Lewis Hamilton responding to racist treatment isn’t exactly a new thing. As a Black athlete at the top of a majority-white sport, it was always going to happen.
Despite (or, perhaps, because of) that, Hamilton has chosen to use his platform to advocate for equal rights and social justice causes around the world. He’s in the news again after former Formula 1 champion Nelson Piquet’s comments in a just-released interview (recorded last year) included Piquet referring to Hamilton with a racial slur in Portuguese, which can essentially be translated as the n-word.
Piquet, 69, has been banned from the F1 paddock in the wake of those comments, and Hamilton tweeted a response when they came to light.
It’s more than language. These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport. I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action.
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) June 28, 2022
Ahead of the British Grand Prix, Hamilton expounded upon his stance, and brought up the point that media outlets turning to members of a sport’s prior generations for analysis or commentary or just plain outrage in order to generate controversy shouldn’t be as common as it still is.
Via ESPN.com’s writeup:
“So there’s nothing really particularly new for me. I think it’s more about the bigger picture. I’m not really sure, I don’t know why we are continuing to give these older voices a platform.
“They’re speaking on our sport and we’re looking to go somewhere completely different, and I don’t think it’s representative of who we are as a sport and where we’re planning to go.”
“”These old voices…whether they’re subconscious or consciously…do not agree people like me should be in a sport like this, do not agree women should be here.”
Athletes oftentimes have a confrontational relationship with the media, members of which tend to bristle when told how they should be doing their jobs. (It should be noted: that bristling often has merit!) In this case, Hamilton’s point is more narrowly focused: there’s no world in which reaching back to the past characters of a sport, especially one as constantly changing as Formula 1, would be the best source of analysis or commentary.
That’s not to say there aren’t older voices who can add to the conversation. Many stay in touch and can be relied upon for quality additions to a conversation. But if an outlet, even one based in Piquet’s home country, is asking Nelson Piquet about Lewis Hamilton, it’s almost certainly doing so because they know what kind of reaction is coming. This is not out of character for him. A sampling of his issues in the past, via The Guardian:
The Brazilian driver has a record of issuing unpleasant comments, including, while he was driving, a defamatory accusation toward Ayrton Senna of being gay and referring to Nigel Mansell’s wife as “ugly”.
What is this guy going to add to the discourse that’s helpful in any way? More importantly, though, Hamilton’s point transcends Formula 1. The Ringer’s Kevin Clark pointed out how this is a standard media move, even today.
There are lots of older relevant players. Current analysts, or ones who stayed around the game, have direct connections and knowledge of current players, etc. It’s great and illuminating to call them. Ones who wake up every 20 years to say they hate the sport now are not that.
— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) June 30, 2022
Clark is exactly right. When you’re scraping the barrel for the sake of clicks or engagement or views or whatever metric you care about, you’re always at risk of things turning from predictably crotchety to outright gross. And there’s really nothing to gain from doing it. We see it in all the American sports, and we’re certainly not getting rid of the practice any time soon.
When @LewisHamilton calls these mindsets “archaic,” and says “there has been plenty of time to learn,” this is what he means. These images were from 2008. And these are just some the DOCUMENTED examples of the racism he’s faced! pic.twitter.com/RStFW5Pt1K
— Michael Eaves (@michaeleaves) June 28, 2022
It’s still too lucrative, and there are also plenty of people here who seek out that kind of commentary because it’s what they want to hear for a variety of unfortunate reasons. But just because something probably isn’t going to disappear overnight doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to make it go away. It’s still worth calling out, and it’s especially worth calling out in situations like this one.