Coaches and athletic officials from Mississippi’s eight public universities convened at the state legislature on Thursday with a common goal: changing the state’s controversial flag.
The group of more than 50, highlighted by newly-hired football coaches Lane Kiffin of Ole Miss and Mike Leach of Mississippi State, are calling for the Confederate emblem to be removed from the flag. In addition to Ole Miss and Mississippi State, coaches and administrators from Alcorn State, Delta State, Jackson State, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi Valley State and Southern Mississippi were also in attendance.
Leach, entering his first season at Mississippi State after lengthy stints at Texas Tech and Washington State, is looking at the issue practically.
“The purpose of a state flag is to unify the state. Right now, this flag doesn’t do that,” Leach said via The Clarion-Ledger. “To me, it’s really quite simple. Why do you have a state flag? To unify all the people in the state. If your flag doesn’t do that, change it. Does your flag bring business to the state or keep business out? If it doesn’t bring it in, change it. Does it draw athletes and people to the state, or not? If it doesn’t, change it. It’s as simple as that. On that very practical level, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened a long time ago.”
Kiffin, who landed at Ole Miss after a three-year stint at Florida Atlantic, told reporters that the issue of changing the flag is an important one at Ole Miss, especially to the students and student-athletes.
“This is very important to them. Anything we can do to help support them, and I think it has a lot to do with the future of the state programs. You’re going to deal with kids leaving the state or not wanting to come because of this,” Kiffin said.
NCAA leaders calling for flag to change
Officials across college athletics have called on Mississippi to change its flag. The NCAA last Friday expanded its Confederate flag policy and said it would no longer allow Mississippi to host NCAA postseason events while the current flag is still in use.
Last week, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement saying it is “past time for the change to be made to the flag.” Sankey threatened to pull SEC championship events from the state. The SEC is home to both Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
“Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all,” Sankey said. “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 state flag is changed.”
Conference USA, the home of Southern Mississippi, has officially prohibited conference championship events from being held in Mississippi “until the confederate emblem is removed from the state flag.” The C-USA postseason baseball tournament has been held in Mississippi eight of the last nine years, including the last three in Biloxi. Before it was canceled, the 2020 event was also set for Biloxi. The 2022 tournament was recently assigned to Southern Miss’ campus in Hattiesburg.
Additionally, Kylin Hill, a star running back at Mississippi State, said Monday that he would not be “representing this state anymore” until the flag is changed. Hill, a native of Columbus, Mississippi, rushed for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019 and is one of the top returning players in the SEC.
Hill was heartened Thursday to see representatives from MSU arriving at the state legislature.
According to a recent poll from the Mississippi Economic Council, 55 percent of participants support changing the flag while 41 percent oppose making a change. Changing the flag requires a two-thirds vote from state lawmakers.
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