Chicago (CNSNews.com) - A board member of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition says auto-racing organizations such as NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) are "the last bastion of white supremacy" in professional sports.
Speaking Tuesday at the 32nd annual Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Conference in Chicago, Bill Shack said, "I want you to know that this is this last bastion of white supremacy in a particular sport. This is the last bastion."
He made the comments at a workshop called "Motor Sports: Increasing Minority Participation," and the criticism came despite NASCAR's six-figure support of Jackson's organization.
Shack suggested that race-car organizations don't reach out to minorities because they "don't particularly...want you out there, no more than they wanted Tiger [golfer Tiger Woods] out there."
This has "nothing to do with a moral response -- nothing at all, because they don't have very much of that. If they did, they would have done something before now," Shack said, referring to outreach efforts by auto racing organizations.
Ironically, NASCAR was a "platinum" sponsor of Jackson's 2002 Rainbow/PUSH Coalition's annual conference, and it reportedly has donated at least $250,000 to Jackson's group in recent years. It remained unclear whether NASCAR served as a sponsor of this year's conference.
'Appeasement doesn't pay'
One critic of Jesse Jackson who is leading an effort to end NASCAR's financial support of Rainbow/PUSH said this just proves that "appeasement doesn't pay."
Peter Flaherty, president of the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), told CNSNews.com, "NASCAR kicks in all this money to Jackson's groups, sends representatives to Jackson's conference, and they still get attacked as "white supremacists.'"
"NASCAR is finding out the hard way that appeasing Jesse Jackson doesn't work. The more you give him, the more he demands," Flaherty added.
The NLPC is the Washington, D.C.-based legal watchdog group that filed a formal complaint about Jackson's finances with the Internal Revenue Service in 2001.
NLPC's campaign to end NASCAR's support of Jackson has created a "political firestorm" for NASCAR, according to the weekly auto sports publication NASCAR Winston Cup Scene. NASCAR has defended its donations to Jackson as part of its efforts to bring more minority participation to motor sports.
'Mandated sensitivity training'
George Pyne, NASCAR's chief operating officer, arrived at the workshop shortly after Shack's diatribe against auto racing. Pyne told the workshop that NASCAR is vigorously reaching out to minorities.
Pyne cited the organization's "mandated sensitivity training" for all employees as well as NASCAR's efforts to reach "a diverse audience" through its diversity council, intern programs and college tours.
Pyne was most proud of the fact that his organization has hired a woman who formerly worked at a Denny's restaurant."
"You know Denny's was ranked the worst in the country in the area of diversity," but after a concerted effort, went from "worst to first." Denny's efforts at minority outreach followed highly publicized racial discrimination allegations.
Pyne cautioned, "Real progress comes slow, but we are looking for sustained results."
However, one woman in the crowd took exception to Pyne's concept of "slow results" and told him that Denny's turned itself around in 18 months because it made a serious commitment to diversity. She said NASCAR could do the same thing if it really wanted to.
'I am seeing confederate flags'
African-American professional drag racer Rikkia Mills was not impressed with Pyne's presentation on behalf of NASCAR.
"I think that [NASCAR is] doing it for money reasons, not for the right reasons," she said.
The 21-year-old Mills criticized motor sports as a "good ole boy network" that has not welcomed her. "I have a double negative as a black a female...they are not looking for black females," Mills said.
She also expressed hostility for some of NASCAR's fans. "When I watched NASCAR on TV, I saw people holding confederate flags. I am not going to go somewhere where I am seeing confederate flags all the time," Mills said.
'Public relations fiasco'
The National Legal and Policy Center's Flaherty predicted that NASCAR's appearance at Jackson's conference and the treatment it received there would further add to what he called NASCAR's "public relations fiasco."
"NASCAR fans have objected to NASCAR's support for Jackson by the thousands. When is NASCAR going to understand that Jesse Jackson has nothing to offer them?" Flaherty asked.
When CNSNews.com asked NASCAR's Pyne about the company's involvement with Jackson, he refused to respond.
"I don't have anything to say," Pyne told CNSNews.com.
The program for this year's Rainbow/PUSH conference does not list NASCAR as a sponsor, but Pyne's nametag at the event bore a "sponsor" ribbon on it.
When specifically asked if NASCAR was a sponsor of the Rainbow/PUSH conference, Pyne again refused to answer and walked away.
Jackson spokeswoman Keiana Peyton could not clear up the mystery as to whether NASCAR was a sponsor. Peyton said she believed NASCAR was a sponsor but could not immediately confirm it.
Flaherty views NASCAR's refusal to clarify its sponsorship as another example of how "NASCAR is playing games" with the public over its support of Jackson.
Jackson personally blasted the National Legal and Policy Center's campaign to end NASCAR's support of his organization in an interview in May, accusing the group of "hate baiting."
"These attacks by the [National Legal &] Policy Center, these are unending attacks...they have nothing to do with what we do," Jackson told the weekly newspaper NASCAR Winston Cup Scene. The publication is independent of NASCAR.
"Dr. Martin Luther King was called a communist, he was called a nigger, he was hated, he was killed. This kind of hate-baiting is really a perversion," Jackson said of the NLPC.
But despite Jackson's harsh attacks on NLPC, Flaherty vowed to continue his campaign to pressure NASCAR to end its support of Jackson.
"Our protest will continue until NASCAR comes clean and stops supporting Jesse Jackson," he said.
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E-mail a news tip to Marc Morano.
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