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SEC tells Mississippi it has to change its flag, or risk losing host rights for championship events

As racial injustice protests continue, there has been a resurgence of demand to remove confederate symbols and monuments that have ties to slavery. Now, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey is getting involved, telling Mississippi that if it doesn't change its state flag — which features a Confederate battle emblem — it may not be allowed to host SEC championship events. 

"It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi," Sankey wrote in a statement tweeted by the SEC. "Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all." 

"In the event there is no change, there will be consideration of precluding Southeastern Conference championship events from being conducted in the State of Mississippi until the state flag is changed," he added. 

A battle has been brewing in Mississippi over the continued use of the Confederate emblem. Mississippi, the state with the highest percentage of black Americans, is the last state to display the confederate emblem on its state flag.

Last week, lawmakers in the state started to draft legislation to change the flag with legislative action, rather than at the polls. Governor Tate Reeves has said he does not support taking legislative action to resolve the issue, but has not shared his personal views about the flag. 

Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum quickly responded to Sankey's statement, writing that he has "great respect" for the commissioner, but claiming that the debate over the flag "may produce unintended consequences" for student athletes. 

"In addition, there may be similar unintended consequences for academic pursuits at our all our state's public universities and negative economic impacts on the state's communities as well," he said. 

He added, however, that the student association and university administration have supported changing the state flag since 2015. 

"I have reiterated that view to our state's leaders on multiple occasions, including during face-to-face discussions in recent days and hours. On June 12, I wrote to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the Mississippi House reaffirming that support," he said. "The letter said, in part, that our flag should be unifying, not a symbol that divides us. I emphasized that it is time for a renewed, respectful debate on this issue."

Ole Miss Athletics also tweeted a message from Chancellor Glenn Boyce and Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Keith Carter that the University of Mississippi stopped flying the state flag over the campus in 2015.

"The University of Mississippi community concluded years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others," the statement said. "Mississippi needs a flag that represents the qualities about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us." 

Kate Smith contributed reporting. 

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