I have tried to avoid it. I try to keep anything controversial to my narrow racing purview. And Kyle Busch.
But since President Trump brought NASCAR into the National Anthem debate, I am going to delve into the fracas. But before you gasp and paint me as one of those uninformed rabble-rousers you see on Facebook, let me say this: my grad school thesis was on the First Amendment and employment law.
So, I feel somewhat qualified to speak to this.
Also, I will say, when I work at the track I am proud to stand silently in line with the race team on pit road, hand over heart and quietly reflect on how lucky I am to live in this great nation. It’s one of my favorite parts of the experience.
However, I do not agree with Trump – or Richard Childress or Richard Petty’s – sentiments on this one and am disturbed deeply by the president’s remarks. Freedom of speech is a hallmark of our democracy.
Childress – who said any employee who kneeled would “get you a ride on a Greyhound bus” – and Petty have the right to say they would fire any employee of theirs if they knelt during the National Anthem at a race. It’s their right as business owners to do so, especially in a right-to-work state like North Carolina.
Trump does not have that right however. He is not a private citizen. He is the President of the United State and everything he says or does at this point is under the color of government and while he may not have the authority to actually interfere in the labor relations of the NFL, his comments do present a chilling effect on the free speech of NFL players.
I’m kind of shocked Trump, as business owner and a self-proclaimed proponent of small businesses, would take such a hard stance in interfering with a private enterprise. The only real action he could pursue in this matter is a move to revoke the NFL’s anti-trust exemption, but that’s a story for another day.
There is this common misconception that NFL players coming to stand for the anthem is a practice as long standing as the sport. Other than big games, like the Super Bowl, it wasn’t common practice in the league until 2009.
Since then, there have been some moving anthem moments involving black players.
Despite what you have seen on Facebook and Twitter, there is no league rule about players standing for the anthem. It is mentioned in the Game Operations Manual, but there is no mandate. Just like there are no rules in NASCAR requiring teams to stand at attention during the National Anthem.
So, bringing this back to NASCAR, President Trump tweeted “So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won’t put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag – they said it loud and clear!”
Besides his blatant disregard for the rules of capitalization, I can get behind this. I’m proud to be a small part of group that demonstrates respect for our flag. But I’d dare say the people in NASCAR come from vastly different backgrounds than most NFL players and have different experiences regarding inequality. (But I understand the argument by virtue of the fact they are in the NFL, players are advantageously unequal physically and through work ethic and dedication to their craft.)
In response to Trump’s statements on the issue, Dale Earnhardt Jr, who has become one of the sport’s most outspoken athletes, tweeted: “All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable-JFK”
Among the NASCAR crowd, this probably isn’t going to earn him any new fans. Officially, NASCAR issued the following statement:
“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.”
That’s a whole lot of words to say not a lot, but probably the best tact in light of everything.
This is a complex issue and one many people are passionate about on both sides. There is whole lot more I could write about on this one. I get the side arguing the protests during the Star-Spangled Banner disrespects the sacrifice made by our military members in the name of freedom. I would disagree. The right to free speech is something for which they fought and forced patriotism sounds a bit fascist to me.
I think the 97-year old WWII vet who took a knee in solidarity with the NFL players has it right when he said, “those kids have every right to protest.” Just like you have the right to disagree. It’s one of the best things about this country.
Andy Cagle, a former spokesman for Rockingham Speedway and motorsports public relations consultant, writes about NASCAR in a weekly column.