Column: It’s Time to Change the State Flag of Mississippi
I’m mad. I know some others of you reading this are mad, too. I’m mad the State of Mississippi has not changed its flag, a flag that has a negative connotation for many. I’m mad for our Ole Miss baseball program and its players, our university, and our local Oxford businesses — who are all now negatively affected by this flag.
In March of this year, I mapped out my vacation plans for the rest of the fiscal year (which, for me, ends for August 31). Those plans included Ole Miss baseball Regionals in Oxford, Super Regionals in Oxford, and the College World Series in Omaha. No one who watched Coach Mike Bianco’s squad this year could argue that Omaha appeared to be their destiny.
But like many of you, my plans were cancelled by COVID-19. While completely bummed, my hopes were buoyed by knowing what a great team Coach Bianco and staff will have next year. This knowledge isn’t based (solely) upon my fandom, as Baseball America’s ‘Never Too Early’ Projected 2021 College Top 25 has Ole Miss at No. 4. (Click here to see the rankings.)
Baseball America writes:
“The Rebels will try to grab the momentum from a great start to the 2020 season and take that into the 2021 campaign. The pitching staff, led by lefthander Doug Nikhazy and righthanders Gunnar Hoglund and Derek Diamond, should be excellent. The lineup will need some tweaking after the departures of shortstop Anthony Servideo and third baseman Tyler Keenan, but young catalysts like infielder Peyton Chatagnier and catcher Hayden Dunhurst will help make that task a lot easier.”
Given this projection, it makes sense to assume the Rebels would be in the driver’s seat to be a National Seed in 2021 and host both Regionals and Supers at Swayze Field.
But, today that dream seems farther away than ever.
Because of a flag — a flag with a Confederate emblem on it that Ole Miss officially took down in October, 2015…..a flag that I hope will soon be changed by order of the State Legislature.
Last week, the NCAA issued a directive that says no championship events will be held in the State of Mississippi until the state flag is changed.
BREAKING: The NCAA banned Mississippi from hosting championship games while the state flies a state flag that includes the emblem of the Confederacy.
— Ashton Pittman (@ashtonpittman) June 19, 2020
So until that flag is changed, I’m also mad for our players.
Do we really think Gunnar Hoglund, Doug Nikhazy, Hayden Dunhurst, Peyton Chatengier, and others would have become Ole Miss Rebels without the ability to play in the postseason AT HOME? You might say “yes,” but don’t think for one second it won’t be used against us in recruiting moving forward.
Objectively, put your feet in the shoes of the prospective student-athlete, torn perhaps between Ole Miss and Arkansas; maybe it’s a coin flip. Then the lightbulb goes off, ‘if I go to Oxford, I’ll be on the road for postseason.’ Because of a flag.
I’m mad for the Ole Miss baseball program.
It’s difficult to measure the impact on a recruit who can imagine a future where his team is playing at home in June. For years, the Bianco-led Rebels have found themselves solidly in the hosting conversation. Nine times, Swayze has played host for a Regional during the Bianco era, and three more times the Rebels played at home for the opportunity to go to Omaha.
If you look at the economics of the situation, the average profit for the school of the last two regionals hosted in Oxford is $210,000, according to Ole Miss Athletics, with the money being used for small facility projects.
In 2009, $18 million was spent on Oxford-University Stadium renovations. Again in 2016, $19 million was committed to construct the state-of-the-art Baseball Performance Center, dugout club and rooftop plaza. No disrespect to the fine young men from Princeton University, but Swayze wasn’t built and renovated for a weekend in March vs. the Tigers.
We have Swayze to host Regionals and put it all on the field for the right to travel to the college baseball mecca that is Omaha, Nebraska in June.
But given where we sit today, Swayze will be quiet the weekend following Memorial Day and the next weekend in 2021. Because of a flag.
Mike Bianco: State flag debate is 'bigger than baseball, hosting regionals' https://t.co/KIF7wETdM9
— Rick Cleveland (@rick_cleveland) June 21, 2020
I’m mad for the University.
On October 26, 2015, University Police lowered the state flag in the Circle on campus for the final time, with then-University interim chancellor Morris Stocks commenting:
“Mississippi and its people are known far and wide for hospitality and a warm and welcoming culture. But our state flag does not communicate those values. Our state needs a flag that speaks to who we are. It should represent the wonderful attributes about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us.”
In a joint statement issued by current Chancellor Glenn Boyce and Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Keith Carter, the two expounded on Stocks’ statement:
“The University of Mississippi community concluded years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others. . . . We support the SEC’s position for changing the Mississippi state flag to an image that is more welcoming and inclusive for all people.”
A message from Chancellor Glenn Boyce and Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Keith Carter. pic.twitter.com/gqJxxj6ca6
— Ole Miss Athletics (@OleMissSports) June 19, 2020
Yet, even with universities such as Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss (and more), and cities such as Jackson (the state’s most populous city), Gulfport (the state’s second most populous city), Oxford, Starkville, and Hattiesburg no longer flying the State Flag, the University of Mississippi (and all of the other colleges and universities in the state) are being punished.
Because of a flag.
I’m mad for the businesses in Oxford.
While baseball doesn’t pack the same jolt to the local economy as football, don’t discount the extra money fans bring into the economy on a regional/super regional weekend.
COVID-19 wiped away the five conference baseball weekends in 2020 and has the potential to have a drastic impact on football weekends for the fall. If you were a business owner in Oxford who benefits from the estimated $3,800,000 that Visit Oxford says is spent in hotel/motel sales and food and beverage sales, is it worth sacrificing your share of that money? Because of a flag?
For me it comes down to this, as was said on Sports Talk Mississippi Friday:
“Right now, you have to pick a side, you’re either a State fan, Ole Miss fan, Southern fan — or a you’re a flag fan. Those are the only options, you cannot be both any more. You gotta pick a side. Which do you love more, post-season baseball at Swayze, Dudy Noble, the Pete….or the flag? It’s that simple.”
For me, the choice is simple. In the immortal words of Ole Miss legend Chucky Mullins prior to the 1989 Liberty Bowl, “IT’S TIME.”
Take a look at the businesses, organizations, colleges, cities, and counties who support the changing of this flag:
Wow. Virtually every major business & industry in Mississippi is represented here asking state leaders to change the flag.
— Adam Ganucheau (@GanucheauAdam) June 24, 2020
Okay, I know some of you are saying, “Who are you to write this opinion piece?” I get that. I’m a relative nobody, but you’ve read this far for one reason or another. Here is a true “somebody” whose opinion I respect tremendously. If you went to Ole Miss during the 36 year career he had at Ole Miss, you “knew of” if you didn’t actually know Dean of Students Dr. Sparky Reardon. He so eloquently describes the situation here:
What can you do?
1. Contact the Governor’s Office. Governor Tate Reeves’ email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the phone number to the Governor’s office is 601-359-3150. His twitter handle is @tatereeves.
Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann’s email is email@example.com, and his phone number is 601-359-3200. His twitter handle is @DelbertHosemann.
2. Contact the Speaker of the House of the Mississippi Legislature, Mr. Philip Gunn. His phone number is 601-359-3300. His twitter handle is @PhilipGunnMS.
3. Contact your specific legislator in Jackson. You can find that information at My Reps simply by entering your address. Click here to go to My Reps.
4. If it comes to a referendum on the ballot, vote. Encourage your friends and families to vote. I’m well aware a vote was taken 19 years ago. A current 36-year-old man or woman was not eligible to vote in that election. Think about that for a second.
And yes, I’m still mad. But writing this helped.