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NASCAR Stands Alone On Kneeling Debate

by Patrick Gustavson

The sports world was recently overtaken with players taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest injustices across the country. The most recent demonstration was perhaps in direct response to comments made by Donald Trump about these athletes. While the focus was on the NFL, the controversy made its way into NASCAR.

Though no one was seen kneeling during the anthem at the past weekend’s race, that did not stop two team owners from voicing their opinions.

Richard Childress, an owner since 1969, said that “it will get you a ride on the greyhound bus,” if anyone who worked for him opted to protest. “Anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America,” he continued. Childress’ comments are not surprising, considering he is the vice president of the National Rifle Association, and has been outspoken on matters as such in the past.

The most notable remark came from perhaps the greatest NASCAR driver of all time, “The King,” Richard Petty. He sits in first for most Monster Energy Cup wins (200) and is tied for the most championships (seven). In addition, his family has been a part of the sport since its inception in 1949. He is possibly the most respected figure in the sport.

Currently the minority owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, he said, “anybody that don’t stand for the anthem ought to be out of the country. Period.” He continued by saying a member of his team would be fired for protesting.

RPM majority owner Andrew Murstein walked back Petty’s comments a bit, saying while he doesn’t agree with kneeling, he wouldn’t fire someone for doing so.

These comments caught the attention of Trump, who tweeted “so proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won’t put up with disrespecting our flag!”

Regardless of stance on the matter, this is not a good look for a sport struggling to maintain its viewership and popularity. NASCAR officially released a statement, acknowledging the sport’s tradition of respecting the flag, as well as the rights it stands for, including the right to peacefully protest.

Though a hot topic, it was unlikely that anyone within NASCAR would have protested anyway. NASCAR has always been a predominantly white sport. In fact, there is only one full-time minority, that being Mexican-born Daniel Suarez. It is unlikely that any drivers have had to experience the struggles the NFL athletes have.

The sport is also known for having a notoriously white fan-base. In a study conducted by The Atlantic in 2014, they found that 94 percent of viewers were white. The sport and its fans have been dwindled down to the redneck stereotype, and these comments by two of the sport’s biggest figures does not help.

It’s perhaps more ironic that some within the sport are so upset about disrespecting the country, but as recent as 2015, it was not uncommon to see Confederate flags waving in the infield campsites. In fact, NASCAR has not even mandated a ban, rather asking fans to not display them.

Thankfully, one important figure in NASCAR opposed the views of Petty and Childress, Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of the legendary driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr. He tweeted, “all American (are) granted rights (to) peaceful protests,” and even quoted John F. Kennedy: “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

These comments by Earnhardt are refreshing, and many fans have echoed his sentiment. Unfortunately, with the outspoken comments from big-time figures, it gives off the appearance that NASCAR is on the wrong side of this controversy.