COLUMBIA — As far as the University of South Carolina is concerned, it can't come down soon enough.
The Confederate flag that flies on the statehouse grounds, a mere three blocks from USC's Horseshoe, has long been problematic for the Gamecocks due to the NCAA's stance on its presence. On Monday, when Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag to be removed following the shooting of nine church-goers at Emanuel AME in Charleston, the USC athletic department presented a unified front.
“It's time to remove the flag. We are ONE!!” South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner wrote Monday in a Twitter post a few hours before Haley called for the flag to be removed. Others at USC echoed similar sentiments, as did Dan Radakovich, the athletics director at Clemson.
“I agree with Gov. Haley and Clemson President Jim Clements that it is time to take down the Confederate Flag,” Radakovich wrote on Twitter. Clements also called for the flag to be removed from the statehouse grounds, and wrote in an email to students and faculty that Clemson is planning a vigil Wednesday to honor those lost in the Charleston shooting.
USC's Tanner was not available for further comment, according to an athletic department spokesman. While neither USC nor Clemson released any official statements on Haley's remarks, a few coaches voiced their own support via their individual social media accounts.
“So proud of the people of my state of South Carolina,” USC basketball coach Frank Martin wrote Monday on Twitter. “Taken a difficult moment and made it better by respect, unity (and) love (for) each other.”
Added USC women's basketball coach Dawn Staley: “Leaders make the unpopular but right decisions.”
South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier has long advocated the flag's removal. Monday afternoon, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney wrote the same in a text message to The Post and Courier: “Definitely should come down. In agreement with (Haley), Clements and (Radakovich)”.
The Carolina Panthers, who play in Charlotte but hold their training camp in Spartanburg, also supported the flag's removal. “Our organization prides itself on bringing people together,” spokesman Steven Drummond said in a text to the Charlotte Observer. “Divisive symbols and actions should not stand in conflict to progress, healing and the unification of all our citizens.”
Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old Columbia-area resident who has shown interest in racial segregation and the Confederacy, has been charged with the murders. Haley on Monday urged that thoughts remain with the victims, which is where Citadel athletic director Jim Senter preferred to keep his focus. “Six Citadel employees lost loved ones Wednesday,” he said. “That's where our thoughts are at this time.”
College of Charleston athletics director Joe Hull did not immediately return a call for comment. C of C president Glenn McConnell told reporters Monday that he would defer any comment on the Confederate flag's potential removal until after the victims' funerals.
Charleston Southern on Monday held a memorial for Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the mother of Buccaneers baseball player Chris Singleton and one of the victims of the shooting. Removing the Confederate flag “is a great idea if it will bring unity to our state,” said CSU athletics director Hank Small.
“I wish that it was not at a time where we are trying to celebrate the lives of those that perished at Emanuel,” he added. “The NCAA could lift its ban on South Carolina as a result of taking the flag down, and that would be a good thing.”
CSU football coach Jamey Chadwell said he understands “the history and the heritage” some see in the flag, and peoples' desires to know where they came from. “I can also see why it's divisive,” he added. “These murders did not happen because the flag flies, but if removing it will make our state stronger and more united, then I'm all for removing it.”
The Confederate flag's divisive nature crept into college sports after it was removed from the capitol dome in 2000 as part of a compromise that placed it next to the Confederate soldier's monument. But the NAACP's continued objections to the flag prompted the NCAA to ban predetermined championship events from taking place within the Palmetto State.
Although that didn't impact championship events awarded on merit, such as baseball, it did force USC's nationally ranked women's basketball team to play NCAA tournament games away from home until the event's format was changed prior to last season. It also prevented NCAA golf and men's basketball championship events from being contested in the Palmetto State, and led the ACC to move its baseball tournament from Myrtle Beach.
The Palmetto State has not hosted the NCAA men's basketball tournament since the first and second rounds were contested in Greenville in 2002. “Chances of me seeing an NCAA basketball tournament game in Greenville in my retirement years improved today,” longtime Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret wrote Monday on Twitter.
Monday was a day of varied emotions, with reactions to the Confederate flag's potential removal mixed with sympathies extended toward victims being laid to rest. Coaches and athletes — like former South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw — were among those hoping unity comes out of tragedy.
“Any flag that contradicts everything our (national) flag represents, it shouldn't fly,” Shaw wrote on Twitter. “We ALL stand united.”
Aaron Brenner, Jeff Hartsell and David Shelton contributed to this report.