Even if you don’t enjoy watching cars race around in circles, you’ve got to be a little bit of a NASCAR fan this week.
Brian France, NASCAR’s chairman, announced on Saturday that they would ban the Confederate flag not only from official use at events but from any use on racetrack property.
Citing the church shooting in Charleston as NASCAR’s motivation, France said,
If there’s more we can do to disassociate ourselves with that flag at our events than we’ve already done, then we want to do it. We are going to be as aggressive as we can to disassociate ourselves with that flag.
That’s a strong statement that may seem surprising coming from NASCAR in more ways than one. Sports organizations often keep silent on social issues, even when they know they might face criticism for their lack of engagement, leaving the activism to individual athletes. You may recall former NFL punter Chris Kluwe‘s impassioned essays against homophobia and the chilling viral photo of Miami Heat players wearing hoodies after Trayvon Martin‘s death. But for organizations to take stances on these issues means possibly alienating portions of their fanbase.
NASCAR will definitely upset some loyal viewers with this statement, which makes it all the more laudable. Their fans are predominantly white and Southern. Confederate flags in NASCAR stands are a commonplace sight, and Brad Daugherty, the only black team owner in the Sprint Cup Series, says they make his skin crawl. France acknowledges that enforcing a ban on Confederate flag images will be difficult but says they’re an aspect of Southern culture that needs to be put to rest.
“Obviously, we have our roots in the South, there are events in the South, it’s part of our history like it is for the country,” France said. “But it needs to be just that, part of our history. It isn’t part of our future.
“We want everybody in this country to be a NASCAR fan, and you can’t do that by being insensitive in any one area.”
Unlike most other high-profile American sports, NASCAR is largely constrained to a narrow demographic. France realizes that NASCAR will never broaden its reach if it keeps broadcasting offensive images every time the cameras pan the stands. Hopefully, other major sports organizations will follow NASCAR’s lead and realize that social responsibility is good for business.