Each day during the sports pause stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, NESN.com will publish a diary full of random thoughts, opinions, takeaways, and other cool tidbits we’ve stumbled across in the absence of actual games. Because why not? We’re all in this together.
So, NASCAR did a thing Monday.
It’s been a rocky 36 hours for the league down at Talladega Superspeedway. After storms forced NASCAR to postpone Sunday’s race to Monday, news surfaced of a horrific incident, one that’s had a historic impact on NASCAR, its drivers and its fans alike.
As you likely know, NASCAR reported Sunday night that a noose was found at the garage for the No. 43 car, which belongs to Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., the only black man racing at the Cup Series level. Both NASCAR and the FBI have opened investigations into the incident, and Wallace’s team was given special permission to inspect their car to assure no tampering had occurred while it was parked overnight, despite receiving a positive OSS inspection the day prior.
The racist incident comes just two weeks after NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at its races and properties, a decision Wallace wholeheartedly advocated for beforehand. Wallace’s story has been a cornerstone for inspiration in sports as the “Black Lives Matter” movement gains momentum in the United States, though the decision to bar the flag still doesn’t sit well with some.
At the time, though, Wallace noted concern for his safety after advocating for the monumental change. And the chain of events at Talladega on Sunday was a stark reminder of why.
Dozens of protesters gathered on the boulevard behind Talladega on Sunday with their Confederate flags to express their opposition to NASCAR’s ban. A plane towing the flag and a banner reading “Defund NASCAR” even flew overhead before the race ultimately was postponed, though they certainly made their message loud and clear.
That same day, Wallace’s team discovered the noose in the team’s garage.
NASCAR did just everything it could have the last 24 hours to condemn the racist act, even shooting down a conspiracy theory claiming either Wallace or one of his team members might have staged the incident. And that wasn’t the only support Wallace received, either.
Dozens of NASCAR drivers and team members helped Wallace push his No. 43 Chevrolet to the starting line for Monday’s rescheduled Geico 500 in support of their fellow driver. Wallace even got a bit emotional.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 22, 2020
So, why is this such a big deal?
For those unaware, NASCAR, like the Confederate flag, has deep roots in the south. And news of the league’s decision to ban the flag, obviously, did not sit well with some fans of the sport. One driver, Ray Ciccarelli, threatened to quit NASCAR over the ban, though he quickly backpedaled.
NASCAR made a monumental decision by banning the flag two weeks ago, and an even bigger decision to continually back Wallace as he faces some of the harshest backlash from the ban and his choice to advocate for “Black Lives Matter” in the weeks following Georgy Floyd’s death. But it wasn’t just league executives standing behind Wallace. Wallace’s own colleagues physically stood behind him Monday just hours after the incident came to light, showing their solidarity toward him and his mission to promote a peaceful and equal environment both in NASCAR and across the country.
Sunday’s incident was 100 percent unacceptable, but the response has been truly inspiring. It takes a big league to unite behind a single person and a single cause, especially one as significant and prevalent as racial justice.
Of course, the league and those supporting Wallace aren’t pretending to be perfect, and they never will be. But it doesn’t take a perfect person to stand up for what’s right, especially when it forces one to leave their comfort zone. That’s how change happens, and it starts with acts of solidarity like those shown in the last 24 hours from those throughout NASCAR.
So, bravo to everyone at NASCAR standing by what’s right, and proving actions speak louder than words.
Anywho, here are some more interesting tidbits from your Monday news cycle:
— NASCAR wasn’t the only sport staying busy Monday.
Major League Baseball players officially rejected the league’s latest proposal, which featured a 60-game schedule. The season’s fate now rests in MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s hands, though a decision likely won’t come for another couple of days.
That said, Manfred still is expected to propose a schedule between 50 and 60 games. Additionally, MLB owners voted Monday in favor of honoring the league’s March 26 agreement with players, though they’re requesting “two pieces of information” before proceeding.
First, MLB wants to know if players will be able to report to camp within the next seven days, or by July 1. Second, the league wants to know if the players union will agree to the operating manual featuring new health and safety protocols related to COVID-19 and preventing the disease’s spread during the 2020 regular and postseason.
That operating manual, as ESPN’s Marly Rivera noted Monday night, could be a sticking point in this decision, considering it asks players to sign an “acknowledgment of risk” before they can play. Players have until 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday to respond to the league’s request.
— The COVID-19 outbreak has struck the NFL, and two of the New England Patriots’ biggest stars are worried about how it might impact the season.
During the latest episode of their “Double Coverage” podcast, Jason and Devin McCourty revealed some of their concerns about beginning a 2020 season amid the pandemic. In fact, both wonder how the NFL will manage to hold a season safely.
“I think everybody’s nervous, because the norm is that we just go to work — we put in a lot of work, we bond together, we lift, we’re in close quarters,” Devin said, as transcribed by ESPN. “It feels like that’s all being taken away from us, so I don’t know how to react. I don’t know what’s it’s going to be …”
Even director of the NIAID Dr. Anthony Fauci doesn’t think holding the 2020 season as scheduled is a good idea.
— The Connecticut Sun, meanwhile, will have to navigate their 2020 season without one of their star players.
The team announced Monday that Jonquel Jones has opted out of the abbreviated season. Jones said the decision did not come easily, but expressed her excitement to rejoin the team in 2021.
“After careful thought and consideration I’ve decided to forego the upcoming WNBA season and use this time to focus on personal, social, and familial growth,” Jones said, per Monday’s statement. “This was one of the toughest decisions I’ve made but the resurgence and unknown aspects of COVID -19 have raised serious health concerns that I do not feel comfortable competing in. I’d like to thank the Connecticut Sun organization, my teammates and fans for their unwavering support and understanding.”
The Sun certainly will miss this woman’s incredible offensive skill. But, hopefully, one of Connecticut’s multiple offseason moves will help lead the Sun back to the postseason.
We’ll miss you, JJ. (Or, at least, I know I will.)
Stat of the Day
An impressive feat for Ryan Blaney at Talladega on Monday:
Ryan Blaney won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega for his 4th career Cup Series win.
He is the first driver to win back-to-back Cup Series races at Talladega since Jeff Gordon in 2007. pic.twitter.com/IH0ubgpYaa
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 23, 2020
Tweet of the Day
They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. What about this?
— New York Post Sports (@nypostsports) June 23, 2020
Video of the Day
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 22, 2020
Thumbnail photo via John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports Images