2020 will undoubtedly go down as one of the craziest years in sports history. Sports leagues worldwide shut down for months as they tried to navigate the unfamiliar waters of a global pandemic. In addition, leagues in the U.S. had an entirely different set of challenges, addressing social justice issues as demonstrations spread across the nation following the death of George Floyd. According to the Sports Business Journal’s annual awards, NASCAR did it best and was awarded for its efforts by being named the Sports League of the Year.
NASCAR named Sports League of the Year
The Sports Business Journal annually recognizes leagues, teams, and individuals in a variety of categories, including best sports executive, best team, and best social media. This year, NASCAR received the honor as Sports League of the Year.
“Amid NASCAR’s return to racing in ’20, the sport innovated in multiple ways that it never had before while simultaneously navigating multiple interactions with America’s social justice reckoning,” the publication noted. “The sport publicly backed driver Bubba Wallace when he wore an ‘I can’t breathe’ shirt before a race, when he ran a Black Lives Matter paint scheme at a different race, and when he was involved with the highly publicized noose incident at Talladega Superspeedway.”
“We’ve got momentum. More importantly, we’ve got relevance,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in accepting the award. Phelps said in addition to NASCAR leading the nation in returning to live sports, the aftermath of George Floyd’s death allowed the league to define who it is and “created an entirely new face of NASCAR, one that is younger and more diverse.”
The award was NASCAR’s first win in the category after four nominations.
NASCAR leads way with help of Bubba Wallace
Following the death of George Floyd, Bubba Wallace, the lone Black driver on the Cup Series, became the unofficial voice of NASCAR and made numerous appearances on national television shows.
During one appearance on CNN, Wallace suggested the removal of confederate flags at races. A couple of days later, NASCAR announced that all confederate flags and associated memorabilia would not be allowed at the racing venues.
That was one of the biggest moves by an organization that has been stereotypically viewed as a spectator sport for white people. In addition to banning the flag, NASCAR made a concerted effort to educate within the organization and start a genuine conversation on social justice issues with the involvement of all the stakeholders, including the drivers.
Other award winners included NBA commish Adam Silver
In addition to NASCAR winning the top sports league, NBA commissioner Adam Silver won Sports Executive of the Year for his efforts salvaging the 2020 NBA season and restarting in the Orlando bubble while also addressing social justice issues.
The ESPN Wide World of Sports, which was the host of the NBA’s bubble and the MLS is Back Tournament, received honors as the Sports Facility of the Year.
The LA Dodgers were named Sports Team of the Year after winning their first World Series since 1988. ESPN earned honors as the Best in Sports Media, and the National Women’s Soccer League was named the Sports Breakthrough of the Year.