A Spineless Decision Backfires

Most of you know I don’t like to comment on politics, whether it be on this site or on social media. Chances are, I’ll alienate and tick off about half of my readers if I throw out my political views – and for what? Does anyone really care what I think about politics? Do I really think I’ll change anyone’s mind? There is enough garbage out there from both sides that I find it unnecessary to throw out one more worthless opinion. I’d rather debate who a third IndyCar engine manufacturer might be or what a certain track needs to do to improve their IndyCar promotional efforts.

But something surfaced last week that still gets me riled up to even think about it. To many of you, this is old news by now. I didn’t want to touch on this over this past weekend while we were at Gateway, because I considered it a distraction from the race weekend. But several days later, I still find it appalling and I feel the need to comment on it.

Most of us know the story. Without getting into the Bob Lamey and the Colts part of the story, this is the gist of it in a not-so-short summary…

Former IndyCar driver and analyst Derek Daly was incorrectly implicated in a story last week for using a racial slur in a radio interview back in the eighties. To defend himself and remove himself from the story, he tried to clarify the situation. He explained that as a newcomer to the US, he used a racial slur in a phrase commonly used in his home country of Ireland during an interview in 1983 to describe his status as the outsider and foreigner of his US-based team – meaning that if things went wrong, he would be the scapegoat.

Daly explained that he quickly learned afterward that while the phrase was completely acceptable and commonly used in Ireland, Britain and Australia; it “…had a horribly different meaning and connotation” in this country. Once he learned of how egregious it was to use that word in this country, Daly explained “…I was mortified at the offense I might have caused people. I have therefore never used the word since. I made this mistake once, but never again.”

Derek Daly has been employed at WISH-TV Channel 8 in Indianapolis as their expert racing analyst since 1990. When they got wind of this, they immediately severed ties with Daly. After what appears to be an honest mistake on his part, Derek Daly was terminated for something he said thirty-five years ago.

It gets worse.

Popular IndyCar driver, Conor Daly, is Derek Daly’s son and also stepson to IMS President Doug Boles. He has been seeking employment where he can get it this year, after being unceremoniously dumped by AJ Foyt Enterprises last fall. Two months ago, Conor Daly signed with Jack Roush to make his Xfinity Series debut at Road America this past weekend. Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly, was to be his sponsor through their Lilly Diabetes brand. It was a nice tie-in because the twenty-six year-old Conor Daly is a diabetic.

When word got out about Derek Daly using a racial slur more than eight years before Conor was even born, Lilly pulled their sponsorship away from Conor Daly just a couple of days before his debut at Road America this past weekend. I was in the Media Center at Gateway when I first heard about it on Friday. As you can imagine, reaction was fast and furious – and justifiably so.

I have never met Derek Daly. I’ve spent countless hours listening to him on CART and Formula One broadcasts on ESPN, but I’ve never met him. But I know people that know him well, and they tell me there is not a racist bone in his body. I believe him when he says that the culture in his home country saw nothing wrong with a comment like that in his home country. Doesn’t today’s society implore us to embrace and celebrate the different cultures of immigrants?

Even if he did knowingly utter that word in the wrong spirit, does WISH-TV not think that someone might evolve over the course of thirty-five years? I think we have all done things in our lifetime that we’re not exactly proud of. I know I have. Some of my antics during and immediately after college make me cringe when I look back on them now, and in my opinion – they were much worse than innocently uttering a racial slur. But even if every one of my transgressions were brought to light to my employer thirty-five years later, I would not be fired from my job. My boss may have far less respect for me moving forward, but I would not lose my job and be publicly humiliated.

I’m glad my wife, Susan, didn’t follow Lilly’s example of patience in tolerance. As most of you know, we dated our freshman year in college, before reconnecting some twenty years later. Let’s just say that I was not the best of boyfriends when we were both eighteen. If she had thought I was the same person I was twenty years earlier, she may never have given me a thought.

I could not believe it when I heard that Derek Daly was losing his job over a mistake he made thirty-five years ago. But that reaction was nothing compared to the disbelief I felt when I heard that Eli Lilly was pulling their sponsorship of Conor Daly this past weekend over his father’s mistake long before he was born.

Lilly made sure that everyone knew why they were pulling the sponsorship, when they released the following statement: “Our sponsorship in Saturday’s race is intended to raise awareness of treatment options and resources for people living with diabetes. Unfortunately, the comments that surfaced this week by Derek Daly distract from this focus, so we have made the decision that Lilly Diabetes will no longer run the No. 6 at Road America this weekend.“

What they thought was going to give them good publicity, backfired miserably. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen all sides of the IndyCar community come together on an issue in such unity. Eli Lilly is a well-respected company in Indianapolis and throughout the world. In another lifetime, I worked for a competitor to Lilly (Abbott Labs) and they were one of the few companies that we respected. My daughter is a diabetic and has used their insulin products since she was diagnosed in 1995.

But more than a quarter-century of respect just flew out the window for good in my mind, when they decided to punish the son of someone that they found offensive. Just what exactly did Conor Daly have to do with Derek Daly using that phrase in 1983?

A few years ago, Jay Penske and his brother Mark were arrested for urinating on a woman’s boots outside of a Nantucket bar and then shoving the woman. Did Verizon or Pennzoil pull their sponsorship from Roger Penske’s team because his son behaved badly? No, and they shouldn’t have. To do so would have been absurd and grossly unfair.

I certainly hope some of my college misdeeds never surface and cost my son his job. Before this incident between Lilly and Conor Daly took place, I would have laughed at such a notion that a son could be punished for something his father did before he was born – but a precedent has now been set. Just when I thought that political correctness had reached an all-time low, Eli Lilly has somehow lowered the bar even further and created a very slippery slope in our society.

Although it affected Conor Daly at the race track, this action by Lilly goes well beyond racing. This gives any company an excuse to fire anyone at any time if a relative does something that is considered even questionable. One of my brothers owns and operates a Bed & Breakfast. I would certainly hate it if it got out in his community that I was less than stellar in some of my morals back in the seventies and early eighties. According to Lilly, there should probably be a large backlash against his business. Based on the Lilly precedent that now exists, he most certainly should be held responsible for my behavior, shouldn’t he? Probably even more so, because he was alive when I was committing such debauchery.

What happens if it’s somehow discovered that Kevin Lee is a direct descendant to Robert E. Lee? Will our current climate mandate that he be fired from NBC and he give up hosting Trackside? As absurd as that sounds, this is the can of worms that Lilly has opened up with this ridiculous move. I apologize ahead of time for dragging Kevin Lee’s name into this discussion. For the record, I know of no connection between Kevin and the Confederate General. I was just trying to think up an absurd example to demonstrate the absurdity of Lilly’s decision.

It’s bad enough that Derek Daly lost his job for something he did back in Ronald Reagan’s first term. But to have a sponsor connect the dots to his son and punish him for the same reason is reprehensible. I hope the genius that made this decision has to answer to the backlash over social media that Lilly suffered over the weekend. They made this decision to avoid adverse publicity. I think that’s exactly what they got.

Credit Conor Daly for handling this situation with nothing but class. While he confirmed the situation in a tweet, he also praised Lilly for helping him with his career to this point. He’s smart to not burn any bridges. On Trackside last night, they said that they hoped that fans don’t just pile on Lilly just because they are an easy target. It’s too late for that. The one bad thing about all of the backlash that Lilly is deservedly getting, is that potential sponsors might be watching this and thinking that maybe it’s best to avoid getting involved with a bunch of crazed fans that will lash out whenever the company does something that fans don’t agree with. But they should also see the passion that racing fans have and will most likely go out of their way to at least try the product that is on a race car.

I’m also curious about how Lilly will be received at the Xfinity race at IMS in a couple of weeks. Remember earlier when I mentioned that IMS President Doug Boles is Conor Daly’s stepfather? The Xfinity race at IMS is called the Lilly Diabetes 250. That should make for a few awkward conversations at the IMS Hospitality Area.

My hope is that the comments here will not devolve into politics. To me, this is not about politics. It’s not Democrats vs Republicans and it’s ultimately not even about racism. It’s about a spineless corporation that is trying to out-think public perception and worrying if they may be connected to the latest national outrage.

While Derek Daly’s firing from WISH-TV was gutless, the ripple effect from it would have been minimal. But by blaming his son for something said by the father years before the son was even born, Eli Lilly and Company has created an outrage that never should have happened. I hope they hear about this for a long time.

George Phillips

18 Responses to “A Spineless Decision Backfires”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    The really silly thing in all of this is that WISH TV is a washed-up has-been of a station. They lost their CBS affiliation a few years ago and are pretty irrelevant now, I had pretty much forgotten they even existed until they decided to jump onto the public stage and shove their foot in their mouth with this nonsense. I’m not sure why they do still exist, they offer nothing of value anymore.

    The silver lining here being that Derek Daly is now free to be an Indianapolis 500 analyst for one of the real stations in town, hopefully WTHR who does a wonderful job of promoting the track and the race. That is if the other stations can see beyond this rubbish and have the good sense to hire him. He has been a staple of the racing community here since I was a child and as far as I know Hoosiers consider him one of our own so hopefully he will get a second chance.

  2. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    I would suggest that readers call or write to Lily to express their outrage. I did yesterday and a very nice woman said that Lily didn’t take the money away, they just transferred it to another car on the team. I think I correctly stated that they were embarrassed by being on Daly’s car and that was totally unacceptable. If we don’t respond these idiots will think they did nothing wrong.

    • billytheskink Says:

      While I suspect that the woman at Lilly is correct in that Lilly paid Roush-Fenway Racing in general what they intended to pay for Conor’s car (defacto sponsoring him despite the lack of logos), the logos meant for Daly’s car were NOT transferred over to another of the team’s machines.

      Before this nonsense took place, Lilly was slated to sponsor all 3 of the cars Roush planned to enter in the race, Daly, Ryan Reed (a type 1 diabetic who is sponsored by Lilly all season long), and Ty Majeski (a Ford development driver with a diabetic grandfather who runs part time with Ford sponsorship at most races).

  3. James T Suel Says:

    You got it right, nothing else needs saying.

  4. Bruce Waine Says:

    WORDS…………… If one were to compare a SINGLE word’s multitude of local definitions/meanings in all present known languages in all of the myriad worldwide localities, one would fill a book with just that one word’s local definition (s).

    Based upon a single word, many definitions may be entertaining when one takes the time to learn its local derivation: while, other origins of the same word are deemed offensive, alienating, outlandish, etc. depending on the individual’s perspective.

    Add to the mix in the “do right” perspective scrutiny of politics, government, religion, finances, etc. there is always an opinion which mat be devoid of reason and oftentimes resulting in devastating (and needless) consequences.

    Here in this open Oil Pressure Commentary is a response to what might be interpreted/classified as a $elf-protective, financial, knee-jerk reaction, devoid of common-sense reason apparently from a crystal clean (image) business entity in an effort to maintain an untarnished public image………..

    Has said entity ventured forth from its crystal tower to explore the world or researched the situation ?

    Read Willy’s (Williy T, Ribbs) response in which fellow driver and friend of Derek evidently publicly sets the record straight.

    “Willy T Ribbs, the first African American driver to compete in the Indy 500, said he’s never known Daly to use that language.

    “It doesn’t sound like Derek Daly,” Ribbs said. “As long as I’ve been around him, he’s never used a slur about race or nationality ever, but from 35 years ago? I don’t believe it.”

    Ribbs said Daly has been a close friend and mentor for 41 years, ever since they met at the British Formula Ford race in 1977.

    “I didn’t know anything about anything and he coached me thru everything over there,” Ribbs recalled.

    And long after their racing careers ended, he said they’re still “very close.” In fact, Daly attended Ribb’s wedding last Saturday. “

  5. Um, OK, this is a tricky place to put ones oar in the water. Nevertheless….

    Years ago in my business career I was taught not to judge a business decision based on my own (obviously biased) opinion but to analyze the decision from the point of view of the person making the decision.

    I can be sure that Lilly knew the demographics of their customer base and are well assured that ‘people of color’ make up the majority of their diabetic customers ………. so if you pizz off a couple of white guys in pursuit of even more money by playing the race card …so be it. The thinking being that Lilly must be our friend because they hate racists. That’s the executive suite in this left wing politically correct society. Just looking for the money.

    That they’re getting bitch-slapped and crucified in all media brings much warmth to my heart. But somewhere deep inside me I think I understand why they did it. They seized what they thought was a marketing opportunity and lost big time.

    Just business ya know.

  6. If Lilly would have just kept quiet I doubt that many people would have noticed. And if Derek was a racist I doubt he would have chosen to work side by side with Anthony Calhoun on tv for the past 20 years. Of course Calhoun doesn’t have enough backbone to speak up on Derek’s behalf, but at least Willy T Ribbs did.

  7. In my humble opinion , George, all three wronged parties herein should be suing the pants off the Colts, WISH-TV, and Eli Lilly. Several of my Indy based friends think that is the likely outcome of all of this.

    You wouldn’t bring up Bob Lamey, but I will. Bob has been around Indy sports since back in the days of the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, when his moniker was “Hockey Bob.” I knew him from being a member of the Racers booster club, as did several of my friends. He has been a mentor to several sports voices in Indy, throughout his career with the Racers, Pacers, and Colts.

    Yes, Bob is a “homer.” Yes, he gets emotional. Yes, he calls it as he sees it, but isn’t that what sports broadcasters, particularly in radio are supposed to do? All those things made Bob a fan favorite for years. Yet, because he related the story of Derek Daly, he loses his job, Derek loses his job and Conor loses his sponsorship. This PCBS needs to END!

    I suspect there are any number of attorneys who would welcome taking on all three cases. This story may be far from over.

    Finally I will say this. WISH TV in Indianapolis was once the “home” of Jane Pauley, an outstanding national newsperson (and Indy native,) as well as the pre-eminent local news anchor of his era, Mike Ahern, who some of the older readers will remember from his days on the IMS radio network. Lately, however, WISH has lost a lot of its luster. especially after having its CBS affiliation yanked recently. They should be ashamed.

    • Bob Lamey was also part of the IMS radio team for several years. He was in the fourth turn and made the pitch to Bob Jenkins to call Little Al’s win over Goodyear in 1992. The Trackside radio show often plays that clip. I suppose now they will have to stop using it.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    What seems most egregious about all of this to me is that Derek Daly was apparently dismissed at WISH-TV before being given a chance to respond to the allegation. They may have fired him anyways after hearing his piece, but to not even hear his side of the story on something that was not recorded and could not be confirmed is terrible.

    Eli Lilly, in their effort to be cautious, created a far larger story out of this than they would have had they continued to sponsor Daly. Granted, the impact was largely limited to the racing community, but their decision angered far more folks than it pleased and even made it into the generally controversy-avoidant pre-race show for last Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.

    It would all be funny if it weren’t something that actually happened.

  9. Bruce Waine Says:

    Wonder ?

    Ever wonder what the world would be like if all companies were mandated by international laws to inform purchasers/consumers of their product the country of origin for the source of the ingredients/materials utilized in the manufacture of their product ?

    By publicly releasing said information, what would be the positive impact on human rights and the environment? ……………………..

    And the success of their product………………… ? ?

  10. Mark J Wick Says:

    George, when I first started hearing about all this I knew something wasn’t right. I have been acquainted with Derek Daly for many years, having first met him when I was assigned by a magazine to do photos of him to accompany a story about him. I spent time in his home, and among other topics we talked about his hobby of building model race cars, as that was a hobby we shared. He built many of his models while recovering from the injuries to and surgery for his feet.
    I photographed him and his bride-to-be, Beth (later to become Conor’s mother) on his boat, among other settings.
    We have had some brief interactions over the years since, and nothing in any of my encounters with him gave me any indication that there was anything in his character that should give me any reason for concern.
    I have listened to his explanation of the interview that ignited this firestorm and it is my opinion that we should not even refer to him making a mistake during that interview. He used a common phrase of his culture to help illustrate a point to answer a question. It was not, in any, a racial slur.
    After Robin Miller informed him that one of the words in that common phrase was considered racially offensive in this country, he eliminated that word from his vocabulary.
    I hope that Derek’s speaking business and other endeavors are not negatively impacted by this, because he shouldn’t be punished for a mistake he did not make.
    And certainly Conor should not suffer consequences.

  11. This situation is so stupid I cannot think of an intelligent reply, so I will just sit here and seethe with anger. Call in the lawyers.

  12. I looked up the phase in question in Wikipedia. Turns out that the phrase was widely used in America beginning about 1860 until about 1950. It may have originally been used to describe slaves hiding in or under woodpiles while traveling north on the “underground railroad”. It was also used in some American movies.

  13. I too cannot think of anything to add to this discussion except… What a damn shame! I feel for Derek and Conor.

  14. This thing with the “n” word and related “racism” has become some kind of new secular religion. And “sexism” has become part of it too. And there is no forgiveness in this new religion. If you violated its commandments even 50 years ago you will be forced to lose your job, your sponsors, your reputation in their eyes, everything if they can accomplish it. You are guilty yesterday, today, and forever.

    There is a lot more to the new religion, but that would take us deeper into politics.

  15. how about politics AND religion:
    Ezekiel 18:19-20
    “Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

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