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North Carolina, sports and protest

Unless you were under a rock (and even if you don’t care about sports) you likely spent the weekend hearing about protests and reactions to protests [1] in professional football, basketball, baseball, even protest (speculation) in NASCAR.

The Carolina Panthers took the field for the National Anthem, with no one on the team taking a knee. Only Julius Peppers remained in the locker room [2].

The NASCAR is pretty fascinating, despite no one from the sport having yet taken a knee or otherwise made a public, physical declaration of protest.

Former drivers and team owners Richard Petty and Richard Childress – both North Carolinians –  said they would fire anyone on their teams who joined in the protest [3].

But NASCAR is composed of owners, drivers, fans – many of them at odds politically and socially. It’s not monolithic.

Making that clear, Dale Earnhardt Jr. – a North Carolina native voted the most popular NASCAR driver for the last 14 consecutive years – lent his support to those who choose to peacefully protest and condemning those – like President Trump – who try to discourage them.

But it’s also unavoidably true that as an organization NASCAR’s attempts to prevent their brand from being conflated with racism have been…less than strenuous.

Back in 2015 NASCAR CEO and chairman Brian France called the Confederate flag it an “offensive symbol” and said, “we will go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag.”

“As far as we can” ended up being a program whereby NASCAR politely asked people not to fly Confederate flags [4] and encouraged people to trade those flags in for an American flag.

That flopped. They took no further action. Today it’s easy to find Confederate flags at just about any NASCAR event.