Fan reactions and misconceptions strong in the Travis Kvapil arrest
In yesterday's edition of “Another Left Turn”, I stated unequivocally that BK Racing should pull Travis Kvapil out of the car indefinitely after his domestic violence arrest Tuesday night. That opinion wasn't a popular one with many readers taking me to task for ignoring due process and convicting Kvapil before he's had his day in court. Whether you agreed or not, I appreciate a healthy discussion as much as the next guy. Some of the arguments became a little personal but that's natural any time a debate stirs people's passions. Yet several common themes arose during the discussion and they deserve a better hearing than a few emails or posts on a discussion board. Here are four of the most common.
1. Like anyone else, Travis is innocent until proven guilty.
This is one of the greater fallacies of modern criminal law. “Innocent until proven guilty” applies solely to the twelve individual jurors that may someday be called to determine Kvapil's fate. They are legally obligated to consider him an innocent man when the trial begins and at no point does the burden of proving otherwise shift from the prosecution. That principal is the bedrock of the American criminal justice system and isn't likely to change within any of our lifetimes- nor should it.
But that applies solely inside of the courtroom. The rest of us are free to make our own judgments based on available information and act accordingly. Some people will assume the charges are overblown and not warranted. Some will instantly assume he's guilty of more than what's been made public so far. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle. But every single person who reads about the charges will form some sort of opinion. And people will act based on those opinions, whether it's to defend Kvapil or to deride him and any who stand with him. That's the way life works.
The same has happened in the NFL with the Aaron Hernandez murder charges. He too is innocent until proven guilty. It didn't stop the Patriots from releasing their star tight end hours after he was arrested in connection with the murder of Odin Lloyd. The legal system still hasn't played out in that case either, yet the team felt that simply being associated with an accused murderer was not worth the the firestorm of negative publicity that would result. They even allowed fans to trade in their used Hernandez jerseys for a different team jersey of their choice in an effort to distance themselves from the player.
2. This whole thing is being blown out of proportion
Unless a video recording surfaces of the incident we may never know exactly what happened at 6:50pm last Tuesday in the Kvapil household- particularly if the victim chooses not to testify. Kvapil himself said, “this is a personal, family matter and we would ask for privacy and respect as we work through this together as a family.” I find this argument perhaps the most offensive. This isn't a domestic 'situation'. He stands accused of dragging his wife, the mother of his children, around the house by her hair and then striking her in the head. All of this took place before 7pm so it's entirely possible that others in the household watched it happen. Think about the kind of impact this may have on them.
Moreover, I'm not at all impressed by the fact that he's never been accused of this kind of act before. In most domestic violence cases it's later learned that there were numerous incidents that took place before events reached a tipping point involving the police. And any officer with a few months experience can tell the difference between a drama queen putting heat on their spouse and a victim who's just had the crap kicked out them. They had him hooked and booked less than 2 hours after the 911 call. What does that tell you about what they found at the residence?
3. NASCAR has no right to discipline Kvapil until the judicial system makes its ruling
NASCAR has a LONG history of doing exactly what it pleases, particularly when it comes to the image of the sport. If they perceive that you've become a liability they will act under the umbrella of, “Actions detrimental to stock car racing,” and dare you to prove otherwise. It's a catch-all phrase that essentially means, “If they want ya, they got ya.” We don't need to look any further than the heavy punishment Michael Waltrip Racing received for having a pair of cars hit pit road to help out a teammate. There is no inalienable right to drive a stock car- something Jeremy Mayfield discovered after running afoul of NASCAR's drug testing program.
Again, the NFL provides an excellent example of applying discipline before the courts make their determination. Numerous players have faced punishment after being charged with DUI. Players such as Ben Roethlisberger and Adam “Pacman” Jones received suspensions despite never being convicted of a crime. The league determined that their actions tarnished the image that the NFL is trying to build. Guilt was a secondary issue; the league felt they could not afford the public perception that they would tolerate the kinds of behavior those players stood accused of.
4. What's the hurry? Punishing Kvapil now is a rush to judgment
This argument is a corollary to the “innocent until proven guilty” one. The arrest just occurred and the criminal process has a number of steps that will need to play themselves out before a final determination is made. And who knows what might come out at any step along the way? All of that is absolutely true. But that doesn't mean discipline from either the team or the sanctioning body would be a “rush to judgment”. Both NASCAR and BK Racing have an enormous amount to lose here and the heat that's coming to both all stems from the events of Tuesday night.
For NASCAR, the risk is a reputational one. Kvapil is one of less than 50 people who represent the sport at its highest level. Everything he says and does is under an enormous media spotlight because it ultimately reflects back on NASCAR itself. Drivers know this; it's why they conduct dozens of interviews on a weekly basis. They're trying to sell the sport to those who might be inclined to give it a shot. The last thing they need is to be tarred with the “wife beater” brush. That's even more true considering the stigma NASCAR already carries as a “redneck” sport.
For BK Racing, the risk is to their very existence. No team can survive long term without a sponsor footing the bill. That's been NASCAR's economic model for decades. Sponsors make racing possible by the millions of dollars the pay teams for the right to put their logos on the car. What they get in return is exposure- at the track, during the race, and on the television throughout the week. Companies also get someone who can serve as the face of their franchise, the centerpiece of an advertising campaign designed to reach the NASCAR fan demographic.
Think about the exposure Travis Kvapil's sponsors (and to a lesser extent, teammate David Reutimann's sponsors) are getting this week. Their logos are a part of every SportsCenter and news show piece about the arrest. Given the lackluster performance the teams have had throughout 2013, those sponsors are getting more airtime than they've seen the rest of the year combined. And that airtime is linked to all the wrong reasons. Because nothing says success in selling your product to middle America like spousal abuse, right?
To millions of casual or potential fans, their only exposure to BK Racing this year will come thanks to this incident. “Oh yeah, the Burger King car... isn't that the guy who beat his wife?” That's the conversation those fans will be having. It's a scarlet letter that no amount of PR work can ever truly erase. There's not a single thing Kvapil can ever do to remove this particular item from his 'after the comma'. For the rest of his career, he will be Travis Kvapil, NASCAR driver and accused domestic abuser in the eyes of some. Do you think Burger King or any other company wants that person to represent them? BK Racing co-owner Ron Devine is a Burger King franchisee but that won't stop the company from pulling the plug in the long run. If anything it may ratchet up the pressure on the team to make a move. A franchisee at odds with the corporate office is in as much trouble as a NASCAR team without a sponsor. Those are the potential consequences and in the cold calculus of corporate America, Travis Kvapil just isn't worth it.
Finally, there's something that's being lost in this debate. A family has been torn asunder and a man faces the possibility of losing his freedom. There are children who risk losing their father. There's a marriage that faces the likelihood of collapse. Those are real-world consequences for the people involved and it's all going to play out in public. Whether you feel Kvapil is innocent and getting a raw deal or believe they should toss him in jail for the next ten years, having him at the track over the next six weeks is wrong. Maybe he's hoping the track will prove to be an oasis of peace in a world that's falling apart.
But the bright lights and hoard of microphones that will follow his every move serve no one. Not his sponsors, not NASCAR, not his team, not his fellow drivers, and certainly not his family. My hope is that someone involved here recognizes that fact and pulls the plug on 2013 for Travis Kvapil. Going away isn't an admission of guilt. It's an admission that right now the last place Kvapil should be is on a NASCAR racetrack.