The Confederate battle flag was seen to be associated with the racially motivated tragedies that occurred in the states of Charleston, S.C., and Charlottesville, Va. Due to these shameless events the Confederate battle flag, for a large percentage of the U.S. population, is viewed as a symbol of racism and white supremacy.
NASCAR is the only professional sport that allows fans to fly the Confederate battle flag at events. Recently, Jemele Hill of ESPN tweeted about the Confederate battle flag being welcomed at NASCAR races. NASCAR, however, has done its best to distance itself from the Confederate battle flag. The organization has a longstanding policy that prohibits the use of the Confederate battle flag in any official NASCAR capacity. NASCAR tracks across the United States have requested race fans to refrain from flying the Confederate battle flag in the racing infield. Even Dale Earnhardt Jr., most popular driver of NASCAR fans, has publicly and continually stated that he is not a fan of the Confederate battle flag being at the events.
NASCAR has always had a reputation of being a rebellious “redneck” sport. It is a sport that was founded around bootleggers and moonshiners in the south. Similar to the Confederate battle flag, NASCAR is intertwined with Southern heritage. These fans of NASCAR who camp out in the race infield fly their Confederate battle flag, feel an excitement of a rebellious attitude and a connection to the sport. They let their hair down and party hard. They use Southern sayings like “American by Birth” and “Southern by the Grace of God”. These fans feel that the flag is not a symbol of racism but instead a symbol of southern pride and southern heritage.
These past couple of years NASCAR has experienced a drop not only in fan attendance not only at the venues of the events, but also in television viewership of the events, which reflects the decline of sponsorship for both race tracks and race teams. Companies across the United States who spend millions of dollars for advertisement in professional sports are seeking political correctness and inclusiveness.
The decision to ban the Confederate flag in the race infield would be unpopular with a percentage of NASCAR fans, and such a decision could possibly have more of a negative effect on fan attendance and television viewership. NASCAR needs to completely eliminate the Confederate battle flag from being flown in the race infields to be a more inclusive environment for all fans to be able to equally enjoy the sport while also retaining sponsorship. The price for allowing a few race fans to fly the Confederate battle flag in the racing infields could not compare to the catastrophic amount of money that NASCAR, NASCAR tracks, and NASCAR teams could lose in the next few years. There is no company in the United States that wants to be associated with a sport that allows a flag that is a symbol of racism and white supremacy to be flown at its events.
By Dr. Matthew Williams
Dr. Matthew Williams is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise and is an avid NASCAR fan.