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Saturday, June 20, 2020

Punctuation Marks

As the nation is in the punctuation phase of punctuated equilibrium, it was never reasonable to assume that the sports and marching worlds would remain immune. We've already seen the removal of the confederate battle flag from NASCAR, and now change is making its way to college sports.

The University of Florida has announced the end of its "Gator Bait" cheer, a fanfare played by the marching band followed by the eponymous words from the fans. While the cheer refers to Florida's Gator mascot, the phrase has a far darker origin, reaching back to a time when alligator hunters would use Black babies - typicallly enslaved children - at bait. The University of Florida is taking a top-to-bottom look at their traditions and practices through a lens of equity, and in doing so, decided that Gator Bait had to go.

Across the state line, the Gators' rival University of Georgia is removing Tara's Theme from the Redcoat Band's postgame. The piece is form the soundtrack of Gone with the Wind, a film that's depiction of antebellum and Civil War era plantation life has it under renewed scrutiny, The film has been temporarily pulled from streaming services to be returned with additional context. The Redcoat Band will replace Tara's Theme with Georgia on my Mind.

The recent moves by Florida and Georgia are reminiscent of Ole Miss' Pride of the South removing From Dixie With Love from their repertoire. In that instance, the piece had become the tableau for unwanted tradition.

Speaking of Mississippi, their state flag - the only flag in the country that still incorporates a portion of the confederate battle flag - has come under renewed scrutiny. First the SEC made a statement that it was time for a change to the state flag, and said it would consider withholding championship games from the state if the current flag continued to fly. Mississippi State hosted the softball championships in 2018, and the men's and women's tennis championships currently rotate to all schools. Shortly after the SEC's statement, the NCAA said it would no longer host postseason events in Mississippi due to the presence of the flag. This move is a re-interpretation of a ban that took place in 2001, and for a long time kept postseason play out of the state of South Carolina due to the battle flag's presence on the state house grounds. South Carolina has hosted postseason events since the flag was removed in 2015. Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State hosted baseball regionals last year. The South Carolina legislature did not make any changes based strictly on NCAA pressure; we'll see how loud the clangs get in Mississippi.

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