The National Football League is neck-deep in controversy because Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t react strongly enough — in the eyes of many — to recent domestic-abuse charges against its players.
Goodell is now fighting for his job, as well as for the league’s reputation, in trying to assure the public that the NFL takes seriously the responsibilities of its athletes when they’re off the field.
Thus, it’s not very surprising that the district attorney in New York’s Ontario County has decided to call in a grand jury to decide whether a national star on the auto-racing circuit broke a law when he hit and killed a driver-turned-pedestrian on a track in Canandaigua.
Let justice prevail and remove any chance of sentiment that a celebrity was receiving special treatment.
The driver is Tony Stewart, a flamboyant and talented star of NASCAR wars who is known as well for his love of small dirt tracks far from the glare of television cameras and the national sporting press.
On Aug. 9, Stewart was driving at Canandaigua when fate dealt a bizarre fatal blow. Dirt tracks are unlike the paved ovals and courses that get most of the national and international attention. They are small ovals that challenge true driving skill, especially in the turns, where the tires slide across the mud and dirt and require the pilots to drive maximally fast with minimal control — or, at least, less control than tarmac would afford.
The night of Aug. 9, Stewart’s car slid into one driven by 20-year-old local driver Kevin Ward Jr., causing the younger man to spin out of the race. He then exited his disabled car and actually walked in a seemingly menacing attitude toward Stewart, who was still speeding around the track.
Ward should never have entered the track on foot, of course, and, as Stewart’s car sped toward him, it hit him, killing him.
DA Michael Tantillo, after examining all evidence, including eyewitness accounts and cellphone footage, decided to let a grand jury decide whether to charge Stewart. He could eventually face trial for negligent homicide or second-degree manslaughter.
Stewart said in a statement that he welcomes the chance to clear his name.
After the recent debacles in which the NFL is being maligned as protective of its stars and willfully neglectful of their victims, Tantillo has chosen the correct avenue. America is clearly fed up with a lack of accountability by celebrities, abetted by too-lenient officials.
Did Stewart, enraged by the audacity of this young hothead, edge too close to the boundary of mortality? Then let the facts prove it.
But at least there will be no doubts loitering in anyone’s mind whether another celebrity was eased off the hook.
The NFL must indeed wish it had acted more decisively in its own behalf.
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