Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jim Brown Should Stick to Football

Football great Jim Brown
The following column was prepared prior to word of Jason Leffler's death in a Wednesday sprint car accident.  Combined with the death a track worker last Sunday at the Canadian Grand Prix, it is a stark reminder that, despite many improvements in the past 15 years, auto racing remains a dangerous sport and requires continued vigilance to make it safer. 

So Jim Brown thinks NASCAR is safer than the National Football League.


The former Cleveland Browns running back, now 77, was at last Sunday’s Pocono race as a guest of Richard Petty Motorsports (Brown is an associate of RPM co-owner Andrew Murstein).  It was his second NASCAR race.  After a quick tour, Brown told ESPN that when it comes to safety, “We (the NFL) are way behind.

"NASCAR stepped up their safety concepts, and I think the drivers feel NASCAR is doing everything that can be done.”

You could see the NASCAR officials, who have been taking some hits on safety recently, doing cartwheels down the length of Pocono’s pit road.

Now I realize Brown’s comments were meant more as a criticism of the NFL than an endorsement of NASCAR.  He’s especially concerned about football’s concussion situation and was impressed by the advancements NASCAR has made in head and neck safety, especially the HANS device. 

Still, it makes you wonder.

I wonder if Brown knew that NASCAR is the one professional sport in America that doesn’t require concussion baseline testing.  Although it appears to be getting closer.  NASCAR met with drivers back in May between Charlotte race weekends for a discussion of baseline testing.  Indications are the testing will be required beginning next year.

That would finally bring NASCAR in line with guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology, reinforcing what has become common practice for athletes in recent years, the need to establish a baseline for comparison in diagnosing a possible concussion.

Still, that seems like a long time to wait for a sport that travels at 200 mph.

I wonder if Brown was aware of Jeff Gordon’s recent comments on safety when he said, “I think the drivers feel NASCAR is doing everything that can be done.”  After a bad crash at Charlotte left him with a sore neck, Gordon said, “I had no idea there was no SAFER Barrier at that dogleg on the front straightaway.  That blew my mind that there wasn’t one.

“That kind of shocked me.”

Gordon has been critical of NASCAR for failing to require safer barriers everywhere on the track.  He had a similar incident at Las Vegas a few years back and earlier this this season Danny Hamlin broke his back at California when he hit a wall not covered by a safer barrier.

Why aren’t barriers everywhere?

“There’s only one reason,” Gordon says.  “Cost.”

I wonder if Brown was aware of Charlotte's Cameragate and the fact we’re still waiting for an explanation on what happened and why.  NASCAR turned it over to Fox.  Fox turned it over to COMCAT, the company operating the camera.  COMCAT said it expected to have an explanation shortly.  That was nearly two weeks ago.  Notice we haven’t heard a word about it and apparently nobody’s asking.

Jim Brown may be the greatest running back in NFL history.  Heck, he’s probably the greatest player in NFL history.  I loved watching him drag himself slowly to his feet and limp back to the huddle as if he was hurting, only to run over three defenders on the very next play.  Some say he is the greatest professional athlete ever—and I wouldn’t argue with that.

And I even loved him in The Dirty Dozen.

But an expert on NASCAR safety he’s not.  He should stick to football.


  1. Does NASCAR do anything right in your eyes Art? Seems like whenever a new development hits the newswire involving the sport you are right there to side against NASCAR. He wasn't making direct scientific claims about safety and about basal skull fractures; he was saying that NASCAR has made a full-front assault with financial resources and R&D to make sure we don't lose a star driver. You don't see that sort of prioritization with the NFL, at least not in his opinion. And quite frankly I think he's right. And what makes NASCAR so awful just because some improvements still need to be made? If they had SAFER barriers all around every racetrack, part of me thinks you'd find something else to criticize--"why isn't there bubble wrap inside the drivers' seats? NASCAR is awful." And by the way, Jeff Gordon's reference to cost is spot-on. Humpy Wheeler, a man with tremendous insight, had a Q&A session on his Twitter page. He said that ALL levels of racing, from NASCAR, Indy and F1, down to weekly dirt tracks, have one huge challenge that dwarfs all others: expenses.

    But that's not your point is it? NASCAR is awful and does nothing correctly. Maybe they should just do us all a favor and shut down? Maybe that would keep you calm. But probably not.

    1. Jeremy, thanks for your comment -- and I take it to heart. It does bother and concern me when I've done several negative columns in a row. I dislike being negative. I've even thought about ways to add positive aspects to my posts.

      I love stock car racing, have for nearly 50 years. I still watch virtually every race, truck, Nationwide and Cup. I just want the sport to be better and I feel like it has lost its way and focus on what made it great at times in recent years.

      This is just my POV, one guy who wants to see racing/NASCAR get better. There are plenty of writers who cover the sport day-to-day and do a much better job than I ever could. But for that very reason, they may not be able to be as critical of the sport at times as they should be.

      Anyway, thanks again for your comments.


  2. Clearly Mr. Brown's comments were darts being thrown at the NFL and probably knew he would get plenty of press out of it. The fact that drivers are still crashing into places that should have been covered with safer barrier is shameful. If the lame stream media weren't so busy sniffing the emperor's throne there would be more follow up about a lot of issues including but not limited to cameras falling from the sky. I see one other poster trying to tell everyone what someone else was trying to say, through his eyes. Probably one of those throne sniffers.

  3. Jesus, I'm guessing 80% of NASCAR fans don't know about baseline testing (which comes in 2014 to Cup), 100% soft wall coverage or what caused the camera problem in Charlotte.

    Clearly, Mr. Garner is a very talented writer, so I'm having trouble reconciling how this is an effective manner to address safety in NASCAR, which IS needed.

    I had the privilege of working with Mr. Brown for 7 months in 1998-99, and can testify he is one of the single greatest MEN to ever walk this planet. I'm guessing Mr. Garner spent a little time around him, even if it wasn't exclusive, and walked away with a low impression.

    Jim Brown represents the coming together of all peoples, and I think we know this has been a legacy problem for NASCAR. But to bust on Jim Brown and kick him to the curb seems extreme. He represents a thoughtful and respectful point-of-view that I thought was welcomed in NASCAR. If not, as indicated here, maybe it's time for me to go.