South Carolina

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Rebellion Against the Confederate Flag and the Cost of Flying It

1 Jul, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
NASCAR, College Athletic Officials, Athletes Join Chorus for Removal

The call for the symbolic gesture of lowering the confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol certainly has not gone unnoticed in the Palmetto State or anywhere else in the U.S. And the ripple effect is being felt all the way through the world of sports.

NASCAR issued a statement supporting the stance of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who called for the removal of the Confederate Flag at the capitol in the wake of the shooting at Emanuel Church in Charleston.

An article in Yahoo! Sports noted that NASCAR’s statement read,

“As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life last week in Charleston, we join our nation’s embrace of those impacted. NASCAR supports the position that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took on the Confederate Flag on Monday. As our industry works collectively to ensure that all fans are welcome at our races, NASCAR will continue our long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate Flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity. While NASCAR recognizes that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our events.”

Back in 2012, NASCAR disallowed professional golfer Bubba Watson from driving the iconic (but Confederate flag-emblazoned) Dukes of Hazzard car, known to TV fans as the General Lee, in the parade lap at any of its events. Watson, who had purchased the car at auction, simply shrugged it off and drove the car to the Phoenix Open. He did attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Phoenix -- just not in the General Lee. And since that time, Warner Brothers said it would stop selling Dukes of Hazzard merchandise if it featured the Confederate flag.

The Confederate flags flown in the infield from fans' vehicles are a common sight at many NASCAR races (despite the fact that both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Sr. opposed their presence) and given NASCAR's statement, will likely continue to be. NASCAR chairman Brian France has been quoted as saying if he had his way, the offending flag would be disallowed entirely.

South Carolina officials have stated that citizens will be still be able to fly the flag at their residences.

The sports community continued to rally behind Haley. University of South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner has also called for the state to stop flying the Confederate flag, said the Huffington Post.

“It is time to remove the flag,” Tanner said in a tweet. Frank Martin and Dawn Staley, the coaches of, respectively, the university's men's and women's basketball teams, tweeted their support for Tanner's message.

A message on the university’s Twitter account, however, noted, “Is there not some other place for the Confederate flag? A place that would unify our people rather than divide us.”

Not according to South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, who spoke out against the flag’s presence back in 2007.

“My opinion is we don’t need the Confederate flag at our capitol,” Spurrier said, according to The Associated Press. “I don’t really know anybody that wants it there, but I guess there are a lot of South Carolinians that do want it there.”

Spurrier had made the comments in response to a fan waving a Confederate flag during a 2006 game against Tennessee. The game was spoiled, Spurrier said, by "some clown waving that dang, damn Confederate flag behind the TV set. And it was embarrassing to me and I know embarrassing to our state.”

The NCAA instituted a policy in 2001 barring South Carolina and Mississippi from hosting many postseason events -- most prominently, the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments -- because both states still flew the Confederate flag. In the 2015 women’s NCAA Tournament, however, the NCAA went against that policy and allowed South Carolina to host opening-round games, a move that drew protests from the NAACP.

According to AL.com, the Atlantic Coast Conference reportedly moved its baseball tournament out of Myrtle Beach because of the flag. 

Another repercussion is the fact that Ole Miss has renewed its call for the Confederate emblem to be removed from the Mississippi state flag.

The less tangible, but still apparent, area of impact is in recruiting. JC Shurburtt, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, believes the flag issue is an extra impediment at a time when many Southern schools face already resistance when recruiting outside of their geographic areas. Symbols like the Confederate flag can at times make it difficult to recruit African-American athletes from other states. Whether it's true or not, he adds, opposing schools can use the Confederate flag as an example of apparent racism in the South. 

It can even hurt schools like USC when it recruits against fellow Southern schools, according to Shurburtt.

"Let's say you are South Carolina, you're recruiting against North Carolina and it's close," Shuburtt said. "Well, they don't fly the Confederate flag in Chapel Hill, and that could really make or break it when it's a close deal."

Mississippi schools have dealt with similar issues. Former Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville, now at Cincinnati, told Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat in 1996, "We can't recruit against the Confederate flag."

New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, who attended high school in South Carolina, also stated that the flag should be taken down – not as an empty gesture, but as a sign that progress is being made toward ending the strife. Fox Sports quoted the player’s eloquent statement:

If we remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol for any reason other than a change in the hearts of South Carolinians, we may as well leave it be. This is not the time for political statements and worrying about national perception. But if we, like my friend Frank, finally listen to the cries and concerns of those we say we care about, soften our hearts, and choose to lay our liberties aside to assuage the pain of our brothers, the only suitable option would be a unanimous decision to remove the flag from the public grounds at the Palmetto State Capitol. The past and its people, as acclaimed or afflicted as they may be, should always be remembered. But it is difficult to completely 'move forward' if painful, divisive icons continue to stand unchallenged.

Watson expanded upon his discomfort with the flag in a post on his Facebook page, found in the same Fox article.

The Confederate flag has been the cause of problems over the years. In 2000, four colleges abruptly cancelled their teams’ attendance at multiple sports training camps to be held in South Carolina, citing the presence of the flag as offensive and intolerable.

Sports columnist Terrence Moore took to CNN recently to encourage all sports leagues to put away Confederate flags, despite any longstanding traditions. Robert E. Lee, he noted, died in 1870 and the Civil War ended five years before that. No state, Moore said, should cling to the past.

"There should be no exceptions," he wrote. "Not unless Robert E. Lee is breathing again."

While some retail merchants such as Walmart, Sears and Kmart have pledged to remove Confederate flags and similarly marked items, such as clothing, picnic blankets and accessories, from their inventory (and stopped shipping them through third-party merchants), some media outlets have reported a surge in sales.

Bleacher Report noted the flag issue shows no sign of slowing down. Within the last two weeks, the Supreme Court ruled Texas could ban use of the Confederate flag on custom license plates. Lawyers for the Native Americans who filed a trademark lawsuit against the Washington Redskins cited that ruling Tuesday as they continue to work against the NFL franchise regaining the copyright, per an Associated Press report. 

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell, who grew up in Charleston, was another of the athletes to speak out on how the situation affects him.

"I remember just about every car had the Confederate flag when I was young," Maxwell told Robert Klemko of the MMQB.com. "It's something they're proud of. If those things are still flying, how far have we really come? They want to say, it's not hate, it's heritage. But hate is the most important part of that heritage."

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