Robby Gordon: The Last Gender Jerk in Motor Racing
Editor's Notebook, June 2005
So, there I was, enjoying my Sunday morning coffee and papers, getting my last bit of all Danica all the time news about the upcoming Indy 500, when BAM!, I was struck, rather forcefully, by an outrageous statement by a former IndyCar driver. I was incensed and vowed that I would never race in the Indy 500 if they let jerks like Robby Gordon participate.
If you missed it, Gordon said that the reason Danica Patrick was good was that she weighed less than the other drivers, which gave her a weight advantage. He didn’t say ‘one reason’, or ‘a reason’, he said ‘the reason’ she was competitive was her weight. He also said that he would not race at Indy against her. I went into major attack mode, planning an Editor’s Notebook column about why that statement was outrageous.
|Gordon’s comment was the death rattle of a dying breed of man....|
As the day progressed, however, I began to feel and see the overwhelming tide of support for Danica and realized that Gordon’s comment was the death rattle of a dying breed of man. The story was a DNS and didn’t require rebuttal. It is important, however, for us to look at how Gordon’s comment fits into the evolving acceptance of women in motor sports. (I’m still a little angry, though, so if you send me an email, I’ll send you my top ten reasons why Robby Gordon is an asshole.)
Danica’s performance in the Indy 500 settled, forever, the question of whether a woman can be competitive at the highest level of motor racing. Janet Guthrie’s performances at Indy in the 1970’s should have answered that question, but there were a great many Gordon-like people involved in the sport at that time. The tide turned against Janet, denying her the sponsorship she needed and ending her career prematurely.
|It is important to recognize what needs the mop....|
Even with the strong performance by a woman in this year’s Indy 500, those of us fighting for gender equality in motor racing will be engaged in mopping up operations for years to come. It is important to recognize what needs the mop.
So, let us be very clear about what Gordon meant. He was not talking about weight; he was talking about gender. Gordon weighs, according to himself, 200 pounds. Dan Weldon, the Indy 500 winner, weighs 157 pounds. Tony Kanaan, the Indy 500 pole winner, weighs 145 pounds. Cristiano da Matta, a winning Champ Car driver, weighs 130 pounds.
Each man has an advantage, to varying degrees, over Gordon, but he never contested the issue, even when he was competing against them. He did, however, feel obliged to contest the issue when it concerned a woman driver, who weighs 100 pounds, even though he was not competing against her.
For years, we’ve heard that women, or ‘girls’ as they are quaintly called, do not have the nerve or the aggression (the balls) to win in motor racing. They don’t have the upper body strength (in a sport that requires precision, endurance, clarity of thought and vision, not arm strength). Now comes the notion that the only reason women are competitive is because they are smaller.
There are historical comparisons of note. Almost 100 years ago, African Americans, or ‘colored folk’ as they were most charitably called, were thought not to have the nerve (the balls) to stand up in the boxing ring to a championship white boxer. Once an African American proved that he did have the nerve, we were told that the only reason he was competitive was because African Americans were, essentially, brutes. It took more than a full generation until it was firmly accepted that black boxers could be just as good, or just as bad, as their white counterparts.
|..watershed in the acceptance of women in racing....|
The fan response at Indy this Memorial Day weekend was a watershed in the acceptance of women in racing. Three hundred thousand people in the stands in Indianapolis , men and women, stood and cheered, hoping to see a woman win the Indy 500. Millions more around the world fervently wished for her victory.
But let us not become complacent. We’ve moved from the ‘women can’t win’ to the ‘women can win, but it’s only because…’ phase of the discussion. Listen for the meaning behind the words. Learn to separate fact from bias. Speak with good humor and with kindness to those whose prejudice clouds their sense of reality. Perhaps Robby Gordon will, truly, be the last gender jerk in motor racing and perhaps we can help even him understand.