Sports leagues should fight Confederate flag

Updated 2:08 PM EDT, Mon June 29, 2015

Story highlights

Terence Moore: A sports league with guts can make a big difference in persuading local officials to drop offensive symbols

Moore: Leagues have shown their clout over the years by refusing to allow cities to host events

Editor’s Note: Terence Moore has been a sports columnist for more than three decades. He has worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer, the San Francisco Examiner, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AOL Sports. Follow him on Twitter @TMooreSports. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) —  

Now that the Confederacy is on the run again throughout the South with the gradual ousting of its battle flag, NFL officials can finish the job. If not them, just wait a while. Either the NCAA , the NBA, NASCAR or some other sports league with the means and the guts will demand justice.

Then, after the Confederate flag is buried deep into the history books, the sports world can take on other issues of our time, ranging from income inequality to the melting of the polar ice caps.

Terence Moore
Terence Moore

You get the picture: When it comes to spurring change, sports leagues are potent. Just this past weekend, NASCAR Chairman Brian France said his Southern-based league will continue its decadeslong push to eliminate the epidemic of Confederate flags at its racetracks.

That’s encouraging, especially since I recall April 2000, when something made me cringe in northern Georgia more than hearing a rousing chorus of “Dixie.” I had taken my then-8-year-old godson, Julian, to an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field, where the public-address announcer told us to stand for the presentation of the color guard.

Soldiers marched onto the field carrying two of the largest flags I’d ever seen, and then came a revelation. Not only were we standing for the American flag, but for the Confederate flag.

“What’s wrong, Uncle Terry?” asked Julian, as I shook my head, wondering how such a scene was unfolding in the hometown of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Back then, the Confederate flag essentially was the Georgia state flag, but supporters of the thing would say that was the Georgia state flag featuring the Confederate battle emblem. Whatever.

It was the Confederate flag.

In 2001, with a slew of Georgians kicking and screaming, Gov. Roy Barnes forced the state to change the flag, but he lost his governorship by doing so. And the Confederate flag hasn’t vanished in Georgia.

Within blocks either way from where I live in an Atlanta suburb, there are Confederate flags waving from poles in the front yards of homes. Within a mile of the headquarters of the Atlanta Falcons in Flowery Branch, Georgia, there is a yard covered with various Confederate flags for sale, along with other items commemorating the Civil War and Jim Crow days.

You also can still buy Georgia license plates featuring the (ahem) Confederate battle emblem.

That said, some folks in the Deep South finally are realizing that Robert E. Lee is dead.

He’s been gone since 1870, and the Civil War ended five years before that. If nothing else, the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress in 1964 to end segregation, and then you had the Voting Rights Act the following year.

This is the 21st century, for goodness’ sake, which makes you wonder why it took that ghoulish killing of nine African-American Bible worshippers in a Charleston, South Carolina, church to bring much of society out of the 19th century.

There was the Orangeburg massacre, for instance. After a group of African-American students in February 1968 tried to desegregate a bowling alley in town, three of them were killed on their South Carolina State College campus by South Carolina highway patrolmen, and 27 other African-American students were wounded. The students were unarmed, and most were shot in the back by the white officers.

So why didn’t that trigger this type of outcry for the ouster of Confederate symbols? Guess we’ll never know. What we do know is that pressure from sports leagues often scares people into doing the right thing – mostly because of the potential for municipalities to lose millions of dollars from tourism and everything else – which means sports leagues should do even more to become the voice of social consciousness.

With the Final Four slated to open within days last spring in Indianapolis, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence sought to appease his conservative supporters by signing a “religious freedom” bill in the shadows. The NCAA joined the national outcry to say the bill discriminated against gays and other groups. Before long, the NCAA threatened not only to move future Final Fours from Indianapolis, but other events, along with the NCAA headquarters located in the city.

Pence retreated. Big time.

The same went for the state of Arizona during the early 1990s, but it took the NFL to turn its threats into reality. After Arizona refused to celebrate the Dr. Martin Luther King national holiday, the NFL yanked the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix and gave it to Pasadena, California. With millions of dollars flying from the Arizona desert, voters throughout the state promptly rushed to approve the King holiday to get the 1996 Super Bowl.

Even so, Arizonans got amnesia in 2010, when they passed the so-called “Show me your papers” immigration law. It nearly cost Glendale, Arizona, this past Super Bowl – and come to think of it, the game should have been moved. So you have to applaud how NCAA officials got it right in 2001 when they banned member institutions from hosting NCAA-sanctioned tournaments if their states flew the Confederate flag or anything similar. Not only that, NCAA officials spent most of the last 15 years remaining hardliners by keeping big-time events out of those states.

Still, they allowed the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team to host March Madness games last spring.

They cited their new rule that lets the top seeds of tournaments host home games.

Yeah, but South Carolina still flies the Confederate flag.

There should be no exceptions.

Not unless Robert E. Lee is breathing again.

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