Update: NASCAR said Tuesday afternoon that the FBI determined that driver Bubba Wallace was not the victim of a hate crime because it learned that a pull rope fashioned like a noose had been on a garage door at Talladega Superspeedway since as early as October. That was well before Wallace’s team was randomly assigned stall No. 4 ahead of the Talladega 500 race over the weekend.
While angered at those saying it was all a hoax and that NASCAR overreacted, Wallace said Tuesday night that NASCAR did nothing wrong in its handling of the situation when his team alerted NASCAR to what it found. “I stand by Steve (Phelps, NASCAR’s president),” Wallace told CNN’s Don Lemon. “I stand by NASCAR. This will not break me, none of the allegations of being a hoax will break me or tear me down. Will it piss me off? Absolutely. But that only fuels the competitive drive in me to shut everybody up.”
Ahead of an NBA playoff game between the Rockets and the Sonics, I was among a group of writers in Houston’s Summit that sat down randomly together for a pre-game meal. I don’t remember which game, although the mid-1990s games between the Gary Payton Sonics and the Rockets led by Hakeem Olajuwon were the acme of pro ball in its 41-year tenure in Seattle. Makes my neck hairs stand up typing this.
We started talking about food, and I said something about how much I enjoyed Southern cuisine, although my enjoyment of a meal the night before was diminished by the presence of a Confederate flag on the menu.
“What do you mean?” said a sportswriter to my right.
“What do you think I mean?” I said, realizing we were done with the easy banter.
“The flag isn’t about slavery,” she said, indignantly. “It’s about our heritage.”
“You’re not going to start with me about ‘states rights’ too, are you?”
“You Yankees come down here with fixed ideas about us and don’t want to hear about what our heritage means to us.”
“You’re entitled to your heritage, but I don’t get the part about re-writing history to suit yourself.”
At that, she picked up and left. I felt bad for spoiling her meal, but it was the first time I personally encountered the “heritage” claim.
I’ve since seen the rationalization rolled out countless times. I was sure that the flag’s ubiquitous place in a part of the country that seemed to me largely to have chosen, after committing treason, to sit out the cultural changes of the past hundred-plus years, wanted it that way. I’ve since learned the stereotype was unfair to many.
Nevertheless, the inherent racism behind the symbol erupted again this week, following NASCAR’s decision to ban the flag’s display at all of its events. The gesture was momentous. It signaled from the industry’s ownership on down that the toxic relic was no longer welcome at a sport that is a close second to college football in terms of the South’s regional sports identity.
Hey, NFL fans — imagine Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signing Colin Kaepernick to back up starter Dak Prescott, then kneeling with him during the national anthem. That’s was the equivalent social earthquake felt by many Southern racing fans.
I’m no NASCAR aficionado, but anyone around sports understood that the backlash would be fierce to the decision a couple of weeks ago. As the next race in the series drew close, the Talladega Cup 500 Sunday, TV news crews dutifully recorded the huge uptick in sales of flags and related trinkets around the Alabama track. When the purchasers and store owners were interviewed, there was that word again: Heritage.
Yet that same heritage is horrifying to other people of the South who were exploited to preserve it.
As someone recently wrote, the “heritage” crowd hangs on tighter to the flag than Scarlett O’Hara did Tara.
Sunday, as the maximum of about 5,000 fans were allowed in to watch — the first spectators, all socially distanced, in the Cup Series this season as the sport re-opens — a small, unmarked plane flew over the superspeedway trailing a banner, “Defund NASCAR.” Cars and trucks on the roads outside the track were similarly festooned.
After the race was postponed by rain until Monday, the real insult was disclosed. In the garage of Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in the NASCAR series, someone Sunday left a noose.
Wallace didn’t see it, but a crew member made the discovery and took it to NASCAR officials. Day one of the new day of race in racing had not gone well.
Outraged that someone on the inside was the perp — the infield garage has no public access and is tightly secured — NASCAR raged in its statement:
NASCAR statement on a noose in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace: #nascar pic.twitter.com/rhBpywQ288
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) June 22, 2020
An investigation that includes FBI agents is underway. NASCAR president Steve Phelps said those responsible will be permanently banned. Wallace tweeted about his anger and his resolve.
Bubba Wallace has a message for the person who left a noose in his garage stall. pic.twitter.com/asAc8hTTx3
— ESPN (@espn) June 23, 2020
The race finally went off Monday. Before it started, someone took white paint to write “We stand with Bubba” in large letters in the infield grass. The 39 other drivers gathered together and agreed to walk Wallace and his Richard Petty No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro to the head of the line for the anthem. They were followed by their crews.
As statements go, it was potent.
We are one family.
One NASCAR. pic.twitter.com/Y1IRI5qpRe
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 22, 2020
The show of solidarity included the team owner, the fabled Petty, embracing Wallace, who finished 14th, a half-second behind winner Ryan Blaney. Wallace led with 27 laps to go, and was in the top five with five laps to go, then ran out of gas, he said.
After getting out of his car and running across the track to greet fans chanting his name, Wallace called it a win.
“The stars didn’t align for us completely but, all in all, we won today,” he said. “The pre-race deal was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to witness in my life. From all the supporters, from drivers, from crew members, from everybody here, the badass fan base — thank you guys for coming out here.
“This is truly incredible and I’m proud to be a part of this sport.”
Day two of the new day was better.
During a time when a sitting president seeks re-election by using racial dog whistles reminiscent of another Wallace, George, who ran for president in 1968 and 1972 on a platform of white backlash against civil rights, Bubba Wallace helped push the sports world forward instead of backward.
A new heritage begins.
It baffles me when people of the “NOW” expect the people of the past to have lived with the “NOW” morals and ways of society. I know in 100 years it will still be going on and our generation will also have much of our history (heritage) judged by who knows what in the future.
We can’t undo things that happened. If we continue to erase our past we will never have the opportunity to learn from it. We seem able to Burn a flag but not display one. Where does the right of free speech end? There is “Black History Month” but can’t be a “Southern History Month”. Possibly an opportunity for someone smarter than I to explain that displayed Confederate flag?
We all have a “heritage” of some sort. What will our generations be? Especially when looked at from 150 years in the future.
I hope you understand that all societies evolve. Values and priorities change, hopefully for the better via increased knowledge. No opponent of the Confederate flag wants to erase or undo any history; on the contrary, more needs to be known and discussed about the history of slavery and Jim Crow and the continuing consequences.
But sticking the flag in the face of Black people is a perpetuation of a value and an economic system held by treasonous people that the U.S. fought a war to end. The reason there’s a Black History month is because much of meaningful Black history was almost totally ignored by mostly white historians who wrote generations of textbooks for mostly white children.
I’m all for learning from my heritage. I’m all for avoiding its mistakes.
That’s a telling point about learning forgotten Black history. I’m a Gen-Xer with a college degree, and I had never heard of the Tulsa race riots and Juneteenth until the last few weeks. Not proud to admit that.
It’s also a good idea to educate people who unwittingly use racist symbols, like high school sports fans bringing the Confederate flag because their teams are the “Rebels”. Or in England rugby, where they’ve sung “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” for years and only the last few days learned about the song’s slavery roots; to them, it was just as part of the experience as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is in baseball.
I hear ya Kirkland. I never heard about Juneteenth either until recently. I’m not from the south. I have never had a confederate flag and have never had a desire to display one.
My issue is about certain rights we are supposed to have in this country to be able to speak WITHOUT fear of reprisal as long as such a display never actually hurt someone or their property.
Seems if one stands and speaks against something deemed politically correct (Which is anything that won’t hurt someone’s feelings) the next place you will be standing is in an unemployment line. That scares me.
I believe in ONE race. The human race. I believe in looking at content of character. But I also believe a person or group has the right to protest and speak their minds. Even if to most people they are thought to be wrong in their beliefs. I believe people have the right in this country to be Nazi’s or communists. We pretty much know either of their views don’t match up well with what most would consider proper thought processes. Yet they have the right here to be tolerated. Even march in protest over their views.
That said. I firmly believe that right now if you work for NASCAR and you stand up and say you don’t agree with banning any flags because you believe in freedom of speech they will fire you. What if that same guy decided to take a knee during the national anthem instead.
Free speech in the Constitution is about foreclosing on the government’s ability to stifle its critics. A private business has the right on its property to prevent speech and actions it considers damaging.
Learning curves are like PPE in America: An easy thing, yet amazingly scarce.
If you personally choice to do so (I would argue unwisely if you truly aren’t a racist), you may exercise your 1st amendment rights by displaying the Confederate flag. Please note that your 1st amendment rights end when entering a NASCAR facility or any other private business.
I see no reason to continue to have Confederate statues that honor and respect those citizens who committed treason by attempting to end the government of the United States while killing hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers.
I’m not sure why either of these two concepts is difficult for Americans today to understand?? (The ones that genuinely are not racist.)
I’ve lived here in the PNW for almost thirty years, now, but am still, in fundamental ways, that Southern kid who drove out here from North Carolina in a Ryder truck. I love the South and am VERY proud of my roots…but I no more wear rose-colored glasses about its heinous past that I wear them about America. “My country, right or wrong” is the original BS statement. Love the right, fire OUT upon the wrong. You can love someone and still criticize them, see their faults, POINT THEM OUT. (Ask my brother) That ridiculous flag always struck me, even as a seven year old kid in a Virginia mountain schoolroom, as the symbol of defeat. I openly asked my teacher why the flag of a wrong-headed, LOSING cause, was supposed to be revered and stand for our heritage. She had no real answer except, “Well, that was our flag.”
Southerners cling to the Stars and Bars for lack of any other unifying symbol. The fact that it was born in, stood for, and still expresses a loathsome and debased ideology never occurs to many of them, except in that lamest of rebuttals, “It’s not about race, it’s about our heritage!” I call Bullshit. Our heritage is our sublime music and food and the land and the mountains and our (facade, at least) of gentility and the fabled, often missing in action, “hospitality”. Our heritage USED TO be a fierce dedication to education and the betterment of each successive generation. It is not an accident that some of America’s best colleges are located in the South. The current wave of anti-education and suspicion of ideas has NOT been the South’s real heritage, a fact that astounds a LOT of people who only see the hate and crimes and narrowness.
That goddamned ugly piece of crap cloth SHOULD have been retired and burned right after the Civil War, when it SHOULD have been rubbed into all our faces that we had LOST, that the whole idea of an economy based on the oppression of an entire race of people was untenable, and that we had, in fact, committed treason against our country. We SHOULD have been contrite and worked at putting that whole cultural inanity behind us. We SHOULD have eaten our fate and worked at making a new one, free of totems of our stupidity and short-sightedness.
Many of us didn’t; refused to change or even consider the deeper meaning of that soiled rag. The fact that it is NASCAR – that last bastion of the old, cloistered, fact-resistant South – is now the organization that finally IS rubbing our noses in our own stink is STUNNING…and hopeful and right and waaaaay overdue.
I bow to your Southern street cred, Steve. Thanks fo sharing a perspective that adds to the discussion.
I agree that it took an institution like NASCAR to make this kind of cultural breakthrough. It’s almost a Nixon to China moment. (look i up, kids).
Stealing/paraphrasing a bit from John Oliver’s piece on the Confederacy (you really owe it to yourself to look it up on youtube and invest the 22 minutes or so, it covers this debate in great detail), flags and monuments are for reverence, historical perspective is best left to museums where they can tell the full story and give context to the “heritage” as it were. The piece made it very clear, the confederacy was fully about maintaining the practice of slavery, one person’s right to own another person (that’s hard to even type), subjugating an entire cross section of humans, merely because of the color of their skin. And that is why the confederate flag has to go. They were the enemy of the US, not allies.
Thanks for the heads-up on Oliver.
Did you get a chance to watch it yet? Disturbing and hilarious at the same time.
A racist put a noose in the garage of NASCAR’s only black driver.
No. They didn’t. It was a pull rope for a garage door. Just like every other door.
Maybe you’ll get tired of consistently jumping to the wrong conclusions, Art. But somehow I doubt it.
Yeah, you got me there. I was sure the Trump campaign was right when it said the Tulsa arena would be sold out with 40,000 more waiting to get in.
A pull rope, fashioned in the form of a noose…
While it now seems probable that the “noose” wasn’t intended for Bubba Wallace specifically, context means a lot, and in the deep south, a noose means one thing, and it’s racist as hell.
C’mon Chaz. It’s CHOP now. You’re so last week.
Breaking news: The FBI found out that the noose had been there since October, acting as a garage door pull rope, and this wasn’t a hate crime. https://www.espn.com/racing/nascar/story/_/id/29354447/fbi-says-rope-had-talladega-garage-last-fall-bubba-wallace-not-victim-hate-crime Maybe so, but why on Earth would you knot a garage door pull rope like a noose in the first place?
I updated the column with the news when I returned home Tuesday night after deliberately turning off my phone to spend several glorious early summer hours in woods, away from the cacophony.
That will teach my sorry ass.
It’s unfortunate when reality messes up a good story. We likely won’t see this talked about on The View.
I stand behind my point about Confederate “heritage.” Yet I remain in the air from the pump-fake, not looking forward to returning to the floor.
I’m with on the heritage point, but I also don’t think people are as racist as some would like to believe.
Perhaps there are as many who swear they aren’t racist, but don’t know they are.
Oh, no. This week before a Manchester City-Burnley Premiership soccer game in Manchester, both teams and the referees took a knee for Black Lives Matter. Right then a plane flew over the stadium pulling a banner that said, “White Lives Matter-Burnley”. After the game (a 5-0 Man City rout, partly because the Burnley players were so shaken), the Burnley captain in a TV interview disregarded the game and instead talked about the ugliness of racism in soccer and society.
The gut-punch: In the NBCSN Premiership studio, Black pundit Robbie Earle mentioned the latent racism he constantly experiences. (Earle’s segment starts at 1:15, but the preface is important to see as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BVAOUsv3No )
Earle was powerful. Thanks for sharing.
I agree. The last 3.5 years has convinced me that some people are more racist than I ever imagined.
It has. Pay attention.