Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A fitting postscript to 'The end of a career in journalism'

I received a lot of responses and retweets from yesterday's column on media companies that refuse to pay writers for their work or expertise, and why it would eventually mean the end of my journalism career. It was almost all very supportive and for that, I am grateful.

There was an interesting discussion on sportsjournalists.com -- a site populated by sports journalists, one presumes -- where many argued that the market had simply declared there was no value to our work. That is far too simple an explanation for the massive transformation within the industry, from the horrific decision years ago to give away the product for free to the inevitable decimation of independent media sports staffs that followed and the rise of journo-marketers at stakeholder sites from nfl.com to ESPN.com. There are a lot of reasons why the industry is where it is today and why it is forcing me out.

But perhaps the most telling response to my column came via a personal message that showed up in my Facebook inbox. A radio host named Dennis Michelsen from RaceTalkRadio wrote that he enjoyed my column on media outlets that refuse to pay people for their expertise, but he really liked another one I had written about fewer independent voices in Nascar. He wanted to talk about that column on his radio show and asked me to email him to set up a time for an interview.

I wrote back and asked what he would pay me to appear on his show.

His response: "Guests appear for free on our radio show to publicize their work ..."

Monday, October 28, 2013

The end of a career in journalism

Shortly after I wrote a jersey/slant column last July titled, "Nascar, Kyle Petty and the future of sports coverage," I received an email from an editor of a major metropolitan newspaper's editorial board. He wanted permission to reprint the column for the op-ed page. I responded, in part, with a request for information on the newspaper's compensation rate.

He quickly wrote back that they had chosen a different column instead. I've always wondered if it was because I dared to ask for money.

Not that I would be shocked if that was the reason. I've been asked too many times in my career to provide my work or expertise for free. And I'm hardly alone. Here's Tim Kreider's piece in The New York Times about the absurdity of this surprisingly commonplace practice. It's called "Slaves of the Internet, Unite!"

It would almost be funny if the truth wasn't killing my career.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

#StonewallSochi #SingSochi

An athlete boycott of the Sochi Olympics was never going to happen. Let's be clear about that. Yes, Harvey Fierstein's op-ed piece in The New York Times comparing the anti-gay laws and ugly rhetoric in Russia to the anti-Semitic rants of the Nazi's before the 1936 Games was compelling.

As if a compelling argument actually mattered.

We all get what matters: Money. Obscene amounts of money have been made and will be made in these Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014. And that's why there won't be a national boycott. Money always trumps human dignity. But we already knew that, didn't we?

And hey, the IOC says Russia has assured everyone that it won't arrest athletes or fans during the Games. The real horror, brutality and inhumanity will be saved only for its own citizens. So there's really no need for the world to care or even notice. Move along, people, nothing to see here ...

So what are those of good conscience to do about these Games, which will be held in a frightening country where athletes will try to compete at their best while under the threat of jail or expulsion if they offer a statement of support to the oppressed?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Stakeholder journalism bias, Pete Prisco edition

Is it just me, or did Pete Prisco's CBSSports.com column on the $765 million concussion settlement with players read like an old NFL talking-points memo?

Prisco wrote that NFL players who sustained brain damage from the game shouldn't be compensated for their suffering because they knew what they were getting into when they agreed to play football. Of course, that doesn't mesh with the accusation that the league misled players about the danger of concussions. But that side of the lawsuit somehow wasn't mentioned in Prisco's column.

Look, if Prisco wants to announce to every player in the NFL that they get what they deserve for playing the game and shouldn't receive a dime in disability compensation, that's his prerogative. It's hard to believe players are going to have an ounce of respect for him after that column. But that's his choice.

Nor am I going to suggest Prisco might have brain damage, as Keith Olbermann did in his otherwise expert takedown of Prisco's relative indifference to the hardship and tragedy of former players like Junior Seau, who committed suicide like others who were found to really have brain damage.

I prefer to focus on the most obvious reason why Prisco would write such a conveniently dismissive, pro-NFL column about potentially thousands of irreparably damaged human beings:

Monday, August 26, 2013

ESPN and the pretense of journalistic integrity

Back in December, 2011, The New York Times ran a story about the risk of brain damage for soccer players who frequently head the ball. At the time, I was a contributing writer for espnW.com -- the female-focused ESPN Web site. So I pitched a story, suggesting we ask Abby Wambach and others about the danger.

After all, there had been so much discussion of concussions among football players. Here was an important news story about brain trauma that could impact female athletes as well. Wasn't that exactly what this fledgling sports site would want? I was certain the story would be approved.

But later that very same day, espnW.com featured

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A little piece of advice for Caroline Wozniacki

Dear Ms. Wozniacki,

We don't know each other, but as someone who has written about tennis, I feel I am perfectly within my rights to give you advice about your personal life. Even if it's none of my damn business.

I think it's time to say what everyone has been thinking for the last two years. C'mon, we all know what has happened to your game, why you have gone from No. 1 in the rankings in 2011 to No. 10 and without a title this season when you should be at the top of the tennis world.

It's the boyfriend. You spend too much time together. After every tennis tournament, you're off to some golf course to walk 18 holes instead of practicing. How selfish of Rory McIlroy to expect you to care about him and his career. As if he should matter.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Could gay accusation cost Kerry Rhodes NFL job?

The last time NFL free agent safety Kerry Rhodes was asked about his future, he told AL.com earlier in July that he was in the middle of negotiations and a decision on where he would play was coming soon.

"It's in the works," he said. "I can't talk about it in depth but there's a good four teams that I'm looking at. There are ongoing discussions. I'm trying to see which one will be the best fit for me. You will see me, though."

So far, we haven't.

Training camps opened throughout the NFL this week, with all signed veterans arriving by Saturday. Rhodes was not among them.

Maybe it's a negotiating ploy. Maybe Rhodes thinks he can wait until teams evaluate their rosters and possibly get a better deal later. Maybe at 30 he is hoping to skip the rigors of training camp and sign later in preseason.

Or is it possible an accusation that Rhodes is gay is costing him a chance to sign a lucrative contract, perhaps even preventing him from getting a job in the NFL?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The merry Jews of Nascar

Somebody with a sharp wit and way too much time on his hands created JewsWhoLikeNascar.com. Go ahead, click on it. You'll laugh.

Yes, Nascar was born in the Bible Belt South. And racing and religion are inseparable. Each weekly driver's meeting ends with a prayer and every pre-race ceremony includes an invocation.

Goyishe sport, right? Oy! Would you believe there are enough Jews in Nascar to fill an Adam Sandler song? And then some.

No, they're not the ones driving the racecars, so you're not going to read about them. But here's the thing: You probably will read them. That's because we're all in the press box and media center. It's one of the oddities of Nascar:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The locker-room debate revisited. Again and again.

I pushed the door open as if I belonged and tried to ignore the sudden discomfort the first time I ever walked into a locker room as a professional sportswriter. I felt empowered and nervous. I certainly wasn't the first woman ever to go into the New Jersey Devils locker room. And to their credit, they didn't seem to notice or care that I was in there.

I still feel that discomfort every time I go into a locker room. But I'm forever grateful for the opportunity as one of the many reporters who benefited from the battles in the 1970s and '80s to allow female sportswriters access to locker rooms. That story was retold in "Let Them Wear Towels," this week's installment of ESPN's excellent "Nine for IX" series on women and sports. Watch a replay if you can.

Equality won all those years ago. And because of that, I've been fortunate to have a career as a sportswriter with very few locker-room incidents involving athletes or coaches. The overwhelming majority I've encountered over the years have been professional, and most of my issues have been about what I wrote, not who I am. Fair enough.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The ugliness of judging beauty, Wimbledon edition

As Andy Murray held the Wimbledon trophy aloft, the first British man to win the singles title in 77 years, I can't imagine there was a single person in all of England who looked at him and said at that moment, "Good thing he can play tennis because, you know, he's not exactly a looker."

Who would ever mar the greatest moment in a tennis player's career with a nonsensical, irrelevant comment like that? And on television, no less?

And yet, it happened.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Nascar, Kyle Petty and the future of sports coverage

Back in May, while covering the Nascar All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway for The New York Times, I conducted a little independent study. I made a list of the reporters who asked questions of five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in a pair of press conferences held in the media center.

Of the 16 questions asked over the two weeks, 15 came from reporters or broadcasters who work for media outlets that have a financial relationship with Nascar, from the Motor Racing Network to Nascar.com. Only one question came from a reporter who works for an independent television station.

That's meant mostly as an observation and not a criticism of Nascar, which decides who gets to ask questions of drivers during press conferences. I think it's partly a function of who is in the media center these days. And why they are there.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Time to start outing athletes? I don't think so, LZ

In all the years I've been a sports reporter, I've rarely had a good reason to ask an athlete, coach or administrator this question:

"Who are you shtupping?"

Apparently, LZ Granderson thinks we should start asking those hard questions of sports figures who might be gay. Granderson, who writes for ESPN The Magazine and is one of the few out gay sportswriters in the business, believes it's time reporters treat gay athletes the same as straight athletes and write about their private lives:

Monday, June 3, 2013

The negative writers of Nascar

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. used to be only a racecar driver. Whether he realizes it or not, that changed the day he became romantically involved with a celebrity. When Danica Patrick announced in January that they were a couple, that made Stenhouse a bit of a celebrity, too.

Which is why it was news -- racing news and celebrity news -- when Stenhouse was part of an on-track incident at Charlotte Motor Speedway that led to a crash between Patrick and defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski during the Coca-Cola 600 on May 26. The story was picked up by national entertainment news outlets E! News and Us Weekly, prompting Stenhouse to blame the Nascar media for creating a firestorm.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Michael Jordan gets one right

Four years ago, I wrote that Michael Jordan couldn't save basketball in Charlotte. His track record for building a team was dismal and he showed little desire to use his celebrity to charm the disinterested and angry masses.

Four years later, Jordan is responsible for the 2011-12 team that posted the worst winning percentage in the history of the N.B.A., followed by this past season's version that produced the second-worst record in the league.

NBA Mitchell & Ness - Charlotte Hornets Snapback Hats Cap 2 Tone Arch Logo - Purple/BlueIf you're going to lose, you better at least be likeable in the community. But the Bobcats haven't been able to pull that off, either. There are no beloved stars on the roster. There is no history to fall back on, at least, no history to this franchise that anyone cares to revisit. There isn't much to like, as the empty seats make clear.

So Jordan has done the only thing he could do to make this team embraceable in the community again: He has decided to rename the franchise the Hornets. For the few who don't know, that's the name of the former N.B.A. franchise here before it moved to New Orleans in 2002.

Some will no doubt look to the bottom line and question whether it is a cost-effective move for the franchise. Yes, it will be an expensive proposition. But Jordan really doesn't have much choice at this point.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Would you want your daughter to play for Mulkey?

This is what parents and potential recruits should know about Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey: The players are less important than the program and less important than Mulkey. At least that much was apparent in former player Brittney Griner's recent interview with ESPN The Magazine and espnW.com.

According to Griner, she made clear she was a lesbian when originally recruited by Mulkey to play there.

"I was like, 'I'm gay. I hope that's not a problem,' " Griner said she told Mulkey at the time, "and she told me that it wasn't."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The three things I did not write about Nascar

There has been a lot of reaction to my column from Tuesday on Nascar's silence regarding Jason Collins, some of it supportive and some of it ugly. That's OK. My hope with my blog is to start a discussion. In that regard, I feel as if I succeeded.

As one respected national reporter wrote to me this morning, "it clearly struck a chord, and that's the job of any great columnist, right? If you're not stoking emotions, you're not doing your job." I was also heartened to receive a thumbs up on facebook from Robert Lipsyte, the author and longtime columnist and writer for The New York Times who was recently named the new ombudsman for ESPN.

I am happy to defend my words, but too many people are inserting their own meaning into those words and asking me to defend their interpretation of my column. I can't possibly do that.

So I want to point out three things I did not write:

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Nascar's silence on Jason Collins says it all

Monday was a groundbreaking day for all sports, not just basketball, when N.B.A. player Jason Collins became the first professional athlete in a major team sport to come out as gay. It was a moment that many had been preparing for and anticipating for a while, a door that finally opened and began a process that will make it easier for others to come out in all sports someday.

And it wasn't hard to see the immediate impact of that opening sentence in the Sports Illustrated column authored by Collins: "I'm a 34-year-old N.B.A. center. I'm black. And I'm gay."

President Barack Obama personally called Collins and First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted about it; President Bill Clinton put out a statement. Athletes and others in the N.B.A. and N.F.L., Major League Baseball and tennis, among others, were quick to show their support as well with tweets and official statements from Kobe Bryant to the Boston Red Sox, who invited Collins to throw out the first pitch at a game at Fenway Park.

What was missing from this national conversation? Nascar.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Don Cherry should be banned from the locker room

I've had my share of battles with coaches and athletes over the years, from Scotty Bowman and Keith Primeau in Detroit to Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith. If you're a sports reporter long enough, and you ask tough questions or write stories that challenge the status quo, that's going to happen.

But as far as I know, the disagreements have never been about my mere presence in a locker room. Except once.

So when I heard the outrageous-just-to-be-outrageous hockey broadcaster Don Cherry had said on Saturday night that women don't belong in a locker room, I couldn't help but think of the only athlete in all the decades I've been in this business who made the locker room an ugly issue.

The day I went over a cliff

I wrote this last year after hiking through the Utah wilderness with Nick Smith of Seldom Seen Adventures. It is already posted on his site, but I wanted to repost a version of it here for those who might be interested in traveling off the beaten path:

When I hired Nick Smith to create an adventure, I never expected him to push me off of a cliff.

Then again, I didn’t know what to expect when I discovered SeldomSeenAdventures.net while planning a trip to southwest Utah in April. I knew I wanted to see the extraordinarily beautiful Zion National Park and Mars-like Bryce Canyon while I was there. Trail maps could guide me through easily enough.

Still, I wanted to see something more of Utah than that. But as a novice hiker with little sense of direction and no appreciable survival skills — unless you count crossing the streets of New York City — I had no interest in getting lost in a remote canyon somewhere. So I needed a guide who knew the area to take me there. After reading through SeldomSeenAdventures.net, I chose Nick. My only instruction to him: I wanted to see something I would never encounter on those much traveled hikes through the national parks. And I wanted to live to tell it.

The rest was up to Nick.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

This is my f*cking blog!

Count me among the masses relieved to read that the F.C.C. would not come down hard on David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox for that little speech he gave before Saturday's game.

With the lockdown over, the second alleged Boston Marathon bomber captured and the games allowed to go on once again, Ortiz addressed the crowd at Fenway Park and told them, "This jersey that we wear today, it doesn't say 'Red Sox,' it says 'Boston.' We want to thank you Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick, the whole police department for the great job they did this past week. This is our f*cking city."

After all Boston had been through in the last week, Ortiz gave them a reason to finally smile and laugh again.

And maybe, for once, Big Brother understood how important that was to the people there. Because the F.C.C. chairman, Julius Genachowski, actually posted on Twitter Saturday afternoon,

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Today's Journalism: Better to be first than right

Wednesday was a bad day for journalism, whether you were covering the Boston explosions or following the news from your computer or mobile phone. Depending on which media outlet you were clicking on, you could have read that a suspect had been arrested. Or was close to being arrested. Or was going to be arraigned in federal court. Or none of the above.

For those who thought we had learned a lesson from the mistakes of Newtown (remember the brother who was reported to be the shooter?), nothing has changed. And it won't change.

Here's why getting it first is always going to matter enough to risk

Friday, April 12, 2013

Brad Keselowski, the N.R.A. and news of the day

I have to admit I was a bit surprised when Brad Keselowski said he didn't believe the National Rifle Association's title sponsorship of a Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway was a story.

Keselowski, the reigning Cup champion and an important voice in the garage, made the assertion in a press conference on Thursday in advance of Saturday's N.R.A. 500. And maybe inside the bubble that is Nascar, it doesn't seem like it's that big of a deal. After all, the N.R.A. has been around racing for a while and is a welcome partner to many.

But outside that bubble and away from the stakeholders who help market the sport, the N.R.A. is a national story right now. The organization's role in lobbying and shaping the gun-control argument in Congress has made it one of the most watched and covered in the country. That's why its sponsorship of a Nascar race at this time matters.

Media outlets from The New York Times to USA Today, the Charlotte Observer and Sporting News, among others, are dutifully covering the story. As they should.

Because unlike race results, Twitter banter and driver spats -- the fodder that make up the bulk of daily Nascar coverage -- this isn't just a story. It's news.

And right now, there isn't a bigger news story involving Nascar than this.

You can follow me on Twitter @viv_bernstein

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ryan Newman accuses me of stealing. Seriously.

The first time I ever met Nascar driver Ryan Newman, I asked him if he was a cheater and he asked me if I was a thief.

It was 2004 and I was in Daytona Beach, Fla., working on a story for The New York Times about Newman following up on his eight-win season the year before. I didn't know much about him at the time beyond his racing success and engineering degree from Purdue. I certainly didn't expect Newman to have a dry sense of humor. He's from the Midwest, after all.

Ryan Newman Media LuncheonNewman had drawn suspicion around the garage in 2003 for finding a way to extend his fuel run longer than anyone else. His team was never caught cheating, but the questions about his performance lingered. So I asked him about it in our interview and he laughed at the suggestion, brushing off a certain four-time Cup winner in his response.

At the end of what turned out to be an entertaining interview, Newman took a lighthearted shot at me for some reason. I can't remember exactly what he said, but I'll never forget what happened next.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Beauty and the blonde

As a fairly ordinary brunette, I could never experience nor fully grasp the power that comes from being blonde and beautiful. Of course, I've seen plenty of pretty blondes and always knew they had some intangible advantage over me in life because of their appearance.

But I never actually understood how that power worked -- what it was like, how it changed people, how it could be used -- until the day Elle came into my life.

Oh, you can say she's just a dog. But I have owned many dogs over the years, sweet and wonderful and beautiful creatures all, and none has had the power of Elle. A jaw-droppingly gorgeous golden retriever with light-colored fur and a face that draws you to her, Elle has opened my eyes and my world to the privileged existence that comes from being a blonde beauty.

I knew the day I brought Elle home as a 12-week-old puppy three years ago that she was special. I couldn't help but smile every time I looked at her. Turns out I wasn't alone.

One day not long after she arrived, I was walking Elle down the street of my neighborhood when I heard someone running toward me from behind. Actually running to catch up to me. It was a neighbor, someone who had never bothered to say hello to me in all the years I had lived there.

She just had to meet Elle, she said.

I thought it was sort of odd but funny. And then it kept happening.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tony Stewart, Tim Tebow and using the media

For all the battles he fights on the track, Tony Stewart is known almost as much for his clashes with the media off of it. I'm guessing more than a few reporters who have spent time in the Nascar garage over the years have stories about confrontations with Stewart.

Including me.

It was last year at Darlington Raceway when Stewart told me after a media session that he didn't need my newspaper coverage -- among many choice words he directed my way that day. And yet Stewart continues to make himself accessible to me or any other reporter who covers the sport. I imagine it's in part because he understands the importance of media coverage to Nascar -- and to the companies that give his race team millions of dollars -- whether he personally likes us or not.

When I heard about Tim Tebow's fan appearance at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, Texas, last Wednesday, I couldn't help but think of Stewart.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Marriott whore no more

I've slept with you over 500 times in my life. That's a lot of nights in your beds. Yes, I've strayed a few times, had that fling in New York with Kimpton. No marriage is perfect, right?

Still, I was in it for the long term. I was committed to you. Until I finally realized you're not committed to me. At least, not anymore.

So maybe this is goodbye, Marriott.

I never wanted it to end. Remember when I broke up with Westin all those years ago and rushed to sign up for your Rewards program? So many points. So many hotel options. I thought I had finally found my home away from home with Marriott.

OK, your rooms were no match for Westin. Like most sportswriters, I was more interested in points, stay totals and silver, gold and platinum status. In my business, those Rewards levels are seen as a measure of achievement more than a pathetic sign of how much of our lives we have given away to work.

Then things began to change.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Te'o, Tia and sports journalism today

When Deadspin reported that Manti Te'o's deceased girlfriend never existed, some high profile sports journalists scrambled to quickly offer an explanation for why they wrote the emotional story of his loss without first confirming she was real.

No such mea culpa took place last week when it was reported that

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sports media and the white male scorecard

I once asked Tom Sorensen, the longtime sports columnist for the Charlotte Observer, why his newspaper wouldn't hire a woman to cover the Carolina Panthers back when the beat job came open in 1999. I've never forgotten his response.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Ayanbadejo of Nascar?

Among the stories going viral this week is a column by Chuck Culpepper of Sports on Earth about an interview with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo after the Super Bowl.

Culpepper revealed in the column that he is gay, and wrote that he shook Ayanbadejo's hand and thanked him at the end of the interview for being one of the first professional athletes in a team sport to speak out on behalf of gay rights. Ayanbadejo had created a bit of a firestorm in Baltimore when he voiced support for gay marriage in Maryland last year.

All of which made me wonder if there will ever be an Ayanbadejo in Nascar -- a driver willing to take a stand for gay rights. And if so, when?
Friday's Nascar headlines were perhaps telling in that regard. It was reported by several outlets, including The New York Times, that Darrell Wallace Jr. will become a full-time driver in the Camping World Truck Series this season.

Wallace will be the first black driver since 2007 to have a full ride in a top-three national series, and only the fourth in the 65-year history of the sport. Nascar has been working for years through it's Drive for Diversity program to develop minority and female drivers to attract a new and younger demographic. Wallace is one of the sport's brightest hopes.

As far as I can tell, fewer than 10 black drivers have raced in Nascar's top three national series. Ever. Compared to other professional sports today, that number is hard to fathom. But minorities haven't always been welcome in stock-car racing -- even Wallace has faced racism growing up in the sport. 

Meanwhile, around the country, recent polls and election results indicate growing support for gay rights and gay marriage. And statements by Ayanbadejo and Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe, as well as the You Can Play and It Gets Better campaigns, show the newfound acceptance of gays among athletes and sports leagues.
But there are no out gay athletes in any of the four major team sports as of yet. So despite Ayanbadejo, Kluwe and others, team sports remain a step behind the general public.

And Nascar, fair to say, is a few steps behind the major team sports. Because unlike the others, there isn't even a conversation about gay rights going on in the Nascar garage right now, nor a You Can Play or It Gets Better campaign. Drivers remain ever careful not to upset their corporate sponsors by taking risky political stands that might turn fans against them.

So will there ever be an Ayanbadejo in Nascar? It's probably inevitable.

But considering how long it has taken for Nascar to begin to integrate, I doubt I'll be shaking anybody's hand anytime soon.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The media and #Danicky

There seems to be an ongoing debate among Nascar media whether the relationship between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a story that should continue to be pursued or should be dropped now that it has been dutifully reported.

Should we write about the reaction of others in the Nascar garage? Should we analyze the risks? Or should we let it go?

The answers: Yes, yes, and that depends.

It is our job as beat reporters to write what people are reading about and discussing on Twitter, Facebook and message boards. Patrick is one of the most popular drivers in all of racing. And right now, #Danicky is a part of the ongoing Nascar conversation. To ignore that would be to ignore your own readers, and ultimately send them to your competitors.

That's not to say we should mine this story ad infinitum at the expense of other storylines. And based on the headlines I see, plenty of other topics are being written about right now from the new generation racecar to Brad Keselowski's empty fountain of love.

But remember, too, this is the offseason. There aren't races to cover and on-track incidents to scrutinize. The Busch brothers haven't pissed anybody off today (well, as far as we know).  The relationship between Patrick and Stenhouse is the only head-turning news story to come out since Keselowski won the title in November.

So yes, it's interesting and pertinent to hear what Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most popular driver in the sport whose love life has been internet fodder for years, has to say about Patrick's new relationship. And it's worth the time to explore the issues on the track raised by the relationship. Even Jeff Gordon, whose messy divorce years ago was once headline fodder, acknowledged the reality of news coverage of celebrity athletes.

"I may not have liked it but understood it was a story," Gordon responded on twitter when I asked him about it last week.

Will it continue to be a story? You can blame Patrick and Stenhouse for making sure it will be in Daytona. By waiting until after the annual Nascar media tour in Charlotte to confirm the relationship, they have avoided answering any questions about it. Those questions inevitably will come up during future tests and at Daytona.

Beyond that, the longevity of this story depends on Patrick and Stenhouse. The way they race each other will be closely scrutinized. If there are more stories, it's because of what they do on the track and in the garage to create them. At least to some degree, it's up to them.

I don't know what Nascar thinks about all of this. But for a sport that desperately wants to be part of the mainstream conversation, few drivers have given fans more to talk about than Patrick since she arrived in 2010. And now she has found love in the Nascar garage.

I'm sure they're already working on the screenplay. You think they can get Kristen Stewart to play Danica?