CONCORD, N.C. — Bad decisions have consequences.
It’s a lesson most people learn as a child. Act out in public and face the consequences. Ignore your parents and do whatever you want? Face the consequences. Pour dish soap in the dishwasher and break it? You face the consequences.
I may or may not have been punished for that last bad decision, but I digress.
The fact is we all have to consider the consequences for every decision we make. It’s that way in every aspect of life, from your personal life to how you manage a business.
With that in mind, let’s consider the microscope sports personalities find themselves under in today’s society.
Professional athletes are representatives of their sport and the organization. Everything they say and do is analyzed and scrutinized, for better or for worse.
As a result, when professional athletes make mistakes, the consequences can be — and often are — dire. The decision to use performance-enhancing drugs, for example, has derailed the career or tarnished the legacy of more than one sporting icon.
However, sometimes all it takes is one wrong word to derail a career and livelihood.
That was the case for Kyle Larson, who uttered a racial slur during an iRacing livestream on April 12.
Larson issued a public apology shortly after the incident, but the damage had already been done. Even Larson knew the consequences he was facing.
“I understand the damage is probably unrepairable and I own up to that,” Larson said at the time.
He was right.
The consequences came swiftly for the California driver, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing within days after several of the team’s sponsors refused to work with him.
It was a harsh reminder that professional athletes are more than athletes, they are brand representatives and everything they say or do is a representation of the sports they represent and the companies they endorse.
Don’t worry about Larson. He will be back. At the time of this writing, he had already returned to racing by competing in the May 8 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series event at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway.
However, it’s going to take time for the wounds caused by Larson’s mistake to heal. Sponsors have long memories and large corporations won’t want to be associated with someone who used a racial slur in a public setting.
Like it or not, that’s the reality of the world in which we live.
While many may argue that in the case of Larson the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, all that really matters in this situation are the opinions of those signing the checks and running the various businesses involved.
Team owner Chip Ganassi had a choice to make. His first option was to retain Larson and likely lose many of the team’s sponsors, which could have ultimately led to having to park the No. 42 car and having to lay off much of the team’s work force.
The other option was to fire Larson and hire a driver who the team’s sponsors could rally behind. Ganassi took the second option and later hired 2003 NASCAR Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth to race alongside Kurt Busch, who drives CGR’s No. 1 Chevrolet, for the rest of the season.
Kenseth is a renowned professional who works well with sponsors and has countless major victories on his résumé, all things Ganassi saw as positives.
From a business perspective, there was only one real option.
When will Larson return to NASCAR? That’s anybody’s guess. He’s reportedly completed NASCAR-mandated sensitivity training that went along with the indefinite suspension the sanctioning body handed him.
Still, it could be some time before a race team decides to take a chance on him.
At press time, Larson’s home in Mooresville, N.C., and a second, larger house, which was under construction nearby, were on the market.
It certainly appeared — at least for now — Larson was preparing to return to his dirt-racing roots.
He badly wants to win the Knoxville Nationals — a fact he has made clear multiple times — and with no NASCAR ride to distract him, this year may end up being his best shot at taking home the coveted Nationals crown.
Larson’s career isn’t over, not by a long shot. However, he has relearned a valuable lesson about consequences.
It’s a lesson I’d be willing to bet he won’t have to learn again.