21-year-old Estonian race car driver Juri Vips was suspended by Red Bull Racing after he used the N-word this week while playing “Call of Duty” on a live stream. Red Bull said Vips is suspended “from all team duties” and an investigation is ongoing.
“As an organization, we condemn abuse of any kind,” the Red Bull Racing team said in a statement, “and have a zero-tolerance policy to racist language or behaviors within our organization.”
Vips was playing the popular video game “Call of Duty” with fellow Red Bull junior Liam Lawson. Vips also reportedly used a homophobic slur during the same live stream. He races on the Formula 2 circuit, the second-tier single seater racing championship to Formula 1.
“I wish to unreservedly apologize for the offensive language used during a live gaming stream earlier today,” Vips said. “This language is entirely unacceptable and does not portray the values and principles that I hold. I deeply regret my actions, and this is not the example I wish to set.”
Sadly, this type of behavior isn’t isolated. NASCAR driver Kyle Larson used the N-word in 2020 and was fired from his racing team. Former NFL wide receiver Riley Cooper used the N-word.
In March 2021, the esports organization FaZe Clan cut ties with Meyers Leonard after the NBA player used an antisemitic slur during a Twitch stream. TCU head football coach Gary Patterson allegedly used the N-word in 2022, and those are just a few.
Racism built this country and played an integral part in the shaping of the world at large. There is no escaping it. It influences how we think and relate to one another. That it impacts the sports landscape is no surprise. Vips’ “apology” and comment that the word he used “does not portray the values and principles I hold” is straight out of the public apology playbook.
Frankly, it’s sad and pathetic that it’s even accepted as an apology. He used the word, so obviously he’s comfortable doing so. The N-word isn’t something you say once on a whim. It’s likely Vips has said the word before in other non-public settings.
Despite being Estonian, he likely knows the origins of the word and its use as a pejorative. It is unclear what will happen to Vips and his Red Bull relationship following the investigation. What can they possibly discover that will change anything?
Eliminating use of the N-word is about changing hearts, minds and relationships. How will a potential punishment accomplish that? Can sports change larger societal attitudes? These are the questions that need answering.
Vips became a member of the Red Bull junior program towards the end of 2018. He finished fourth in the following year’s FIA F3 championship before graduating to F2, where he is currently competing in his third season.
He made his F1 race weekend debut earlier this year when he took part in opening practice for the Spanish Grand Prix with Red Bull, fulfilling one of the team’s two required young driver practice appearances for the season.