In May 2020, leadership at the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR), had to decide whether to ban the Confederate flag at its events. To many, the flag was emblematic of racism and a celebration of the Confederacy and its attempts, in the American Civil War, to retain the institution of slavery. The Confederate flag had been controversial for years, and NASCAR had tried to eliminate it and other racist symbols from its events, but to no avail. But this time was different: awareness of injustice and inequity had permeated the country’s social consciousness and people throughout America had taken to the streets to protest. Nonetheless, many NASCAR fans claimed the Confederacy flag was representative of “heritage, not hate” and threatened to boycott the sport if it were banned. Despite NASCAR’s attempts to diversify both the organization and the audience, its fan base remained decidedly conservative and, for the most part, tolerant of the flag’s presence. NASCAR did not want to alienate its fan base, but leadership did want to change with the times and instill diversity in every aspect of the organization. It also did not want to put up roadblocks to attendee comfort—and for many current and potential fans, the Confederate flag’s presence was a roadblock.
The case presents an opportunity for students to explore this decision using a stakeholder approach. They must identify and examine the various stakeholders of a company or organization and how they are affected by the company’s actions and decisions, particularly when there is public pressure to take (or not take) action on a specific issue. Class discussion then turns to examining characteristics and examples of modern leadership, particularly as societal changes and shifts are occurring.
Topics for class discussion could include the following:
• What involvement should companies have in politics?
• How should leadership think about the various stakeholders in making this decision?
• Who are the stakeholders and what are their concerns in this situation?
• What are some parallels of controversial cultural symbols in the United States and in other countries?
• How should NASCAR deal with this ongoing controversy after its difficult decision?
• What steps should NASCAR take to promote more diversity and inclusion in the organization?
• How can NASCAR deal with the negative fallout from disgruntled fans?