Amid an increasingly politically divided landscape across sports and culture, NASCAR officials are considering banning political statements from cars, according to a report.
Sports Business Daily reported Friday that conversations about banning such displays are in the “early stages,” but they are being held in the wake of the sport becoming a magnet for political controversies in recent weeks.
“The paint schemes are sold by teams and NASCAR merely approves them, but social media chatter in recent months has shown that many people blame the sanctioning body for allowing political paint schemes they do not like,” Adam Stern with Sports Business Daily wrote.
“It is not yet clear how much teams could push back on this, but they do rely on sponsorship for roughly 75% of their annual revenue. However, industry execs, including those from teams, are getting increasingly uneasy about how much the sport has been politicized, so there could be newfound acceptance of this topic.”
Stern said sources told him racing’s governing body is “frustrated by the increasing polarization and controversies surrounding the sport, and it is now holding internal discussions about whether to ban political paint schemes in the future.”
Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver, drove a car with a “Black Lives Matter” paint scheme last month at Martinsville.
— Alan Cavanna (@AlanCavanna) June 9, 2020
Driver Corey LaJoie later unveiled a “Trump 2020” paint scheme.
— Go Fas Racing (@GoFasRacing32) July 1, 2020
ESPN reported LaJoie was sponsored by the pro-Trump Patriots of America PAC.
“With an estimated 75 million NASCAR fans out there, I was surprised that about 15 million of those fans are not registered voters,” LaJoie said, according to ESPN.
“I will give my best effort to get NASCAR fans registered to vote, through our team efforts on and off the track. When they see the car, hopefully it makes them race to the polls in November.”
But the controversy surrounding the sport in the weeks since the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody has gone far beyond paint schemes.
NASCAR signaled last month, at least to some fans, that it was siding with the radical leftist Black Lives Matter movement when it banned Confederate battle flags at events and facilities.
“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. 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,” NASCAR said.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 10, 2020
NASCAR also mishandled a controversy last month surrounding a supposed noose found in Wallace’s garage at Talladega.
Whoa. NASCAR drivers march in solidarity behind Bubba Wallace after a noose was found in his stall.pic.twitter.com/A2bTfaGJnT
— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) June 22, 2020
An FBI investigation determined that the noose was, in fact, a garage door pull rope that had been there for months.
Some fans felt NASCAR officials were quick to jump to a conclusion on the garage door pull.
“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team,” NASCAR said in a statement at the time the controversy began. “We are angry and outraged and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”
President Donald Trump was among those who had harsh words for both Wallace and NASCAR.
Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2020
The divisiveness of politics being injected into racing and sports overall has NASCAR executives considering a policy of political neutrality.
“The talks are in the early stages, and what will be the ultimate outcome, and when such a move would be implemented if it was adopted, are all currently unclear,” Stern reported.
“It also is unclear what NASCAR would define as political. This move likely would get major attention and show that the sport is taking active steps to try to be more politically neutral than ever before.”
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