Taking the time to reflect.
Widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice turned the Black Lives Matter movement into an international phenomenon in 2020, forcing a broad range of industries—perhaps, most notably, the sports world—to face an unprecedented reckoning as Black athletes in the NBA, NFL, MLS and other leagues made their voices heard and demanded change.
Take, for example, Bubba Wallace, who E!’s Justin Sylvester caught up with on the latest episode of Just the Sip. The only Black driver in NASCAR’s top tier, Bubba called on the stock car racing company to ban the Confederate flag from official events, citing its ties to the South’s history of slavery and segregation.
NASCAR ultimately heeded his and other racers’ request, but as Bubba explained on the podcast on Wednesday, Jan. 13, the new rule was met with backlash, some of which was directed at him.
“I pissed a lot of people off,” the 27-year-old driver told Justin.
“At the end of the day, I’m just a normal Joe that likes to have fun and race cars for a living,” Bubba continued. “And that’s what I try to come across as, but, hey, when you start to speak on things that affect you in real life, people hate that. So now I’m hated. Oh well.”
Bubba knew condemning the Confederate flag’s place at NASCAR events would spark backlash, so he made sure to prepare, doing his “research” and “due diligence.” Throughout the process, he recalled receiving messages and seeing tweets that read “Hey, I will never go to a NASCAR race because of the flag,” or “I’ve been before and the flag was there so I’ll never go back.”
“I was like, you know what? We could get this out of here,” Bubba told Justin. “I mean, if this is holding back a huge race that we are trying to attract; a huge demographic that we’re trying to branch our [audience to], let’s just get rid of it. And it was as simple as that.”
Two days after Bubba publicly encouraged NASCAR to get rid of Confederate flags, the organization responded: In an effort to create a more “inclusive environment” for fans, NASCAR was officially banning the flags from its racetracks.
“The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” the organization said in a statement on June 10. “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”
Later that month, NASCAR released another statement. Why? A noose had been found in Bubba’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. At the time, Bubba said he was “incredibly saddened” by the “despicable act of racism and hatred,” noting it served as a “painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism.”
Looking back at the incident and all of the backlash in general, Bubba explained on Just the Sip that he “kind of accepted it and moved on.”
“It’s sad to see that so many people are stuck in their ways and don’t want to change,” he expressed. “And hey, I’m guilty of being afraid of change. I mean, you tell me to try something different at a restaurant that I’ve been going to for years, no. I’m not gonna do it. I don’t care how good it is…But when it comes to things about your neighbors, about human beings and what’s right, it’s just like, why don’t you want to do due diligence? And why don’t you want to reach out and figure out, ‘Hmm, what is he really, actually talking about?’ instead of assuming things and thinking that it’s this, and thinking that it’s that, when it has nothing to do with what you’re thinking of.”
Thankfully, Bubba added, he had a strong support system, from his girlfriend of five years to fellow NASCAR racer Jimmy Johnson: “He was the one that was calling me every day through the thick of it. He was taking time out of his day to make sure my head was still above water.”
In the months since NASCAR’s announcement about the flags and the noose incident, Bubba has been busy working with a new team.
And not just any team, but Michael Jordan‘s team.
“I’ll never forget the day we announced,” Bubba told Justin. “I was getting a lot of phone calls and text messages from family and friends, and then an unknown number pops up with a simple text message, ‘Hey, glad to see this thing came through. Let’s get after it and go have fun. MJ.'”
Hear more about the 23XI Racing team, Bubba’s life and his upcoming race at Daytona by listening to the complete episode of Just the Sip in the above player.