Donovan McNabb vs. NASCAR

Last week, Jimmie Johnson won his sixth Sprint Cup championship. For those keeping score at home, that’s his sixth championship in eight years. Before Jimmie could even hoist the trophy over his head, Donovan McNabb came out and said that Jimmie is not an athlete.

Later in the week, Donovan clarified and said he wasn’t calling Jimmie out personally. Rather, he was referring to all NASCAR drivers. Here’s his reasoning:

Athletes are people who train, who do physical things, who are on strength, endurance and stamina. But most importantly, get out and do athletic things. Now, sitting in a car is not doing athletic things. They can work out, they can go run on a treadmill, they can run triathlons, but that doesn’t make you an athlete sitting in car.

I’ve got two thoughts on the situation.

First, this “is a race car driver an athlete” debate has been going on for years. And I respectfully disagree with Donovan. They are athletes. While Mark Martin used to be the exception to the rule, drivers work out every day to stay in shape (see Carl Edwards’ cover photo on ESPN the Magazine). But apparently that’s not enough for Donovan. Because all the driver do is sit in a car. And that’s not athletic. But I beg to differ. This is not a drive down the New Jersey Turnpike (although sometimes that does feel like a NASCAR race). This is full concentration at high rates of speed and sometimes at high temperatures. For lap after lap. Despite what Donovan thinks, that takes some stamina. I wish he would take New Jersey Motorsports Park up on its offer to experience a day in the life of a race car driver. And if sitting were the thing that separates drivers from other athletes, I’m sure everyone who rows crew would take exception.

Second, at the end of the day, Donovan’s comment was brilliant on his part. Everyone is talking about it. So it brought exposure to Fox Sports 1 and its new sports programming. And now we know what he’s been up to since he retired (“Hey! Look at me! I’m on TV!”). Maybe they’ll actually have him talk about football too.

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