Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the biggest NASCAR figure to vocally support anthem protests

Mandatory Credit: Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (9009887e) Dale Earnhardt Jr. waves to fans as he makes his way around the track at Bristol Motor Speedway before the NASCAR Cup Series auto race, in Bristol, Tenn NASCAR Auto Racing, Bristol, USA – 19 Aug 2017
Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

As the ongoing controversy involving President Donald Trump and national anthem protests at sports events continues to roil, NASCAR’s biggest name has publicly opposed the organization’s anti-protest stance.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., defending 14-time winner of the stock car racing organization’s “Most Popular Driver” award, tweeted Monday morning to say that Americans are guaranteed a right to a peaceful protest and quoted JFK.

Earnhardt’s statement came after several NASCAR team owners, including car racing legend Richard Petty, came down strongly on any potential anthem protesters following the growing debate over NFL protests and Trump’s comments.

“Anybody that don’t stand up for that ought to be out of the country. Period. If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States,” Petty said.

Richard Childress, one of NASCAR’s most successful owners, said of any anthem protesters in his employ, “It’ll get you a ride on a Greyhound bus… anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.”

That reaction certainly got the attention of Trump, who tweeted his approval. 

But there’s a lot more going on here than a popular driver diverging from his organization’s stance.

First of all, Earnhardt (known more commonly among fans as simply “Dale Jr”) is royalty, the son of Dale Earnhardt Sr., one of NASCAR’s most successful drivers ever and, arguably, it’s most popular. That Earnhardt Sr. died as a result of a crash in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR’s “Super Bowl,” only contributed to his legacy.

That it was Earnhardt Jr. that broke ranks with NASCAR is certainly noteworthy: Not only does his popularity and family legacy mean his words carry extra weight, it also means that NASCAR owners are less likely to clap-back at him. (For what it’s worth, Earnhardt Jr. announced earlier in 2017 that this season would be his last as a driver.) 

The use of Twitter for such a statement also shows how NASCAR has established its prominence on the social media platform as other sports; Earnhardt Jr. has almost 2.3 million followers, and driver fights, usually a post-race fisticuffs situation, have also made the transition online.

And the irony of Childress restricting free speech as he declares “This is America” aside, another wrinkle is that Earnhardt Sr. spent a majority of his career driving for Childress.  

If anything, all of this just proves that nothing — nothing — is ever that simple when it comes to the issue of free speech, no matter what the president or his cronies may think. 

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Tags: anthem-protest dale-earnhardt-jr donald-trump entertainment nascar politics Sports

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