Danica Patrick's accomplishment at Daytona can only help improve sexism in sports

On a weekend when Patrick will be celebrated for what she has accomplished — and rightfully so — what she has done hasn't cured the sports world of sexism. Unfortunately, it is still alive and well.
by Jenni Carlson Published: February 22, 2013
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photo - Danica Patrick signs autographs for fans after her qualifying run for Saturdays NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)  ORG XMIT: DBR221
Danica Patrick signs autographs for fans after her qualifying run for Saturdays NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) ORG XMIT: DBR221

Where Danica Patrick finishes the Daytona 500 is ultimately more important than where she starts it.

Still, where she starts will be historic.

Patrick will be in the pole position when the race goes green on Sunday. Never before has a woman been in that top spot at the Daytona 500. It's reserved for the fastest qualifier. It's the front row, inside position. It's the catbird seat in the macho-man world of racing's biggest event.

It's a big deal.

But on a weekend when Patrick will be celebrated for what she has accomplished — and rightfully so — what she has done hasn't cured the sports world of sexism. Unfortunately, it is still alive and well.

NASCAR, for its part, seems to have embraced Patrick. Jeff Gordon, who will start next to Patrick in the front row, asked her to pose for a picture with his entire family after her historic qualifying run. Then he asked for one more favor, a shot of just Patrick and his 5-year-old daughter, Ella.

Those sorts of moments are refreshing.

“I've had the experience with mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, listening to them say the reason why they're here as a family today is because of me out there,” Patrick told reporters after qualifying at Daytona last weekend. “Whether it brings the girls out, the guys out, whatever it is, I don't care. That's nice to hear.”

That widespread appeal is another reason that NASCAR has accepted Patrick with open arms. Yes, her qualifying times speak the sport's universal language of speed. Sure, her car is owned by Tony Stewart, who has won a lot of races as a driver and carries a ton of street cred. But she has brought a bunch of attention to NASCAR.

For a sport that's faced falling attendance and flagging viewership, Patrick is a shot in the arm.

What she is doing is great for women in the sports world, too. She is a trailblazer. She is a role model.

Thank goodness for that because women in sports can use all the help they can get.

Just a few weeks ago, Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins was ejected from a game. His sin? Telling a referee to stop “acting like a (expletive) female.”

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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