Focusing on NASCAR's statement instead of the noose is missing the point entirely

Shalise Manza YoungYahoo Sports Columnist
Yahoo Sports

It’s a noose.

It might not have been a noose meant to intimidate or threaten Bubba Wallace, but that is, by every definition, a noose.

But if what’s bothering you about this whole affair is that NASCAR’s initial statement wasn’t worded perfectly, and that the sanctioning body used strong verbiage and “jumped to conclusions” on what had happened as a means of showing support for the lone Black driver on its top circuit, some introspection is necessary.

Nooses aren’t common. They’re not even practical to use as a garage pull, since when you apply pressure the loop closes. So if you stick your hand in there and pull the door down, the loop will tighten around your hand with increasing discomfort.

Which is probably why not a single other garage bay at a NASCAR racetrack had a noose as a garage pull.

Focusing on the wording of a statement misses the point entirely. It’s deflection and provides cover for those who still won’t reckon with the racist rot in this country that at long last may be addressed at its roots.

The most logical reaction to all of this should be relief. Relief that it wasn’t the worst-case scenario, and that one of the dozens of drivers and crew members who walked behind Wallace on Monday afternoon just before the start of the race at Talladega wasn’t a vicious racist, leaving a symbol of hatred and, bluntly, a death threat, in the garage for Wallace. No one was fired, no one was banned from NASCAR for life when they shouldn’t have been.

In an extraordinary act of solidarity with NASCAR’s only Black driver, dozens of drivers pushed the car belonging to Bubba Wallace to the front of the field before Monday’s race as FBI agents nearby tried to find out who left a noose in his garage stall over the weekend. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
In an extraordinary act of solidarity with NASCAR’s only Black driver, dozens of drivers pushed the car belonging to Bubba Wallace to the front of the field before Monday’s race as FBI agents nearby tried to find out who left a noose in his garage stall over the weekend. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It’s not exactly time for a victory lap, however. There was still a noose hanging in that stall for months and no one said anything. And according to Wallace, the noose was found by David Cropps, the mechanic of his crew. Cropps is also Black, meaning he bore the initial shock of finding it.

If you’re not up to speed on the history of lynchings in this country, a quick lesson via the Equal Justice Initiative: From just after the end of the Civil War until the end of World War II, thousands of Black Americans — the EJI has put it north of 4,000, though there’s no way to know how many more there were that there aren’t a record of — were lynched as a form of racial terror. They happened mostly in Southern states, and often individuals were lynched to send a message, not because they were accused of an actual crime.

In many cases, the lynching alone wasn’t enough: Men were castrated and women would also be mutilated; bodies were burned and some were decapitated. Dozens of white townspeople would gather for the murders, a depraved community celebration, and no one was ever punished for the random killings.

That is what a noose conjures for so many.

In the years since, nooses have been used to send a message, as a way of intimidating a Black person or people, usually when someone believes they need to be reminded of “their place.”

Over the last few weeks, Wallace has been outspoken — his car featured a “Black Lives Matter” paint scheme and he wore a T-shirt that said the same. He pushed NASCAR to eliminate Confederate flags from tracks once and for all.

These moves were not met with open arms by everyone who follows the sport.

Forgotten by many is that there were cars on Speedway Boulevard, just outside the Talledega gates, flying the flag last weekend, and that on Sunday, the day the race was originally scheduled to be run, there was a plane circling the speedway, a giant Confederate flag and the words “defund NASCAR” on the banner behind it.

Wallace’s mother, Desiree, told SiriusXM radio on Monday that Bubba has been called the n-word by other drivers in the past. In April, driver Kyle Larson was suspended by NASCAR and let go by his racing team after using the n-word during a live-streamed virtual racing event.

With that history and against that backdrop, it wasn’t hard to imagine that someone was trying to send a message to Wallace.

Add in the reaction of Dustin Skinner, son of retired driver Mike Skinner, who said on Facebook that “my hat is off to [whoever] put that noose at his car ... frankly I wish they would of tied it too (sic) him and drug him around the pits,” and any reasonable person would believe as NASCAR did, that the noose was deliberate.

It still hasn’t stopped. On Wednesday Mike Fulp, who owns a small racetrack in North Carolina, advertised “Bubba Rope” for sale on Facebook Marketplace, writing, “they come with a lifetime guarantee and work great.” He removed the listing only after critical comments.

NASCAR’s statement wasn’t “divisive.” If the burglar alarm goes off at your home while you’re away, will you wait until you get home to see if someone broke into your house? Or do you want police to respond and see what happened — and then feel relieved when it was an inadvertently unlocked door pushed open by a stiff wind?

The noose being a noose but not a noose intended for Wallace isn’t some great win.

Wallace wants to help erase the stereotype of NASCAR as only being for white fans and white drivers and wants a more inclusive environment for everyone — and given NASCAR’s attendance numbers and television ratings pre-pandemic, at minimum it would be fiscally wise to follow his lead.

But if verbiage in a statement turns you off and is what you want to focus your energy on, you probably weren’t going to be in favor of those things happening anyway.

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