Time Out For Sports: Drivers Rally Around NASCAR's Bubba Wallace
There's still a lot of uncertainty in professional sports and sports at all levels due to the coronavirus. Numerous players and staff have tested positive as comebacks are being planned and carried out. And in other sports news, a noose was found in the garage of NASCAR's only current Black driver, Bubba Wallace, who was given a lot of credit for NASCAR officials banning the Confederate flag at race events.
Langston Wertz Jr., a longtime Charlotte Observer sportswriter, joins WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn to talk about these developments in the latest Time Out For Sports.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Let's start with the noose being found in Bubba Wallace's garage on Sunday when he was scheduled to race at the Talladega Superspeedway for the GEICO 500 race. Now the FBI is investigating. And before the race, which was postponed until Monday due to rain, Wallace got a big welcome.
Langston Wertz Jr.: Almost all the drivers helped push his car to the start of the race. It was a very powerful moment for NASCAR. It kind of showed where they were and where they're going. NASCAR's on the front page of The New York Times. There was a picture of that whole event. I mean, this is a very big deal for them. Richard Petty, who had not been to a race this year, also showed up in a show of solidarity. Obviously, Bubba drives his car, and it was just a really big deal for the sport at this moment in time to see all of the drivers come out of support Wallace that way.
Glenn: And it was a very emotional moment for Wallace. Tears were coming down his face in pictures that I saw. And here's what he had to say about the noose incident after the race, where he came in 14th:
Bubba Wallace: Sorry I'm not wearing my mask, but I wanted to show whoever it was that you're not going to take away my smile. And I'm going to keep on going.
Wertz: You know, I think it's really important on NASCAR to take this seriously as they appear to be doing, bringing in the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office. And they're really going to try to find the person who did this. Given that access to those garages so limited and there are cameras everywhere, you would hope that they have a quick resolution to this matter.
Glenn: And sticking with this, Langston, before the race was scheduled to start, a plane flew over the speedway with a racist banner. Tell us about that.
Wertz: Ninety minutes before the race started, there was a parade of about 25 pickup trucks, cars and motorcycles that rode around the track. Some of the more flying versions of the Confederate flag, some had signs on it to say "goodbye, NASCAR." There was one that said "don't mess with our flag." And then above, a plane flew over that included a Confederate flag and the words "defund NASCAR."
Glenn: Now, NASCAR officials have not said how they plan to enforce the ban on the Confederate flag at events. Do you think they will extend that to things like the banners flying overhead and cars and trucks going up and down like they did? Can they do that?
Wertz: Well, I think it's going to be really hard for them to enforce the ban. NASCAR doesn't own the parking lots in all situations, so guys can fly them there. And the plane thing, I don't know the rules about airspace above stadiums and things like that, but I think, you know, you're going to see this type of response go on for some time. But NASCAR is moving in the direction it's moving, so it's going to have to find ways to deal with this.
Glenn: Now, staying with the Confederate flag and sports, the NCAA took a strong move against the flag of Mississippi. Tell us about that.
Wertz: They will not host events where prominent Confederate symbols are shown, and the Southeastern Conference also made a similar declaration, and it was aimed at the Mississippi state flag.
Glenn: And how will it affect teams in North and South Carolina that play NCAA games in Mississippi?
Wertz: If they're going to be an away team at a team in Mississippi, they'll all of a sudden have a home game because the NCAA is not going to allow those specific teams to host and field their tournament games even when they qualify to do so.
Glenn: OK, well, let's move to the coronavirus. You've had people like Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott testing positive, 23 players at Clemson tested positive. It's also hit Major League Baseball with more than 40 players and staff testing positive. What does this mean for the return of sports?
Wertz: It's certainly got a lot of people questioning their policies and what you do and how you do it. Are the numbers are gonna make the NCAA jittery? Yes, they are. Is it going to force something to shut down right now? Yes, it will. Are we going to start college football on time? I don't know.
Glenn: Now all of this is happening at a time when schools are getting ready to start football workouts. Will school districts go forward with this and how?
Wertz: We don't know. I mean, Monday, a student in Fort Mill (South Carolina) tested positive for COVID-19. Fort Mill schools canceled all of the schools' practices for the entire week.
Glenn: And what are you hearing from parents or student-athletes? Have you talked to any?
Wertz: Almost universally student-athletes want to play. I've not talked to any kids — and I've talked to at least 100, literally — who have said "I don't want to play this. I'm a little nervous about how to go about it." But they all want to play. And Gwen, this past weekend, there were two AAU tournaments, one at Fort Mill, one in Greenville (South Carolina). There was a huge seven-on-seven high school football event in Fort Mill. It featured probably 20% of the top players in this area. Parents are a little more concerned, you know, with little Johnny coming home with COVID and giving it to grandma. That's one of the biggest concerns I've heard is, "Will my kid bring this home to people?"
Glenn: Well, before we go, I hear the rivalry between Charlotte Country Day and Providence Day may intensify. What's happening there?
Wertz: Country Day had an opening for the boys basketball coach. They went and hired a former state championship coach from Providence Day. That's a lot like Chapel Hill hiring the coach from Duke or vice versa. You just don't see that happening. This guy's name is David Carrier, a really good guy. And that's one of the best high school sports rivalries in North Carolina. It's certainly going to be a little bit more intensified.
Glenn: Well, we'll have to keep watching to see how that plays out. Langston, thanks for joining us for Time Out For Sports.