The FBI concluded swiftly that a rope fashioned as a noose in racer Bubba Wallace’s garage stall was a “door pull,” and not and intentional act of hate directed at the driver.
The “I told you so,” crowd is in full glory and many of its members aren’t hiding their racist attitudes. Unfortunately, Wallace has been tabbed as the bad guy – as if he wasn’t before – and he, Black Lives Matter, the media and NASCAR are under verbal attack.
Wallace isn’t exactly buying the garage door pull explanation.
He told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday night, “the image that I have and I have seen of what was hanging in my garage is not a garage pull.”
“I’ve been racing all my life. We’'ve raced out of hundreds of garages that never had garage pulls like that. So people that want to call it a garage pull and put out old videos and photos of knots as their evidence, go ahead, but from the evidence that we have, that I have, it’s a straight-up noose.
“The FBI has stated it was a noose, over and over again. NASCAR leadership has stated it was a noose. I can confirm that.
“I actually got evidence of what was hanging in my garage over my car around my pit crew guy to confirm that it was a noose, and never seen anything like it. I talked to my crew chief about it. I said, ‘Is this something?’ Like, I wanted to make sure we weren’t jumping the gun. And I said, ‘This isn’t a knot.’
Noose, knot or whatever, the incident brought out the best in so many people it cannot be ignored.
Let’s start close to home.
As his early pursuit of entrepreneurial success began, David Steward found himself in the unenviable position of having a car re-possessed. Now, the black billionaire who is founder and chairman of the nation’s top African-American owned company, World Wide Technology, is one of the biggest names in auto and truck racing.
He is a major sponsor of Wallace’s No. 43 NASCAR team, with Wallace being NASCAR’s lone black driver.
Steward was proud of his driver when he dared challenge the constant appearances of Confederate flags at NASCAR events. Less than a week later, NASCAR prohibited the display of these flags anywhere on the grounds of tracks where events would take place.
Before the noose was found on Sunday, Steward’s mother had just passed away. He could have easily avoided commenting, but he released a statement supporting his driver.
“Bubba continues to prove that he is both a top-tier NASCAR driver and a first-rate individual who demonstrates admirable courage by taking on these major symbols of racism,” Steward said in the release.
“I am honored to call him a friend and fully support him. The time for change is now and we need the momentum created by Bubba and others to lead all people to a better place.”
Regardless of how the situation turned out, those are powerful words from a powerful man.
Steward also supports local racing, and World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois, is proof of his dedication to the sport.
Curtis Francois, owner and CEO of World Wide Technology Raceway, initially called the noose incident “atrocious” on Monday.
“Bubba Wallace has been a part of our racing family here at the track since 2013. We have worked closely with him throughout his career and have always stood behind him as he pursued his dreams. His maturity and poise in handling this situation shows that he is a strong young man who is respected by those of us who have the pleasure of calling him a friend,” he said.
Wallace did not know of the noose until late Sunday afternoon after the race in Talladega was postponed until Monday because of foul weather. He said the suspected horrible act would not deter him from his mission of winning races and landing a NASCAR season championship. He would finish 14th at Talladega, as he was low on fuel late in the race. NASCAR had ruled that 5,000 fans could attend the race. Dozens of black supporters, many who drove more than 100 miles from Atlanta, showed up Monday and were in the stands.
After the race, Wallace took off his American flag mask, walked across the track to the stands and emotionally saluted those fans. Many were wearing Black Lives Matter shirts.
“This sport is changing. The pre-race deal was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to witness in my life. From all the supporters, from drivers to crew members, everybody here, the bad-ass fan base, thank you guys for coming out. This is truly incredible, and I’m glad to be a part of this sport.”
The “pre-race deal,” Wallace referred to, began with a thought by superstar driver Jimmie Johnson. He said all drivers should stand with Wallace during the national anthem. Kevin Harvick suggested taking it further. He and the other drivers then pushed Wallace’s No. 43 car to the front of the racing grid with pit crew members and other racing officials walking behind them.
Wallace was reduced to tears.
An emotional Monday
The noose incident was the major sports story internationally from Sunday evening through Monday.
NASCAR president Steve Phelps began the day with a press conference in which he again said anyone involved with the act would be banned from his sport permanently.
“Obviously, this is a very, very serious act. We take it as such. We will do everything in our power to make sure that whoever has committed this act comes to justice and comes to light and we rid this type of behavior from our sport,” he said.
Once the investigation was concluded, NASCAR released this statement:
“The FBI has ... determined that Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime. The FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment. We appreciate the FBI’s quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba. We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing.”
Mom’s sage advice
The incident allowed much of the world to meet Wallace’s mother, Desiree, who said her son has faced racism throughout his racing career.
“This is not his first incident,” she said Monday on Sirius XM’s “Joe Madison Show.”
“If he gets into an incident with another driver, they’re quick to throw out the n-word. He’s been told he doesn’t belong. We’ve been through all of that.”
She said her advice to her son is, “You don’t throw back at them. You just get in that race car and win. That’s the way you fight back.”
She also brought to light one of my personal worst fears. Phelps said during his press conference, “I can’t speak for those on social media who would say this is a staged event. For those who would think this is staged, I don’t even know where to go with that frankly.”
It was one of my first thoughts late Sunday when I first learned of the matter. “Please don’t let his race team be involved,” I said to myself.
Desiree said her son told her, “it was someone inside the walls of NASCAR.”
“I’m just praying that it’s not one of his team members.”
Of course, the conspiracy theorists are trumpeting the “it was staged” theme and Wallace was the mastermind. Ridiculous.
Burn rubber on racism
Before the conclusion of the investigation, Ryan McKee, an ESPN senior writer who covers NASCAR, used terms most journalists – and me – would shy away from in challenging those that were behind this hate crime and cling to the Confederate flag.
“To the one(s) who thought they could dip into the tired, old 1934 or 1964 racist playbook and elicit fear by placing a symbol of hate -- a noose, for heaven's sake -- in the garage stall of a Black race car driver, I really need to make sure you are paying attention to what I have to say to you,” he wrote.
“Oh, and the grown adult or adults who spent hundreds of dollars to fly a “DEFUND NASCAR” banner and Confederate flag behind a plane over Talladega, you should listen up too. Same for you rednecks who drove a parade of pickups around the perimeter of the racetrack with that same flag flying out of the beds of your 4x4s.
“It didn't work. Congratulations. You failed. In fact, what you accomplished was the complete opposite of what you set out to do.”
Petty walks with Wallace
Richard Petty, who is called “The King” in NASCAR circles, attended the race on Monday after learning of the incident the previous day. The 82-year-old Petty owns the race team that Wallace drives for and said Sunday, “The most important thing for me right now is hugging my driver.”
Petty reportedly was one of few white drivers that supported the first black NASCAR racer, Wendell Scott, in the 1960s.
But in 2017, Wallace threatened to immediately fire employees who made any type of protest during the national anthem. However, he has since said in interviews that that he didn’t understand what that protest was really about.
He walked with the drivers escorting Wallace on the track on Monday and stood with his driver.
In the grand scheme of things, Petty’s actions might not mean much to most people. But it could be a signal that maybe, just maybe, things are finally changing in America when it comes to race.
Major Mississippi story
Had it not been for the noose, major events in Mississippi might be dominating sports headlines this week.
Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill said he won’t be playing for the Bulldogs anymore unless its flag is changed.
The state’s flag has the “stars and bars” insignia of the Confederate flag in its left-hand corner.
“Either change the flag or I won’t be representing this State anymore & I meant that (100 percent emoji) I’m tired”, Hill stated via Twitter.
Hill, who hails from Columbus, Mississippi, rushed for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019 and is touted as one of the SEC’s top returning backs as a senior. While they did not say they would leave the school, several of his teammates said they supported him on social media.
Hill’s stand comes as the SEC is demanding a change in the state’s flag, as well.
“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi. Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all. In the event there is no change, there will be consideration of precluding Southeastern Conference championship events from being conducted in the State of Mississippi until the state flag is changed” an SEC statement said.
The NCAA also is demanding change and is threatening to bar Mississippi schools from hosting NCAA events.
“There is no place in college athletics or the world for symbols or acts of discrimination and oppression,” NCAA board chair Michael Drake said in a statement.
“We must continually evaluate ways to protect and enhance the championship experience for college athletes. Expanding the Confederate flag policy to all championships is an important step by the NCAA to further provide a quality experience for all participants and fans.”
Mississippi, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Mississippi Valley State, Jackson State and Alcorn State would no longer be eligible to host championships or tournament events until the flag is removed.
Unfortunately, Mississippi Valley, Jackson and Alcorn are HBCU members, and the majority of their respective students, athletes, administrators and fans probably want a change in the flag too.
The Reid Roundup
Lewis Hamilton, the reigning Formula 1 champion who is recognized as the world’s best auto racer, sent his support to Bubba Wallace via Instagram on Monday. “It’s disgusting that this is happening, stay safe and alert out there bro. Supporting you from afar, proud of you. Hamilton also announced he was is founding a commission to push for diversity in motor sports... Last week before the noose as found in Wallace’s garage, NASCAR appointed Brandon Thompson to be its inaugural vice president of diversity and inclusion. Thompson, who served as managing director of the NASCAR Touring Series, “will lead the sanctioning body’s strategy for diversity and inclusion, as well as programs and initiatives designed to champion and enhance diversity across the NASCAR industry.”... Premier League club Burnley has condemned a plane towing a banner declaring “White Lives Matter Burnley” that flew over Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium before Monday’s match between the two clubs. “We wish to make it clear that those responsible are not welcome at Turf Moor,” the club said in a statement. The league’s players are taking a knee before games and sporting “Black Lives Matter” on their game jerseys... The St. Louis Cardinals used its first-round selection in the MLB Draft to acquire slugging African American third baseman Jordan Walker from Decatur, Georgia. “I’m beyond excited to play — I’m ready. The minute I heard my name called I was jumping for joy,” he said.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk. His Twitter handle is @aareid1.