|ONY STEWART'S LAST shred of credibility was ripped away when his actions again contradicted his words at the Pennsylvania 500 on July 23. His crusade this season has been to teach NASCAR's young, uninhibited drivers a thing or two about respect and discernment. He should have been listening to his own message.|
At Pocono Raceway, he took exception to getting squeezed along the wall by Clint Bowyer, and in retaliation spun Bowyer, collecting the unsuspecting Carl Edwards in the process. Edwards would finish 39th, crippling his chances of making the Chase for the Nextel Cup field.
And you know Stewart messed up when the usually laid-back, diplomatic Edwards rammed Stewart on pit road and then after the race said, if not for the respect he had for the sport, Stewart would "be out there bleeding right now."
Jenna Fryer, an Associated Press writer, was appropriately blunt when she called Stewart a hypocrite. "Stewart wants to preach a give-and-take attitude on the race track," Fryer wrote. "Yet when it comes time to practice it, NASCAR's champion only wants to take as much as he can get."
This began at Daytona in February, when Stewart said that if bump-drafting at superspeedways wasn't curtailed, somebody would get killed. He then proceeded to intentionally send Matt Kenseth careening onto the infield.
Maybe Stewart views his behavior as an object lesson. His actions say, "If you don't race right, I'll make you pay, regardless of the collateral damage." However he justifies them, his on-track antics are sending a mixed message to everybody. As NASCAR.com's Marty Smith wondered, how can a guy who gives so much of his time, energy and money off the track be the same guy who's so out of control on it?
That's a question that raises some even deeper moral issues. How can a person display such contrasting behavior short of mental illness? I don't think Stewart's mentally ill; I think he's a human who, like many of us, doesn't realize how much more weight sin carries than do-gooding.
I'm not questioning his motivation, but if he's going to give so generously to charity, he needs to realize the responsibility that comes with that. The image someone achieves through philanthropy can be easily shattered by misbehavior. Credibility is lost when one displays weak moral character, especially when one does so in his chosen profession.
We all thought Stewart had turned a corner last year, when he seemed to subdue his fragile temperament and won his second Cup championship.
Obviously, we were all fooled. His temper -- his greatest weakness -- has re-manifested itself. Before 2005, at least he managed to keep his anger from affecting the way he raced. Now that he's one of the veterans, he's allowed it to direct his actions during competition, and I suppose he thinks it's justifiable anger.
Actually, the anger itself is justifiable. Some of those yahoos are so hyper-focused on winning that they get tunnel vision, not realizing the consequences of their aggressive driving. Stewart's intention, I believe, is to guide these talented but volatile drivers toward a more proper approach. But his methods are counterproductive at best, destructive at worst. Releasing his anger when and where he's doing it is defeating his goal. It's a very twisted mentoring process he's implemented.
This is a common mistake we all make. We instruct with our words, but we teach with our actions, and when the two don't agree, our actions will eventually drown out our words, no matter how wise they are. Many a good message has been lost in the tempest of misguided conduct.
Christ's message has too often been misunderstood or gone completely unheard because of hypocrisy. The catch-22 of being a Christian is that our standard is impossible to reach. None of us is perfect, and when our Savior is without blemish, our imperfections are magnified in a world that abhors a moral vacuum (hey, even atheists have a set of morals). This world, materialistic and shallow as it often is, ultimately demands authenticity. Nothing is more authentic than someone who does exactly what he says he believes should be done.
Fortunately, God doesn't keep score, otherwise we'd all lose. He forgives, He nurtures those who seek His wisdom, and if Tony Stewart would let Him, God would help him practice what he preaches.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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