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COLUMN: Trump is demeaning and wrong-headed to criticize Bubba Wallace and NASCAR

COLUMN: Trump is demeaning and wrong-headed to criticize Bubba Wallace and NASCAR

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The president is wrong.

In a misguided tweet directed at NASCAR and its only Black driver, Donald Trump has stepped into a minefield of emotions in a sport that has done more for bringing its people together than any other.

A sport with the worst history on race relations has been a guiding light for all sports since its return from a 10-week delay during the COVID-19 outbreak. NASCAR has shown compassion in the face of angry fans, leading the entire nation in a process of removing reminders of the past and coming together to support Bubba Wallace.

And then the president started tweeting.

NASCAR has had a good run of races since its return, bringing in more first-time fans than any time in recent memory. And it’s done it against a backdrop of social unrest.

Whether ratings are up or down in a sport that has suffered declining numbers for years is difficult to assess in a year that has featured a two-month interruption, races rescheduled for weeknights away from their normal calendar slots and numerous weather delays.

Still, for the sitting president to insert himself into a group of people trying to reconcile with their past, and to mock it and demean it, is just wrong-headed.

The banning of confederate flags at all races, forever, was a stunning decision for a sport steeped in Southern culture. There was an expected backlash when the tour announced at Martinsville that the flag would not be allowed in any shape or form at any race track or any racing event.

That announcement came a week after the sport had stood in solidarity in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, declaring it would change and asking its drivers and fans to “pause and take a moment to listen.”

“The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change,” NASCAR president Steve Phelps said in a broadcast before the race at Atlanta. “Our sport must do better. Our country must do better. The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice.”

And then came Talladega.

There was no hoax. A noose hung in the garage stalled assigned to Richard Petty Motorsports. Wallace never saw it.

NASCAR said it had been hanging there since last October, and the FBI concluded there was no hate crime against Wallace.

But, of course, that fails reason. It was still a noose hanging in a NASCAR garage. Whether it was intended for Wallace last October or not changes nothing. That’s still a hate-filled message, whether NASCAR or the FBI considered it a crime or not. Presumably, the investigation is still happening.

So this has been a very troubling thing for NASCAR to navigate, and the last thing it needed was for the Daytona 500 grand marshal to start tweeting this morning and calling out Wallace and making ridiculous claims about Wallace and the flag.

Wallace responded with a message for “the next generation and little ones following my footsteps.”

It took a while for the NASCAR community to digest what had happened this morning, but by afternoon Wallace’s fellow drivers began to put out statements of support, which they have all along.

NASCAR has a troubled past, but it has truly begun to come to terms with it and do the right thing.

Some people simply have no understanding of what’s right and wrong.

The president is wrong. He’s the one who should apologize.

Photos: Bubba Wallace, flags and racing scenes at Talladega Superspeedway

Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.

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