Inclusion, It Just Means More
SEC, member schools pushing for change
Systemic change is often difficult and slow, but, on occasion, the desire to do things differently results in rapid transformations. Our society is in the midst of reevaluating itself and is rapidly evolving to provide a more level playing field.
For more than 400 years, our nation has fought with a split personality of trying to establish itself as an ideal meritocracy while dealing with the repercussions of racism. In many cases, Americans have been successful. But, too many times, we’ve failed to live up to our perception of ourselves.
The ideals presented in the nation’s founding documents didn’t extend to all. It took “four score and seven years” (87 years) before freedom, citizenship, and the right to vote was unchained from one’s race. It took another century, Supreme Court decisions, and major civil rights and voting rights before those rights were truly begun to be realized. Unfortunately, racial division and strife continues to affect our nation’s ability to reach its full potential.
Change is often slow because it has come through the courts. But individuals and organizations are having an awakening, self-evaluating and driving immediate change.
This week, the Southeastern Conference and some of its member schools have been at the forefront of driving societal change. The conference has pressured Mississippi, the only state to feature the rebel battle emblem, to change its state flag or else the conference will not host post-season championship tournaments within its borders. The University of Georgia has ended its tradition of playing the song “Tara’s Theme” from the movie “Gone With The Wind” at the end of its football games. The University of Florida has struck its “Gator Bait” cheer because of the practice of literally using young black children to attract and hunt alligators.
While certain “traditions” evoke emotion and a sense of togetherness with some fans, they can cause division and feelings of isolation.
“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi,” Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all.”
Ole Miss and Mississippi State, the state’s two SEC member schools, have been on the same page as the SEC in regard to the state flag for the past few years. Because of the battle flag’s inclusion, neither school has flown the state flag over its campus. The administrations at both schools have come out in support of Sankey. At the turn of the millennium, the “Hospitality State” rejected a referendum to update the flag with Confederate imagery it adopted in the Jim Crow-era 1890s. It failed by a nearly 2-1 margin, but 20 years later, there is a renewed push for an inclusive state flag
Ole Miss has also taken steps to distance itself from its Confederama past. The rebel battle flag was once ubiquitous on campus and at games. It has all but disappeared. Colonel Rebel, its on-field mascot, was retired. Its band no longer plays “Dixie” or any songs that include the tune. And a memorial statue at the center of campus has been designated to move to a nearby Confederate cemetery.
Georgia long ago dropped “Dixie” as a fight song and is continuing to evolve its gameday tunes. Weary of connotations to a movie which seemingly overlooks the horrific institution of slavery, UGA will now close contests by playing Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind.”
Brett Bawcum, Georgia’s acting band director, said of the decision, “Though the tradition has been under discussion for months within the band, the current social media climate has highlighted the urgency of addressing it and made me conscious of the message that could be interpreted by delay. To be clear, the issue with the tradition is not the motivation of those who have embraced it, but rather the possibilities it may limit in those who haven’t. I value tradition, but I value creating a welcoming environment much more.”
I applaud these moves in favor of inclusivity. All to often Saturday’s heroes – much less their plight, physical and mental wellbeing – are forgotten about the remaining days of the week and even more so after they leave campus. It’s not right to cheer for their success on the field for a few hours on Saturday while actively preventing off-field opportunities every other day of the week.
SEC schools have won 11 of the last 20 college football national championships. They’re successful because they’ve put together the best collection of talent available, no matter the player’s race. Imagine the success the South – and our nation – could achieve if we followed the same playbook.