Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
The past few weeks have been very busy for NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. After he spoke out in support of “Black Lives Matter,” he followed up this stand by leading an effort to convince NASCAR to do away with Confederate flags at their sponsored racing events. That effort was successful the same week Wallace, who is the Cup Series’ only black driver, drove a “Black Lives Matter” car at Martinsville in Virginia.
Both the outspoken nature of Wallace’s stand and NASCAR taking an official negative stance on the “rebel” flag, met with split opinions. Many, including many Cup Series drivers openly supported Wallace, as did many fans. However, some fans responded to the activism and the announcements with anger and defiance. Then someone on Wallace’s team reported finding a noose in his garage. That person contacted NASCAR, and league officials contacted the FBI, which launched an investigation.
When that story broke, two opposing narratives immediately developed. One, that seems to have caught fire on social media, is that Wallace may have left the noose there himself. Those pushing this narrative talk about how restricted the drivers’ area is, often citing the case of Jussie Smollett, who, reportedly, faked an assault, falsely blaming “white men” for attacking him. That narrative has been openly and sternly denounced from Wallace’s camp, as well as from many in the NASCAR community.
At the time, Wallace said: “Today’s despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society, and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism…”
NASCAR also issued an official statement: “We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take the heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible… As we have stated, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve…”
Backing these words, NASCAR Cup Series drivers responded with a strong public showing, gathering with their pit crews to escort Wallace’s 43 car down the track at Talladega, pushing it to the front of the field before that race.
A few days after the story broke, federal investigators concluded the noose had been in the garage for several months, though this was likely the first Wallace knew about it. Further, it was made public that it was a member of Wallace’s team who found the noose and reported it to NASCAR. Meaning Wallace was not driving the story, though he was still at the center of it. A firestorm of misinformation exploded. Subsequently, both the organization and the driver released statements:
NASCAR said: “We appreciate the FBI’s quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba…”
Wallace said he was relieved by the news, adding that the “noose” had been reported to him by NASCAR President Steve Phelps, who later said, “I want to be clear about the 43 team, (they) had nothing to do with this. The evidence is very clear…”
Now that all the evidence is out, both NASCAR and Wallace need to do all they can to shift the focus of the narrative back to that one signature moment where all the drivers came together, a visual that could be one of the most enduring sports images this year.