NASCAR bans Confederate flag at all events and properties

Key Points
  • NASCAR on Wednesday said it is banning the display of the Confederate flag at all events and properties of the auto racing giant.
  • The decision comes more than two weeks after a black man, George Floyd, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
  • The incident ignited protests nationwide, and demands that symbols of the Confederacy be removed from public places.
NASCAR bans Confederate flag at events
NASCAR bans Confederate flag at events

Auto racing giant NASCAR said Wednesday that it is banning the display of the Confederate flag at all of its events and properties.

The announcement is sure to be controversial with a number of NASCAR fans, some of whom continue to display Confederate flags and symbols at racing events even five years after the organization asked fans not to do so.

Also Wednesday, NASCAR removed its rule mandating that racing team members stand for the national anthem.

NASCAR's new outright ban on the Confederate flag comes more than two weeks after a black man, George Floyd, died when a white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, even after Floyd repeatedly said, "I can't breathe."

The incident ignited protests nationwide. It also triggered demands for the removal from public places of  symbols of the Confederacy, the group of Southern states that started the Civil War in 1861 by seceding from the United States in a doomed, bloody effort to save the institution of enslaving black people.

"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," NASCAR said in a prepared statement that was issued before its race Wednesday night at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.

Why NASCAR has a great opportunity to attract a new audience by being one of the first U.S. sports to resume live events
Why NASCAR has a great opportunity to attract a new audience by being one of the first U.S. sports to resume live events

"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."

It is not clear how NASCAR plans to enforce the ban.

On Sunday, Bubba Wallace, the only black full-time driver on the NASCAR circuit, wore a shirt bearing the words "I Can't Breathe/Black Lives Matter" before a race in Atlanta.

"My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags," Wallace said in a CNN interview the following day.

"No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them."

Wallace also said, "There's going to be a lot of angry people that carry those flags proudly but it's time for change."

"We have to change that, and I encourage NASCAR to have those conversations to remove those flags."

Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 McDonald's Chevrolet, wears a "I Can't Breath - Black Lives Matter" T-shirt under his fire suit in solidarity with protesters around the world taking to the streets after the death of George Floyd on May 25 while in the custody of Minneapolis, Minnesota police, stands during the national anthem prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 07, 2020 in Hampton, Georgia.
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

Before Sunday's race in Atlanta, the 40 cars on the track stopped in front of grandstands and shut off their engines.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps delivered a message over driver's radio sets.

"Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard," Phelps said. "The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better."

"The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice," Phelps said. "We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection, to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport, and join us as we now pause and take a moment to listen."

It had been common for decades at NASCAR events, particularly in the South, for Confederate flags to be displayed by fans. But in 2015, on the heels of the slaughter in Charleston, South Carolina, of nine black churchgoers by a racist named Dylan Roof, NASCAR asked that fans not display the Confederate flag at races.

Many fans have ignored that request.

Earlier Wednesday, President Donald Trump said that he will not allow the names of U.S. Army bases that are named after generals who fought for slave-holding states of the Confederacy in the Civil War to be changed.

On the same day, Trump's top economic advisor Larry Kudlow said he does not believe that systemic racism exists in the United States.

NBC News reported Wednesday that Democrats in the House and Senate plan to reintroduce in both of those chambers of Congress a bill that would remove from the U.S. Capitol the statues of those who voluntarily served in the Confederacy.