NASCAR star Kyle Larson suspended for saying racial slur while gaming
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NASCAR's relationship with racism in America is a long and complex one, and something it continues to try and improve upon with each season. In some ways, it's therefore no surprise that the sport descended quickly on one of its most popular drivers, Kyle Larson, for his actions over the weekend.
The Ganassi Racing driver was competing in a NASCAR-sanctioned online iRacing event, streaming himself live online while playing. While performing a mic-check, Larson said "Hey" followed by the N-word. This resulted in a wave of critical comments on the stream, and then with a raft of actions from sponsors and ultimately the series itself.
NASCAR, Chevrolet, Ganassi Racing, iRacing, and primary sponsor Credit One Bank are all among the groups to either suspend or cease dealings with Larson following the incident.
"NASCAR has made diversity and inclusion a priority and will not tolerate the type of language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event," the series said in an official statement.
"Our Member Conduct Guidelines are clear in this regard, and we will enforce these guidelines to maintain an inclusive environment for our entire industry and fan base."
"We are extremely disappointed by what Kyle said last night during an iRacing Event," said Ganassi Racing.
"The words that he chose to use are offensive and unacceptable. As of this moment we are suspending Kyle without pay while we work through this situation with all appropriate parties."
Larson, who is a regular racer in New Zealand's speedway scene, posted his regret in a subsequent apology statement.
“I just want to say I’m sorry. Last night I made a mistake and said the word that should never, ever be said and there’s no excuse for that. I wasn’t raised that way. It’s just an awful thing to say,” he said.
“I feel very sorry for my family, my friends, my partners, the NASCAR community and especially the African-American community. I know the damage is probably unrepairable and I own up to that.
“I just wanted to let you all know how sorry I am and I hope everybody is staying safe during these crazy times.”
It's the second time this month that a NASCAR driver's actions in a video game have resulted in real-world implications. Bubba Wallace quit one of NASCAR's official online races after contact with Clint Bowyer, which resulted in sponsor Blue-Emu immediately suspended its backing.
While the bevy of suspensions will no doubt harm Larson's racing career, it's expected that many of the suspensions will soften once the driver participates and completes a diversity training programme.