A terrifying and horrific scene played out at Canadaigua Motorsports Complex in upstate New York recently.
At an Empire Super Sprint race event, 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. found himself unable to finish a race after he ran into the wall.
Convinced his predicament was caused by a fellow driver, Ward left his vehicle to confront the other driver. A problem quickly developed because the race was still continuing.
Dressed in a black jumpsuit and helmet, Ward walked toward the oncoming race cars pointing his finger at the other driver.
Unfortunately, the other driver did not see Ward as he turned the corner and struck him with his vehicle, sending Ward flying backward onto the track some 50 feet away.
Ward later died from his injuries. The driver who struck him was Tony Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion.
Authorities have declared that, as far as they can tell, this incident is nothing more than a terrible racing accident.
Stewart did not race in his official NASCAR event the next Sunday, citing that he was too upset over the incident to compete.
He released a statement asking everyone to pray for Ward’s family during this very difficult time in their lives.
For some reason, I cannot help but keep asking myself, “Why did that kid get out of his car? Did he let his anger take over? What made him put his life in danger just to yell at another person? Was he being genuine? Or was he playing his part in the sports drama that fills our culture these days?”
No one will ever really know, but I think it is a good idea to let this tragedy begin a conversation on how our culture has become so enamored with confrontation and violence.
While we genuinely and earnestly pray for Ward’s family and friends during these difficult days, we do so hoping his legacy can create a change in the mentality of sports and our society at large.
The American sports culture has evolved over the last several decades.
At one time, sporting events were social affairs that pitted regional rivals against one another in a competitive game to determine a winner and bragging rights for the next year.
Lately, however, sports industries, encouraged by fans, seem to urge athletes to be more confrontational and more aggressive.
In other words, what the industries have learned is that violence sells.
So whether it is a fight at a hockey game or confrontations on a racetrack, the more violent the event, the more people will tune in to watch.
I can’t condemn the sporting industries all together because they are only mimicking what culture has now deemed acceptable behavior.
As fans, we often think that as long as it occurs between the lines of a sporting event, confrontations and violence are accepted and, at times, encouraged.
While we like to think these incidents do not affect us common folks, we should not kid ourselves.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 2 million workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year. That’s more than half the population of Oklahoma, where I live.
The Apostle James’ words ring in my ears as I reflect on this tragedy and this trend in sports, “You must understand this, my beloved, let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be peacemakers in a violent world. Therefore, we should seek to follow the words of James and the example of Jesus by seeking to quell the rising tides of violence in our culture.
This involves efforts to encourage another way, a way of meaningful and purposeful dialogue, which can lead to understanding and hope for the future.
We must capture and live this notion that the way of peace leads to life and the way of violence leads to death. I hope and pray we choose life.
Mitch Randall is pastor of NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma. A version of this article first appeared on NorthHaven’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @rmitchrandall.