NASCAR bans fans from displaying Confederate flag at racetracks

NASCAR has moved to ban the Confederate flag.

Nearly five years after requesting that fans don’t display the flag at races, NASCAR said Wednesday that it was now prohibiting the display of the flag. NASCAR’s announcement comes two days after Bubba Wallace said the flag should be prohibited from tracks and as protests continue in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis on May 25.

“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,” a NASCAR statement said. “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. the display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”

NASCAR held a moment of silence on Sunday ahead of its Cup Series race at Atlanta and NASCAR president Steve Phelps made a speech recognizing the work to be done to fix racial injustice. Drivers also teamed up to film a video speaking out against racial injustice and inequality.

NASCAR first made the request in 2015

After a white supremacist killed nine black people at a church in South Carolina in June of 2015, former NASCAR CEO Brian France said NASCAR wanted to go as far as it could go in banning the flag from its races. NASCAR then asked fans to refrain from displaying the flag and even tried to hold an exchange at the July Daytona race where fans could trade their Confederate flags for American flags.

The request was just that, a request. That was, apparently, as far as NASCAR thought it could go at the time. There were no restrictions on the display of the Confederate flag and, as it was explained at the time, the enforcement logistics of a ban were a hurdle. How were track staffers going to police the infield and ask fans to take their flags down?

Those logistical issues still exist in 2020, even if the shift in public opinion has changed enough for NASCAR to move from a request to an order. But with limited fan attendance at select races in the near future and normal attendance at races a long way away because of the coronavirus pandemic, NASCAR has time to figure out how its tracks will enforce the flag ban instituted on Wednesday. No details on how the ban would be enforced were immediately provided.

A Confederate flag flies in the infield before a NASCAR Xfinity auto race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Confederate flags will no longer be allowed at NASCAR races. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Bubba Wallace driving Black Lives Matter car

NASCAR’s ban came hours before the Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway, the site of Wallace’s first NASCAR win in 2013. Wallace, the only black driver racing full-time in any of NASCAR’s top three series, won a Truck Series race at the track seven years ago to become the first black driver to win a NASCAR race since Wendell Scott in 1964.

Wallace wore a shirt ahead of Sunday’s race that said “I can’t breathe” in reference to Floyd’s final words. His shirt also supported the Black Lives Matter movement. Wednesday night, his car will support it too. Wallace is driving a black No. 43 car for Black Lives Matter.

He was asked about NASCAR’s decision before the race and had nothing but good things to say.

“Bravo, props to NASCAR and everyone involved,” Wallace said. He also noted that it was the biggest race of his career.

NASCAR’s ties to the Confederate flag

The Confederate flag has long been a symbol associated with NASCAR thanks to its once ubiquitous presence at races in the south and the lack of diversity in its participant ranks.

Heck, NASCAR tracks were using the Confederate flag on programs and other race materials less than 50 years ago. The April 1973 race at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina was even called the “Rebel 500.”

But as NASCAR grew from a regional auto racing series to a national one, its official ties to the Confederate flag lessened, even if the flags from fans’ campers and recreational vehicles were easily visible on race broadcasts from tracks like Darlington and Talladega.

And now, as NASCAR realizes the gravity of the moment sweeping the nation in the days after Floyd’s videotaped death, it’s taking an even bigger step to cut those ties.

Marines and Navy moving to ban flag

NASCAR wasn’t the only major entity to ban the use of the Confederate flag this week. Tuesday, the Navy followed in the steps of the Marines and said it would make an order to ban the use of the flag in public spaces and work areas.

NASCAR is also not the first major sports organization in the United States to have a major rule regarding the Confederate flag. The NCAA does not hold events like tournaments and playoffs in the state of Mississippi because of the flag’s presence on the state’s flag.

The NCAA previously held South Carolina to that same standard it instituted in 2001 because the flag was flown at the State House in Columbia. But after then-Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag to come down at the State House, the NCAA said sanctioned tournament events could be held in the state.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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