NASCAR has banned the display of the Confederate flag at its events. Here’s what you need to know about the developments.
NASCAR announced on Wednesday that they will ban display of the Confederate flag at its sanctioned events. The ban comes hours before the premier Cup Series drops the green flag at Martinsville Speedway for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 (7 p.m. ET, FS1).
“The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” a statement from NASCAR reads. “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”
Terms of how such a ban will be enforced have yet to be disclosed.
Different versions of the flag of the Confederate States of America have been displayed by fans at NASCAR events, which primarily take place in the southeast United States. The CSA seceded from the United States of America in 1861 to protest of President Abraham Lincoln’s election, one that threatened to end the institution of slavery. Their secession led to the American Civil War, which ran from 1861 through 1865. CSA General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General and future American President Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, leading to the abolition of slavery and freeing scores of black slaves imprisoned on southern plantations.
The most renowned variant of the flag is likely most similar to the Confederate’s naval jack flowing in the latter stages of the war. Another extremely similar, rectangular variant was used as the battle flag for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Despite the loss, attempts have been made to readapt the flag as a symbol of Southern pride and states’ rights. Critics have countered that the flag has been used as a glorification of racism and white supremacy, as well as a sign of intimidation toward African-Americans.
NASCAR and the Flag
In 2015, NASCAR began to discourage display of the flag after a white supremacist-inspired shooting left killed nine African-Americans at a Charleston, SC church. The perpetrator had previously posed with Confederate paraphernalia and engaged in white supremacist rhetoric. NASCAR publicly supported the decision of then-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to remove the Confederate flag from the State House. South Carolina is home to Darlington Raceway near Myrtle Beach, one of NASCAR’s original and most renowned tracks.
Then-Chairman and CEO Brian France later expressed a desire to ban the flag outright. At the time, NASCAR asked fans not to display the flag at events and offered an exchange program to trade in Confederate flags for American flags at the July 2015 race at Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR has been a predominantly-white league since its inception in 1949. Only seven black drivers have partaken in events at the Cup Series level, including current full-time driver Bubba Wallace, who drives the No. 43 Chevrolet for Richard Petty Motorsports. It has unfortunately not been a stranger to racial controversy. During a virtual race on the iRacing platform, Cup Series star Kyle Larson casually used a racial slur in an event live-streamed on Twitch. Larson was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and fired from his ride in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
In 2004, NASCAR began the Drive for Diversity program, which set up a platform to attract minority individuals to the sport, in a variety of roles, including those as drivers, crew chiefs, sponsors, and more. Former NBA All-Star and top overall pick Brad Daugherty played a role in the program’s development. The former University of North Carolina and Cleveland Cavaliers star is currently a co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing, which fields the respective No. 37 and No. 47 Chevrolets of Ryan Preece and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The debate regarding Confederate symbols has reopened in the wake of nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality against African-Americans. Removal of statues bearing the likeness of Confederate representatives has become more prevalent and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has also called for such statues to be removed from the U.S. Capitol Building.
During the initial tone down in 2015, NASCAR’s most prominent faces supported NASCAR’s decision. Four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon told CBS This Morning that “there’s no place for it” and Dale Earnhardt Jr. agreed.
“It really does nothing for anybody to be there flying,” Earnhardt Jr. said to Dustin Long of NBC Sports. “It belongs in the history books, that’s about it.’’
Yahoo!’s Jay Busbee recalled a story from his 2016 book Earnhardt Nation: The Full-Throttle Saga of NASCAR’s First Family in which seven-time Cup champion and NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. removed a Confederate flag bumper sticker from his truck after his housekeeper, an African-American woman, told him of the flag’s connotations.
A few words from Dale Earnhardts Senior and Junior on the Confederate flag, from a book I could recommend: pic.twitter.com/WaUDWfXPdm
— Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) June 10, 2020
Prior to last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR President Steve Phelps called for a change in a radio message to drivers. “Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard,” Phelps said. “The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”
Since then, more drivers have been proactive in the fight against systemic racism and injustice. Wallace appeared on CNN earlier this week calling for an end to the Confederate flag’s display. Prior to the Atlanta event, Wallace was seen wearing an American flag facemask and a shirt bearing the words “I can’t breathe”, referencing the words spoken by Eric Garner and George Floyd, who died at the hands of officers in New York City and Minneapolis. On Wednesday night, Wallace’s No. 43 Chevrolet will bear the “#BlackLivesMatter” insignia. The image of a black and white hand together will be displayed on the hood.
Brad Keselowski stopped short of calling for an outright ban (telling USA Today’s Michelle R. Martinelli “it wasn’t (his) right”), but united with Penske Racing teammate Ryan Blaney to call for respect to another flag: the stars and stripes of America.
“I only salute one flag and that’s America’s,” said Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion and driver of the No. 2 Ford. “I recognize that (the Confederate) flag might mean something different to different people, but it doesn’t mean United States of America to me.”
“It’s tough, but I don’t really enjoy it because sometimes I feel like the people that wave them mean the negative when they wave them, and that’s not cool,” Wednesday’s polesitter Blaney added to Martinelli. ” I’d love to not see them at the race track, honestly, because it doesn’t make everyone comfortable, so that’s kind of where I stand on that. Bring your 50 stars flag; I think that would be way better.”
In an exclusive interview with ESM, Corey LaJoie, driver of the No. 32 Ford for Go Fas Racing, put in the simplest, most relatable terms possible hours before the ban.
“We need to now allow that banner to be at the racetrack,” LaJoie told ESM. “I don’t really care what it means, how you can justify what it means. I think, if anything, you can justify it being sensitive to the people it offends.”
“If my brother is definitely allergic to peanuts, but I love peanuts, I’m not going to eat peanuts in front of him, just because it has the possibility to hurt him physically. If there’s something that I consciously do that would offend somebody emotionally, I wouldn’t choose to do that, even if I enjoyed eating peanuts.”
“We are one community trying to entertain people. That’s what we show up 36 weekends out of the year to do, to entertain. We don’t want to exclude anybody. We want to have everybody feel welcome coming to a NASCAR race.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags