A story I have been following concerns the NCAA’s ban on post-season collegiate basketball competitions in South Carolina. A basketball restriction was implemented in response to demands from the Black Coaches Association who maintained that South Carolina should be denied the revenue generated from post-season athletic events until it removes the replica of the Confederate Flag displayed on statehouse grounds. (I discuss the background of the NCAA’s financial punishment of South Carolina in a previous article, "NCAA PC.")
Last week, the NCAA’s Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee rejected a request to expand its ban to include other events, such as baseball, that were excluded from the original ban because they are not pre-determined but decided on merit. I am not sure why the NCAA denied this request but it might be related to concern over potential lawsuits. Southern heritage groups were exploring legal actions against the NCAA because the ban may violate interstate commerce laws and possibly constitutional equal protection rights. Also, it may be an illegal secondary boycott because colleges have no control over where the flag flies.
Even though the NCAA refused to ban other athletic events, it did not remove its initial ban. So I would like to see vigorous lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of the initial ban, assuming of course, that the courts would not allow political correctness to dominate their rulings to the extent that it dominates the news mediau2018s views.
The demand for the expansion of the NCAA ban came from the NAACP, the Black Coaches Association and the National Urban League. To set the stage for further comments on this strange phenomenon, I offer a brief quote from the National Urban League’s mission statement for young professionals: The "…mission is to engage young professionals in the NUL’s movement towards the achievement of social and economic equality. Members of the NUL are defining, developing, implementing, and leading the next generation civil rights agenda." That is the key phrase: "the next generation civil rights agenda." As we have learned from past experience, the "next generation" will create a new set of goals and new demands.
A few decades ago the revision of laws and customs that stood in the way of equality of opportunity for minorities was the goal of the civil rights movement. Most people supported these changes because it was the right thing to do. But these changes were only the first goal of the movement, or, to use the NUL terminology: the first generation civil rights agenda. The goals of the movement have now expanded far beyond equal opportunity.
As the NCAA’s Confederate flag ban indicates, one of the movement’s current "goals" is the public elimination of anything that someone might perceive as "insensitive" even if the connotation is symbolic. However, because individual perception determines what constitutes an insensitive symbol, this could prove to be a Herculean task. And, certainly, it will be a task fraught with controversy because removing symbols will involve depriving one group in order to placate another.
In all the reports by white mainstream journalists of the NCAA’s ban that I have read there is no mention of compromise. Journalists admit that although the Confederate Flag might be perceived as being insensitive to a member of a minority group, it might also be considered part of a Southerner’s heritage. Even after this admission, the only solution the media offers is the removal of the flag — I haven’t read a single article suggesting that minority complainants should reconsider their demands. Such one-sided reports reveal more about the mindset of the white journalists than the issue itself.
On the other hand, opinions on the Confederate flag by black journalists and blacks in the blogosphere are not so narrow-minded. In fact, many fault minority groups for what they consider unwarranted attacks on the flag. A couple of examples:
From Thomas Sowell: "If the current campaign to get the Confederate flag off the state capitol in South Carolina were just an isolated controversy, it might not mean much. But it is part of a much bigger trend of constantly scavenging for grievances. Only children insist that everything must be done their way."
Mychal Massie: "Waging a boycott over a state’s right and the rights of its citizens to fly a flag that many blacks themselves died to support is to show forth the arrogance of ignorance that presupposes to know what is best for others — regardless of what the individuals deem best for themselves."
Elizabeth Wright (from her website Issues & Views): "Preventing the display of the Confederate flag and other southern memorabilia has nothing to do with lessening "anguish" among blacks, but has everything to do with asserting power. For those blacks who feel that the tables are now turned in the South, the power to flex political muscle is irresistible."
In South Carolina, there is no unanimity among blacks regarding the NAACP’s Confederate flag boycott. On the recent Martin Luther King Day celebration in Columbia, a local NAACP speaker used the occasion to demand the removal of the flag. But another MLK Day participant, Kevin Gray, head of the Harriet Taubman Freedom House, took exception to the speakeru2018s comments noting: "There are other issues that need to be raised on this day." Mr. Gray mentioned needs of working blacks, Katrina damage and South Carolina blacks deployed to the Middle East. Real issues versus symbolic ones define the split among South Carolina’s black citizens.
Evidence that opposition to the flag is not overwhelming among blacks in South Carolina can also be demonstrated by a look at the meeting of the state’s NAACP chapter that took place shortly after the South Carolina flag boycott began. Attendees were almost evenly split on whether to support the boycott, and there were strong objections voiced against it. In fact, a candidate for the presidency of the state organization who wanted to end the boycott came within 16 votes of unseating the incumbent who supported the boycott. I believe that this same disparity of support for the flag boycott is reflected in the state’s black community.
No one knows exactly how many black citizens are bothered enough by the Confederate flag to want it banned. It could be 70%, or 50%, or less than 25%. But mainstream journalists have no qualms about conveying the impression that the flag is a divisive issue not only to the majority of blacks but to the nation as a whole. And many journalists simply ape the party line hoping that they will be perceived as courageous for doing so.
One example of this journalistic pretentiousness is a January 19th editorial from The Daily News, published in Dowagiac, Michigan. The editorial insisted that the NCAA expand its South Carolina ban to include all other collegiate tournaments and contained these comments: " It is time for the National Collegiate Athletic Association to step up to the plate and balance the playing field. We support the Indianapolis-based Black Coaches Association in their drive to have the NCAA take another look at the issue. They (the NCAA) need take a firm stance and deliver a message that will be heard loud and clear. Athletics is supposed to be about fair play." And the editorial continues in this self-righteous vein.
I cannot imagine a newspaper from a small town in South Carolina demanding that an out-of-state organization impose a financial boycott to coerce the State of Michigan to change its policies to conform with what the South Carolina editor thinks is best for Michigan.
What would happen if a substantial portion of the mainstream media began "thinking outside of the box"; if they would start considering all segments of society rather than just certain interest groups? In this particular case, it might lead them to request the NCAA to discontinue its boycott of South Carolina. We know that except for the usual media outlets and a few politicians, the NCAA boycott has generated little national support, and the fact that the South Carolina legislature previously relocated the flag from the Capitol dome to make it less conspicuous doesn’t help the NCAA’s case. With a little nudge from an intelligent media, the NCAA might decide that trying to improve the unacceptable graduation rates of college athletes is more important than trying to remove a small flag from the grounds surrounding the South Carolina capitol.
Gail Jarvis [send him mail] is a free-lance writer.