JACKSON, Miss. – The Confederate symbol on the Mississippi flag could hurt the state’s bid to host the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament starting in 2012 because some people find the emblem offensive, a top conference official said Tuesday.
“It would not be a 100 percent deal breaker on any kind of bid that Jackson may submit. However, it would be something we would have to consider in evaluating all the bids,” Craig Mattox, the SEC assistant commissioner for championships, told The Associated Press.
South Carolina has encountered a similar problem for the past decade because of the NAACP’s boycott over a Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds. Shortly after the boycott started on Jan. 1, 2000, the NCAA executive committee decided it wouldn’t award predetermined championships like basketball regionals to South Carolina.
Since 1894, the Mississippi flag has included the Confederate battle emblem – 13 white stars on a blue X over a red field. In a statewide election with strong turnout in 2001, residents voted 65 percent to 35 percent to keep the symbol on the flag. The turnout roughly reflected the percentages of Mississippi’s Black and White population.
The flag has remained a sore spot and some groups, including the NAACP, say the Confederate emblem is a reminder of slavery and segregation and does not represent the entire state. Flag supporters say it represents history and heritage.
Republican John Moore, a Mississippi state representative who supports the state flag, said the Confederate emblem should be no more offensive to anyone than a picture of a cotton ball on a T-shirt.
“I’d almost be willing to tell the SEC to take their tournament wherever they want to do it,” said Moore, whose district is near Trustmark Park in Pearl, a suburb of Jackson, which is expected to bid on the tournament. “We’re not going to let them dictate to us what our flag looks like.”
Athletic directors from the 12 SEC schools are expected to decide in December which city will host the baseball tournament starting in 2012, Mattox said. Pearl is one of seven cities expected to bid. The tournament has been in Hoover, Ala., since 1998 and remains there through next spring.
Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, said Tuesday he’ll ask the SEC not to host tournaments in Mississippi because of the flag.
“We would like for all sport entities to continue not to support any state that would brandish the Confederate emblem, which is an offensive emblem for African-Americans,” Johnson said.
Five cities have already submitted bids to host starting in 2012 – Memphis, Tenn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Duluth, Ga.; Hoover and Montgomery, Ala.
Mattox said Metairie, La., also is expected to bid.
Mattox said the SEC will look at each city’s stadium seating capacity, hotels, media areas, hospitality spaces, availability of backup game sites, batting practice areas, parking and opportunities for other entertainment for fans.
Trustmark Park in Pearl is home to Minor League Baseball’s Mississippi Braves and has a seating capacity of nearly 8,500. That’s smaller than Hoover’s capacity of 10,000.
The tournament could pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the economy for the host city.
Mattox said the SEC decided several years ago that Mississippi’s flag would be a factor considered if the state bids for championship events. The University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University are in the SEC, but both campuses are more than 125 miles from Pearl.
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour often wears a lapel pin with Mississippi and American flags. Barbour has said repeatedly that voters resolved the flag issue in 2001 and he sees no reason to revisit it. His spokesman, Dan Turner, said Barbour had no comment Tuesday about the SEC tournament bid and the flag.