SEC Commissioner: “past time” for change to Mississippi flag

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has become the latest to publicly call for a change to the Mississippi state flag.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the commissioner explained that the conference will consider preventing any SEC championship events from being held in the state unless the flag, which continues to carry the Confederate battle emblem, is changed.

“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi. Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcome to all. 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,” Sankey’s statement reads. 

Currently, the NCAA has already banned predetermined postseason events (bowl games, tournaments, etc.) in Mississippi for the same reason. An SEC Championship event hasn’t been held in the state since the conference’s 2016 softball tournament in Starkville.

Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State have each issued statements in support of a change to the controversial symbol following Sankey’s commentary on the issue.

MSU President Mark Keenum issued a more detailed statement, in which he explained that he recently wrote a letter to state leaders supporting a change to the state flag.

In Oxford, the university can officially move forward with the relocation of the Confederate statue that has prominently stood in the Circle since 1906 following a vote by the IHL Thursday morning. The monument will be moved to the University Cemetery behind the Tad Pad.

Neither Ole Miss nor Mississippi State flies the state flag, along with all other public universities in the state. While a group of lawmakers have introduced a resolution seeking to pave the way for a change, the belief is that it won’t make it through the convoluted legislative process.

Governor Tate Reeves has held firm on his position that the flag should only be changed by a vote of the people, not by lawmakers.

“My position has not changed. I spent much of 2019 telling the people of this state what I believe, and that is there is going to come a time, at some point, I’m sure, in which the people of Mississippi are going to want to change the flag. My position is that when they want to do that, it should be the people who make that decision, not some backroom deal by a bunch of politicians in Jackson,” the Governor said on June 8.

In 2001, Mississippians voted 64%-36% in favor of the current design, but the Governor and others have acknowledged that opinions may have changed in 19 years. In recent weeks, many state leaders, including Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, have publicly supported a new design.

“I have always been a vocal proponent of that. I think it is in the best interest of Mississippi. I think the long term benefits of that outweigh where we are right now. I don’t think our current flag is unifying. I don’t think people are rallying behind it or under it, and I think we can find something that will do better for us all,” Gunn said.

The calls for change continue to grow, but as Cohen stated, it’s not up to the universities and their student-athletes. However, if Sankey’s comments are any indication, the decisions made at the top could begin to have a noticeable impact on the state in an increasing number of ways.