Morning, friends. Another day, another monumental story of social change. Today: one of the last battles of the Civil War is winding to its inevitable conclusion.
NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag from its tracks. This news came as a surprise to literally everyone, either because you’re stunned Confederate flags were still permitted in 2020, or because you were shocked NASCAR actually had the guts to drop the hammer.
Following two weeks of protests, and a direct plea from the sport’s top African-American driver, NASCAR decided to remove the last of any gray area — no recommendations, no suggestions, just get the flag gone.
As someone who both loves NASCAR and, according to family lore, descends from Confederate soldiers, I say: good, and good riddance. The flag plays into every backward stereotype of NASCAR. Anyone who’s tried to introduce their non-NASCAR friends to the sport in the last quarter-century has had to deal with the side-eye that comes every time TV cameras catch sight of a Confederate flag in a track’s infield. You try to explain it away, saying, “No, the whole sport isn’t like that…” knowing all the while that all you’re doing is making excuses.
This isn’t a political issue, except to those who consider racism a political plank. The “heritage, not hate” argument doesn’t fly anymore, not when literally millions of people see the flag as a symbol of a bygone era, of racist ideology. And NASCAR is not infringing on anyone’s freedom of speech. Their property, their rules.
Yes, NASCAR made a business decision — that the dollars of the fans still holding onto the Confederate iconography would be offset by the influx of new, more progressive fans and sponsors — but also a moral one. A sport that truly wants to welcome all comers can’t be associating, even implicitly, with a symbol that, by its very existence, divides us.
Will this line in the Daytona sand pay off? Will new fans and sponsors flock to a sport that’s more welcoming in deed as well as word? Who knows? It’s entirely possible that the segment of the fan base holding onto the flag is as large and powerful as it believes it is, and the sport will suffer.
But maybe not. Maybe this move opens up the gates to a whole new generation of NASCAR fans, fans who wouldn’t have come near a track before now. Speed doesn’t have a color.
Of course, at least part of the allure of the flag, for many, is that it pisses off the establishment so badly. These fans will try to fly it simply because someone told them they can’t. That rebellious eff-you streak is at the heart of NASCAR’s origin story — bootleggers who decided to try racing — and to this day, it runs deep in the blood of the NASCAR fanbase.
That’s why enforcement of the ban’s going to be a tricky business. What about, say, fans with Confederate flag tattoos? What happens when a good ol’ boy decides to hoist the flag on his RV in an infield? Who’s going to make him take it down? That’s a challenge for a later date.
After decades of trying to please everybody and ending up satisfying no one, NASCAR has decided to take a stand, to coin a phrase. This time, NASCAR is aligning itself with the winning side.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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