SEC college athletes were among the strongest voices to bring about a change in the State of Mississippi’s controversial flag.
The change in the state flag of Mississippi was about more than just the two flagship SEC schools, but the direct impact of what the old flag was about to do, and what a change in that flag means to them is unmistakably huge.
There was an oncoming athletic tsunami headed in the direction of Mississippi. The SEC and NCAA had all at once dropped the hammer and said that no athletic championships or tournaments would be held at any school within the state while the state flag containing a Confederate banner was flown in the state.
There was no caveat. No “unless”. No warnings given thrice. The message was simple. Change the flag, or lose out on hosting championship athletic events. There had even been some murmurs of other schools refusing to travel to the state of Mississippi to play regular-season games while that flag was present, a possible huge blow to the direction and success of athletics in the state.
In the past, when this controversy was at the forefront, the solution was to keep the flag off-campus or (at the very least) away from scheduled events, and student-athletes at the schools were mum on the subject, simply wanting to compete.
No longer. Not in 2020. Not in the current social climate.
Mississippi State had two very recognizable names chime in. All-SEC running back Kylin Hill and safety Marcus Murphy both publicly stated they would no longer represent their school or the state if the 106-year-old flag went unchanged. Both were vocally supported by head football coach Mike Leach, athletic director John Cohen, and University President Dr. Mark Keenum.
Having notable football players who were key to an SEC program take this stance is what turned the tide. The “powerless” student-athletes flexed the muscle of their influence, and the lawmakers in Mississippi got the message, loud and clear.
First-year head coach Mike Leach said at the state capitol, “A flag should unite its people. This one doesn’t. So change it.” (via Bleacher Report)
In Oxford, another first-year head football coach, Lane Kiffin, offered his thoughts on the subject to the state legislators.
“We removed the flag from our campus five years ago, so we’ve made it clear that it doesn’t represent who we are at Ole Miss,” Kiffin said, per ESPN. “Today is another big step in doing our part to move the state forward and ensure a more welcoming environment for everyone. This is extremely important to me and to our players. Time to change!”
Those words carried into the chambers of the Mississippi house and senate as they convened this week.
Sunday was the final 2020 session for Mississippi lawmakers, and both houses reached a super-majority and sent up a bill to Governor Tate Reeves that will remove the 1894 flag as the state’s official banner. The governor has pledged to sign the bill into law.
In terms of the votes needed to pass a bill beyond the standard February deadline, it would need a favorable vote of 84-35 in the house, and 36-14 in the senate. Today’s vote was 91-23 in the house, and 37-14 in the senate.
The SEC almost immediately came out with their praise and support of the change.
For Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, and every other state school within Mississippi’s borders, a huge college sports crisis has been averted, but that doesn’t mean the battle is over.
Beyond the implications of college sports revenue dollars, corporate partnerships, and grant money for state universities, this change is one that will further polarize an already divided public — both in Mississippi and throughout the United States — and could have long-reaching effects into the 2020 general elections.
A new flag is scheduled to be voted on by the public on November 3 of this year.