The modern world is rife with instances in which some of our favorite entertainers and sports personalities are taken to task for speaking unclearly, ignorantly or simply stupidly in regards to a myriad of issues that relate to the human condition. It's obvious that some people are sensitive while others are clueless as to the sensitivity of others.
With that being said, there are also times when simply acknowledging the struggle and pain of one’s fellow human being does more for brotherhood and camaraderie than a six-pack and a hot grill ever could. Those are the jewels of life that I look for, that I yearn for, and that make things a little easier for all of us.
Back in July, University of Mississippi head football coach Hugh Freeze did something that took a lot of heart and wisdom to accomplish. He took on the Confederate Battle Flag head-on, without flinching or mincing his words. To be certain, Freeze isn’t some Yankee transplant who’s forcing his liberal views unto an unsuspecting audience of southern gentleman. Freeze is a native Mississippian.
"While I'm not a political figure, I strongly believe it is time we move in a different direction and change the flag," Freeze told members of local Mississippi media before the start of Day 4 at SEC media days. "Hopefully that'll happen."
"I'm sure that's something I'm going to get criticized for either way, but at the end of the day you do what you feel is right and you handle whatever comes your way," Freeze said while meeting with ESPN.com reporters. "Man, there is no one -- coming from Mississippi like I am -- who understands the heritage, the pride of the Mississippi people [more than I do]. I get all of that, but our university moved away from the flag in the late 90's, and that symbol has been hijacked by some groups that use it for ill will toward others, and I can't support that.
"I'm not a political figure, nor do I want to be, but when you ask me where I stand on it, I think it's time to move in another direction."
Just in case you’ve been in a coma since the 60's, the Confederate Battle Flag was used by the Confederate Army and sympathizers throughout the Civil War, but it was retired during the Reconstruction Era as the Union occupied the South. It was then reestablished in the south during the dawn of the Civil Rights era in the 60's as a symbolic affront to the tenets of the desegregation and voter rights meant to benefit African Americans.
The debate over the Confederate Flag has come up periodically over the years but lawmakers throughout the south did not want to upset their pro-flag power base and would constantly table it for later discussion. However, with the horrific terrorist attack in South Carolina being perpetrated by white supremacy sympathizer Dylann Roof, the debate has been forced back into the public eye. South Carolina successfully voted to remove the flag under the lead of Gov. Nikki Haley and other top GOP officials. Alabama followed suit and removed the flag from state grounds while Georgia and Virginia have decided to cease the use of Sons of the Confederacy license plates that bear the flag. Tennessee is discussing its plans for the flag as well.
But a portion of the Mississippi state flag has the Confederate flag on it.
What makes Freeze’s statement so important is his position as the head football coach at a major southern institution, the University of Mississippi. Heck, their old mascot was a cartoon facsimile of a plantation/slave owner; it doesn’t get more southern than that. University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has spoken out against the flag twice while SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has spoken about it as well.
“They get it. They’re right," Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason, a Black man, told ESPN. "It’s only when you’re able to step back and you can get people to collectively unite behind something that change generally happens in this country.”
Change. That word carries a lot or weight.
Change regarding the Confederate Flag has happened at Ol’ Miss in the past. It was banned from the campus in the late 90's and Mississippi State University doesn’t fly the flag on campus either.
However, there are those who continually ignore the controversy around the flag and will cower behind semantics in an effort to avoid having an official opinion. People like Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen. Here’s what he said when asked for his stance on the flag.
“That's a lot for people in Jackson and for the people in Mississippi. I know -- I don't see it very often," Mullen said. "We don't have it up on our campus. I do know we're the most diverse campus in the Southeastern Conference. I know the university embraces that diversity as a whole. I certainly embrace that diversity. We're so diverse, they have a Yankee as the head football coach in the Southeastern Conference.
"I think it's something that on a national level is getting an awful lot of attention now that people are really looking into how we can make things better in the state of Mississippi. And I hope as a university we're out on the forefront trying to help make things better with the type of school that we have and the diversity we have in our school."
If there was ever a class being held to show how to expertly avoid a question while sounding like you’ve actually said something, Mullen should be the tenured professor for said class. He sounded generic, scared and unwilling to directly confront one of the most controversial issues of the year by feigning ignorance to it even though several of his fellow coaches and even his conference commissioner have taken stances on it.
Hmmm, doesn’t sound like any coach I’d want my kid learning from. I’m just sayin’.