ANDERS: Owners' anthem statements problematic
By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, October 1, 2017
This was bound to happen, wasn’t it?
Heading into an elimination race in the playoffs, NASCAR finds itself for what feels like the umpteenth straight week embroiled in conversations that have nothing to do with racing. This week’s offering? The sport’s stance on protests during the national anthem that are grabbing headlines in the NFL after NASCAR team owners Richard Petty and Richard Childress addressed them last weekend at New Hampshire.
Now, this is the part where someone reading this inevitably scoffs and thinks or says something along the lines of “stick to sports.” First, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys your sports and politics separate, take it up with Donald Trump. He’s the one who firmly parked politics in your sports when he decided to start this whole mess at a rally in Alabama.
Second, if there is any instance in America of a sport and its fans not being able to play the “stick to sports” card, it’s NASCAR. From the time its CEO and multiple competitors stepped on stage and publicly endorsed Trump for president last year, the sport became joined at the hip with him.
And finally, the idea that athletes who play sports and journalists who cover them are not allowed to have any sort of political stance is condescending and, simply put, lazy.
In 1989, comedian Bill Hicks, annoyed that a heckler yelled “Freebird!” during one of his stand-up shows, declared that word “the mantra of the moron.” If there is a such thing as the mantra of the moron, I’d say “stick to sports” has replaced it.
With that thought out of the way, this anthem protest thing has many layers, far too many for me to get into here. That said, the comments from Petty and Childress were misguided and, frankly, disappointing.
Petty said he would fire any member of his team who did not stand for the anthem, while Childress all but confirmed he would do the same. The idea that owners, especially two so recognizable, would fire employees for exercising their first amendment right is disheartening and indicates the exact kind of intolerance that prevents constructive conversations from happening in this country.
No sport in America is as outward about its patriotism as NASCAR. The sport has long had a reputation for bending over backwards to honor the military and the job it does, which deserves nothing but commendation.
At the same time, no sport has lagged further behind when it comes to joining the rest of progressive Americans in the 21st century. Despite the efforts of the sanctioning body to promote inclusion, the Confederate battle flag is still a constant sight at tracks, especially in the Southeast region of the country.
When Colin Kaepernick sat, then knelt, for the anthem, it was a way to draw attention to the fact that blacks were tired of seeing other blacks murdered without consequence in this country, as well as a way to start a conversation about the systemic racism that somehow is still prevalent in 2017.
That action has been hijacked by dissenters and manipulated into something viewed as unpatriotic and disrespectful, completely and blatantly ignoring the fact that the ability to voice your opinion the way you see fit is supposed to be more of a cornerstone in America than any flag or song.
For Petty and Childress to play into that narrative is sad. Do they have that right as employers to fire employees? Of course they do. But to say you would do so for a reason so steeped in ignorance is shortsighted and petulant.
Not nearly as petulant, though, as Petty’s asinine remark that anyone who doesn’t stand for the anthem “ought to be out of the country. Period.” I’m not sure what’s more sad: that he said that in what I’m assuming is 100 percent seriousness, or that I’m positive there are plenty more out there like him. That so many people have that mindset is what sows the political discourse we currently have.
NASCAR, in an almost certain attempt to not draw the ire of Twitter trolls and the majority of its fan base, issued a tepid response to the firestorm. That statement read in part: “... we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.” Ignoring for a moment the fact that so many have allowed themselves to be misled about what that opinion actually is, nowhere in there does it say NASCAR will specifically stand behind anyone who actually takes advantage of that right.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has been the sport’s most outspoken driver of late, took a much more subtle route to show where he stood this week, tweeting a quote from John F. Kennedy: “All Americans (are) granted rights (to) peaceful protests. Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
As of Friday afternoon, Earnhardt’s tweet had been “liked” almost 395,000 times. The tweet including NASCAR’s statement had been liked just over 4,200 times.
It would be foolish to not point out — though some would say it’s hopefully not necessary — that Petty and Childress have a right to their opinion and a right to make it known. That’s literally what this whole thing is all about.
But for a sport that already has a troublesome tie to a toxically unpopular president, having two of its owners take this particular stance (pun intended) isn’t going to do much to help it advance in a world that seems to have evolved a lot faster than the sport and some of the people in it.
After all that, there’s a playoff cutoff race to be run today. Jimmie Johnson’s million wins at Dover and Martin Truex’s continued domination make them good picks, but I’m taking a guy who has a knack for showing up and showing out for these elimination races. PICK: Kevin Harvick.
Contact Jordan Anders at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.