This article was originally published to The Collegian.
Every year nearly throughout the year, especially in the Southeastern region of the United States, fans gather in troves to cheer on their favorite college teams. Teams which are universities that not only receive government funding, but in some cases are considered the flagship university for that particular state. The racial and ethnic makeup of the students, especially the athletes that play for these universities, are as diverse as you will find in any melting pot anywhere. Yet at some state buildings and monuments where these flagship universities reside still flies a symbol the majority of Americans connect to America’s darker past where you were discriminated against (or worse) simply because of the color of your skin.
That symbol is the Confederate Flag.
The tragedy that occurred at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, triggered some events that brought attention to the Confederate Flag front and center. For whatever misguided reason, Southerners just cannot let that damn thing go.
“If anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it…” -Steve Spurrier, University of South Carolina head football coach
Fortunately, companies like Target, eBay, Wal-Mart, and Amazon announced that they will cease sales of any items with the Confederate Flag. State governments, like South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag was still present to this day rushed to change course and remove it from public buildings.
Finally we are starting to open our eyes and leave such a treacherous past behind and enter the modern era where race, color, creed, ethnicity, and sexual orientation should never matter. An era where a person is judged solely by his or her character and actions.
Steve Spurrier, head coach for the University of South Carolina football team, is a man who was well ahead of his time both on and off the field and never feared speaking his mind even when he was “encouraged” to not speak about certain matters such as politics or religion.
In 2007, Spurrier spoke out against the Confederate Flag flying at the South Carolina state capitol:
“I realize I’m not supposed to get in the political arena as a football coach, but if anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it. I’ve been told not to talk about that. But if anyone were ever to ask me about it, I certainly wish we could get rid of it.”
Imagine, if you will, you are an athlete of a certain race, creed, ethnic origin or sexual orientation and you play a sport for the University of Whoever, the flagship university of the state. Flying over the state capitol of the state of Whoever contains a symbol on the flag that was placed as a mark representing the heritage of that state. Let’s say that heritage included specific events or actions that negatively targeted a particular race or ethnic group. Let’s also say that groups over time continued to use that symbol to this very day. Groups that promote hate, discrimination and inequality – often at times very violently. Let’s say your team wins a championship and is invited to the state capitol and as you walk up you look up and see this symbol that today is used to encourage inequality and oppression.
That is nearly the equivalent of sending a message saying… “WOOHOO. We won the championship, but hey… this is still Whoever and we still perpetuate a certain culture to remind you that we once oppressed and treated you as unequal. I can’t stand you, but you won that game for us!”
Byron Maxwell, cornerback of the Philadelphia Eagles and native of Charleston, SC, said it best over the prevalence of the Confederate Flag in his hometown:
“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.”
Hate may or may not be the most important part of that heritage, but it has beyond a doubt become a big part of it. Back in the day, “gay” had a definition of “happy.” Look how that word is nearly unanimously used or been redefined today. Things change, meanings change and words and even symbols are often redefined over time.
Yes, plenty of atrocities have occurred while “Old Glory” was flying high. I am not brushing that aside. That is another story for another day. But it is also not proudly held up as a symbol of that kind of tyranny either.
Whatever the original meaning and symbolization the Confederate Flag was meant to have when it was designed, it now only represents a culture this country needs to leave in it’s past. Like the Ole Ball Coach said… “We need to get rid of it.”
Woody Bass is a sports writer for the Collegian.