JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A civil rights group is asking the NCAA to move a regional softball tournament out of Mississippi because the state flag contains the Confederate battle emblem.
Mississippi is the last state with a flag that includes the Confederate emblem — a red field topped by a blue tilted X dotted by white stars. Mississippi NAACP president Derrick Johnson calls it a "racial hate symbol."
The University of Mississippi in Oxford is hosting an NCAA regional tournament Friday through Sunday, based on the team's performance.
Since 2001, the NCAA has not scheduled a "pre-selected championship," such as a football bowl game, in a state where the rebel flag flies prominently. However, the NCAA allows schools in those states to host events in which the team earns a home field advantage. That is why the Mississippi State women's basketball team hosted NCAA tournament games in Starkville in March.
"Championships where student-athletes earn the opportunity to play a championship on their own campus are not covered in the Confederate flag policy," NCAA spokeswoman Gail Dent said Tuesday. "This distinction is consistent with the NCAA's commitment to student-athletes."
The NCAA praised South Carolina in 2015 for removing a Confederate battle flag that had flown outside the statehouse for years. The collegiate sports group called the flag a "symbol of racism."
Johnson said Tuesday that the Mississippi NAACP wants the NCAA to expand its policy and ban all tournaments in states where the Confederate symbol is prominent.
"Racial hate symbols are the same regardless of the tournament being played," Johnson told The Associated Press.
Mississippi has had the same state flag since 1894, and voters chose to keep it in a 2001 election. All eight public universities and several cities and counties have stopped flying it because of the Confederate emblem. Most furled the state flag after the June 2015 slaying of nine black worshippers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, by an avowed white supremacist who had posed for photos with the rebel flag.
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