By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com
For years the Confederate flag has seemingly been a part of the fabric of the “good ole boy” racing sport down south; before mid-June, the flag was prominently displayed at each event on and off the infields of their various tracks by the multitude of fanatic fans. Over the past few weeks, NASCAR has found themselves in the news for various of the track reasons coupled with their desire to appeal to more than their traditional race fans that follow their events week to week.
Earlier in June, Mobile, Alabama native Darrell “Bubba” Wallace and driver of the #43 car, owned by Legendary Richard Petty and his Motorsports team, raised some eyebrows when he requested that NASCAR “Get rid of all Confederate flags.” Wallace, the single black race car driver on the circuit, went on to say, “No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. It starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here.”
To most sports fans, the tradition of displaying the Confederate flag at NASCAR events made this an unimaginable request. As fans proudly flaunt the “Stars and Bars,” showing more reverence to the Confederate flag more than the American flag as if it should replace the American flag; ignoring the negative connotation and offensiveness associated with the flag to may outside the sport.
Though the prominence of the flag in the infields of the race tracks and campgrounds has tapered off in recent years, many fans were still displaying the flag proudly on race weekends. In an attempt to disassociate themselves from the confederate flag, NASCAR mentioned that they would appreciate it if fans did not display the flag during their events back in 2015. When Wallace spoke up earlier this year against the confederate flag, NASCAR, to their credit, promptly banned the display of the flag at their events.
Oddly enough, in the next race, after Wallace made his request, at Talladega Speedway, a noose was reportedly found in Bubba Wallace’s garage area. The FBI was brought in to investigate, and later determined the noose was used as a pull-down rope to close the garage door. “Through the investigation and the examination of the video and photographic evidence, the FBI was able to determine the noose was present in the same garage stall as last fall,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said when addressing the media. Though it was determined there was no “hate crime” was committed, it did raise questions as to why a noose would be used to close the garage door vs. the standard rope with a “ball knot” on the end, which has been most commonly used on garage doors.
To further prove that NASCAR is trying to move on from their well-known association with the confederate flag and the history which that flag represents, they have promoted longtime employee, Brandon Thompson, to Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion. Having begun his career with NASCAR as an intern while at Clarke University, Brandon has held several titles with NASCAR, from Account Executive to Operations Manager. In his new role as VP of DI, Thompson will manage the “NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program.” This program will focus on giving access and opportunities to women and minorities at NASCAR.
It’s a little-known fact NASCAR has been working to be more inclusive over the past few years. Employing the knowledge an experience of Dawn Harris as Managing Director of Diversity and Inclusion and now the promotion of Brandon is tangible evidence of their efforts to add diversity to their management team. “NASCAR has made significant progress in the areas of diversity and inclusion and we now have an opportunity to build on our momentum – both as a company and industry. It is with great passion and energy that we will champion our sport as accepting and welcoming of all individuals interested in being part of the NASCAR family,” Thompson stated.
Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing and Content Officer at NASCAR, Jill Gregory, had this to say about Thompson’s promotion, “Brandon is an established and well-respected leader in our sport who will help NASCAR realize its vision in creating a more diverse industry. This new position and Brandon’s appointment reinforces our steadfast commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for our fans, industry, and employees.”
I commend NASCAR and their prompt response to their driver’s concern as well as their willingness to take action to further improve the diversity in their senior leadership team. Where many companies are posting clichés speaking towards a more inclusive environment, NASCAR has taken decisive steps to support their actual intentions; for that they must be applauded. Let us know your thoughts on NASCAR and their handling of these recent situations by reaching out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or forward your thoughts to email@example.com. Additionally, be sure to subscribe to our weekly “Voice of the Fans Podcast” which is available for you on most podcasting platforms; Apple and Google Podcasts including Spotify, TuneIn, and iHeart Radio. As always, Thank You for making our voice, your choice!