LOUDON, NH — Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem highlights the role athletes can play in social issues, and the protests this week in Charlotte, North Carolina, after a police shooting has made such topics more personal for some NASCAR drivers who live nearby.
Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson says he tries to let his actions speak loudest on such issues.
“I try to keep my social media on the fun side and then try to lead by example and be a great citizen of our country,’’ said Johnson, who appeared earlier this year in a campaign between NASCAR and the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality to promote inclusion and diversity within and outside of sports and was a part of the 2014 campaign to help encourage leadership among young girls.
“I’m a firm believer of gender equality, race equality, and I live my life that way and teach that to my children.’’
Johnson admits this past week has been difficult in explaining to his oldest daughter, who is 6 years old, what has happened in Charlotte.
“I found as I would answer a question, she would have three or four more questions and (then I’d continue to) try to explain to her the issue in Charlotte with the police officer,’’ Johnson said. “We’ve taught her to really love and embrace anybody in uniform. For her to try to grasp that a police officer was mad at somebody was just out of her mind to start with. Just more questions came up.’’
A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott during a confrontation Tuesday afternoon. Police say Scott had a gun. The victim’s family disputes that.
Protests took place the next four nights in Charlotte. The first two nights the protests turned violent with damage to Charlotte businesses and one person fatally shot by another citizen. The NASCAR Hall of Fame suffered minor damage. Protests were peaceful Thursday and Friday night.
“I just hope everybody can look at everything and gather their thoughts and figure out the right way to fix the problems we have,’’ Austin Dillon said. “Hopefully, with the way things are, the right people will come together and fix these problems that are going on. It’s just sad really.”
Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began sitting for the national anthem during preseason games last month to protest what he deems as wrongdoings against minorities. He now kneels for the anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview last month. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
Kaepernick has pledged to donate $1 million to community organizations. Kaepernick’s protest has been joined by some NFL players and athletes in other sports. All the players for the Indiana Fever of the WNBA knelt and locked arms for the anthem before a playoff game this past week, becoming the first pro team to protest together in such a manner.
Whether on TV or via social media, NASCAR drivers also are in the spotlight and their message can be shared with many. Joey Logano recognizes such a responsibility.
“I think any athlete or public figure takes on a responsibility when you sit down here and talk to you guys, or at any point,’’ said Joey Logano, who appeared in the same campaign this year with Johnson, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson and Darrell Wallace Jr. that promoted inclusion and diversity. “There’s a lot of people that you can influence in good ways or bad ways, and I feel like you should know that. There are a lot of athletes and public figures that don’t realize that about the reaction they can make across the country or the world in a lot of cases by just a couple of words.
“I feel like that should be somehow taught. I believe we all should be entitled to our opinions. That’s A-OK, maybe some of the ways that it’s done is not the best way possible, but I personally believe when I sit down here I know the influence that I can have on young eyes watching us that are very fragile at the time that they could go a lot of different ways. You want to be a positive member of society, and I think that’s something that I try to preach all the time is that, hey, I want to positively impact somebody’s life.”
“A lot of people try to escape from the outside world through sports,’’ Keselowski wrote. “So we have to always be cognizant of that as an athlete. And I think it’s important not to force-feed politics to our fans, because we have to remember why they’re there. At the same time, I don’t think that means we can deny truth or ignore important things that are happening. It’s an extremely tough line to walk, and quite honestly, I don’t know if there are many athletes, including me, who really have handled it all that well, or to everyone’s satisfaction.
“To be overly involved is forgetting your day job. To not be involved is a tremendous waste.’’