NASCAR’s reaction to the national anthem debate was disappointing – but not surprising – For The Win
Nothing about what transpired in NASCAR over the last few days is surprising to anyone vaguely familiar with the sport.
It’s not surprising that more than one NASCAR team owner threatened to fire anyone kneels or protests during the national anthem – or, as Richard Childress put it, we’ll “get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over.”
It’s not surprising that they sided with President Donald Trump, whose explicit words during a rally Friday called for the jobs of NFL players who protest, igniting unprecedented solidarity among professional athletes on this issue. Nor is it surprising the president applauded their stance.
It’s not surprising that NASCAR issued a lukewarm statement about freedom of speech. It’s in line with its 2-year-old, mediocre plea asking fans not to fly confederate flags but not banning them outright. So the flag – a symbol of slavery and those who fought against the military the United States’ stars and stripes represent – remains disgustingly prevalent.
None of it is surprising, and it depicts a large part of what’s wrong with NASCAR. The sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., shouldn’t be the only one showing support for those who choose to protest.
“All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable-JFK”
Despite clearly missing the point of a peaceful protest during the national anthem – started by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 NFL season as a way of fighting racial injustice and police brutality – NASCAR team owners are well within their rights to fire employees. The First Amendment protections bar the government from taking action against those exercising their rights to protest and free speech – not their employers.
In an in-depth explanation of how NASCAR team owners could fire their employees, legal analyst Michael McCann wrote for Sports Illustrated:
A “NASCAR team owner who is upset over national anthem protesting would likely be able to fire an at-will team member without difficulty.”
Even with some contractual complications, like drivers, McCann explained it would still be possible and relatively easy.
There are some circumstances where NASCAR owners firing a team member would be understandable. But the growing number of athletes protesting during the national anthem aren’t doing anything vulgar, obscene or reasonably offensive. They’re not making derogatory, bigoted or racist statements. They’re not even protesting the military, the flag or the national anthem.
They’re simply protesting during the national anthem, utilizing their platform to peacefully speak out against racial injustice – something many people in NASCAR clearly fail to understand because it’s not woven into their everyday lives. After all, this summer, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. became just the fourth African-American driver ever to compete in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Despite claiming to welcome and embrace diversity, NASCAR offered a delayed response to national anthem protests that can only be described as ambiguous. It toed the line of saying something without actually saying anything.
NASCAR’s statement, which erred on the side of caution rather than to anger the president and select team owners, left much to be desired. Instead – unlike the NFL and several of its team owners, some of whom supported the president’s campaign – NASCAR chose not to make waves with its fan base, which in 2016 was just 24 percent “multicultural,” according to a NASCAR spokesperson.
Team owner and legendary NASCAR driver Richard Petty made his point of view clear, via USA TODAY Sports:
“Anybody that don’t stand up for that ought to be out of the country. Period,” Petty said. “If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.”
Through these peaceful protests, no one is disrespecting the military and those who have sacrificed their lives serving. NFL players have repeatedly pointed to the purpose of the protests – which started as a way to bring attention to police brutality – and said it is not about disrespecting the military. And, as many have pointed out, there is nothing more patriotic than exercising the rights provided by that freedom, including voicing one’s opinion.
So NASCAR team owners have the authority to fire team members who kneel or protest during the national anthem. But it’s not the noble thing to do.
Because you know what’s far more offensive than taking a knee during the national anthem? The confederate flag.