Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, said in a statement on Thursday evening that the conference would consider banning championship events in Mississippi until the state changes its state flag, which contains the Confederate battle emblem.
As protests regarding racial equities and Confederate iconography rage across the state and nation, lawmakers have discussed changing the state flag the past two weeks — one of the most earnest discussions of changing the state flag since 2001, when Mississippi voters decided nearly 2-to-1 to keep the current flag.
Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State University are members of the SEC.
“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the state of Mississippi,” Sankey said in the statement. “Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all.”
Mississippi State President Mark Keenum released a statement shortly after Sankey’s statement published.
“Since 2015, our Student Association, Robert Holland Faculty Senate and university administration have been firmly on record in support of changing the state flag,” Keenum said in the statement. “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.”
Ole Miss Chancellor Glenn Boyce and Athletics Director Keith Carter also released a joint statement in response to Sankey’s comments.
“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,” Boyce and Carter wrote. “In 2015, the university stopped flying the state flag over our campus. Mississippi needs a flag that represents the qualities about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us. We support the SEC’s position for changing the Mississippi state flag to an image that is more welcoming and inclusive for all people.”
One bill that would change the state flag is pending before the Senate Constitution committee, although Sen. Chris Johnson, R-Hattiesburg and chair of the committee, has said he will not take the bill up.
Lawmakers could choose to file any new resolution or bill, but a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate would be required to consider any bill to change the flag. The Legislature is expected to remain in session until next Friday.
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