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Wizards' Ish Smith and ex-Washington defensive end Renaldo Wynn were moved by NASCAR's Confederate flag ban

Wizards' Ish Smith and ex-Washington defensive end Renaldo Wynn were moved by NASCAR's Confederate flag ban

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.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Wizards guard Ish Smith grew up a NASCAR fan. It didn't matter that racing was a predominately white sport. NASCAR is part of the culture in Charlotte and Smith enjoyed watching it.

In June, just weeks after the killing of George Floyd, NASCAR took a tremendous step forward regarding social justice by banning the Confederate flag from all races. The move was one, frankly, many thought would never happen, including Smith.

Smith explained that he was "shocked" about the flag ban on 'Race in America,' a panel hosted by NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, which also featured former Washington football team defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn and D.C. United keeper Bill Hamid.

"If you want me to be honest, I was shocked," Smith said. "I don't think people understand, when you're from North Carolina, NASCAR is a sport that you like, that you love. Even now, just seeing you guys talk about it, I still was in shock."

RACE IN AMERICA: WATCH ISH SMITH & RENALDO WYNN'S FULL DISCUSSION

The point guard explained that NASCAR knew the ban would receive backlash from its fans. Smith gave credit to the sport for moving forward with the ban anyway, understanding that it was a monumental step for change in society.

"I'm like, 'Oh, there's going to be some uproar,'" Smith said. "Because from the South, that's how they feel, like 'this is a part of us; this is our history' not even knowing the basis, or caring to read about the basis. But that's where we are. Kudos to NASCAR for doing it."

Wynn also went into detail on what the flag ban meant, explaining that banning the flag was a way for NASCAR to show advancement regarding social justice and racial equality.

"I thought that this is finally progress," Wynn said. 

Following his NFL career, Wynn moved to Charlotte in 2012. Upon arrival, he partnered up with his former Washington football head coach, joining Joe Gibbs Racing's marketing department. There, he served the role of Gibbs’ ministry as Director of Outreach & Game Plan for Life. While he no longer lives in Charlotte, Wynn remains a board member for Joe Gibbs Racing. 

Wynn explained that throughout his time at Joe Gibbs Racing, he's had difficult conversations with many members of the team about the Confederate flag and the symbolism behind it.

"I've had not arguments, but heated discussions that were open dialogue with guys in the building at Joe Gibbs Racing about their heritage," Wynn said. "Guys that I know were great guys, good-hearted guys, Christian guys. But that flag was a part of their history."

For those people that are so fond over the Confederate flag, Wynn asks an important question:

"My question to them was, if that is a part of you're history, and you're saying that there's no wrongdoing to it, then why don't you step up when you see the bad connotations that are connected to it?' Wynn said. 

RELATED: NATASHA CLOUD, MIKE LOCKSLEY AND IAN MAHINMI ON RACE IN AMERICA

"When you see the KKK out there, when you see skinheads out there, you see racist people carrying that daggone flag around, why don't you say something? And step up and say 'here's the history?' There was no response. They need to realize there's a reason why you don't see one Black person with the Confederate flag. I haven't seen one."

A couple of weeks after the Confederate flag ban, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, the sport's lone Black driver, found a noose in his garage in Talladega. NASCAR partnered with the FBI to conduct an extensive review, and they announced that the noose was not a hateful act, rather, it had been there since last fall.

Yet, what happened before the race will go down as one of the biggest moments of social reform in sports history. Before the race, dozens of drivers pushed the car belonging to Wallace to the front of the field in an incredible act of solidarity, a moment that resonated with Wynn and many others.

"That scene has got to be the most powerful scene in all of sports. Not just sports, but history," Wynn said. "When we talk about the history of NASCAR, yeah, that would have been powerful for football or for basketball, but this is NASCAR! For that to happen, we talked about the Confederate flag, it was like a 1-2 punch, just let America know we are not being silent and we are going to stand behind Bubba."

You can watch the full panel by clicking here.

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Donald Trump lashes out at NASCAR, Bubba Wallace over flag, noose incidents

Donald Trump lashes out at NASCAR, Bubba Wallace over flag, noose incidents

After a weekend spent stoking division, President Donald Trump on Monday went after NASCAR's only Black driver and criticized its decision to ban the Confederate flag at its races and venues.

Exploiting racial tensions, Trump wrongly accused Bubba Wallace of perpetrating "a hoax" after one of his crew members discovered a rope shaped like a noose in a garage stall they had been assigned to. Federal authorities ruled last month that the rope had been hanging there since at least last October and was not a hate crime. Wallace has maintained the rope had been fashioned into a noose.

"Has (at)BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX?" Trump tweeted. "That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!"

The tweet came after Trump used a pair of Independence Day speeches to dig deeper into America's divisions by accusing protesters who have pushed for racial justice of engaging in a "merciless campaign to wipe out our history." The remarks served as a direct appeal to the Republican president's political base, including many disaffected white voters, with less than four months to go before Election Day.

Wallace, an Alabama native, has taken an active role in the push for racial equality. He has worn a shirt saying "I Can't Breathe," raced with a Black Lives Matter paint scheme in Virginia and successfully lobbied for NASCAR's Confederate flag ban.

For more than 70 years, the flag was a common and complicated sight at NASCAR races. The series first tried to ban the Confederate flag five years ago but did nothing to enforce the order.

While Trump claimed NASCAR's ratings are down, they are actually up.

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No charges in NASCAR noose incident involving Bubba Wallace

No charges in NASCAR noose incident involving Bubba Wallace

TALLADEGA, Ala.  -- The noose found hanging in Bubba Wallace's garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway had been there since at least last October, federal authorities said Tuesday in announcing there will be no charges filed in an incident that rocked NASCAR and its only fulltime Black driver.

U.S. Attorney Jay Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said an investigation determined “although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.”

A crew member for Richard Petty Motorsports discovered the noose Sunday at the Alabama race track. NASCAR was alerted and contacted the FBI, which sent 15 agents to the track to investigate. They determined no federal crime was committed.

The statement said the garage stall was assigned to Wallace last week in advance of the race scheduled for Sunday but held Monday because of rain. Through video confirmed by NASCAR it was discovered the noose “was in that garage as early as October 2019."

The agencies said the evidence did not support federal charges. NASCAR said a check of every other stall in the garage showed the one for Wallace's car was the only one in which the pull down rope had been fashioned into a noose.

Wallace successfully pushed the stock car series to ban the Confederate flag at its venues less than two weeks ago. There has been criticism of the ban by some longtime fans and security had been stepped up for Wallace, a 26-year-old Alabama native who has worn in the last month a shirt over his firesuit that read “I Can't Breathe.” His paint scheme for a race in Virginia was Black Lives Matter.

NASCAR said in a statement that “the FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment.”

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said the series is continuing its own investigation to determine why a noose had been in that garage stall at all. He added that it wasn't directed at Wallace was “a great conclusion for us” but was adamant NASCAR would have conducted its investigation the same way even now knowing it wasn't a hate crime.

“We would have done the same investigation. It was important for us to do,” he said, stressing that Wallace's race team had nothing to do with the incident.

"The evidence was very clear that the noose that was in the garage was in there previously. The last race we had in October, that noose was present. The evidence we had, it was clear we needed to look into this.”

The Wood Brothers Racing team said one of its employees informed the team he recalled “seeing a tied handle in the garage pull down rope from last fall,” when NASCAR raced at Talladega in October. The team said it immediately alerted NASCAR and assisted the investigation.

The discovery of the noose stunned the stock car series as it takes an active position in a push for inclusion while distancing itself from its rocky racial history. The series first tried to ban the Confederate flag five years ago but did nothing to enforce the order.

Wallace two weeks ago renewed the call for a ban and NASCAR answered, but it has yet to detail how it will stop the display. Talladega marked the first race since the coronavirus pandemic that fans were permitted -- 5,000 were allowed to purchase tickets -- and some upset with the flag ban paraded past the main entrance with the Southern symbol. A banner flew over the speedway Sunday of a Confederate flag that read “Defund NASCAR.”

NASCAR announced late Sunday the noose had been discovered and the industry rallied around Wallace. All 39 of his rival drivers and their crews helped push Wallace's car to the front of pit road before the national anthem and stood behind him in solidarity.

Wallace was joined by his team owner, Hall of Famer Richard Petty, who gently placed a hand on Wallace's shoulder as he sobbed. Wallace after the race went to the fencing along the grandstands and greeted supporters. Many were Black and wearing “I Can't Breathe” shirts.

“It’s just been hectic, you know, carrying this weight,” he said. "I’m proud to stand where I’m at and carry a new face. Look at (these fans). Is this the first time you’re here? From Atlanta? That is so cool! The sport is changing.”