Sixty-Six Words by NASCAR Might Have Changed Sports – And Culture – Forever

I don’t watch NASCAR and in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t think I have ever logged on to the NASCAR.com web site or watched a full race.

The last time I might have tuned in to NASCAR was for the unfortunate tragedy and death of Dale Earnhardt back in 2001, which was a global story.

Now, NASCAR is making another global story, but maybe this time for reasons of change.

I was scanning Twitter and I saw NASCAR trending thanks to a sixty-six-word statement by the sports organization which is capturing the attention – and debate – of the sports and non-sports world. For context, here is the full statement by NASCAR:

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. 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.

For people not acquainted with some of this U.S. history, the confederate flag is actually a symbol of some pride for U.S. Citizens. We need to remember the origins though.

Back in the 1860s, the Confederacy (also known as the South) was fighting to keep slavery in the United States and was an instigator for the start of the U.S. Civil War against the North. Over the course of a four-year war, nearly 620,000 men died, resulting in the North defeating the South, slavery being abolished (through the U.S. Constitution) and a new United States being formed. These are facts not in dispute.

However, symbols and use of the confederate flag still continue to this day from a war that took place more than 150 years ago. Television programs, rock bands, artists, shops and restaurants and apparel companies, and yes, NASCAR fans all wear or show the flag with a sense of pride.

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow on a global scale, symbols of racism and oppression are being challenged.

Statues for confederate leaders and slave traders are being removed, sometimes forcefully. Companies across the globe are advancing their hiring and purchasing agreements towards minorities. And yes, NASCAR is saying that the confederate flag represents a past that it does not want its present customers to be subjected to.

This is history in the making, but is it also an attempt to re-write history? That’s the delicate balance we as a society are facing.

NASCAR doesn’t release official attendance figures but it says on its website that it “holds races at 30 different tracks in the U.S and Canada, including oval short tracks, winding road courses, and superspeedways longer than 2 miles.”

If you compare the U.S. states that made up the original Confederacy – 11 of them, an astounding one-third of the 30 NASCAR racetracks – are within those states.

Remember that NASCAR is a spectator sport. It relies in part on its attendance figures and spending weekends at tracks across the U.S. and Canada for multiple races and those fans buying food and merchandise. This decision by NASCAR will undoubtably result in fans leaving the sport.

Sporting events overall have a 100% percent, full right-of-refusal for their events. Most of the time, the rules are printed on the tickets or the team and league websites.

We as fans need to abide by those rules. If we don’t feel like abiding by those roles, then we don’t need to attend.

As a fan of any of these sports, if you don’t like a policy, you do not need to go to the event.

No one is forcing anyone to attend a game, or in this case a car race and open their wallets and spend money.

That is a choice we have, one of the many freedoms we frankly take for granted.

So now with the decision to ban the confederate flag at NASCAR events, the public outcry from NASCAR fans might start. NASCAR fans who love the confederate flag might say they are no longer going to go to a race, purchase NASCAR merchandise or watch the races on television.

NASCAR has to be prepared for that – and with a sixty-six-word statement – they are saying they are.

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, the only African American driver in NASCAR’s elite racing series, told CNN in an interview about fans who might be cautious on attending races because they didn’t like the confederate flag flying:

They should be able to live life to the fullest with nothing holding them back. And if the flag’s holding them back then, then let’s just take it down for the sporting event. We’re not saying get it rid of your life completely.

Utilization and display of the confederate flag will be an ongoing debate but NASCAR drew a line in the sand on where the debate can now begin with those sixty-six words.

By Charles Zinkowski (charlesz1972@yahoo.com; @thisischarlesz)