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The Backstretch Blog: NASCAR's image is about more than just a flag

February 17, 2012|By HEATHER WILLIAMS | Eyewitness Sports

The Confederate Flag and NASCAR. It's the 800lb gorilla in the middle of every race track.  And I don't care if it's Phoenix, Daytona, Darlington or Kansas. They are as much apart of the sport as the cars, the the gas cans and race haulers. And as much as NASCAR wants to ignore it...it's there. And it's a part of their image.

Then there is the General Lee. A fictional car from a 80's television show. Is it named after a civil war general? Yes. Does it have a large confederate flag on the hood? Yes. As an African American child growing in the 80 who watched the show, did I think that the show was about racism? Not really. My little brother even had a motorized General Lee that played "Dixie" when you honked the horn.

Okay, before I go any further let me make this clear. I hate the Confederate Flag. I hate what it stands for. My favorite line when I get into a philosophical argument with someone when arguing the message behind the flag is ,"What ever it's about, I'm just glad the North one, otherwise I'd be picking cotton and singing 'Summertime'."

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But, I also lived in the south for the better part of 13 years. I know that for many people the flag has become a sign of rebellion. Are there racist that fly the flag? Absolutely. Is every one that flies the flag a racist? No. Should they pick a better symbol for their rebellion? Yes.

Which brings us to NASCAR's decision on Friday not to let golfer Bubba Watson drive the Robert E. Lee at the Spring race in Phoenix. Here's why NASCAR says it came to that decision:

"The image of the Confederate flag is not something that should play an official role in our sport as we continue to reach out to new fans and make NASCAR more inclusive," NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said in a statement Friday.

Ok. But here't the thing. If NASCAR wants to make the sport more inclusive, they need to get become more inclusive. The push for Diversity in the Sport is approaching a decade in age now, and just one "graduate" of that program is at the Cup level. (Aric Almirola-who is just starting his first full-time season and is actually a graduate of Joe Gibbs diversity program, not NASCAR).

They also need more visible diversity among their partners. Staring with some Hispanic, Asian, or African Americans among their broadcast crews. Prominate journalist among the NASCAR press corps could also use more diversity.

What about diversity on top of the pit box?

Honestly, does anyone think that by not letting the General Lee drive at Phoenix, that it will all of the sudden make the sport more appealing to African Americans or any other minority? That was just one of about 100, maybe more, confederate flags that will be at the track that weekend.

All that is does is turn off the the sports base fans that have the rebel mentality. Many of which are not racist. Some are.

NASCAR is no different than any other part of our society, or any other sport. Slavery, segregation, racism is apart of it's ugly past. But if they really want to make a change in culture, it's about so much more than a fiction tv car being the track.

Right now, I see NASCAR paying a lot of lip service. But I see very little action towatd real change. And as an African American fan, that saddens me.

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