Noah Gragson made an incredible, potentially career costing mistake.
It was a mistake that was made at some point in the last three months, but was four years in the making.
Here’s what happened.
Three years ago, on May 25, 2020, a Black man named George Floyd was murdered.
He was murdered on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, by a white police officer named Derek Chauvin, who for more than nine minutes held his knee in the back of Floyd’s neck.
During the nine minutes before he died, Floyd gasped for air and cried out for his mother.
It was a spark to a tinderbox of a world changing summer that not even NASCAR could avoid.
Less than two weeks later, NASCAR released a video of drivers saying “I will learn and listen.”
That video was largely coordinated by the future co-owner of Legacy Motor Club: Jimmie Johnson.
Flash forward to May 27, 2023.
That’s when an Instagram account called LBuddah_ posted a meme to its Instagram Reels.
A video of Floyd’s face pasted on the body of a crab.
The caption read “Under da knee, under da knee,” a mashup of the famous song from The Little Mermaid and the way that Floyd was murdered.
Then, at some unknown point between May 27 and Aug. 4, Gragson saw and watched the meme.
Then he pressed the “heart” icon.
A meme about a man who was murdered.
Then early Friday (Aug. 4) morning, a Twitter account that has now been set to private posted a screenshot that showed the meme. At the bottom of it was an indicator that Gragson had liked the video.
I found out about it later in the day when a fellow Frontstretch reporter shared it in our company Slack.
My instant, emotional reaction was to believe it was real.
But, I had to make sure, because this is the Internet we’re talking about.
When I got the chance last night I immediately sent an email to Legacy Motor Club’s PR representatives.
In that email I made every attempt possible to couch my message and the questions I included in way that allowed for the possibility that the screenshot was a fabrication.
Saturday morning, upon someone else noting that Gragson’s current Instagram profile picture was different from the one visible in the screenshot, I sent a followup message asking when Gragson’s photo had been changed, again trying to allow for the possibility this was a wild goose chase.
I then sent messages similar to my first email to Legacy Motor Club to representatives of Chevrolet and NASCAR.
Then, at 10:27 a.m. CT, Legacy Motor Club confirmed it in a statement sent out via email.
“We have made the decision to suspend Noah Gragson effective immediately regarding his actions that do not represent the values of our team. Josh Berry will drive the No. 42 entry for this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan.”
Gragson himself released a statement, attributing it to a “lack of attention” on social media, saying he understood “the severity of this situation” and that he “messed up plain and simple.”
Less than 50 minutes after LMC’s statement, NASCAR took it a step further.
“NASCAR fully supports Legacy Motor Club’s decision to suspend Noah Gragson. Following his actions on social media, NASCAR has determined that Gragson has violated the Member Conduct section of the 2023 NASCAR Rule Book and has placed him under indefinite suspension.”
NASCAR had to take this action.
It goes back to June 7, 2020, when President Steve Phelps addressed the sport and the country prior to the Cup Series’ second race in the wake of Floyd’s murder.
“The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change,” Phelps said. “Our sport must do better. Our country must do better. The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission.”
Gragson was a driver in NASCAR when Phelps delivered that message.
I don’t know what Gragson’s actual reaction was when he liked that meme posted back in May.
He may have just been mindlessly scrolling one day. He maybe saw it, watched it, registered what it was, chuckled or had a hearty laugh, tapped the “heart,” and kept scrolling.
Maybe he had no visible reaction and just tapped it.
But he still tapped it.
George Floyd was a person.
George Floyd didn’t deserve to die.
He didn’t deserve to have a meme mocking him.
And that meme didn’t deserve Noah Gragson’s passive approval.
2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021.
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.
You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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