NASCAR will push to eliminate the 'offensive and divisive symbol' from races.
NASCAR has released a second statement regarding the Confederate Flag, taking a more aggressive stance than they did one week earlier.
The United States is currently embroiled in a heated debate over the controversial flag, which was used as a symbol of hatred by the man who gunned down nine African-America church-goers in South Carolina earlier this month.
NASCAR's Confederate past
With their deep Southern roots, NASCAR has a strong history involving the Confederate Flag. Years ago, race winners could be seen waving it during their celebration. It also adorned race programs for events including one named the Rebel 500 and is still a common sight in the infield.
NASCAR has a policy that disallows the use of the flag in any official capacity and as recently as 2012, they pushed for Phoenix International Raceway to abandon plans to have PGA star Bubba Watson drive the '69 Dodge Charger known as the General Lee prior to a race (which they did).
Taking a stronger stance in new statement
Last week, officials released a statement reiterating their policy, but also gave a slight mention to its use by fans, saying, "While NASCAR recognizes that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our events."
Presumably due to corporate pressure to condemn the practice by fans who fly it above their campsites, series officials have taken a much stronger stance against the flag and its fairly common use by race-goers, making their position incontrovertibly clear.
"NASCAR will maintain its long-standing policy preventing the use of the Confederate Flag in any official position at our events. In all areas that NASCAR controls on a given race weekend, the flag has no presence.
“We have been clear in support of this position throughout our industry and to those across the country who have called for the eradication of the Confederate Flag. We will be as aggressive as possible to disassociate NASCAR events from an offensive and divisive symbol. We are working with the industry right now to achieve that goal.”
We want to go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag," said NASCAR chairman Brian France. "I personally find it an offensive symbol, so there is no daylight how we feel about it and our sensitivity to others who feel the same way.
"We're working with the industry to see how far we can go to get that flag to be disassociated entirely from our events."
A complex issue
What makes the use of the Confederate Flag so complicated and controversial is that it holds more than one single, universal meaning. To some, it is purely a symbol of Southern heritage, a statement of regional pride while others use it as a way of showing defiance and prefer to call it the 'Rebel Flag.' Unfortunately, there is still a contingent who use it as a symbol of their misguided hatred towards a group of people, reminding us of the flag's Civil War roots.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. calls flag 'offensive to an entire race'
Dale Jr. was born and raised in Kannapolis, North Carolina and his number (and his father's) is commonly seen at the center of the flag during race weekends. "I've made my comments on the Confederate Flag several times and I stand behind NASCAR's stance to remove it. I think it is offensive to an entire race. It really does nothing for anybody to be there, flying. It belongs in the history books and that's about it."
Jeff Gordon's thoughts
Jeff Gordon, a California native, also offered his thoughts. "As far as the confederate flag I think that... I know how we approach it at Hendrick Motorsports and that is everything that we can control. We have eliminated the ability to use it in anyway or it show up in any of the things that we are involved with. I think that is the stance I see that NASCAR has taken and have had that stance for several years. To me I'm in support of what they are doing. It's a delicate balance. We race all over, but the South is an area where we have a lot of fans. Everyone has different opinions and expression of that. I support NASCAR and the stance that they are taking."
Despite its national and even international presence, NASCAR's core audience still comes from the South. Their attempts to eradicate the Confederate Flag will obviously turn some fans away, but is still necessary when looking from their perspective as they push to be seen as a more inclusive and diverse sport.
However, it is still every person's right to use the flag as they please. If we're allowing citizens to desecrate the American Flag as a sign of protest, then you can't make it illegal to fly a Confederate Flag either.
If a person wishes to fly it at a race, then so be it. I don't believe it is NASCAR's place to force fans one way or another. Discouraging its use, offering incentives not to use it, and encouraging those who do use it to keep it below the American flag are prudent ways to go about limiting the flag's impact though.
It's an unfortunate situation and there is no panacea to keep everyone happy. Today, the flag is used by the majority as a symbol of Southern pride with no feelings of racism attached to it. But due to the actions of the few, the flag's dark and oppressive past has come back to the forefront of our minds and is really forcing the hand of NASCAR.
I have family who died in that war - on both sides. Out of respect for those offended by the the flag's history, it is my belief NASCAR can't tolerate any symbol that is still used by some to showcase their illogical hatred against a race of people.