The White Zone: How I’ve gone about giving criticism

Sitting on a couch in a student reading room at the Howard Baker Center, it occurred to me that I’m taking the white flag on my time as a student at the University of Tennessee.

It took five years for this journey to reach this point. In that time, I failed to maintain good academic standing and was academically suspended twice.

It took me hitting rock bottom to realize how I treated academics wasn’t working, nor would it ever work.

For the next 12 months, I changed how I applied myself toward academic work, obtained an Associates of Science degree from Roane State Community College and earned my way back into the University of Tennessee.

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While I’m in a better place in my life, I now face a similar problem in my line of work.

You might’ve noticed that I wasn’t at Bristol Motor Speedway this past weekend, even though it’s my home track. In the last few months, NASCAR has prevented me from getting credentials to any track, because I was “too negative.”

I didn’t understand what they meant by “too negative.” In my mind, I thought it meant NASCAR didn’t like that I didn’t tow the company line, which made it more confusing when other beat writers who don’t do so either, were still getting credentials. What was I doing that the other writers weren’t that made NASCAR single me out?

It wasn’t until I read the introductory piece by Lindsay Jones of The Athletic that I realized what I was doing wrong: It wasn’t that I was being negative at all. It was the way I went about conveying it.

SEE ALSO: Lindsay Jones: Storytelling, not hot takes, matter as we cover America’s most complicated sports league

I mocked people like Keith Olbermann, Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless and other sports talk loudmouths who cared more about their hot takes being heard than giving a take with any substance, but looking through the things I’ve tweeted or columns I’ve written, I wasn’t any different than the loudmouths.

I’ve called the XFINITY Series a joke, described NASCAR’s presence at Indianapolis the wrong way, let my bitterness get the better of me in comparing the Short Track Nationals at Bristol to the NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, called the overtime line in NASCAR a joke and while my editor bailed me out and re-titled this one, I originally called NASCAR’s safety team absolute garbage.

I won’t go into all my tweets, because there’s so many that fit the bill of making me a loudmouth, but my Twitter feed is summed up in my emotionally charged tirade towards NASCAR and FOX regarding Michael Waltrip’s grid walk stunt at Michigan International Speedway in June.

While I stand by a lot of the critical points I made in these pieces and tweets, I went about the wrong way of conveying almost all of it.

Compare my columns to those written by professional sports columnists, such as Nancy Armour or Joe Rexrode. Other than to provide context, they almost never insert themselves into their columns and keep the focus on the issue or person they’re critiquing.

SEE ALSO: Simone Biles has power, and she’s not afraid to use it

SEE ALSO: Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos can’t disrespect his own people over athletics anymore

Unlike them, however, I made it more about me wanting to be heard than the issue I wanted people to hear.

I’ve struggled with conveying my opinion in a constructive way for a long time, and I’ll probably struggle with it more from this day forward (especially when it comes to Twitter). But now I understand what the problem is. Tell the story, don’t be it.

That’s my view, for what it’s worth.

NOTE: This story was originally posted on the author’s personal website. It was originally written in August of 2018. So the events referenced happened months ago.

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My name is Tucker White. I'm currently majoring in journalism at the University of Tennessee. I started getting into NASCAR around 1998 and started following the sport full-time in 2001. I live and breathe everything related to NASCAR. I also have a burning passion for all things auto racing. I've been following Formula 1 since 2011 and am slowing getting into IndyCar. I do my best to keep up with the World Endurance Championship. But at the end of the day, NASCAR is my primary beat. Being both a native of Knoxville, Tennessee and a student at UT, I'm naturally a die-hard Tennessee Volunteers fan. Especially when it comes to Tennessee Volunteers football. While I'll never stop being one, it can be the most heart-wrenching thing ever. Since 2005, this team has delivered more than its fair share of heartbreaking moments and inhuman frustration. I've stuck with the Vols from the best of times - 1998 National Champions - to the worst of times - 2005 to present - because I know that it'll make it all so worth it when the mighty Vols finally return to the top of the college football landscape. In the last few years, I started to really get into baseball. This past season, I decided to pledge my sporting allegiance to the Atlanta Braves. It didn't turn out too well as they finished 67-95 and finished fourth in the NL East. I do see great potential with the young roster and they might be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

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