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

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* 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."

 

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.

"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.