NASCAR has tried to play in the middle-of-the-road when it comes to the national anthem controversy, issuing this statement last month:
“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.”
The anthem protest stance has split the sport, with Richard Childress and Richard Petty saying they’d fire anyone who protested, and drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. saying they support the peaceful right to protest.
But after this weekend, NASCAR may need to rethink its position since it appears owners and sports leagues themselves are taking a hard-line approach. Here’s everything that happened:
- Vice-President Mike Pence left the Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game when players kneeled during the anthem.
- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said anyone of his players who disrespect the flag won’t play
- Formula 1 levied a penalty on Sebastian Vettel for missing the Japanese anthem during a race, and it that was so harsh it hurt his championship chances
This happened a week after the NBA issued a memo to its teams saying it expects its players to stand during the anthem.
NASCAR’s statement has been criticized, in some quarters, as trying to please everyone and not taking a stance, a la Jerry Jones, who can out with the strongest public statement yet from any NFL owner:
“If there is anything disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period,” said Jones. “We’re going to respect the flag and I’m going to create the perception of it. …I know this. We cannot in the NFL, in any way, give the implication that we tolerate disrespecting the flag.
“We cannot do that. I know [Vice President Mike Pence] did leave because in his opinion, the teams were. We know that there is a serious debate in this country about those issues. But there is no question in my mind that the National Football League and the Dallas Cowboys are going to stand up for the flag.
“Just so we’re clear.”
Yeah, everyone is clear on that.
And, as more and more owners and sports take strong(er) stances, NASCAR — a sport with deeply patriotic fans — may find that it needs to, as well.