In 2006, South Carolina hosted Tennessee in a game that was visited by ESPN’s weekly pregame show, College GameDay. As is regularly the case, fans came to hold up posters and wave flags in the background of the GameDay set, but one flag drew the ire of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.
The Confederate flag.
“(It) was embarrassing to me and I know embarrassing to our state,” Spurrier would later be on record of saying. Despite being the visionary he can be, surely Spurrier had few expectations his quotes about the Confederate flag would be resurfacing in South Carolina roughly eight years later.
The recent mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina has done just that after a terrorist opened fire and killed nine inside the historic Emmanuel Methodist Church in Charleston. In response to the mass shooting, the Confederate flag on the grounds of the statehouse in Columbia was not lowered to half-staff like other flags. According to NBC News, it can’t be changed in any way without a sign-off from the General Assembly. Considering the history the flag still represents to this day for so many, it has become a symbol of the racial tension that continues to exist in our nation. And with the amount of coverage devoted to racial tension in recent years, not lowering the Confederate flag has become even more of a sticking point in the days after the tragedy in Charleston.
Which brings us back to Spurrier’s 2007 comments. Spurrier knows he is a football coach, and his job is to promote the Gamecocks football program as well as the University of South Carolina. And he does believe there is a political barrier he should probably ignore for the most part, but this is why his comments on the flag should be remembered. Spurrier may not think it is right to get involved in political issues, but this is more about human decency and civil rights than it is strictly politics. Also, when Spurrier speaks, people listen.
“I realize I’m not supposed to get in the political arena as a football coach, but if anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it. I’ve been told not to talk about that. But if anyone were ever to ask me about it, I certainly wish we could get rid of it.”
Coaches should never be afraid to get involved in political conversation or real-world topics. Regardless on where they happen to stand on certain issues, college football coaches have a powerful voice in our communities, and the messages they send tend to resonate on a level politicians can not reach. Speaking out for what they believe can be good for open discussion on important issues, and in South Carolina the topic of the Confederate flag is a good one to continue discussing.
“My opinion is we don’t need the Confederate flag at our Capitol,” Spurrier said in 2007. “I don’t really know anybody that wants it there, but I guess there are a lot of South Carolinians that do want it there.”
Spurrier gets it. He knows some people see the flag one way while others see it another way. Ultimately, like a statue, a flag is given meaning by the people. Not everybody will view a flag or a statue in the same regard, and perhaps they never will. But if Spurrier or anyone else wants to share their opinions on such manners, we should be willing to listen.
Helmet sticker to SB Nation for digging up those old Spurrier quotes.