- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Let’s suppose you own a business and the enterprise thrives among one segment of the population — say, redheads — but not-so-much within other segments — say, blondes and brunettes.

You love the faithful support from redheads who have been supporters since day one. They are the base, your most ardent and passionate customers, the fuel that drives your operation.

But they have a penchant for a symbol that represents hate and terror to blondes and brunettes. Over the course of several generations, you overlooked the redheads’ habit of proudly waving the contentious emblem as they patronize your business, but now you’re finally admitting what’s obvious to everyone else who knows history and can think clearly:

Close association with the symbol isn’t a good look.

The divisive logo is not only bad for business (assuming you’re interested in growth and your brand’s image), it’s bad for society’s overall well-being, a de facto middle finger to blondes and brunettes.

That’s the conclusion reached by NASCAR CEO Brian France, who is voicing his opposition to the Confederate flag, which is akin to America’s swastika.

“We want to go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag,” France said in a statement on Saturday prior to the NASCAR race in Sonoma, California. “I personally find it an offensive symbol, so there’s no daylight in how we feel about it and our sensitivity to others who feel the same way.

“We’re working with the industry to see how far we can go to get that flag to be disassociated entirely from our events.”

To NASCAR’s credit, it has banned the use of the Confederate flag on official materials, race cars and licensed merchandise for more than a decade. It also prevented PGA star Bubba Watson from driving the flag-adorned “Dukes of Hazzard” car before an event in 2012.

Yet the banners are omnipresent at places such as Darlington Raceway in South Carolina and Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, flapping atop motor homes in the infield and dotting TV screens as the camera sweeps the track. Many NASCAR fans, primarily the figurative redheads, don’t share the circuit’s opinion on the flag and are determined to make their feelings known.

France threw up his hands when he appeared on “60 Minutes” in 2005: “These are massive facilities,” he said. “I can’t tell people what flag to fly.” That’s the same tone NASCAR struck early last week, when it released a statement in support of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to remove the flag from the statehouse grounds.

“While NASCAR recognizes that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our events.”

But with his remarks on Saturday, France appears to have reconsidered unfettered freedom of expression.

Rightfully so.

A business owner in his right mind wouldn’t allow flags filled with expletives. He would prohibit banners that depicted graphic images. And surely anything that promoted the German swastika or Islamic State wouldn’t fly for long.

Contrary to its supporters, the “Stars and Bars” is just as abhorrent, symbolizing slavery, hatred, violence, terror and white supremacy. There’s nothing honorable in the causes of the Confederacy, though we’ve been incredibly shy in stating that fact.

The University of Mississippi came to grips with the image in 1998, when then-chancellor Robert Khayat ended fans’ decades-long practice of bringing Confederate flags to football games. Three years later, the NCAA banned predetermined championships events from being held in South Carolina, in response to the flag flying on statehouse grounds.

NASCAR will face significant pushback if the flag is banned at races, but that’s to be expected. Just like in the fight for civil rights, some opponents will never let go. But NASCAR’s grip on it traditional base — rural, white fans from the Southeast — is slipping anyway.

According to an ESPN Sports poll cited by The Wall Street Journal, the number of people who identify themselves as NASCAR fans has declined by about 15 percent since 2004, the greatest loss in the history of modern pro sports. The Journal reports that tickets sales at International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc. declined 23 percent over the past five years, while TV viewership has fallen 42 percent since 2005.

Unfortunately, the sport’s affinity for the Confederate flag makes expansion difficult.

“The old ‘heritage versus hate’ thing, in my mind is ridiculous,” African-American NASCAR car owner Brad Daugherty said on SiriusXM last week. “Because that flag to any African-American person does not represent any type of heritage. It 100 percent represents hate.”

And alienating blondes and brunettes to placate a dwindling number of redheads is a terrible business strategy.

But more importantly, as columnist Courtland Milloy suggests, instead of focusing on lowering the Confederate flag for political reasons, how about killing poisoned sentiments and raising the American flag a little higher?

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