NASCAR opened up Pride Month with an apology.
But was it about quelling backlash, or pledging a true commitment to inclusivity?
On June 1, NASCAR’s official Twitter account tweeted the following:
As we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, we acknowledge that recent actions have not aligned with NASCAR’s mission to be a welcoming sport for all.— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 1, 2022
We remain steadfast in our commitment to create a more inclusive environment -- in our workplaces, at the race track & in the stands. pic.twitter.com/r0h232xaXd
While it’s commonplace for sports leagues to commemorate Pride Month with statements supporting the LGBTQ community, NASCAR’s appeared to be addressing a specific event.
FOX Sports reporter Bob Pockrass, among others, surmised the tweet was acknowledging the backlash NASCAR received from hosting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway last month. Abbott waved the ceremonial green flag.
Earlier this year, Abbott ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to open child abuse investigations into parents who seek gender-affirming healthcare for their trans children.
“Someone with the power to acknowledge such things admitted to me Abbott at Texas was a mistake,” tweeted AP NASCAR reporter Jenna Fryer.
While NASCAR declined to comment on the record about the tweet, it’s apparent the apology is about Abbott.
The timing lines up perfectly.
But as the old adage goes: “If you try to please everyone, you will please no one.”
That’s what NASCAR did here. The tweet reads as an attempt to accommodate both sides.
NASCAR acknowledged wrongdoing to the LGBTQ community, but didn’t specify what “recent actions” it’s referencing. The vague apology comes across as disingenuous, says queer NASCAR fan Jordan Fixsen.
“I think the social media people got put in a tough spot,” they told Outsports. “If they don’t say anything about it, then they’re gonna get called out for not saying anything about it. But if they did call out Greg Abbott by name, they could get in trouble with some people in NASCAR. So they kind of just had to do some mediocre, half-assed apology that made everyone mad.”
Bingo. Right-wing bloggers piled on NASCAR, with one Texas lawmaker even threatening to pursue legislative action against the organization.
In some respects, NASCAR’s bungled apology mirrors what happened this week with the Tampa Bay Rays. Team management allowed players to reject wearing the rainbow patch, and at least five did just that.
The story out of Rays Pride Night wasn’t about the vast majority of players who did wear the special patch. It was about the select few who opted out.
That’s not to say sports leagues and teams should demand homogeny. But we can spot empty words or gestures when we see them.
Have you seen all of these horrid #PrideMonth ads?
NASCAR is making strides to improve its relationship with the LGBTQ community. NASCAR has partnered with Jeff Parshley’s “NOH8 Campaign,” and driver Jennifer Jo Cobb raced at Daytona with the decal on her car.
Check out @NOH8Campaign Co-Founder @JeffParshley as he applies a #NOH8 decal to @JenJoCobb's #10 @CampingWorld series #NASCAR truck, making Friday's race in @Daytona the first time the #NOH8 logo will appear in a @NASCAR race pic.twitter.com/VTPMKTbuL6— NOH8 Campaign (@NOH8Campaign) February 18, 2022
For Pride Month, NASCAR says it plans to recognize LGBTQ people with infield grass stencil designs at racetracks in St. Louis, Portland, Sonoma and Nashville. It’s also launched its Pride month merchandise collection for the third straight year.
Two years ago, NASCAR partnered with The Trevor Project.
There is a push to diversify. Out gay racer Devon Rouse is one of the faces leading the way.
When he returned to the tracks after coming out, he was relieved when his competitors welcomed him with open arms.
“I had a lot of people who came up to me to say ‘we are so proud of you’ and ‘we’re glad that you are finally able to be your true self and nothing changes for us,’” he told Outsports in 2021. “That was a confidence booster for me, knowing that everything was still okay.”
Fixsen, meanwhile, says they’ve found a group of young LGBTQ NASCAR fans on social media. They routinely meet up at races.
“I found a group of close friends who are also NASCAR fans who feel the same way I do,” Fixsen said. “I kind of just ignore the main fan base, and all of their questionable antics.”
NASCAR is attempting to create a more welcoming atmosphere. But when it comes to episodes like the Pride Month apology, it seems like they’re sputtering well before reaching the finish line.