Last Saturday, eight members of the Ole Miss men’s basketball team knelt during the national anthem before their game against Georgia in response to a pro-Confederate protest that was simultaneously occurring on and around campus.
Ultimately, the wave of protests in Oxford, Mississippi shed light on the ongoing struggle the community faces to break away from remnants of the Confederacy that continue to cast a shadow on Ole Miss and its surrounding college town.
Simply because of its geographic location, Ole Miss will always have a relationship in history with the Confederate South. During the Civil War, Oxford was invaded in 1862 by Union soldiers on their way to victory.
While this type of demonstration has been seen most famously on NFL fields, this is the first major case of collegiate anthem-kneeling to gain national attention. Notably, it occurred on a campus that is the flagship public university of a state of the old Confederate South.
Ole Miss head basketball coach Kermit Davis was very vocal in support of his players. Davis did not know beforehand that the young men would participate in the demonstration and emphasized full respect for their personal decision to do so. After the game, he also spoke out against hate groups such as the ones that came to campus Saturday.
University officials erred on the side of caution and warned students and visitors to keep safe and stay inside until the rally cleared out. The university, in conjunction with the city of Oxford, was fortunately able to maintain the safety and well-being of the community.
But problems will continue to arise if greater action isn’t taken to once and for all clear the university’s image and rid itself of the ugly history of the Confederacy.
Ole Miss took a step in the right direction when the school announced that it would no longer use Colonel Reb, represented as a Confederate soldier, as its mascot. Colonel Reb, who has been a topic of political debate in recent years, was the Ole Miss mascot for more than 30 years before getting swapped out for Rebel the Black Bear in 2010.
Meanwhile, there are still other heavily debated topics on campus. Saturday’s protesters were fueled to protect a monument to Confederate soldiers, which had been called upon by students to be removed in a rally the week prior. Not to mention, the Mississippi state flag still contains Confederate stars and stripes. In fact, the NCAA does not allow official postseason events to be held in Mississippi because of the Confederate symbols on the flag.
Why is the university clinging to monuments of symbols representing an unrecognized country that failed more than 150 years ago and directly opposed many of the foundations of democracy the Constitution was founded on?
Ole Miss needs to wholeheartedly embody the same bastion of education and freedom that serves as the foundation of all public universities across the country, and it is fully capable of doing so.
These athletes know they represent not only their school colors but the larger community as well. In this situation, Ole Miss players made a statement to people in Oxford, the state of Mississippi and the country as a whole.
Across the country, college towns such as Oxford lay the foundations for city infrastructure — similarly to Berkeley, everything is centered on the university and its affiliations. In the many ways the people of Oxford give back to and provide for the university, Ole Miss needs to protect the community it has built in return.
Yes, the Rebels went on to clinch victory in a tight 72-71 game against the Bulldogs, but of greater importance is the kick-starting of conversation to create greater change within a community entrenched in the depths of the darker side of American history.
Charlie Griffen writes the Tuesday sports column about the evolution and current trends of college athletics. Contact him at [email protected].