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Commentary: NASCAR’s action regarding racist remark a positive step

ORLANDO, Fla. – Richard Lapchick got a call from Brian France back in 1997. He wanted to get together to chat.

“My goal is to make NASCAR look like America,” France told Lapchick when they met.

It was a perfect fit: France was in line to take over the reins of NASCAR from his father, Bill France Jr. Lapchick was a leading voice on diversity in sports.

Fast-forward to the here and now: Lapchick’s organization has done more diversity training with NASCAR than with any other sports groups, including NBA and NFL teams and colleges. At one point, NASCAR hit a stretch of five consecutive years of diversity training with every employee.

This context is necessary as NASCAR and Lapchick are back in business, this time for some one-on-one training.

Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida, will work directly with suspended Nationwide driver Jeremy Clements.

Clements is under indefinite suspension for making what NASCAR officials called an “intolerable and insensitive remark” during the course of an interview before last weekend’s Nationwide race at Daytona international Speedway. He used the n-word in a casual conversation with an MTV blogger in the garage area.

Some observers have screamed that NASCAR has overreacted and overstepped its bounds. That would not be me. All these hours of diversity training don’t mean a thing if there aren’t consequences for anyone who crosses the line.

“NASCAR adopted a zero-tolerance policy,” Lapchick said. “What he said was inappropriate and wrong, but you have to have that chance for redemption.”

Lapchick notes that NASCAR has gone out of its way not to seek publicity for its diversity-training.

“It’s a tribute to their sincerity,” Lapchick said. “I think that the most important thing that an organization can do other than changing the numbers is changing the culture, but one can’t go without the other.”