Renaldo Wynn

NASCAR's public support of Bubba Wallace was 'the most powerful scene in all of sports'

NASCAR's public support of Bubba Wallace was 'the most powerful scene in all of sports'

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!"

RELATED: SMITH & WYNN MOVED BY NASCAR'S CONFEDERATE FLAG BAN

"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.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE RACE IN AMERICA PODCAST

MORE RACE IN AMERICA:

Quick Links

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.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE RACE IN AMERICA PODCAST

MORE RACE IN AMERICA: