On Friday, July 10, South Carolina finally removed the Confederate flag from the state capitol building, lowering the controversial symbol “with dignity.” Major retailers like Wal-Mart have declared they will no longer sell merchandise that contains images of the flag.
Now, a major institution of southern white culture is grappling with the issue as well — critics are demanding NASCAR do more to keep the flag out of its racetracks this summer. In the popular imagination, NASCAR is perhaps unfairly maligned as a “redneck” sport; however, in a nation with almost 800 cars per 1,000 residents, it’s also a hugely popular All-American culture of its own.
NASCAR issued a statement supporting South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s efforts to take down the flag once and for all this July. Plus, the sports organization already bans the flag from being used in any of its merchandise or in any “official position” at NASCAR events.
Even so, the flag is absolutely ubiquitous at NASCAR races, appearing on bumper stickers, t-shirts, and even tattooed on many race fans’ bodies. At a time of declining ticket sales and TV ratings, Sports Illustrated believes NASCAR is scared to take a stance that would certainly anger many southern white men.
In an opinion piece, Sports Illustrated writer Elizabeth Newman called on NASCAR to stand up to its fan base on this divisive issue. Newman even personally called out NASCAR chairman Brian France.
“So what say you, Brian France? How long will you let this controversy fester before you take any real action? For many the question isn’t whether fans have the right to celebrate their heritage and loyalty to the flag at races, it’s whether or not NASCAR has the moxie to take a definitive stance on such an alienating issue, one way or the other.”
France says NASCAR is already doing all it can; not only has NASCAR asked fans to leave their Confederate flags at home, but the Daytona racetrack offered to exchange fans’ Confederate flags for the stars and stripes.
It’s unclear how many fans took up the offer. From Florida to Oklahoma, southern citizens have been holding pro-Confederate flag rallies ever since the South Carolina flag came down.