For the last week, all eyes have been on Mississippi.
The Magnolia State’s transition from regional to mainstream media began last Friday when the NCAA announced it would prohibit schools in the state from hosting any NCAA-sanctioned tournament until the state changes its flag.
For those who are unaware, Mississippi is the only state in the Union to display the Confederate battle emblem on its state flag. The issue has long dominated state-wide conversations. In 2001, Mississippians voted 64% to 35% in favor of keeping the flag.
As a Black man and a three-year resident of Mississippi, the issue has grabbed my attention. A knot forms in my stomach every time I happen to see the Confederate battle emblem.
As a result of the recent flurry of protests and rallies that have swept the country over the last month, Americans have been confronted with the reality of the past.
Questions have been raised concerning the placement and display of monuments and relics that pay homage to a dark and forgettable point in history.
It’s no surprise that Mississippi, which boasts this country’s highest per capita population of Blacks (37.3%), would soon find itself in the national spotlight.
As with many other aspects of popular culture, athletes tend to set the tone.
Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill, a Mississippi native, did just that.
On Monday afternoon, Hill – the SEC’s leading rusher in 2019 – shared with this world his thoughts on his state’s flag.
“Either change the flag or I won’t be representing this State anymore… I meant that .. I’m tired,” Hill tweeted.
I must acknowledge that neither Mississippi State, the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) or the University of Southern Mississippi fly the state flag on their campuses. Despite this fact, having a symbol that for so many elicits feelings of fear and unease and conjures horrific memories as the banner for his state, undoubtedly and rightfully bothers Hill.
As expected, Hill’s tweet sparked an avalanche of opinions – some positive, some downright appalling. More important, however, Hill’s simple yet poignant tweet grabbed the attention of Mississippi’s power brokers.
As of Friday, 32 cities in the state, six counties and countless businesses and organizations have either removed the state flag or called on local politicians to change it.
On Thursday, coaches from eight Mississippi colleges and universities traveled to the state Capitol in Jackson to lobby members of the state’s house and senate to change the flag.
Two of Mississippi’s most powerful coaches, Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin and Mississippi State’s Mike Leach, were front and center at the state Capitol.
Ole Miss women’s basketball coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin joined her in-state rival counterpart, Mississippi State coach Nikki McCray, for a photo to show their solidarity. Both women are Black.
“On Thursday at 6PM and Sunday at 2PM, we will meet head-to-head. But today, we are united in a single cause: To unite Mississippi under a flag that all Mississippians can be proud of. This Mississippi is OUR Mississippi,” McPhee-McCuin tweeted.
From the days of Jackie Robinson’s desegregation of Major League Baseball to United States Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists on the medal podium at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, sports have long served as a platform for change.
Sports still hold that power.
The SEC and NCAA inserted themselves into the Mississippi flag debate last week, and Hill added an influential voice this week. All politics are local until they aren’t. In Mississippi’s case, this could be a good thing.