It was supposed to be a normal news conference to introduce Kermit Davis as the new basketball coach at the University of Mississippi.
When Davis brought up patriotism, the room erupted in cheers, but the media went into a frenzy, suggesting patriotism is equal to racism for the fans and players of the Ole Miss program.
Davis was telling fans and reporters what to expect from his team.
“They will be relentless, athletic, explosive and unselfish,” he said. They will play fast and smart and try to get easy points in transition. They would play with “great body language.”
And the Rebels will “be a team that respects the flag and the national anthem,” he said. “All those things from culture is what we’re about. It’s who we’re going to be.”
ESPN, which has come under fire and, some say, lost viewers because it allowed liberal politics to become part of its programming, covered the news conference and did not mention the remark.
But others took a different approach.
“New Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis didn’t exactly get his tenure off on the right foot on Monday evening,” wrote Yahoo sports. “At Ole Miss, Davis is going to be recruiting young men that, for the most part, are African-American, which is precisely the demographic that has dealt with the institutionalized racism and police brutality that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and spawned Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest.
“When you’re already at a recruiting disadvantage because you’re Ole Miss, giving every other coach in the conference ammo to use against you on the recruiting trail – Do I need to spell that one out for you? – is probably not a good idea.”
At Fansided, a fan-centered site that is part of the Time magazine family, Davis’ comments were rejected as untimely, unfortunate and irrelevant. It began with the headline: “Ole Miss Basketball: Kermit Davis off to rough start,” and continued with the subhead: “Kermit Davis made some unnecessary comments during his introductory press conference as the new Ole Miss basketball coach,” and kept the theme into the lead of the story: “Kermit Davis may live to rue this moment.”
It was Davis’ first opportunity in 25 years to run a major college program, Fansided wrote. But “the exciting moment for Ole Miss fans was dulled by what he said during his introductory press conference.”
“Everyone has their own opinion. Keeping that opinion to himself may have served Davis well in this moment, though.
“For starters, he’s coaching in Mississippi. As a native of the state, he should be well aware of the remaining racial hostility in a state that still can’t decide what to do with the Confederate flag. Heck, the old mascot for Ole Miss was likely derived from a Confederate soldier.
“Complicating matters is the very sport Davis coaches. While some sports present different demographics on the play of field, basketball teams tend to be constructed by a black majority. Protests against the flag (i.e. Colin Kaepernick’s) have been led by a black majority.”
The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger quoted an Ole Miss athletic department administrator saying student-athletes in all sports there have been “educated about the importance of freedom of expression, and that won’t change.”
It also quoted the athletic director at Davis’ former school, Middle Tennessee State University, saying he plans to insist whoever replaces Davis honor his policies on the flag.
“The pride he took every time we got a letter from an opposing fan because our guys stand at attention during the national anthem and they all hold their hand over their heart. That’s a very big thing for Coach Davis,” the AD said.
But that nickname, Yahoo pointed out.
“If he’s such a proud American that he cannot tolerate black men protesting against institutionalized racism within our borders, how can he coach a team named after the soldiers that tried to tear this country apart 150 years ago just because they wanted to be able to own those black men?
“If that’s not hypocrisy at its finest, I don’t know what is.”