A few hours before second-round games begin at the NCAA tournament regional in Greenville, South Carolina, a Confederate battle flag – the most polarizing symbol in the state – was flying in one of the most visible places near Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
A columnist for the Raleigh News and Observer was among several media outlets to tweet a photograph of the “Stars and Bars” waving on the top level of an adjoining parking garage. It flew near the arena’s main fan entrance, making almost certain that – if it’s not removed before – many attendees at Sunday afternoon’s games will see it on their way in. The University of North Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the tournament’s South regional, is scheduled to tip off against eighth-seeded Arkansas at 6:10 p.m.
Furman University, whose campus is a few miles from the arena, is the host school for the Greenville regional. Last summer, the NCAA moved the regional from Greensboro, North Carolina, to South Carolina in response to North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which makes it unlawful for transgender people to use restrooms for the gender with which they identify.
That decision came a little more than a year after the NCAA ended a 14-year boycott of predetermined postseason events in South Carolina, whose State House in Columbia displayed the Confederate battle flag on capitol grounds until July 2015.
State lawmakers voted to remove the flag three weeks after Dylann Roof opened fire in a Charleston church, killing nine African-American members. Roof, who in social media posts before the killings was seen posing with Confederate flags, was convicted of the massacre in January and was subsequently sentenced to death.
It’s unclear if the parking garage is considered arena property, though the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball indicated in a statement Sunday that the garage is controlled by the city.
“The NCAA is proud and excited to host championships in the state of South Carolina once again,” the NCAA’s Dan Gavitt said in an emailed release. “We are committed to assuring that all events are safe and accessible to all. No symbols that compromise that commitment will be permitted to be displayed on venue property that the tournament controls. Freedom of speech activities on public property in areas surrounding the arena are managed by the city of Greenville and we are supportive of the city’s efforts.”
— Brian Hall (@bhallwfmy) March 19, 2017
One protester told the Associated Press that he thought it was unfair that those who support the flag are being lumped with Roof’s actions.
“I didn’t feel it was right when the flag came down,” Hunter Meadows, who said his ancestors fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, said. “We wanted to show the NCAA that we’re still here.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Cindy Boren