There are certain places we expect to see and hear activism and support for equality and racial reform in the sports world. The NBA has typically given its players and coaches the freedom to voice their opinions. NFL players have also been outspoken, even though their league hasn't always been receptive. On Sunday another sport lent its voice.
“Our sport must do better, our country must do better.”
Those were the words of NASCAR President Steve Phelps, part of a message given prior to Sunday’s race in Atlanta. Phelps acknowledged how people of color have suffered in America, and said the time is now to listen. What followed was 30 seconds of silence. The sport showed solidarity, something that El Cajon native Jimmie Johnson was happy to see.
“I just am really proud of our sport,” Johnson said after the race in an interview with Motorsports on NBC. “Throughout the week there were a lot of conversations that took place that I've never experienced within our sport.”
One such conversation included Bubba Wallace, the only black driver racing full time for NASCAR. Wallace knows their reputation. On Dale Earnhardt Junior's podcast, Dale Jr. Download, he said, “Our sport has always had somewhat of a racist label to it.
“I hate that because I know NASCAR is so much more.”
Wallace said he was frustrated by the silence on current issues from top drivers, and urged them to use their voices. Johnson listened.
“His honesty, his ability and willingness to just engage and talk to anyone that called,” Johnson explained. “He also called others, really put the momentum behind all of this. He's really enlightened me.”
In the last week the future Hall of Famer has expressed his support in a variety of ways. On Twitter he called out the effects of racism and hate, and his ability to condemn inequality. In speaking with media Friday he expressed his desire to educate himself.
“I look forward to the journey it takes me on and the ways I can be active,” Johnson added.
He was inspired in part by a basic realization.
“It's just a human rights issue and we need to do our part to influence others to think about it on a simple level.”
That’s what led to Sunday, and another message that was delivered before the race - this time by the drivers.
Johnson helped rally some of NASCAR's biggest names to acknowledge victims in the black community, and the sport's commitment to educating themselves and advocating for change.
“We just can't stay silent,” Earnhardt Jr. said in the video,
With Johnson as a driving force, the sport has a new goal, to work together to bring about change. Sunday was an important step in that direction..
“Definitely a special day for us in many ways and I'm just so proud to be a part of it.”