Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey said on Thursday that if Mississippi doesn’t change its Confederate-themed state flag the conference will consider not hosting championships events in the state.
“In the event there is no change, there will be consideration of precluding Southeastern Conference championship events from being conducted in the State of Mississippi until the flag is changed,” Sankey said in a statement.
He further said the move is long overdue.
“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi. Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all.”
Since the death of George Floyd on May 25 due to police brutality, and during the anti-racism protests that are ongoing, Confederate monuments have again come into the limelight. Those in favor of removing Confederate symbols say they represent slavery. It is as important to get rid of them, they say, as it is to work toward systemic change to root out racial inequality. Several universities have said they believe the same.
The Southeastern Conference commissioner comments were supported by Mississippi State University president Mark Keenum and the university’s football coach Mike Leach, and eight public universities in the state.
“Several years ago, our universities recognized that the Mississippi state flag in its current form is divisive and chose to lower the flag on our campuses,” said the leaders of Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; University of Mississippi; and University of Southern Mississippi.
“Today, we are committed to continuing to do our part to ensure Mississippi is united in its pursuit of a future that is free of racism and discrimination. Such a future must include a new state flag,” they added in a statement.
They also said that if the state didn’t change its flag, it would lose “millions of dollars in economic impact that NCAA postseason events bring.” It would also affect student-athletes and coaches.
In a separate statement, Keenum said that students, faculty and administrators have since 2015 been pushing for a change to the state flag, a request he renewed last week amid weeks-long nationwide protests against racism.
In his letter to Mississippi’s governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, Keenum said, “in part, that our flag should be unifying, not a symbol that divides us. I emphasized that it is time for a renewed, respectful debate on this issue.”
Leach tweeted his support for Keenum.
“At Mississippi State University I embrace the inclusion of all People and open dialogue on all issues. Hail State!”
The University of Mississippi stopped flying the state flag on campus in 2015.
“The University of Mississippi community concluded years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others,” said chancellor Glenn Boyce and athletic director Keith Carter in a joint statement.
“Mississippi needs a flag that represents the qualities about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us. We support the SEC’s position for changing the Mississippi state flag to an image that is more welcoming and inclusive for all people.”