South Carolina fans celebrate return of March Madness by raising the Confederate flag

“We wanted to show the NCAA that we’re still here.”

A Confederate flag flies from a parking deck outside the arena before a second-round game of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Greenville, S.C., Sunday, March 19, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt
A Confederate flag flies from a parking deck outside the arena before a second-round game of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Greenville, S.C., Sunday, March 19, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt

The NCAA would have preferred for headlines this Monday to all be about the on-court excitement of March Madness. But once again, a racist symbol is literally hanging over the organization’s head.

For 15 years, the NCAA banned South Carolina from hosting championship games because of the presence of the Confederate flag outside of its State House. That ban was lifted in 2015, after white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans at a historically black church in Charleston.

Normally, it would have taken some time for South Carolina to get added back into the hosting rotation, due to how far in advance tournaments and championships are scheduled — but luckily for them, another state stepped in to show its bigotry. Last year, the NCAA banned championship games from North Carolina due to the anti-transgender HB2 legislation, and then moved some March Madness games from Greensboro to Greenville.

So, how did South Carolina celebrate?

Well, the South Carolina men’s basketball team celebrated with a titanic upset over №1 seed Duke. But some South Carolinians marked the occasion by driving to the top of a parking garage right beside the sold-out Bon Secours Wellness Arena and flying the Confederate flag.

The Associated Press referred to the stars and bars enthusiasts as “a small group of protesters” who “wanted to make their presence known to the NCAA.” The AP did not specify what exactly these people were protesting. The end of slavery? The union? The results of a war that ended over 150 years ago?

One thing was clear: they were not happy that South Carolina took down the Confederate flag from the State House in 2015, and they wanted to make sure their presence was known.

“I didn’t feel it was right when the flag came down,” Hunter Meadows, an ancestor of a Confederate soldier, told the AP. “We wanted to show the NCAA that we’re still here.”

The NCAA responded to Meadows and his fellow protesters with what was, at best, a lukewarm condemnation of the flag’s presence.

Of course, the parking garage was private property, and therefore outside of the NCAA’s jurisdiction. But the statement by Gavitt was still panned on social media for its weakness.

After all, the Confederate flag is not just an offensive image to most, it’s one that is directly associated with violence against black people. A statement acknowledging that fact doesn’t seem like too much to ask. (On second thought, considering the NCAA is literally exploiting black labor for an exorbitant profit, perhaps it is.)

South Carolina coach Frank Martin was asked about the presence of the flag after his team’s Cinderella moment, and stressed that South Carolina is “progressive” and “believes in peace and harmony.”

“There’s things out there that I don’t like. But I can’t force people to do what I want them to do,” Martin said, as reported by Sporting News. “All I know is this unbelievable university and state has taken in a son of Cuban immigrants that’s married to a Jamaican woman, has mixed kids, and they’ve treated me like I’m one of their own from day one.”