Waiting for Burbo: the mysterious case of SPoY, Speedway Grand Prix sponsor Monster Energy & Monster Joe Parsons
In a trademark opinion piece penned for the Point of View column of the Speedway Star (12.12.15), their “Chief News Writer” Paul ‘Burbo’ Burbidge questioned the inclusion of Tyson Fury on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPoY) 2015 shortlist. Known for a grasp of culture and politics that makes free commuter papers read like the Financial Times, Burbo cited “uproar” over “homophobic comments” made in an interview with the Daily Mail for his intervention. Burbo also referenced widely “raised eyebrows” prompted by damaging and discriminatory views from a “bygone era” before going onto question whether the boxer was an appropriate choice for any involvement at all in the prestigious annual SPoY competition. Burbo also stated his belief that since licence fee payers ‘directly’ financed the “lavish costs” of the event and BBC staff salaries, their views should be listened to and then immediately acted upon when it came to the possible candidacy of a “far better role model”. In this instance, Burbo had in mind one of Monster Energy’s sponsored riders, namely Speedway Grand Prix World Champion Tai Woffinden. Burbo advocated that Tai should be considered for the short list on the basis of the virtue of his “work ethic, charitable efforts and professional attitude”.
Though hardly an impartial observer – given his paid work as embedded publicist masquerading as a web/social media ‘journalist’ with SGP rights holders BSI as well as his extensive stenography-cum-cheerleading about the SGP (along with ‘news’ reporting) for the Speedway Star – Burbo also stated that “mainstream media outlets” (aka not the obscure channels that show the SGP) put “two fingers up at the shale sport”. Without evidence for his suppositions, Burbo went on to suggest that the BBC made shortlist selections (in private; like they do for the SGP wildcards) for their prestigious SPoY event based upon their own vested commercial interests. They apparently did so by employing a judging panel who allegedly deliberately excluded possible shortlist candidates made ‘famous’ in other sports exclusively/primarily shown by rival broadcasters to the BBC. Burbo went out of his way to lambast the commercial interests driven hypocrisy of “sports bosses who looked the other way”.
Why Burbo would suddenly get in a lather about discriminatory opinions is a mystery? Especially since a casual glance at the social media activities of current (and ex-) riders could regularly find variations upon these and other similarly strong views. Fortunately nowadays, when it comes to hate speech and discrimination in the business and sports worlds – irrespective of size, revenues or geography – there are often clear ethical employment guidelines about bullying and discrimination at work. Looking at speedway at the grand prix and/or world cup level Burbo most often reports so incredibly favourably upon, though not speedway specific we can view headline sponsor Monster Energy’s corporate policies on their approach to the issues of discrimination and harassment. These state:
“The diversity of the Company’s employees, officers and directors is a tremendous asset. We are firmly committed to providing equal opportunity in all aspects of employment and will not tolerate any illegal discrimination or harassment or any kind. Examples include derogatory comments based on race, gender or ethnicity and unwelcome sexual advances. Employees can obtain a copy of Monster Beverage’s policies concerning discrimination and sexual harassment from the Company’s Human Resources Department.”
Additionally, IMG – the parent company of the SGP organisers and rights holders BSI/BSI Speedway (who Paul also works for in addition to but not contradistinction to his responsibilities at the Speedway Star) – also have publicly available guidelines on their careers page that states:
“IMG is an equal opportunity employer and provides equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship status, age, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran in accordance with applicable laws. In addition, the IMG companies comply with applicable local laws governing equal opportunity and non-discrimination in employment in every location in which the IMG companies have facilities. This policy and practice applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including but not limited to hiring, placement, promotion, termination, transfer, leaves of absence, compensation and training.”
After we acknowledge the positive that Burbo’s article was the first ever mention of “homophobia” in the Speedway Star (and look forward with anticipation to his future work on racism and misogyny), we can’t ignore that historically there have been no news reports in the Star or in the news section of Speedway Grand Prix website (primarily written and run by Mr Burbidge) about discrimination – whether on religious, racial, sexual or other grounds – within speedway. If his opinions are sincerely held, surely Mr Burbidge would investigate, report upon or raise questions about discriminatory views from a bygone era held by any people he works or regularly associates with at the SGP? After all, if these opinions are so corrosive for the BBC, surely they too also damage and besmirch the brand, status and reputation of the Speedway Grand Prix, Speedway World Cup or speedway in general?
Strangely enough, months before Burbo’s simplistic virtue signalling editorial on Tyson Fury, he had eschewed the opportunity to root out discrimination much closer to home. The day after (09.08.15) the Horsens 2015 SGP, while changing planes at Frankfurt Airport on a trip back home possibly paid for by his employer “badass Monster Energy”, SGP sponsorship advocate and marketing agent ‘Monster Joe’ Parsons tweeted critical and mocking comments (plus a video) about fellow travellers he encountered in the terminal building. Though Mr Parsons ‘Get Your Face Out for the Lads’ worldview can’t get full articulation in the 140 character limit of any tweet, he clearly has enough confidence in his judgement of the outrage his audience will share with him to take to social media to pass comment. Indeed, Parsons often boasts that his twitter account content enjoys a powerful social media influence – if measured by its mention reach (regularly 40,000+ per week &, at peak times, 108,000 reach in a fortnight in October 2015). Indeed the “softer side” of Parsons unique social media usage, content, messaging and profile – while apparently still showcasing the public face and double-underlining true/real values of the “badass Monster Energy” brand – has actually been lauded by Sarah Maybank for its supposed game-changing and revolutionary impact upon and within speedway.
Seemingly temporarily forgetting that he’s an American migrant working in Europe, whether Parsons opinions are off the cuff, sincerely held or personal rather than Monster Energy endorsed, we won’t ever know for sure? Let alone whether it was issues of race, religion or the implicit obligations of duty free brands purchasing that prompted his shocking social media outburst. Perhaps this is the “edgy” aspect of the Monster Energy brand we’re so often told to appreciate or applaud? Wherever Parsons views come from, it does appear to be some way from the friendly, tolerant family values speedway prides itself upon and Burbo assumes are widely held by reasonable speedway people in his article about SPoY selection. What is certain is that Joe Parsons is the purse holding public face – as well as loudly and highly visible in the pits, paddock, bar and videos – of the lucrative Monster Energy sponsorship of speedway in Europe (whether it is their Monster riders, the Speedway Grand Prix or the Speedway World Cup). As a result, Monster Joe has rights, privileges and responsibilities to take account of in his actions, behaviour and comments.
Also if we come over all Burbo since fans ‘directly’ finance the Speedway Grand Prix stagings, to avoid suggestions of “bosses” looking the other way for reasons of commercial interest (unless, of course, they too also espouse opinions from a bygone era) – and to protect the good name, integrity and reputation of speedway – it is time all interested parties (whether fans, journalists, riders, SCB, F.I.M., BSPA, BSI, the SGP and/or the Speedway Star) set aside the value of the Monster sponsorship to cease the complicity of their silence and inaction. This is particularly urgent for SGP and World Cup rights holders, BSI (so far, Paul Bellamy and Torben Olsen have ignored this matter). Whether Paul Burbidge will give ‘news’ or features coverage in the Star or insist upon redress (like he demanded as the right of the speedway public of the BBC over Tyson Fury) or, with the money spinning Cardiff Speedway Grand Prix less than a fortnight away, continue to sweep it under the bulging SGP carpet remains to be seen.
If Joe Parsons had expressed these views about a fellow Monster Energy colleague or customer, apparently there would severe sanction and possibly termination of his employment. If IMG employees conducted themselves at work or on social media in such an insulting manner, you have to suspect they too would suffer penalty, termination and/or counselling? If Joe Parsons can appear to deliberately mock fellow airport travellers encountered as a result of his speedway travel and nothing is done, sadly the history and good name of speedway, the speedway grand prix and world cup (as well as that of riders, fans, media and staff) are, at a minimum, sullied and besmirched by his recent ongoing association with our “shale sport”.
Even if BSI and/or the sport decides to continue to hold its collective nose, close its eyes and leave its eyebrows unraised while it opts to continue receiving the sponsorship money and not suspend Parsons from the SGP and World Cup, surely Monster Energy need to act? If all parties shrug and do nothing, while the ethics and standards of speedway journalism in this country probably ensures that Burbo and his SGP media colleagues will remain studiously silent on this Joe Parsons Monster Energy scandal, the bitter taste in the mouth of the speedway public won’t only be the beverage we’re so often encouraged to drink.