The focus of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been thrilling wins and shocking upsets, but in Greenville, S.C., where the opening rounds of the games were played since Thursday, groups of demonstrators have been displaying confederate battle flags near the site of the tournament.
One group arrived Sunday morning, raising the flag from the back of a pickup truck. They planned to stay throughout the games and be on grounds as fans arrived at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Greenville police had the group move the truck about 50 feet away, citing safety concerns if the flag tipped.
Other trucks with the flag were spotted headed to the site throughout the day, while others stood outside the arena waving the flag.
— Jeff Jones (@JeffJonesSports) March 19, 2017
Protesters said they wanted to make their presence known to the NCAA. The governing body lifted its ban against South Carolina holding championships in 2015.
By the early afternoon there were about a dozen protesters, many carrying Confederate flags, across the street from the arena’s main entrance.
NCAA executive Dan Gavitt said in a statement the organization would not permit symbols compromising a safe environment on venue property the tournament controls. Other areas are under the city’s jurisdiction, and the NCAA backed the city’s efforts to manage actions concerning freedom of speech.
This regional has dealt with politically charged events the past six months. The NCAA originally placed the games in Greensboro, N.C., But it removed them from the state over its HB2 bill, which limits protections offered to LGBTQ people and relocating to Greenville.
In 2002, the NAACP held a march in downtown Greenville to protest the state flying the flag on Statehouse grounds during the NCAA regionals at the arena.
The flag was removed from the South Carolina statehouse in 2015 not long after the mass shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. Dylan Roof, who was found guilty in federal court of the murders, had been pictured in several online posts displaying the flag while espousing White supremacist rantings.
South Carolina upset high-seeded Duke in the second round of the tournament Sunday night 88-81. The team’s coach Frank Martin urged people not to judge all in South Carolina by the actions of some.
“Our state’s progressive. Our state has incredible people (who are) about moving forward,” he said. “But it’s America. We have freedoms. People have freedoms to do whatever they want to do with themselves and their property.”
With reporting by AP