Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Nikki McCray-Penson has been at the forefront of two flag removals in her coaching career.
Before being hired at Mississippi State this offseason, McCray-Penson was an assistant at South Carolina, where she helped lobby to take down the South Carolina state flag, which featured a confederate battle symbol.
On June 25, she along with other coaches across the state, helped lobby for the removal of the confederate battle symbol from the Mississippi state flag.
“The state flag, the confederate flag, was removed from South Carolina just five years ago,” McCray-Penson said recently, in the third episode of the Virtual Road Dawgs Tour broadcast. “I think it was definitely the right thing to do then, and it was the right thing to do now. … To go through it again, to see it happen in South Carolina and to see it happen in Mississippi, it was very special.”
The Mississippi state flag was voted, by state legislators, to be officially retired on June 28.
Lobbying for the Mississippi flag change came after the NCAA, SEC and Conference USA rulings which stated that no conference championships and no postseason events would be held in Mississippi until the state flag was changed.
That policy, targeting Confederate symbols, would have excluded the state’s baseball and softball programs – Ole Miss, MSU and Southern Miss – from hosting NCAA regionals or super regionals. It would also keep first- and second-round NCAA women’s basketball playoff games from being played in the state.
“Now it’s not up to the flag that’s going to keep us from being in postseason play, it’s up to us,” McCray-Penson said. “So we can eliminate that. I think our student-athletes and our coaches put a lot of hard work into the season and we want to be rewarded.”
A turning point in the lobbying for flag change came when MSU starting running back Kylin Hill announced that he would not represent Mississippi State or play this upcoming season if the flag was not changed.
It hasn’t stopped at Hill.
Athletes and coaches all around the country are finding ways to showcase their platform, from NBA players requesting justice for Breonna Taylor to Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard calling out coach Mike Gundy for a T-shirt.
Of all the coaches that traveled to Jackson to lobby, McCray-Penson was one of only a few to make a speech. In that speech, she stated that the flag screams hate and that MSU’s mission of diversity was hampered by the confederate symbol.
“When you have those opportunities to speak on things that are right, you take advantage of that,” McCray-Penson said. “Especially with everything that is going on right now with social injustice. To me, that was a very powerful moment and it was the right thing to do.”