EDITORIAL: NFL, NASCAR will have chance to prove they meant what they said

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
  • The NFL says it was wrong for not listening to players fighting for racial equality.
  • NASCAR has vowed to "do better" when addressing racial justice.
  • It remains to be seen if the two organizations will live up to their statements.

They're saying all the right things. That was easy.

Now they must do all the right things. That will be much harder.

That's the situation that both the NFL and NASCAR find themselves in.

Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was wrong for not listening to its players fighting for racial equality and encouraged them to peacefully protest. He also said the NFL believes that Black Lives Matter.

It was Goodell’s strongest statement yet on social-justice issues and stands in stark contrast to the recent past, when the NFL threatened to impose fines on players kneeling during the national anthem. Teams that permitted kneeling were also threatened with fines.

Just two days later, NASCAR came out with a similar statement, vowing to “do better” when addressing racial justice. With its southern roots and its one-time embrace of Confederate symbols, NASCAR has a checkered racial history. The organization has launched diversity programs but still struggles to shake its reputation as a largely white sport. It has just one black driver on the Cup Series.

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To have two of the most popular sports organizations in the nation acknowledging their past mistakes is a small sign of progress.

It will be a much more encouraging sign, however, when the two organizations actually follow through on the promises. That will not be easy, because standing up for social justice could very well have a negative impact on their bottom lines.

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Unfortunately, both organizations have shown in the past that the color they value most is green.

NFL moment of truth: For the NFL, the moment of truth may come when the games start again. There's little doubt, given the current environment, that at least some black players will resume kneeling during the national anthem, just as Colin Kaepernick and other players did in 2016 to protest police brutality. In fact, it’s very possible that most NFL players will take a knee. After all, the league is made up of 75% black players.

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How will the NFL react to kneeling players this time? Will it try to avoid the issue by keeping the players in the locker room during the national anthem? Will it revert to threatening punishments? Or will the league fully support the players’ constitutional right to protest?

If it follows the latter path, the league risks alienating many members of its fan base, which is overwhelmingly white and largely conservative. Many of those fans will see players kneeling during the national anthem as a sign of disrespect to the flag, to the military and to the police. They may voice their displeasure by no longer buying tickets or no longer watching games.

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How will NASCAR respond: For NASCAR, the issue likely won’t come to a head until fans are allowed back at its races. When that happens, there will undoubtedly be numerous Confederate flags flying in the parking lot.

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How will NASCAR respond? Will it ignore the flags, or will it openly and forcefully condemn the racist symbol? As with the NFL, such a statement will certainly not sit well with some members of NASCAR Nation. Again, as with the NFL, they may express their rancor by closing their wallets to the NASCAR product.

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It will be fascinating to see how this develops. The NFL and NASCAR have a simple choice. Will they select justice or will they pick profit?

Time will tell.