As congressional debate over gun control kicks into high gear, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is decrying the airing of an NRA-sponsored NASCAR race this weekend, and is calling on its broadcaster to pull it from the schedule.
Murphy, a first-term senator in a state devastated by last year's Newtown shootings, yesterday wrote News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch in a plea to prevent the event from airing Saturday night on Fox. He called "the celebration of guns" "inappropriate" in the wake of the shootings and argued that "broadcasting this race, which will highlight the NRA and its radical agenda during this time, sends a harmful signal to the families affected by gun violence, as well as the millions of Americans who support sensible gun control measures and enjoy your sports programming."
"I write today to urge you to not broadcast NASCAR's NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 13th," Murphy wrote. "This race, which is being sponsored by the National Rifle Association (NRA), is going to take place during the Senate's consideration of legislation to reduce gun violence. The race not only brings national attention to an organization that has been the face of one side of this heated debate, it also features the live shooting of guns at the end of the race." Additionally, winners of races at the Texas Motor Speedway are typically given two revolvers and a cowboy hat as prizes.
Invoking Murdoch's own support for stronger gun control laws, Murphy pointed to the "irony" that Fox, by airing the program, would "now essentially endorse the NRA's extreme position against such laws."
Earlier this month, Murphy wrote directly to NASCAR, urging the company to change the name of the race, which has been dubbed the "NRA 500."
"After the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators, the NRA has taken an unprecedented extreme position in the debate over the proper response to this tragedy, placing themselves at odds with the overwhelming majority of the American people, and even their own members," Murphy wrote on March 7 to Brian France, chairman and CEO of NASCAR. "Given the emotional state of the national conversation, I believe it would be imprudent for NASCAR to step into such a heated political debate and take sides in this debate by allowing the NRA the title role in the race."
"NASCAR has no official position on the gun rights debate," NASCAR spokesman David Higdon told the Charlotte Observer. "Our fans, racing teams and industry partners come from all walks of life and thus have varying points of views and opinions.
"As a sport, we are in the business of bringing people together for entertainment, not political debate."
The NRA's sponsorship of the race is not the first time the organization has sponsored a NASCAR race - they sponsored one last year - and it's not the first time an issues-based group or a political candidate has sponsored NASCAR. However, Higdon pointed out to the Charlotte Observer that given the current passionate debate on gun control, "this situation has made it clear that we need to take a closer look at our approval process moving forward, as current circumstances need to be factored in."
All indications are that the race will air as planned; Fox Sports has a contract with NASCAR until 2022 to air certain Sprint Cup Series races.