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Volume 20 No. 42
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The issue of unity: NASCAR


NASCAR addressed anthem protests last Monday after executives grew uncomfortable with the sport’s portrayal amid comments from two key team owners, according to a source familiar with the deliberations.

Sanctioning body executives were faced with the issue after reporters asked Richard Petty and Richard Childress at New Hampshire Motor Speedway whether they would support the sort of anthem protests taking place in the NFL. Petty and Childress indicated they had no tolerance for employees who kneeled during the anthem.

Jimmie Johnson stands for the anthem in New Hampshire.
Childress’ and Petty’s words quickly lit up social media. ESPN’s Jemele Hill compared the owners’ stance on protests to the sport’s tolerance for fans displaying the Confederate flag on track properties. Her Twitter post was retweeted more than 30,000 times, liked more than 65,000 times and garnered more than 2,000 comments on that thread alone.

The situation was exacerbated by President Donald Trump following up last Monday with a tweet implying the sport unanimously was against anthem protests. The tweet read: “So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won’t put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag - they said it loud and clear!”

NASCAR then released a statement on the matter around noon Monday noting that the sport had a heritage of respecting the national anthem but that the country’s “unparalleled freedoms” include “the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”

Reaction to the statement was mixed. While some on social and in traditional media viewed the statement as vague and late, others noted that it seemed to imply the sanctioning body wouldn’t try to stop someone on pit road from kneeling before the anthem.

NASCAR didn’t release any further statements or make executives available to media to discuss the matter. The source said the sanctioning body wanted to get the focus of the sport back on the track and the NASCAR playoffs.

Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. shared a tweet of his own on Monday morning that noted he was in favor of peaceful protests and quoted the late President John F. Kennedy. That tweet went viral at nearly 150,000 retweets and more than 390,000 favorites. Political commentators like Roland Martin praised Earnhardt’s message, which showed the wider public that there isn’t a uniform school of thought in the traditionally conservative sport.

— Adam Stern