The Confederate States of America fell in 1865, but up until last week the memory of the former slave-owning rebels remained alive in NASCAR stands as Confederate flags populated the infields of races
On June 10, NASCAR released a statement banning the display of the Confederate flag at all NASCAR events, citing “our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.” Many members of the media, both inside and outside the sports world, were quick to praise NASCAR’s decision. While NASCAR made the right move, this small act was just the first step in a much more demanding journey toward reconciliation and refusing to tolerate hate.
First and foremost, banning Confederate flags at races is long overdue. NASCAR’s decision came in response to widespread Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the Minneapolis Police Department’s murder of George Floyd. It should not have taken widespread protests to convince NASCAR that the Confederate flag has no place at any sporting event. The Confederate flag’s ties to racism and white supremacy are clear; in 2015, NASCAR’s famed driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. was correct in saying the flag was “offensive to an entire race.” Such a symbol of hate has no place in the modern United States.
Other sports governing bodies acted against Confederate flag displays long before NASCAR. For 15 years, the NCAA banned South Carolina from hosting sanctioned championship events because of the Confederate flag on the state capitol’s grounds. The ban finally ended in 2015 when the flag was removed. While other professional leagues such as the NBA and NFL do not have a league-wide ban in place, the flag is rarely seen in the stands at either sport, making it less of an issue.
NASCAR, on the other hand, has long dealt with the issue of Confederate flags at races. The debate last came to the forefront in 2015 after a white supremacist murdered nine Black worshippers at a church in Charleston, S.C. In the wake of the massacre, NASCAR asked its fans to stop flying the Confederate flag, but the request was met “with a showing of battle flags unprecedented in recent NASCAR history,” according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jay Busbee. Fast forward to today, and NASCAR is no longer asking.
Racism clearly is a major concern for NASCAR, but racism won’t just disappear along with the flags. One of the sport’s up-and-coming stars, Kyle Larson, made hurtful remarks in early April when he used the N-word during a live-streamed race. Though NASCAR’s reaction was swift — Larson was fired by his sponsor company two days after the incident — it does not conceal the bigger issue. NASCAR has historically failed and continues to fail to create a racially inclusive environment.
In 1964, NASCAR denied Black driver Wendell Scott the opportunity to celebrate a win because track operators worried he would kiss a white woman in victory lane. Though 1964 may seem far from our present reality, NASCAR hasn’t made the progress many had hoped for. In an effort to increase opportunities for female and minority drivers, NASCAR created its Drive to Diversity program in 2004. More than a decade and a half since the program’s introduction, NASCAR has the same number of active Black drivers as it did in 1964: one.
For what may be the least racially diverse sport in the United States, NASCAR’s Confederate flag ban is the equivalent of attempting to fix a bullet wound with a Band-Aid. While the move will capture the media’s attention for a day or two, it will take much more for NASCAR to come to terms with its troubled past and truly create an inclusive environment for all fans and competitors.Jacob Vanderzwaag is a rising junior in the School of Foreign Service. The Audible appears online every other week.