Flag rout is on, if sports powers close

Bree Newsome of Charlotte, N.C., climbs a flagpole to remove the Confederate battle flag at a Confederate monument in front of the Statehouse in Columbia on Saturday. She was taken into custody when she came down. The flag was raised again by capitol workers about 45 minutes later. AP Photo/Bruce Smith

Nine good people died at Emanuel AME Church on June 17 while studying how to become even better people. We are a better state and country for getting to know them.

Fresh courage has been on display — from governors’ offices in South Carolina and Alabama to a North Carolina woman who scaled a pole at the S.C. Statehouse in Columbia to temporarily remove the Confederate flag.

We’re not quite there yet. Polls can be deceiving. An old cause surrounding a symbol of slavery that has been rekindled by recent violence on a street named for John C. Calhoun, one of slavery’s staunchest defenders, should include more than just one state.

But the powers that be in sports can close the deal quicker than Jackie Robinson dashed from first to third.

All it takes is a simple statement of solidarity from the NCAA, Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference officials — after consultation with the real ruler of college sports, ESPN:

No more televised games from states that display the Confederate flag around government buildings or as part of state flags, or with state flags influenced by Confederate flags or with license plates depicting Confederate flags.

That pretty much takes care of the whole South.

And the flags would go away before the next time you see Lee Corso on TV.

Such boldness is completely unlike the NCAA’s ridiculously timid policy that “prohibits predetermined championship sites from taking place in states where the (Confederate) flag has a prominent presence.”

The ACC chipped in by keeping its baseball tournament out of the state but had no problem taking its cut of football receipts from Clemson.

The NCAA “ban” was a well-meaning but poorly designed cold slap at South Carolina and Mississippi that essentially only punished the Gamecocks’ women’s basketball team by sending them all over the country as one of the top seeds in the 2013 and 2014 NCAA tournaments. Then instead of adding teeth to its flag policy, the NCAA diluted it for 2015, allowing Dawn Staley’s powerhouse team to host a first-round regional.

The NCAA, SEC, ACC and other conferences could have taken a strong lead on the flag issue long ago. For people that helped The Citadel and Dixie Youth baseball move away from Confederate symbols, 2000 seemed like a good time for action. Most of the college basketball coaches in South Carolina spoke out that year against the flying of the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse dome before it was moved to its current memorial spot.

“The bottom line is, it’s just hurting our state,” former South Carolina head coach Eddie Fogler said.

College of Charleston head coach John Kresse said then what most coaches around the state are repeating this week: “I feel we have some tremendous negativism now in the national perception of the flag. I hope that this issue can be resolved as quickly as possible.”

The NAACP has tried a flag-related economic boycott in South Carolina that includes sports teams. It has been ignored by the NBA, Major League Baseball and NHL (all with exhibition games in South Carolina), the PGA, LPGA, men’s and women’s professional tennis, the NFL (Carolina Panthers training camp at Wofford), NASCAR and, for all practical purposes, the NCAA.

It’s too bad all those entities can’t gang up to help with real or apparent mental health problems, bad gun laws and the epidemic of angry loner kids who opt (with parental consent) for sometimes violent video games over healthy interaction with peers. Mass killers at Virginia Tech, Newtown, Conn., and Charleston had those issues in common.

But the timing is right for a final push against the Confederate flag.

It is time, after all these years, for sports to step up.

Of course, no flag means Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Greenville are likely to bid for the ACC baseball tournament when the contract with Durham, N.C., expires in 2018. Columbia might get men’s and women’s NCAA basketball regionals.

That’s not the primary purpose here.

It’s the right thing to do. For our state, our country and for those nine good people who were striving for something better.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff