Ten weeks ago I chastised Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas for bringing politics into sports. Now it's time to call out ESPN.
Blake Koch is a 26-year-old race car driver from West Palm Beach. He drives the No. 41 car on the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
It is common for drivers to do TV commercials promoting their primary sponsor. These ads often run during races. The ESPN family of networks provides exclusive coverage of the Nationwide Series, which is one step below the Sprint Cup Series.
Koch's primary sponsor is an organization called Rise Up and Register.
Here is the entire text of the 30-second TV commercial. It is accompanied by upbeat music.
"Over half of all race fans didn't bother to vote in the last election. I know -- I was one of them. It is time for all of us, the entire NASCAR nation, to rise up and make our voices heard this election. Please text USA to 41600 and join Rise Up and Register today. When you sign up, you become eligible to win this car. If you do win, I'll deliver it myself. Every voice is critical, so please join me and let's rise up together for our country."
Koch is a good-looking guy in a blue shirt with a blue car. The ad is as threatening as a butterfly.
ESPN will not allow the ad to run during Nationwide Series races because of its "religious and political overtones," according to Rosa Gatti, ESPN senior vice president for corporate outreach.
I thought voting was patriotic but whom you voted for was political. Is the irony here that ESPN is the one with the religious and political bias?
Do I think that if all NASCAR fans voted in November that it would help President Barack Obama's re-election? No. But how is this different from MTV's long-standing Rock the Vote campaign, which was likely not helpful to many Republicans?
The bigger problem is ESPN rejecting this ad on some religious grounds. If Tim Tebow did the ad and replaced "race fans" with "football fans," would ESPN reject it?
As for "religious overtones," ESPN did story after story on Tebow's faith, his mission trips to the Philippines and on "Tebowing." So how can you reject the Rise Up and Register ad?
When is one believing in a God a bad thing? Or is it only a bad thing if you don't like who they may vote for?
For the record, I could find nothing anywhere where Rise Up and Register mentions either major party or any candidate. They do promote that a belief in God will lead to a better life and help our country.
OK? Believe, don't believe. ESPN's only concern should have been did the checks clear?
Besides, you are ESPN! You are not a hack political channel for either side. You cover sports. But if this ad is political, then forget going to the White House ever again to do a story on the president, no matter who it is, and his or her NCAA tournament bracket. Sorry, it has way too many political overtones.
ESPN is wrong and is showing a corporate bias against, at the very least, people of faith and most likely also the Republican Party.
If you ran NASCAR, wouldn't you be offended by ESPN's decision? You have no problem with a race team's primary sponsor but your TV network won't run its ads? Time for NASCAR to flex its muscle and for Rise Up and Register to register its outrage.
They could go public with their displeasure. They could encourage sponsors to stop doing business with ESPN. They could deny ESPN access to their drivers. They could, behind the scenes, make it clear that they won't be doing any business with the network once their current contract is up.
Time for ESPN to rise up and realize they are way out of line on this one.