Mississippi’s state flag debate took an interesting turn on Thursday night, starting with a statement from the Southeastern Conference and its commissioner Greg Sankey, which threatened the lost of postseason tournaments in-state if a change to the controversial banner was not made.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) June 18, 2020
Should the conference hold to its considerations, events like the SEC softball, tennis, golf, or track and field championships would no longer be allowed in state. Mississippi State hosted the SEC softball tournament in 2016, track and field in 2015, and men’s tennis in 2012. Sports such as baseball and women’s basketball would not be affected by this decision, as those sites are determined based on in-season performance, not a pre-determination.
Shortly after Sankey’s statement, Mississippi State president Dr. Mark Keenum and Director of Athletics John Cohen each released their own announcements in support of the SEC’s position and reiterating the university’s cry to have the state flag changed. The flag has not flown on the campus of Mississippi State since 2016.
“I have great respect for Commissioner Greg Sankey, and I understand why he has taken this position regarding Mississippi’s state flag. Clearly, the current national climate is such that this debate may produce unintended consequences for our student athletes here at Mississippi State University and those at the University of Mississippi. In addition, there may be similar unintended consequences for academic pursuits at our all our state’s public universities and negative economic impacts on the state’s communities as well.
“Since 2015, our Student Association, Robert Holland Faculty Senate and university administration have been firmly on record in support of changing the state flag. I have reiterated that view to our state’s leaders on multiple occasions, including during face-to-face discussions in recent days and hours. On June 12, I wrote to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the Mississippi House reaffirming that support. The letter 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.”
Mark E. Keenum
Mississippi State University
— John Cohen (@JohnCohenAD) June 18, 2020
Later in the evening, head football coach Mike Leach tweeted his support of Keenum’s statement.
I support President Keenum. At Mississippi State University I embrace the inclusion of all People and open dialogue on all issues. Hail State! https://t.co/iFCssa3EwF
— Mike Leach (@Coach_Leach) June 19, 2020
The Egg Bowl rivalry is defined by the differences between Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but there appears to be a united front between the two schools on this issue. Similar statements came from Ole Miss chancellor Glenn Boyce and athletic director Keith Carter as well. Further, a coalition of former student-athletes in this state, including former basketball Bulldogs Ontario Harper and Lincoln Smith sent a letter to the NCAA requesting that all post-season tournaments be removed from the state until a change is made.
Photo courtesy of Mississippi State athletics