(Photo: Courtesy of NASCAR)
Tia Norfleet was everything NASCAR wanted to see: Young, Hollywood beautiful, charismatic and social-media savvy. Oh, and she is Black. Those traits had Norfleet poised to break a barrier; she would be the Althea Gibson of the good ol’ boy network that is auto racing.
But one thing barrier-breakers have to be is more than bold talk and bravado. They need some credentials to lay claim to greatness, particularly in a sport where no Black person — man or woman — has ever been more than a minor player.
Tia Norfleet was none of what she said she was. She had fooled a score of national and local publications into writing about her exploits in auto racing. Norfleet stood in front of countless newspaper reporters and online media to recount a story that is no more true than Zora Neale Hurston’s brilliant novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was.
Norfleet should have heeded the words in that title. For if she had, she would have known that God demands more of His flock. His eyes were watching Tia Norfleet, and He didn’t like what He saw.
Still, one has to wonder aloud if Norfleet didn’t just play this game of hers because the media let her. Reporters across the country listened to Norfleet’s story, and, apparently, not one of them bothered to vet it.
Had they, they would have discovered her credentials were as solid as Jell-O.
She wasn’t the accomplished driver she told people she was. Nor was she licensed to compete in the higher levels of auto racing. What experience the 20-something Norfleet had was in non-sanctioned races, and it looks like as if she lined up on Saturday nights and raced in the streets. Oh, and her whose private life looked like a checkerboard flag.
Sadly, her decision to fake her credentials is not uncommon. The other day, a story broke about 22-year-old McKinzie Sewell, a married man who masqueraded as a teenager to play high school basketball in Tennessee. Sewell mimicked what Guerdwich Montimere did in Odessa, Texas, in 2010 when he pretended to be a 16-year-old sophomore forward at Permian High School, a school that made Friday Night Lights and high-school football famous.
What's the price of fame, though? That’s a question those of us who follow sports have to ask ourselves. Athletes lie; we know that. Athletes cheat; we know that, too. And we know why: They do so because fame is so intoxicating – and so enriching.
Now, what are we to do? What are we to make of Tia Norfleet and her pack of tall tales? We can’t ignore a liar like Norfleet; we can’t forgive her either; and we surely can’t forget this brash-talking woman who, had she played things straight, could have been somebody: Rich, famous and a real pioneer. And that’s the only thing to pity about a woman who had a casual relationship with truth.
Justice B. Hill is a veteran sports reporter who writes for a number of sports websites, including MLB.com and SBnation.com. He has been a sports editor at several major newspapers and taught journalism at Ohio University.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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