NASCAR fan dress code could be a slippery slope

NASCAR fan dress code could be a slippery slope

My dad told me not to wear the shirt.

Since I was also being told not to wear it by the Seattle Mariners, there was no way I would consider donning anything else.

It was a white T-shirt with the words “Yankees suck” on the front in blue.

I was a 28-year-old man. I should have been able to eat a chicken sandwich if I wanted, so I figured I could wear any shirt that I wanted, too.

In April of 2002, the Mariners organization banned the shirts, which were being sold right outside the stadium, from being warn inside what was then called Safeco Field.

The Yankees were in town, and they always bring a ton of fans with them.

When that large group of supporters of the Bronx Bombers saw other fans wearing the “Yankees Suck” shirts, as you can imagine, things got a little tense and ugly.

The Mariners said “no more,” and they stood by the ban the rest of the series. They said it was forever.

Two weeks later, I went to Seattle to watch the Red Sox play the Mariners. I bought one of the infamous shirts outside the stadium after a Saturday afternoon game.

The statement the shirt made just so happened to be my life’s motto.

By banning the shirt from Safeco Field, the Mariners made that statement even more powerful. They also made the lines at the T-shirt booth a lot longer.

The next night, the teams played on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

It was Mother’s Day. I wore the shirt.

While walking to my seat, I came across a Yankees fan who was dressed just like Joe Torre with his brand-new Yankees hat and Yankees coat.

As you might have guessed, the guy really disliked my shirt.

“(Bleep) you,” he said. “The Red Sox suck and I hope Pedro blows out his elbow.”

I did not say anything back to the angry Yankees fan. I just smiled as he walked on past, giving me the evil eye. I was wearing a shirt that basically told him to bleep off. How could I be upset that he said the same in return?

Of course, I had not consumed my first beer yet. Later in the night, and things could have gotten tense and ugly.

Then my dad would have said “I told you so” as he wired me bail money.

A few innings into the game, and a whole lot of dirty looks and a few snide comments later, I covered the shirt with a Red Sex batting practice jersey.

I was very satisfied with my First Amendment stance, but I also felt a little uncomfortable. Frankly, I kind of felt like a jerk.

Nobody asked me to remove or cover the shirt. It seems the controversy died down after the Yankees were no longer in town, and the Mariners backed off their ban.

And, it really was not a First Amendment issue at all because the Mariners are a private organization. The team can ban shirts or flags from their stadium if they wish.

Plus, it could be argued that a “Yankees suck” shirt represented fighting words, and, as everybody knows, the Supreme Court ruled that such words are not protected speech in the 1942 ruling in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire.

Like with the Mariners, NASCAR is a private company that can ban the Confederate flag at all of its events.

So, it did not represent a constitutional crisis when NASCAR did just that, telling Jim Bob and Bubba to leave their rebel gear at home.

The initial reaction to the banning of the Confederate flag is to say, “Good. It is about time.”

Aside from being the flag of the losing side of the Civil War, the Confederate flag has long been seen as a symbol of hate and racism. The Confederates, after all, were the ones fighting to keep slavery.

It is probably true that the majority of those who like to fly the Confederate flag are good people who are just proud of their Southern heritage. Judging from what I know of Southern living — which comes almost exclusively from Reece Witherspoon movies and Alabama songs — Southerners are very proud people.

To a whole lot of people, however, the stars and bars are fighting words, just like with that Yankees fan who did not like my “Yankees suck” shirt.

Actually, the shirt and the flag are both against the Yankees, if you think about it. Only the Confederate flag is much more biting, much more hurtful.

The statement made by NASCAR did not specifically mention if the flag ban includes flags on hats, shirts and coats, but it appears that is indeed the case.

“The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties,” the statement reads, in part.

You have to give it to NASCAR for taking the risk of offending a very large part of its fan base to do what it sees as the right thing in light of the George Floyd death and significant public pressure.

But, would banning the flag on T-shirts actually make the flag more powerful for those who wear it out of hate?

Will the lines to the racist T-shirt booth grow longer and longer?

Is it really possible to stomp out hate with a dress code?

It seems like if we are willing to accept NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem — and we should — then we should not necessarily tell Cooter and Cleetus which flag they can or cannot wear on their hoodie.

Free speech means tolerating speech we do not agree with, and our flag — the winning flag — is supposed to stand for freedom.

I always thought it was better to point and laugh at people wearing the Confederate flag than try to make them take off. I always saw wearing the Confederate flag as self-labeling by the racists and cowards of the world.

Do not get me wrong. I will not miss seeing the Confederate flag at NASCAR — mainly because I do not watch the “sport.” Flags should have never been flown on a pole at any race in the first place.

It just makes me uncomfortable when we, here the “land of the free,” start telling people what they can and cannot wear, no matter how despicable the wardrobe choice.

Looking back at my “Yankees suck” shirt 18 years later, I realize that my dad, as usual, was right when he told me I should not wear it.

Since both my brothers are Yankee fans, it also was not something to wear at family functions, unless I was ready to throw down.

The shirt, which is not a symbol of slavery and racism, eventually found its way to the bottom of my drawer. Even though I believe the message as much today as I did back then, I just feel too uncomfortable to wear it in public.

If someone tells me that I cannot wear it tomorrow, however, I will put it on again in a heartbeat.

— Bill Foley, who will be the happiest guy in town if just one person gets his reference to the 19-year-old Tom Green movie, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on He is writing more frequently during the coronavirus lockdown. Email him at Follow him at 1 comment

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1 Comment

  • Mark J Hislop
    June 12, 2020, 10:16 pm

    I would wear that shirt, all day, every day. Yankees suck. Your Sox as well.


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