The South Picks College Football Over Its Heritage

Mississippi abolished its Confederate-influenced state flag last week. For years, this was a point of controversy for the state, yet Mississippians resolutely stood by their flag.

The recent unrest—along with threats of economic boycotts—seemed to change the minds of Mississippi lawmakers. Both Republican-dominated state chambers voted overwhelmingly to change the state flag. GOP leaders tried to portray it as a genuine “change of heart” and a “ticket for that train of unification.” One Republican called the Confederate battle flag the “Democrat battle flag” in order to defend his vote.

In reality, it was a submission to the power of college football. 

At least one Republican was honest enough to admit this. “When outside groups, the SEC, the NCAA seriously start making decisions that are going to hurt our students, hurt our businesses that support those communities, that provided the opportunity for this discussion to rise to another level,” state Representative Trey Lamar told the Clarion-Ledger

Not So Cut-and-Dried

College football made Mississippi eliminate the flag celebrating its heritage and a flag that was supported by a plurality of state residents

The Southeastern Conference, Conference USA, and the NCAA all threatened to exclude Mississippi from hosting championship events if the flag remained the same. “It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi,” SEC President Greg Sankey said in a June statement. “Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all.”

Coaches and officials from Mississippi’s public universities gathered at the statehouse last week to demand the state change the flag. 

“We removed the flag from our campus five years ago, so we’ve made it clear that it doesn’t represent who we are at Ole Miss,” new University of Mississippi head football coach Lane Kiffin told ESPN. “Today is another big step in doing our part to move the state forward and ensure a more welcoming environment for everyone. This is extremely important to me and to our players. Time to change!”

Mississippi State head football coach Mike Leach agreed, saying the state needs a flag that “everyone is proud of.” 

Kiffin also said that he supports efforts to remove Confederate honors from the Ole Miss campus. The university has spent years trying to cast aside its “Rebel” image, even though its nickname remains the Rebels. Then-coach Tommy Tuberville pushed the school to ban the Confederate flag from its stadium in the 1990s. The school eliminated its “Colonel Reb” mascot in the early 2000s and replaced him with a series of animals that have nothing to do with rebellion. The university stopped flying the state flag from its stadium in 2015 and discontinued playing “Dixie” in 2016. 

Concessions Everywhere

College football is an integral part of Southern life, but it’s making it impossible for other aspects of Southern culture to survive. Several programs are capitulating to the mob to appease players. 

The University of Florida announced it would end its “Gator Bait” chant because of allegedly “racist imagery” associated with the phrase. The University of Alabama removed Confederate monuments that honored students who fought in the Civil War and plans to review all building names to ensure they had no racist connotations. The move was supported by current and former Alabama players. The football team released a pro-Black Lives Matter video as well. Clemson University renamed its John C. Calhoun Honors College primarily due to pressure from former Tiger football stars. The University of Virginia changed its athletic logo to remove serpentine curves from its saber handles. Critics said the handles were too associated with slavery.

Several players at the University of Texas vow to never participate in recruiting or fundraising events unless the school renames “racist” buildings, “diversifies” its statues, makes substantial donations to Black Lives Matter, and replaces the school’s allegedly racist alma mater song. The school has yet to decide what to do in response to these demands.

Gone are Mississippi’s real traditions, heritage, and regional uniqueness—all the school has left is a team that can’t even make a bowl game.

In the semi-southern state of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy had

to issue a groveling apology for daring to wear a One America News t-shirt. His apology was brought about by player outrage at his expressing support for a conservative news outlet. He also agreed to let his players wear do-rags, sag their pants, and play music with foul language at practice as part of his atonement.  

College football players outside of the South are also trying to bully their schools into submission. Kansas State’s football team is threatening to boycott all activities unless the university expels a student who made a joke about George Floyd. The school says it is “exploring” options in how to punish the student for expressing his First Amendment rights.

College football’s popularity in the South has immense sway over the region. Tubervillle, the man who helped ban Confederate flags from Ole Miss, is now the frontrunner in Alabama’s competitive U.S. Senate race. He has no political experience, his positions aren’t very conservative, and he’s made no mention about the escalating culture war. Yet, he leads in the poll based on his reputation coaching college football and an endorsement from Donald Trump.

Everything on the Chopping Block

Most Southern universities have traditions with Confederate or antebellum roots. The Louisiana State Tigers were named after a Confederate regiment. Auburn’s “War Eagle” fight song extolls the “power of Dixieland.” And, of course, there’s the Ole Miss Rebels. 

All of these will soon be on the chopping block. Not even Republican lawmakers will stand up for their traditions and heritage if it gets in the way of college football. Even though college sports programs are rife with academic fraud, rape scandals, and other tawdry behavior, too many Southern conservatives will bend the knee for their favorite team. 

The Ole Miss Landshark mascot embodies the monocultural future of southern college sports. Here is a mascot with no ties to regional culture or history; it’s just a silly animal that school officials hope cannot possibly offend anyone. “Tony the Landshark” represents a Southern culture created in a corporate boardroom. Gone are Mississippi’s real traditions, heritage, and regional uniqueness—all the school has left is a team that can’t even make a bowl game. 

About Paul Bradford

Paul Bradford is a Capitol Hill refugee now earning an honest living.

Photo: Michael Chang/Getty Images

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