COLUMN: The Week That Sports Got a State Flag Changed
Sports made this happen. And that is perfectly okay.
The Mississippi Legislature officially passed House Bill 1796 on Sunday by a final Senate vote of 37-14, removing the current state flag that features the Confederate battle emblem. A vote will take place in the fall to install a new flag.
No matter how we got here, no matter how many other states have similar Confederate undertones, this is tremendous progress for a state that has been garnering national news over past weeks for all the wrong reasons.
But let's face the facts—in June 2020, it took sports to take down the Mississippi state flag. Hell, it kind of took an organization with no legal or governing power whatsoever to change the Mississippi state flag. And yet again, that is okay.
On June 18, the Southeastern Conference and commissioner Greg Sankey announced they would no longer hold SEC championship events in the state of Mississippi.
Sure, it's been quite some time since the state hosted a major football, basketball or baseball championship, and honestly the state doesn't have neutral-site venues with the infrastructural capabilities. That said, Ole Miss has hosted things such as track championships over the past decade, events that bring a ton of hotel and tourism revenue.
Watch above video to see Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin dress the state flag in Jackson this past week. Kermit Davis' thoughts appear in the video atop the story.
The true blow came one day later on June 19. The NCAA sort of brought the hammer down on the state, announcing that no postseason events of any kind will be played in the state until the flag came down.
“There is no place in college athletics or the world for symbols or acts of discrimination and oppression,” said Michael V. Drake, chair of the NCAA Board of Govenors. “We must continually evaluate ways to protect and enhance the championship experience for college athletes. Expanding the Confederate flag policy to all championships is an important step by the NCAA to further provide a quality experience for all participants and fans.”
Where the SEC ban seemed small, this was monumental. No NCAA baseball regionals at Swayze Field or Dudy Noble. No softball regionals. No women's basketball postseason events.
The NCAA, an organization with no legal power and no governing power beyond that given to it by its member school constituents, levied what became arguably one of the largest blows the State of Mississippi had ever seen.
Economic ramifications of the NCAA's announcement were abundant. Those senators and representatives within the state that at one point would never have considered changing the state's flag, one that had stood since 1894, were now wavering on their stance.
But we weren't done there.
On June 22, Mississippi State's All-SEC running back Kylin Hill announced that he would not play for this school this upcoming season without a change in the flag. His decision was met with praise and support, not just from players and coaches at State, but also from those at Ole Miss.
All of a sudden, one of the more vicious rivalries in college sports joined together to fight a new common enemy.
Then, on June 25, it was the coaches' turn.
The largest names in Mississippi sports took to Jackson, Miss., the state capitol, on the Thursday before the legislation voted to lobby the state's decision makers in favor of a change of the flag.
Ole Miss head football coach Lane Kiffin, Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach, both schools' basketball coaches and athletic directors and so many more took the stand and pleaded with law makers to "do the right thing."
For them, it's simple.
Let's not be naive and act like they weren't acting in their own selfish regards—and hell that's totally fine. It's what we all would have done. But it was a little of that selfish tendencies innate in all humans, but also a little compassion—a little drive to do the right thing.
"You're going to deal with kids leaving the state or not wanting to come because of (the current flag)," Kiffin admitted.
Kiffin, of course, is not exactly a native Mississippian. He's lived here barely six months. On the other hand, Ole Miss head basketball coach Kermit Davis was born in the state, his father coached at Mississippi State, and he's now back in his home of Mississippi.
You could tell by the tone of his voice how much these decisions meant to him.
"All my family lives in Mississippi. It's important for me to be here, me and Ole Miss," Davis said. "It's time for change for our flag. To have a flag to that represents all the people of Mississippi, to have a flag that represents all the students, all the student-athletes, of all our universities."
Two days following the coaches lobbying state legislature, the historic proceedings began in Jackson. By Sunday evening, it was official—the state flag was coming down and will be replaced.
Sure, it sucks that it took until 2020 to change the flag. Hell, it sucks that it took the NCAA to help bring it down. But celebrate the victories. In a summer where sports haven't been played since early March, celebrate the victories that sports just won us in late June.