For the last five years, there has been only one state in the union that is banned from hosting predetermined NCAA postseason events. That state is Mississippi.
Due to the presence of the confederate battle emblem on the state’s flag – a symbol many view as racist – the NCAA won’t schedule championship events in the Magnolia State except for in sports like baseball and softball where postseason events are awarded based on in-season performance. It’s one of the many reasons that Mississippi State University administrators have for years supported changing the state flag.
In the wake of recent conversations in the state to change the flag – talks and petitions revived after the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests around the nation about racial equality – Cowbell Corner reached out to the office of MSU President Mark Keenum and athletic director John Cohen to get their current stances on the issue and the two are in agreement that a new flag is needed.
Mississippi State provided an email sent by Keenum to a student in recent days. It illustrates Keenum's commitment to wanting a state flag change.
“My point has always been that flags should unite us and bring us together and that Mississippi State University remains committed to diversity, inclusion, equal opportunity and a culture of fellowship, tolerance and peace,” Keenum wrote in the email. “As you may have seen, we had a tremendous event here in Starkville and on campus (on June 6) to call for an end to senseless murders and brutality and racial injustice. I was honored to be a part of it, which we hosted at the amphitheater. The crowd numbered more than 1,000 and included Mississippians of all races, ages and genders. I was moved by the emotions, the love and the spirit of cooperation we all felt during this special time together. I am hopeful the goodwill generated from this event and others like it across our state will create additional momentum to address wide-ranging issues of concern to all of us, including a renewed discussion about the future of the flag. But as I have said before, this issue is not going to be resolved on our campus or any other campus across our state. Such a decision rests in Jackson with our elected leaders. I would encourage anyone who feels strongly about it to make their views known to our state legislators.”
Cohen is on the same page as Keenum. The leader of the MSU athletic department said in a statement provided to Cowbell Corner on Wednesday that he is in lockstep with the thoughts of the school’s president.
“This has been and continues to be a relevant and important discussion,” Cohen said. “I agree with the sentiments of our university leadership regarding the future of the state flag.”
Keenum and Cohen’s responses are consistent with what Keenum shared five years ago. In 2015, South Carolina removed the Confederate flag it had previously flown at its capitol grounds, making Mississippi the lone state still flying a Confederate emblem. At the time, Keenum issued a statement that very closely resembled his message in the email sent recently.
The Southeastern Conference also supported removing the Confederate emblem in 2015. The SEC hasn’t yet responded to Cowbell Corner’s request for comment on its current stance, but commissioner Greg Sankey had this to say in a statement five years ago:
"I support the calls made to remove the prominent displays of the Confederate battle flag, and applaud the leadership demonstrated around this issue," Sankey said back then. "SEC universities are learning communities filled with people of diverse ethnicities. Through intercollegiate athletics we provide a rallying point for people of all backgrounds and beliefs. We must provide our student-athletes an opportunity to learn & compete in an environment conducive to all races, creeds and colors."
Despite all the calls in the past and present to change the state flag, the symbol has remained in Mississippi. Mississippi voters overwhelmingly voted to keep the current flag when the issue went to ballots back in 2001. The current flag won by a nearly two-to-one margin. Nearly 20 years later though, there is much renewed interest in revisiting the issue.
Some Mississippi lawmakers began moving towards trying to change the state flag last week. A resolution was filed to start the process, which sought to change the flag by a legislative measure instead of a statewide public vote. However Mississippi Today reported on Wednesday that Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann had assigned the legislation to change the flag to a Senate Constitution committee where the legislation would not likely pass.
Still, there is much public support to change the flag. An online petition to change it had gathered more than 142,000 signatures as of late Wednesday night.
At the same time, many Mississippians also remain in the corner of keeping the current flag. A recent poll from Mississippi-based Chism Strategies had 46 percent of respondents in favor of retaining the current flag with 45 percent in support of changing it. Nine percent were unsure.
And while there remains a split amongst the people of Mississippi, at Mississippi State University, its highest administrators are crystal clear on their stance.
The current Mississippi flag was removed from multiple places on Mississippi State's campus back in 2016. Officials now continue to hope one day a new banner can fly over MSU and all around the state.
“The flag should unite us, not divide us, and we will continue our support for a change that is long overdue,” Cohen said.