President Donald Trump said he was so proud of the entire entity of NASCAR and its supporters and fans after comments made my two team owners regarding the national anthem Sunday.
NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Richard Childress spoke out against the possibility of one of their drivers or team members protesting during the national anthem before Sunday’s race at New Hampshire. In a Monday morning tweetstorm, the president took the comments of Petty and Childress as representative of all of NASCAR.
So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won't put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag – they said it loud and clear!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
NASCAR itself had been silent on the issue of anthem protests and other team owners contacted by journalists at the track Sunday morning did not go to the lengths Petty and Childress did about anthem protests, but that clearly didn’t stop the president from attempting to frame their comments as a representative sample.
Petty said anyone who doesn’t stand for the anthem should leave the country and Childress said a protesting team member of his would need to get on a bus after the race.
This isn’t the first time Trump has claimed he had the support of the entirety of NASCAR behind him. After he was very publicly endorsed by NASCAR CEO Brian France — one NASCAR PR tried to claim was a personal and private decision — the then-presidential candidate kept saying he had the endorsement of NASCAR. France appeared at a rally in February 2016 with Chase Elliott, his father Bill, Ryan Newman and David Ragan.
Not long after Trump’s tweet, Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted this. If there’s anyone who is the conscience of NASCAR — or who should be — it’s Junior.
All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable-JFK
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) September 25, 2017
NASCAR finally issued a statement about anthem protests Monday afternoon. It was bland.
“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,” the statement said. “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.”
As Trump’s hatred for NFL players who protest during the anthem grew into the sports and politics story of the weekend, NASCAR should have pre-emptively issued a statement along the lines of many NFL owners. A statement saying the sanctioning body respects the anthem and the country while also respecting the rights of any of its participants to engage in a peaceful protest would have gone a long way.
Hell, it could have simply said what Junior said in his tweet. Yes, we’re at the point where Dale Earnhardt Jr. is doing a better job of saying the right thing at the right time than a team of trained public relations professionals.
With NASCAR silent until Monday afternoon, the sport let the rhetoric-filled comments of two team owners look like the official statements from the sport. And given Trump’s previous mischaracterization of France’s endorsement, NASCAR should have seen this possibility coming a mile away and been prepared to strike first.
This is a PR fail that’s far greater than any mini-blunder that’s taken place over the last few months. Trump’s tweets, however insipid you may believe them to be, drive the national news cycle because they are presidential statements.
Many non-NASCAR fans will see his tweets or hear discussion about them and think that NASCAR is taking a stand against anyone who was thinking about protesting against the anthem. The sport’s official statement — whatever it means — may be too little too late.
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• Pat Forde: Why haven’t we seen anthem protests in college football?