How Sports Figures Are Using The Media To Take Down The Confederate Flag

by Adam Silvers
Facebook/Getty Images

On the evening of September 17, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof allegedly gunned down nine worshipers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

They were attending a Wednesday night bible study.

Roof was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina, and after he reportedly admitted to the murders, the attention immediately shifted to discovering as much information as possible about this individual.

That search led to the conclusion that the Columbia, South Carolina native, who allegedly told authorities he was looking to incite a race war, was fueled by hatred and racism.

And in many of Roof’s social media posts, he was often pictured branding some form of the Confederate flag.

A symbol that, for so many in this country, serves as an everlasting reminder of racism and slavery.

The Confederate South lost the Civil War, but for some reason, the flag of stars and bars was allowed to endure.

It’s endured outside bars and homes and most notably, at the South Carolina state capitol building.

But one place it will not endure is in sports.

In the wake of our nation’s most recent tragedy, Americans from all walks of life have been outspoken and involved in an effort to eradicate the Confederate flag from display in the United States.

And one of the most impassioned, insightful and vocal groups on record has been the athletic community.

From Ben Watson to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., here’s how our nation’s sports figures are using the media to help banish a painful reminder of slavery, oppression and hate.

On June 23, the same day South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house, New Orleans Saints tight end Ben Watson took to Facebook to explain why our reasoning for removing the flag is just as important as the act itself.

He said,

It should not take the brutal, senseless killings of innocent black Americans in a church by a young, white man, to ensure the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State Hour grounds where it has flown in proud defiance of the civil rights movement since the 1960s. If we remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol for any reason other than a change in the hearts of South Carolinians, we may as well leave it be. This is not the time for political statements and worrying about national perception.

While the flag’s banishment – not just from the South Carolina state house – is necessary, it’s more important everything it stands for dies with it.

SEC basketball coaches John Calipari and Frank Martin, of Kentucky and South Carolina, respectively, have also been vocal about the need for the Confederate flag to play no further part in US history.

This past Monday, during an SEC coaches conference call, Calipari was asked about the flag. He tweeted his response.

Was just asked a question on a bball conference call about the confederate flag. I don’t want any confusion. I think we should take it down! — John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) June 29, 2015
I don’t think there’s any question it should be taken down, but again, I’m not running for office. — John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) June 29, 2015

Martin, who perhaps felt more scrutinized because of his employment at the University of South Carolina, said,

As a first generation American and a son of Cuban immigrants who came to this country in search of freedom…and as a life-long advocate and teacher to countless inner city kids and disadvantaged youths, I ask our state leaders to do away with those antiquated symbols that represent hate and oppression to so many people.

He tweeted the following message.

After coming off vacation I wanted to express my stance on the flag flying on our state Capitol grounds. — Frank Martin (@FrankMartin_SC) June 28, 2015

US track star and Olympic gold medalist Natasha Hastings is also tied into the South Carolina community, as an SC alum.

The 28-year-old sat down with ESPNW to talk about what the Confederate flag stands for in her eyes.

To me, it represents the South and the South wanting to have the right to own slaves and conduct their business as they felt they should.

She also tweeted her thoughts on the flag’s removal.

Nonetheless, at least the discussion is happening and hopefully we see change soon! #Charleston — Natasha Hastings (@natashahastings) June 22, 2015
The confederate flag on SC grounds has been an issue before I even went to USC. NCAA events have been banned from the state bc of it. — Natasha Hastings (@natashahastings) June 22, 2015

Similarly to Ben Watson, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin also took to Facebook to voice his thoughts on the current controversy engulfing our country, though his post was directly pegged to a picture of a group of white people painting a giant Confederate flag in his hometown of Pensacola, Florida.

Baldwin said,

The argument we hear today is that the flag represents 'Southern Heritage' and 'Southern Pride.' The only relevant 'heritage' I could find in history not pertaining to Civil War was associated with racism and segregation. Is this the heritage and pride you speak of?

Thanks to the words of Baldwin and others, hopefully, there will soon be little to no pride associated with the Confederate flag.

NFL players and college coaches advocating the removal of the Confederate flag is one thing, but the most surprising voice in sports to lobby for the cause has been that of NASCAR; a professional racing organization that is based in the South and has a predominantly southern fanbase.

Recently, NASCAR chairman Brian France spoke about doing everything he could to remove the flag from his sport.

He said,

We want to go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag. I personally find it an offensive symbol, so there is no daylight how we feel about it and our sensitivity to others who feel the same way. We’re working with the industry to see how far we can go to get that flag to be disassociated entirely from our events.

For years, the Confederate flag has flown freely from trailers and trucks at NASCAR’s infields, but France says that will soon be a memory.

Obviously, we have our roots in the South, there are events in the South, it’s part of our history like it is for the country. But it needs to be just that, part of our history. It isn’t part of our future.

And in case you think France is simply a talking head who isn’t in touch with the pulse of the sport, star driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has similar sentiments.

The 12-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver and two-time Daytona 500 winner said,

I think it’s offensive to an entire race. It belongs in the history books and that’s about it.

Thankfully, it doesn’t end there.

There have been plenty of other sports figures who have weighed in on the Confederate flag’s removal, including newly-appointed South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier, WWE announcer John “Bradshaw” Layfield and southern ESPN personalities Marty Smith and Ryan Mcgee.

Over the last few years, athletes have used the media, both traditional and social, to speak out on gay marriage, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ferguson, Freddie Gray and the Arizona immigrant law, but there appears to be no greater galvanizing cause than the Charleston massacre and subsequent fight to ban the Confederate flag.

According to reports, there’s enough support within the South Carolina Legislature to remove the Confederate flag from state capitol grounds, but it remains to be seen if and when the controversial symbol will be taken down.

If history is any indication, unfortunately, this will not be the last time the athletic community must rally on the heels of tragedy to act as a catalyst for change. Hopefully, though, we begin to see more results and fewer causes.