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When Does The Media Cross The Line?


Recently, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick announced publicly that they are now dating as they head into their Sprint Cup Rookie seasons. In turn, many members of the media have written about the new relationship between competitors. But this topic raises a question, how far is to far in covering an athlete’s personal life? Where do you draw the line?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. answered this question during a recent commercial shoot with Charlotte Motor Speedway.

January 24, 2013; Charlotte, NC; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr (17) addresses the media during the 2013 Sprint Media Tour. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

"“As long as it’s not hurtful for someone to go through — you don’t want to read sad stories about people,” stated Earnhardt. “You don’t want people to have to go through the exposure of that. I think there’s a gentleman’s agreement among everybody at what’s fair and what’s not.”"

What is fair game?

"Earnhardt clarified, “Our personal life, who you’re dating or when you’re getting married or where you’re going to get married or what you do with your time off or your hobbies are totally fair game.”"

According to Earnhardt, drivers come into the sport with the understanding that their personal lives will be written about. But they expect media members to write about things with respect to it’s relevancy in the sport. That is the gentleman’s agreement.

That seems to be the common understanding that we typically see from athletes and members of the media. As drivers and the media have mutual respect for one another, what makes for appropriate news is clear. The mutual respect between drivers and media members is what makes NASCAR unique to other professional sports.

A contributing factor to the mutual respect between drivers and the media may be due to the fact that they spend 38 weekends out of the year together during the Sprint Cup season, the longest professional sports’ schedule in America. When people spend that much time together, mutual respect and common morale tends to occur.

All though reporting too much on drivers’ personal lives is not an issue among NASCAR, there are some questions that should be asked if one is going to do so.

Is this relevant to the driver’s performance on the race track?

Does this change a driver’s reputation among competitors?

Does this affect a driver’s career or future opportunities?

These are three questions to ask when reporting on something relevant to a driver’s personal life. If the subject does not affect their career of performance on the race track, is it really people’s business? Driver’s, just like others, have lives outside of the race track that, in many ways, will not affect their job performance.

For example, there is no need to report on whether a driver was at a friend’s party last night. That party had no effect on how the driver raced the following Sunday. But if a driver gets a divorce, that situation may affect his approach on the race track or his mood around the race team. And that is when you ask the three questions. In the case of the divorce, the driver’s performance on the track comes into play. It is the on-track implications that should be reported on in this situation.

There will always be times where one may have to question if they are crossing the line of the “gentleman’s agreement”, but it’s in the media member’s hands to do the right thing.