Following the disturbing news of a noose being found in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall during the GEICO 500 at Talledega Superspeedway in Alabama, ESPN’s Marty Smith appeared on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt to comment on the incident. And the longtime NASCAR reporter did not hold back his outrage over what occurred.
“This sport is moving forward,” Smith said. “This sport is in a progressive mode. This sport is in a moment where this crap, this despicable crap is not only not acceptable, but there’s just no place for it.”
“Whomever that is, I hope that you are so ashamed of yourself. I hope you realize that is someone’s dignity, and that is someone’s positioning in this sport who has earned his place by talent and by hard work. And he stood up for something he believed, and he asked for help from other people who believed similarly.”
"It pisses me the hell off and it pisses everybody else in the sport off who care, not only for Bubba, but for every single person he is standing up for."@MartySmithESPN delivers a passionate message after a noose was found in Bubba Wallace's garage stall. pic.twitter.com/hyAbxh7uSW
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 22, 2020
As NASCAR’s lone Black driver racing in the Cup Series, Wallace has been outspoken on race issues since the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis and the subsequent protests the killing has stoked supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, denouncing systemic racism and police brutality. He’s called on fellow drivers and NASCAR management to fight the notion that racing is a racist sport.
“All of our drivers, our sport has always had somewhat of a racist label to it,” Wallace said on the Dale Jr. Download podcast June 3. “NASCAR, everybody thinks ‘Redneck. Confederate flag. Racist.’ And I hate that. I hate that because I know NASCAR’s so much more than that.”
Wallace has since appeared at races wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt, highlighting one of Floyd’s final statements as police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. And he unveiled a #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and theme on his No. 43 car before racing at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia on June 10.
Smith began his Sunday night SportsCenter appearance by telling Van Pelt that he “felt like a fool” for saying earlier that NASCAR had come so far before eventually directed his anger at the person who left that noose in Wallace’s garage.
“Then we come down here, to a place I love,” Smith continued. “I love Talledega, Alabama. It’s my favorite place on the NASCAR tour. It’s my favorite race. I love the staff here. And then some… I’m about to say words I’m not allowed to say… something like this happens, in the garage area? In the garage area of Richard Petty’s race car?
“And then somebody goes and does this. You’re not just hurting one or two people, whomever you are. You’re hurting a whole lot of people who have made the decision that it’s damn sure time to go be better. And it pisses me the hell off. And it pisses everybody else in this sport off who care. Who care not only for Bubba, but for every single person that he is standing up for.”
Toward the end of the segment, Smith’s emotion caused him to lose his composure, saying a word he’s not allowed to say on the air.
Marty Smith speaks from the heart and always has. He loves NASCAR and is talking for so many fans, media, drivers and so many more connected with the sport tonight. pic.twitter.com/KIEKiVvK7f
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) June 22, 2020
Smith has reported on NASCAR for ESPN since 2006. Prior to joining the network, he covered the sport for a variety of outlets including NASCAR.com, SPEED Channel, and Fox Sports Net.
Considering the circumstances and Smith’s obvious passion in the moment, it’s doubtful anyone will fault or criticize him for swearing on the air. Besides, the appearance was at a late hour, after 11 p.m. Eastern time. And profanity has become relatively common on ESPN’s Sunday night airwaves in recent weeks with athletes speaking freely in The Last Dance and Lance.
Smith’s remarks might be even more necessary as conspiracy theories and skepticism have developed among some NASCAR fans in light of the noose episode. You can see these unfortunate comments in response to Wallace’s statement on Twitter and various news stories and blog posts reporting the story.
Let me guess, it will later be found out to be just a random extension cord coiled up, hanging on a workbench that was mistaken for a "noose" due to the hysteria.
— Mark Dice (@MarkDice) June 22, 2020
But as Smith and several others reported on Sunday night, NASCAR is taking this incident extremely seriously and working with law enforcement to investigate who left the noose in Wallace’s garage area. (According to Smith, Wallace never saw the noose. A member of his team discovered it and reported it to NASCAR officials.)
Will this be the last time Smith and his colleagues have to report on such an occurrence involving Wallace and NASCAR?