Allegiance to the Confederate flag is starting to become costly.
At a time in our country when many are calling for equality and the removal of oppressive edifices, it’s no surprise that you’ve seen these symbols of America’s ugly racist past be destroyed in front of our very eyes.
Enter the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference.
On Thursday, the conference released an ultimatum addressed to the state of Mississippi. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told the state that If they don’t change its flag, the SEC will reconsider hosting championship events in the state. On Friday, the NCAA doubled down and expanded its Confederate flag policy — barring the state from hosting any postseason championship events.
Mississippi’s flag is the only one in the country that has an exact replica of the Confederate battle emblem still depicted in it. While other states’ flags have been influenced by the Confederacy, Mississippi’s is by far the most egregious.
Early this month, Mississippi Today reported that there is a movement among members of the state legislature to have the flag, which has been been around since 1894, changed. This coming in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests in support of Black lives across the world.
“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the state of Mississippi,” said Sankey. “In the event there is no change, there will be consideration of precluding Southeastern Conference events from being conducted in the state of Mississippi until the state flag is changed.”
The removal of these events could have significant economic effects, not only on local communities in the state, but for the universities themselves.
According to a 2018 USA Today report, the state’s two major universities, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, both ranked toward the bottom of the conference in total athletic department revenue.
In football, the main source of income for nearly every school in the SEC, these two universities rank amongst the poorest in the conference as well.
This is not including the fact that the state of Mississippi itself has one of the weakest economies in the country.
The point is simple.
The state needs these athletic events to stay on par with the rest of the country — and to stay afloat economically — and they know it.
In an “amateur” system that has repeatedly prioritized economic gain over the well-being of its athletes, this pressure is a promising development in creating comfortable environments for these athletes to thrive.
There is certainly a lot more to be done in order to ensure equality for these athletes — and all minorities — but we should actually applaud the leagues, for once. Because if Mississippi legislators don’t want to change the state’s racist and outdated flag on their own, then it is time for more businesses to follow the lead of the NCAA and SEC in forcing the state’s hand.
The SEC has hosted prominent events in the state before. Starkville and Oxford have hosted multiple SEC men’s and women’s tennis championships. Mississippi has also hosted the SEC softball tournament twice since 2011.
Conference USA is home to Southern Mississippi University, Brett Favre’s alma mater. The conference held its baseball tournament in Biloxi for the past three seasons. Now, without an immediate change to Mississippi’s flag, that tournament will be going elsewhere.
And all those fans will be pouring their dollars into restaurants, shops and hotels elsewhere.
The SEC and NCAA’s moves are significant. We’ve seen these types of economic decisions put on state governments before — and they work.
In 2016, the NCAA and NBA removed events from the state of North Carolina after the controversial House Bill 2 law took away anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community and forced people to use the bathrooms that correlated to their sex at birth.
The NCAA banned championship events from the state for six months and the NBA moved its All-Star weekend from Charlotte. Neither organization would budge until the bill was repealed in March of 2017.
In all, the anti-LGBTQ bill had been projected to cost the state approximately $3.76 billion in lost revenue by 2028.
School leaders from both Mississippi State and Ole Miss have released statements condemning the flag and supporting its change in an effort to create unity. And while Ole Miss has since banned the Stars and Bars from campus, the school’s nickname is still Rebels, something it failed to acknowledge in its statement.
The NCAA and the SEC are wisely putting the economic pressure on Mississippi. They attacked the state where they knew it would hurt most: iIs pocket.
And it’s time for everyone else to join the movement.