NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of one of the series’ most legendary drivers and an icon in his own right, became the first major figure in stock car racing to endorse athletes who kneel for the national anthem, Breitbart reported.
Earnhardt Jr.’s statement, which came via Twitter, broke with the rest of the NASCAR establishment, which made news for vigorously coming out against the wave of protests that erupted this weekend after President Trump’s statement last week condemning athletes who sat out or kneeled during the national anthem.
“All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests,” Earnhardt Jr. tweeted, followed by a quote from John F. Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable-JFK.”
The Sunday tweet came after several NASCAR figures made it clear that anthem-kneeling wouldn’t be tolerated by them.
“It’ll get you a ride on a Greyhound bus,” said car owner Richard Childress, who owned the car Earnhardt Jr.’s father raced in. He added that “anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.”
All-time NASCAR victories leader Richard Petty was even more harsh: “Anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem oughta be out of the country. Period,” Petty said. “What got ’em where they’re at? The United States.” He added that anyone who knelt during the anthem for his team would be fired.
In his not-terribly-subtle criticism of both Petty and Childress, Earnhardt Jr. — like so many others — frames this as a free speech issue. But this isn’t about wanting free speech. This is about wanting consequence-free speech.
Nobody, and I repeat nobody, is physically stopping anyone in NASCAR from kneeling during the national anthem. There isn’t any roving group of police officers ready to jail anyone judged insufficiently reverent during the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s just that owners made it clear they would exercise their freedom of speech and association by firing anyone who decided to disrespect the anthem and the American flag.
Unfortunately for him, Earnhardt Jr. is likely to find out what free speech really means in the form of millions of disappointed and angry fans, most of whom will want to know why he stabbed those who will stand up for America in the back.
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