But Olbermann was right Sunday when he blistered a tweet from NASCAR that said, after a morning of coverage of the Canandiagua events, “With heavy hearts, we turn our attention to today's #CheezIt355. #NASCAR Countdown begins now on @ESPNNASCAR.” And he was right again Monday night when he was among the first to bring a voice of reason to the aftermath.
I was at a wedding on Sunday and without a television, following the tweets from Watkins Glens in real time. I shook my head in disbelief when I read the NASCAR tweet. Then Olbermann tweeted. He had been fairly quiet up to that point, tweeting a little about baseball, but that was it.
Olbermann quickly followed NASCAR’s tweet with what he called a “shameful retweet” and moments later with: “If @NASCAR wants to run anyway today I can't argue against it. Death is part of their business. But spare us the "so we move on" BS.”
That tweet touched off a Twitter firefight and accomplished something I thought I would never see again. He had auto racing fans rallying to NASCAR’s defense. While a surprising number of early responders sided with Olbermann, a tidal wave of NASCAR fans and even some NASCAR beat reporters quickly jumped in defend NASCAR and Stewart. Things got rough, but for the most part, Olbermann gave as good as he got. Olbermann claimed victory when NASCAR finally took down its original tweet.
He was right again Monday night when he discussed the situation at the start of his regular weeknight ESPN show -- righter than anyone I’ve heard yet on the subject. He recalled the death of fellow ESPN broadcaster Tom Mees nearly 20 years ago. He recalled how badly he and the others on the air that night at ESPN had handled that event, saying the staff was simply in shock that night. “You want to pretend it didn’t happen.” He then went on to recite a number of instances in sport where shock had clouded decisions.
Olbermann said he didn’t know what happened Saturday in northern New York “and neither do you. We really are going to have to leave this one to the authorities to investigate. They have just not the time and expertise to investigate; they have the training to combat their own shock.”
Olbermann said Stewart was in shock when he first announced his intention to race at Watkins Glen. He said Greg Zippadelli was in shock when he said it was “business as usual.” And he said NASCAR was in shock when it sent out its regular pre-race tweet.
Then Olbermann came as close as I’ve ever heard him come to an apology.
“I, in shock, blasted that (NASCAR) tweet as shameful. NASCAR fans, in shock, wondered why NASCAR was even mentioning Kevin Ward, since his death wasn’t in a NASCAR race and he wasn’t a NASCAR driver. The tweeter flame war that followed, with everybody in shock, was as incoherent and unpleasant as you would expect.
“Tonight, it’s incredible to believe, that all that happened. Or that Stewart even considered racing, or that NASCAR tweeted what it did, and that people, me included, argued on Twitter about it. But as I said, two lessons: one, shock will make you do almost anything to let you pretend the nightmare isn’t real; and two, it will also erase your ability to realize that it is doing that, so whatever you learned about shock during your last nightmare, it escapes you just when you need it the most.
“So about this. Let’s let the investigators investigate and forgive those that reacted shortsightedly and in shock – ourselves included.”