Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach, right, confers with Mississippi Valley State assistant head football coach Willie Totten, left, and Delta State football coach Todd Cooley, center, at the Capitol in Jackson last week. They joined other athletic coaches and their staffs from the state’s public universities in a news conference calling for a change in the Mississippi state flag.

Sports played a huge role in this historic change.

Legislators in the state of Mississippi voted Sunday to formally change the official state flag after mounting pressure amid nationwide protests fighting injustice and demanding racial equality. The bill passed in the Mississippi House of Representatives and Senate on Sunday, one day after it made it through procedural votes that required two-thirds majorities in both chambers.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves had previously announced he would sign a bill if it made it to his desk, and now one is on the way. The bill will permanently take down the current state flag, which was adopted in 1894 and included the Confederate battle emblem.

“This is a great day to be a Mississippian,” Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter said on Saturday. “I am proud of all who have had a part in this momentous decision for our state, including the leaders on our own campus that fought hard for what is right. While there is still much work to be done, this is a big step in achieving the welcoming and inclusive environment that our state needs and every person deserves.”

It was a big day for Mississippi Valley State’s Lindsey Hunter.

“I have always been proud of being from Mississippi, my mom constantly taught me about the cruel history of racism in our state. From Emmet Till, Medgar Evers, Herbert Lee, Wharlest Jackson, the list goes on,” said the MVSU men’s basketball coach. “This is for those who’s lives where taken unjustly. May God rest there souls and may we do our part to keep fighting for equality.”

Hunter’s boss in Itta Bena, Dianthia Ford-Kee, said the entire school is pleased to see that the Mississippi lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.

“The state flag should represent all without elements that remind us of the pain and social injustice to the ancestors  of citizens of this state,” said the Valley director of athletics.

Mississippi State first-year football coach Mike Leach is new to the state, but he thinks the legislators finally got it right.

“I am really excited to see the great state of Mississippi, working together to create a flag that everyone can be proud of and rally behind. I look forward to when we can all wave it together,” he said. 

The resolution says that a nine-person commission will be created to approve a new design by September. A special election to approve or reject the new flag will be held in November. The new flag design will include the phrase “In God We Trust,” according to Mississippi Today. If the resolution doesn’t pass, a new flag option will be presented during the 2021 legislative session.

Pressure mounted on the state to change the flag after SEC commissioner Greg Sankey issued a statement earlier this month that the conference would not hold official championship events in the state until it is changed. The NCAA followed suit, saying that it would not hold championship events in states with flags in which the Confederate flag had “prominent presence.”

Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill, the SEC’s top returning ball carrier, tweeted on June 22 that he “won’t represent the state” until the flag changed. Hill — a native of Columbus, largely credited with kicking this process into high gear — tweeted his approval of the resolution shortly after the procedural votes on Sunday.

Coaches from around the state, including Leach and Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin, descended on the state capitol in Jackson last week lobbying for legislators to change the flag.

Nearly all of Valley’s coaches were also present.

nContact Bill Burrus at 581-7237 or bburrus@gwcommonwealth.com.

nContact Bill Burrus at 581-7237 or bburrus@gwcommonwealth.com.

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