This wasn’t Bubba’s fault.
Blame NASCAR. Blame media outlets. Blame America.
But don’t blame Bubba Wallace. He’s the only person here who isn’t at fault after three unforgettable days at Talladega that serve as a reminder of not only the systemic racism that plagues our nation but conclusions it can lead us to.
Around 11 p.m. Sunday, seven hours after the GEICO 500 was postponed due to inclement weather and even longer after the noose was discovered in Wallace’s No. 43 car’s garage stall, NASCAR released the following statement:
“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming for all.”
NASCAR made it clear in the first sentence: A noose was found. The sport’s president, Steve Phelps, then jumped on a call with reporters and again drilled that point home.
A noose was found.
We ran with it. Media outlets from The Observer, ESPN and The Athletic to CNN, Fox News and OAN all ran stories about a noose in Wallace’s garage at Talladega. We tried to be careful in our language — that NASCAR announced a noose was found — but the reports were written, and inferred, that someone targeted Wallace.
Even Alabama governor Kay Ivey (Republican) apologized for the “vile act” on behalf of the state, of which Wallace is a native. Because a noose was found.
Early Monday morning, Observer reporter Alex Andrejev spoke with the Lincoln, Ala., (where the track is located) mayor about the case to try to gather more info. She then contacted the Talladega Sheriff’s office, who informed her the case was elevated to the FBI. The bureau doesn’t comment on a pending investigation. An emailed statement arrived later from the U.S. Attorney’s Office formally announcing a federal investigation of “the noose that was found” and that “this type of action has no place in our society.”
But there was no hate crime, the FBI announced Tuesday afternoon. The noose was a rope used to manually pull open an overhead garage door, tied as a small noose, and had been there since at least Oct. 2019.
Maybe NASCAR jumped the gun in making the news public before being sure Wallace was the target of a threat. Maybe we in the media were premature in how we handled this story — amateur sleuths with less reporting training spotted the 2019 video footage of the noose in garage stall No. 4 well before anyone else did. With social justice at the forefront of society, there’s hypersensitivity about perceived racism as our country tries to come together for equality.
But don’t blame Bubba Wallace.
He didn’t report the noose. He had no knowledge of it until Phelps told him in tears Sunday evening. Wallace believed it and had absolutely no reason not to believe he was the target of an act of hate as the sport’s only Black driver.
He was a driving voice behind NASCAR’s ban of the Confederate flag two weeks ago, and Sunday afternoon, someone paid to fly the Confederate battle flag with the words “DEFUND NASCAR” on a plane over Talladega Superspeedway.
“I’m pissed. I’m mad because people are trying to test my character, the person I am and my integrity. They’re not stealing that away from me, but they’re trying to test that,” Wallace told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday night. “As a person, Don, that doesn’t need the fame, doesn’t need the hype, doesn’t need the media, I could care less.”
“… None of the allegations of it being a hoax will break me or tear me down. Will it piss me off? Absolutely, but that only fuels the competitive drive in me to shut everybody up to get back on the race track next week in Pocono under a tremendous amount of B.S.”
Now he’s the one under fire. Wallace said he read social media Tuesday night, where ignorant comparisons to Jussie Smollett were rampant, and others were trying to cancel him for speaking publicly before the investigation was complete.
A noose was found in Wallace’s garage stall. It may not have been a hate crime, but it was a noose.
That’s not Wallace’s fault.