Tyler Horka, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
Published 8:20 p.m. ET June 18, 2020 | Updated 8:55 p.m. ET June 18, 2020
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As the movement to change the state flag of Mississippi has intensified, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey took a stand against the flag Thursday evening.
Sankey said in a statement that until the Confederate emblem is removed from Mississippi’s state flag, the conference will consider precluding SEC championship events from being conducted in the Magnolia State.
“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi,” Sankey said in the statement. “Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all.”
Within half an hour, Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen and university president Mark Keenum publicly supported Sankey’s stance. Cohen said he is disappointed that his student-athletes and coaches could be affected by something beyond their control, but he knows Sankey is coming from a place of equality and hope for the future.
“Mississippi State University is proud to be among the most diverse universities in the SEC,” Cohen said in his statement. “Alongside our university leadership, we aim to continue our support for changing the state flag, which should unite us, not divide us.”
Ole Miss chancellor Glenn Boyce and vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics Keith Carter released a statement shortly after Sankey, too. They said Mississippi’s state flag does not represent the core values of the University of Mississippi and noted that the flag has not flown on campus since 2015.
“Mississippi needs a flag that represents the qualities about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us,” the Ole Miss administrators said in their statement. “We support the SEC’s position for changing the Mississippi state flag to an image that is more welcoming and inclusive for all people.”
Keenum’s statement was much longer. He alluded to the “unintended consequences” that the current national climate might have produced for student-athletes at Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
“In addition, there may be similar unintended consequences for academic pursuits at all our state’s public universities and negative economic impacts on the state’s communities as well,” Keenum said in a statement.
Keenum noted that Mississippi State’s Student Association, Robert Holland Faculty Senate and university administration have been in favor of changing Mississippi’s state flag since 2015.
Keenum wrote a letter to Governor Tate Reeves, Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann and speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives Philip Gunn reaffirming the school’s support for the flag to be changed.
“The letter said, in part, that our flag should be unifying, not a symbol that divides us,” Keenum said. “I emphasized that it is time for a renewed, respectful debate on this issue.”
The symbol of the Confederacy, which still resides on the upper left corner of Mississippi’s state flag, has been under fire in recent weeks as protesters have been demanding racial equality across the country.
The Marine Corps banned the display of the Confederate emblem two weeks ago. The Navy announced a few days later its plan to draw up a similar order. The leaders of both branches of the armed forces cited the divisiveness the emblem has caused. Last week, NASCAR announced a ban on the use of Confederate flags at all of its races and properties.
The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) voted to relocate a Confederate statue on the campus at Ole Miss on the same day Sankey issued his statement.
Starkville hosted the 2016 SEC softball tournament and Oxford hosted the conference’s softball tourney in 2011. With Sankey’s statement, it appears those two venues may not host again until a new state flag of Mississippi flies over them.