In 2015, NASCAR asked that fans refrain from bringing confederate flags to races. But in June, Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only full-time African American driver in the Cup series, asked NASCAR to ban the flag entirely in response to the growth of the Black Lives Matter Movement after George Floyd’s death. While many fans who carry the flag as a representation of southern heritage were outraged by Wallace’s request, NASCAR agreed with Wallace and decided to ban the flag from all racing events two days after the request.
“The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special,” according to a June 10 statement on NASCAR’s website.
Wallace and many others applauded NASCAR’s decision following the statement. Lebron James, Bernice King and tennis legend Billie Jean King have all shared tweets and replies.
As the only African American driver in the top series, Wallace has become the face of the Black Lives Matter movement within the NASCAR organization. The night after NASCAR’s decision to ban the flag, Wallace had one of the biggest races in his career and felt the world watching him, according to a June 13 article by the New York Times. Wallace’s car sported a new color scheme at the race. His No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro was painted black with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter written on the side and the words “Compassion, Love, Understanding” on the hood. He also wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt during the national anthem.
Wallace has begun to feel the repercussions of his activism and received backlash from fans who don’t support the decision to eliminate the Confederate flag from NASCAR events. There are certain things Wallace no longer feels comfortable doing according to a June 10 interview in the New York Times. He used to drive a golf cart to the infield to mingle with fans in a carefree and happy-go-lucky manner but now doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. He even stated that his father warned him to be careful.
Many people often look to the first amendment for protection against businesses that limit what their customers can and can not do. However, Jonathan Kotler, a media law professor at the University of Southern California explained, in a Charlotte Observer interview, why NASCAR can enforce the decision to ban the confederate flag. He stated that when fans buy a ticket they are really purchasing a license the back of the ticket describes what the license entails.
“Charlotte Motor Speedway reserves the right to add or change these rules,” the ticket reads. “By use of this ticket, (the) holder consents to a reasonable search for alcohol, drugs or other prohibited items.”
Whether or not NASCAR made the decision to ban the use of the confederate flag because they truly want to support the Black Lives Matter movement or if it is a corporate strategy is hard to determine. The true motives behind why companies do what they do are known only to them. However, some have been weary since NASCAR has avoided this issue in the past.
In 2015, after nine black church members were murdered by white supremacist Dylann Roof, NASCAR stated that fans should consider not bringing flags to events but they were never banned. There have been many instances when the confederate flag was celebrated in NASCAR such as when Johnny Reb, a mascot dressed in a confederate soldier’s uniform, would wave a confederate flag while riding on the winning car.
“I have a tough time giving [NASCAR] any credit for making these decisions because in reality, these are decisions that wouldn’t be made if they didn’t feel like they were being forced to make them,” Thomas McIntyre, a digital content specialist at Thompson & Co. Public Relations said. “This a decision that should have been made a long time ago, but is being made now because their backs are against the wall to a degree that it would be a bad move from an optics standpoint to let the flag fly.”