MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Pressure is mounting for lawmakers in Mississippi over the controversial state flag with confederate roots, as the NCAA banned the state from hosting championship events Friday.
The fight over the controversial Mississippi state flag, containing the Confederate battle emblem, is nothing new.
But political experts say with the backdrop and pressure coming from national protests, the tide is slowly turning toward changing the flag.
“One of the things I think is going to keep this issue front and center right now is that it’s becoming more of a national story every day,” said Nathan Shrader, Chairman of Government and Politics Department at Millsaps College.
Friday, the NCAA Board of Governors voted to expand their policy on the Confederate flag, preventing any NCAA championship events from being played in states where the symbol has a prominent presence -- essentially a change directed at Mississippi that could cost millions.
That vote comes one day after the Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference Greg Sankey released a statement threatening to withhold SEC championship events from the state as well.
Nathan Shrader, chairman of the Government and Politics Department at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, says those are major developments.
“One thing you don’t mess with in Mississippi, or in the Deep South in general, are our college sports,” Shrader said. “I mean this in a serious way, the SEC signaling here is that they see that there is an urgent need to change, they’re trying from their perspective to help drive that change.”
Shrader says recent polling indicates Mississippians are split nearly 50/50 on the issue but each side is very passionate about their stance.
“It’s this newer, younger segment of the voters are comfortable with change, but it’s still your older segment of the current electorate is not, and right now the division appears to be generational,” Shrader said.
It will take a ballot initiative or legislative action to alter the flag and that could take some time according to Shrader, considering the budget shortfall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m not sure that it’s going to happen this legislative session,” Shrader said. “Even if moment is building on the flag, the budget question is going to occupy a lot of their time and energy right now.”
Friday afternoon, leaders of Mississippi’s 8 Public Universities releases a joint statement in support of changing the flag:
“Mississippi’s public universities respect the NCAA’s position as it relates to the State of Mississippi’s flag.
Several years ago, our universities recognized that the Mississippi state flag in its current form is divisive and chose to lower the flag on our campuses. Today, we are committed to continuing to do our part to ensure Mississippi is united in its pursuit of a future that is free of racism and discrimination. Such a future must include a new state flag.
In keeping the current state flag, Mississippi will potentially forego the millions of dollars in economic impact that NCAA postseason events bring to our state. This is unfortunate. Our student-athletes and coaches, who devote so much of their time, talent, hard work and dedication to their sports and our universities, will potentially be negatively impacted through no action of their own. This is more than unfortunate.
We are looking forward to a time when our state flag represents the full and rich diversity of Mississippi, a diversity that is reflected in our student-athletes, our student bodies, and the friends and fans of our athletics teams. We look forward to a time when Mississippi’s state flag unites Mississippians, rather than divides us.”
When asked Thursday, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves maintained a previous position that changing the flag should be left up to the voters of the state.