

According to ESPN baseball savant Jeff Passan, "Teams will play their four divisional opponents 10 times and each of the five interleague opponents in the same geographical area four games apiece."

Man, the Braves need to sweep the Marlins, no?

There will be expanded rosters and taxi squads and separate injured lists for COVID-19.

And amid all the changes and details and excitement, the lasting thought about all of this is clear:What the BLEEP took so long? (And I hope the Dodgers wins the World Series, mad or not.)

 

This and that

— Great news that the ruling did not overturn the Chattanooga budget, which was approved without defunding the police budget. I have not always agreed with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, but his quote in this story is aces with me. Here's Berke quote as reported in Sarah Grace Taylor's story: "I do not believe that we should defund the police. We need a skilled, highly trained, collaborative department that uses the best rules so that we can keep people as safe as possible."

— Side note: One of the quotes in favor of defunding the police in Sarah Grace's story was "The only way to work towards serving the public is to defund the police and reallocate the money to support health care, housing and education." Uh in real-world situations in regard to issues this complex and deep and challenging, to start any statement with "The only way to" is at best completely self-serving and at worst complete horse hockey. So there's that.

— You know the rules. When TFP college football expert David Paschall writes about college football we read and link Paschall's points on college football. Here is the third part of the five most-memorable games Paschall covered in the 2010s with Georgia surviving in a shootout against LSU.  

— You know the rules. When TFP sports editor and high school sports guru Stephen Hargis writes about high school sports we read and link Hargis' headlines on high school sports. Here is the list of Best of Preps boys athletes of the year. Find out the winners at the virtual banquet, which will be online Thursday at timesfreepress.com.  

— Not sure if there's a tougher job in the next normal than being a comedian. That said, Jimmy Kimmel's smugness and his spin against his critics as a defense for not addressing the old 'Blackface' sketches in which he mocked Karl Malone is as hollow and full of (bleep) as any apologies anywhere from anyone.

— The Tennessean rightly fired its ad manager for the disastrous situation over the weekend. Here's more, and while we hate for any everyday working Joe to lose a gig, well, there you go.

— Vols undervalued? That's the view of this CBSsports.com writer who ranks UT and Baylor among the teams that have been underrated during the offseason. Thoughts? Side question: Man, feels good to discuss overrated/underrated things and have old-school, sports-like conversations, no?

 

Today's questions

Lots going on friends, so let's start Which Way Wednesday this way:

Which MLB rule change excites you the most?

Which way does the NASCAR #FakeNoose stuff make you feel?

Which plan has a better chance to restart, the NBA or the MLB?

As for today, June 24, let's review.

Happy birthday Minka Kelly, who was a crowd favorite on the TV version of Friday Night Lights. Wicked great show by the way and worth your final binge spot before we drink from the sports fire house starting next month.

Rushmore of sports-based TV shows. Go. And remember the mailbag.

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