On Sunday, there wasn’t an athlete to be found taking a knee at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
In striking contrast to sideline scenes in the National Football League, NASCAR teams lined up at their pit boxes prior to the start of the ISM Connect 300. The drivers stood outside their cars. No one knelt.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was one of those drivers. But on Monday, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver voiced his support for those who protested peacefully by quoting former President John F. Kennedy.
Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer of NASCAR, affirmed Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that NASCAR has always supported the country and the flag, but not to the exclusion of other points of view.
“If you look at our history, we’ve always, as a sport, demonstrated a respect for the American flag and the freedoms it represents,” O’Donnell said. “We celebrate the service men and women that have sacrificed to be a part of that.
“From our standpoint, we view ourselves as a sport. We want to continue to celebrate the flag but respect other’s opinions. Going forward, I think that’s where we stand. We hope people can contribute or look at NASCAR as something to tune into on a Sunday and enjoy a sporting event.”
NASCAR also released an official statement Monday, stating, “Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”
Team owners take firm stance, POTUS agrees
Team co-owner Richard Petty took a hard line when asked by the Associated Press how he would handle the situation if one of his employees protested during the National Anthem. Petty, when prompted, said they ought to be fired.
“Anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem ought to be out of the country,” Petty told the AP. “Period. What got ’em where they’re at? The United States.”
Richard Childress voiced similar sentiments, telling NBC Sports, "“Get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over. Anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America."
RPM majority owner Andy Murstein took a gentler approach to the situation.
“I figured it would be some of the old guard who made those comments,” Murstein said. “They are all proud Americans who have lived through World Wars and turbulent times. While I respect their thought, and personally I think it’s the wrong thing to kneel, I wouldn’t fire someone for expressing their feelings. I would sit down with them and say it’s the wrong thing to do and many people including myself, view it as an affront to our great country.
“If there is disenchantment towards the President or a few bad law enforcement officers, don’t have that cross over to all that is still good and right about our country. The flag isn’t the flag of a few people, it stands for America.”