Over the last month, America has been having a long-overdue conversation about race, justice and equality in our society. At NBC Sports Washington, we wanted to further the dialogue by providing a forum for DMV-area sports figures who are thought leaders on these important issues.
NBC Sports Washington is launching the second part of an ongoing video series entitled Race in America. This week, Renaldo Wynn and Ish Smith joined Chis Miller for the second of these roundtable discussions to share their experiences, thoughts and how they’re using their platforms in this fight. To watch the full interview, click here.
NASCAR made two monumental statements over the past month that drastically changed how the sport is perceived by the world at large.
The sport banned the Confederate flag from all of its events and also made an incredible, moving show of support for its lone Black driver, Bubba Wallace.
Given the organization's history of a predominately white workforce and fan base, both messages were huge. It signaled a new era of inclusivity that many in the Black community did not feel before.
RACE IN AMERICA: WATCH ISH SMITH & RENALDO WYNN'S FULL DISCUSSION
But with everything that has happened in NASCAR since Wallace first wore a 'Black Lives Matter' shirt in late May, the most powerful statement for NASCAR was them pushing down his car on the starting grid. Wizards player Ish Smith and former Redskins player Renaldo Wynn think that moment was one of the most powerful images in sports.
"I'm getting chills thinking about it," Smith said in NBC Sports Washington's Race in America series.
The sign of solidarity came after a garage pull rope was fashioned like a noose was found in Wallace's garage at Talladega Superspeedway. Before the race the next day, all of NASCAR's current drivers and crew members from its top series physically and metaphorically pushed Wallace and his car to the front of the starting grid.
While the FBI determined the noose was not a hate crime after the fact, the symbolism of that act reverberated across society.
"That scene has gotta be the most powerful scene in all of sports," Wynn, who also works in auto racing, said. "Not just sports but history, because again... we talk about the history of NASCAR. Yeah, that would have been powerful for football or basketball, but this is NASCAR!"
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"It was like... a one-two punch, to let America know [NASCAR is] not being silent and we're going to stand behind Bubba. And the thing of it is, people don't know the journey that it took for him to get to that point to where he is right then and there."
Both Smith and Wynn knew Wallace at one point in their lives. Smith grew up with Wallace's sister, Brittany Gillespie, and became familiar with Bubba at an early age.
He knows that Wallace is not comfortable with the limelight and controversy surrounding him. Nor is the publicity that came with it wanted, despite some conspiracy theorists. Still, Smith is proud of how Wallace has handled the pressure and media spotlight as only the second full-time Black driver in NASCAR's Cup Series' history.
"To see who he is now, to see who the man he is now, I get chills because there becomes a time when you have to make a stand. I know he's uncomfortable sometimes walking in some of those areas when you're the sole Black person. To be as good as he is, he's already beaten the odds in that way. And then to speak up on what he said and how he said it, and then for NASCAR to make that action and then for them to push him- I was like, this is powerful," Smith said.
Wynn interacted with Wallace when they crossed paths at Joe Gibbs Racing. Wallace drove for JGR briefly in 2014 and 2015 for the Xfinity Series (NASCAR's second-tier series). Sponsorship issues arose halfway through the season and Wallace was granted a release from his contract before signing with another team.
There, Wallace told Wynn about his experiences climbing up the racing ranks. He told him about dealing with racism and the Confederate flag being a common staple among smaller tiers in the South.
"The thing of it is, he wasn't bitter. So he still had, like that joy... he didn't allow that to cause him be bitter to go through all that stuff. He's just still is like 'man, I'm going to out there and be the best and I'm not going to let that change me or cause me to be bitter'."
Some of those early experiences might still occur for young, up-and-coming Black drivers. But in the last month, Wallace has led incredible change in the racing community from leading the charge against the removal of the Confederate flag and facing several forms of racism.
You can watch the full panel by clicking here.
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