When Lilly Diabetes pulled its logo off Conor Daly’s car in advance of a NASCAR Xfinity race in Wisconsin this month, it played right into the hands of those clamoring that political correctness has run amok.
Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co.’s decision came days after WISH-TV Channel 8 fired Daly’s father—former race car driver Derek Daly—for using the n-word nearly 35 years ago during a radio interview when the Ireland native was new to the country. Daly has said the term had a different meaning and connotation in his native Ireland and that he was mortified when he learned how it was used here.
WISH-TV’s decision had already provoked concern about whether people should be held accountable for actions—legal but inappropriate actions—from their distant past. Firing someone over a 35-year-old comment when there’s no evidence of current prejudicial activity leaves no room for people to evolve in their thinking and actions, which can’t possibly be the message we as a society intend to send.
Still, Daly was working in television, a medium in which typical workplace norms don’t always apply.
Regardless, his comments came eight years before his son Conor was born. That’s right. Eight years before.
Conor Daly has not been accused of using a racial slur or acting in any way inappropriately.
Just days before Lilly Diabetes’ decision to remove its logo, the Eli Lilly and Co. division tweeted a video of Daly, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes, talking about his preparations for the NASCAR race. It included the hashtag #TeamDiabetes.
But that team spirit did not extend to Conor Daly after his father’s comment came to light.
Lilly spokeswoman Kelley Murphy told IBJ the decision to remove the Lilly Diabetes logo from Daly’s car was difficult “and one that was not made lightly.”
“We didn’t pull our financial commitment,” she said. “Working with Conor’s team, we found a solution that allowed him to drive the same car under different branding.”
We understand that companies face difficult decisions when it comes to protecting their brands. In this case, Murphy said, “The race was 48 hours away and there were a lot of questions that we were unable to answer.”
But IBJ posits that Lilly made the wrong decision here—and it’s the kind of decision that can set back progress made on racial tolerance and equality.
Such progress often occurs when society slowly exerts pressure on those who are reluctant to change—in this case, when it becomes publicly unacceptable to use a racial slur or when someone is shunned for bigotry.
But when the response is over the top, it instead creates a backlash. People feel they’re damned if they say the wrong thing, damned if they don’t (but did decades before).
And who among us could pass the Lilly test, anyway? Who doesn’t have someone in his or her family tree who has said things in the past that would never be acceptable today?
IBJ supports diversity. We support holding people accountable for words and actions that are bigoted and divisive. But we all need to use some common sense, something that appeared to be lacking in this case.•
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