Why Dale Earnhardt Jr. feels he must speak out about Barcelona, Charlottesville

Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s most popular driver struggled to explain his reaction to the deadly attacks in Barcelona and Charlottesville.
Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s most popular driver struggled to explain his reaction to the deadly attacks in Barcelona and Charlottesville. AP

Thursday’s attack in Barcelona, Spain, that left at least 13 people dead, following Saturday’s killing of a protester at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, leaves most people searching for words to express their sorrow, outrage, bewilderment and fear.

Athletes such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. are no exception.

Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s most popular driver struggled to explain his reaction to the two most recent attacks on innocent people that seem to be an ongoing part of life these days, according to Michelle R. Martinelli from USA Today.

Perhaps most interesting, Earnhardt said that he felt a responsibility to speak out about the deadly attacks.

“It’s sad and frustrating to see what happened,” Earnhardt began. “You know, you feel somewhat responsible to speak on it. I think that it’s great that a lot of athletes did speak on it. It encourages people like myself to speak up, and I think that it’s been a very difficult period of time over the last couple of years for our country.”

Earnhardt then asked what many people must be thinking, “It just makes you wonder what in the hell is going on in this world?”

And the driver wondered about why such attacks keep happening.

“So it’s really frustrating because we ought to be better than that, ought to be smarter than that, than to be trying to tear each other apart,” Earnhardt told reporters. “We ought to be working together, but it just seems like that’s getting harder and harder to do. There’s less and less of that.”

Earlier this week, Earnhardt used Twitter to encourage people to work together after the attack at Charlottesville.

“Hatred, bigotry, & racism should have no place in this great country. Spread love,” Earnhardt wrote.

Saturday, a car plowed into a group of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally Saturday in Charlottesville, the home of the University of Virginia. The white nationalists – including neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members – were there to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio, 20, has been charged with charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count related to leaving the scene. Fields has been described as an admirer of Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany who initiated World War II and the genocidal policies in which millions of people, including some six million Jews, were killed.

Earnhardt on Confederate flag

Earnhardt has spoken against Confederate flag imagery as well. In his 2001 autobiography, “Driver #8,” he wrote about being asked about the flag during a press conference in his rookie season.

In his book, according to Yahoo! Sports Jay Busbee, Earnhardt wrote:

“The guy has put me in a bind. As much as I brag about being a no-[B.S.]-tell-it-like-it-is-here’s-how-I-see-it kinda guy, I know that these are the fans that pay my salary, so I’m hesitant to tell him the rebel flag represents closed-minded, racist views that have no place in today’s society.

“Give ‘em a straight answer and I may piss off the “rebels” in the crowd ... But I have my opinions and I don’t want to give a dishonest answer, either. I feel like the weight of the Civil War is resting on my shoulders.

“I take a couple of breaths and say, ‘I think it means something different to me than it does to y’all ...’

“That gets mixed reactions. Some hoot and yell, some kind of snicker.

“But time is up and I’m not going to stick around and argue the point.”

In the same article published in 2015, Busbee recounts a story about Earnhardt’s father cutting the Confederate flag from a bumper sticker on his car after his housekeeper mentioned her discomfort with the symbol. Dale Earnhardt, who died in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500, left the words – “American By Birth, Southern By the Grace of God,” but removed the flag.

NASCAR has also distanced itself from the Confederate flag imagery in recent years. The organization supported the removal of the flag from the South Carolina Capitol in 2015.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in Bristol, Tennessee, this week to race in Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. The 42-year-old driver plans to retire from full-time Cup Series racing when the season ends.

Earnhardt is still trying to make the Cup Series playoffs, and a win at Bristol would put him in the postseason.

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