US sports world wades into Confederate flag debate

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A fan holds a Confederate flag during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. AFP PHOTO

A fan holds a Confederate flag during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. AFP PHOTO

LOS ANGELES: Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, proud owner of the signature Dodge car seen in the 1980s TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard,” said on Friday (Saturday in Manila) he will remove the Confederate flag painted on the auto’s roof.

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The move comes as US sports entities such as the NASCAR stock car series, which has a strong southern fan base, wrestle with the flag issue.

“The flag is offensive to people… I felt like it was the right gesture for me to do,” Watson said at the US PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

“I don’t stand for hatred,” added Watson, a day after he tweeted his intention to replace the Confederate flag painted on the vehicle’s roof with a US flag.

The Confederate battle flag has become a flashpoint for controversy since the murder of nine black worshippers by a young white supremacist at an historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Many see the Civil War saltire—which has been adopted by extremist groups—as a symbol of hate and racism rather than regional heritage.

It has come down already outside the Alabama state legislature and several major retailers have said they will no longer sell it.

Watson, who in 2012 bought at auction one of the Dodge Chargers that served as the “General Lee” in the show, said the car was a fond reminder of his childhood.

“Me and my dad, me and my family used to watch it, and who doesn’t want a car that jumps?” Watson said.

“Once people start putting hatred on it, I don’t want to be involved in that,” he said.

Meanwhile, NASCAR is trying to discourage its followers from displaying the flag.

Fans attending weekend festivities and Sunday’s race at Daytona International Speedway can trade in their Confederate flags for the Stars and Stripes.

NASCAR chairman Brian France and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr are among those who have said the flag belongs in the history books.

“We are committed to providing a welcoming atmosphere free of offensive symbols,” a group of NASCAR stakeholders said in a statement this week.

AFP

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