GREENVILLE, S.C. — A small group of protesters made sure that almost every single fan who came to Sunday’s second-round NCAA tournament games had to walk past a large Confederate flag, which was planted in the parking garage next to the arena and waved in the winds all day and night.
Everyone attending these games understood how unfortunate the symbolism looked; the reason Greenville is hosting these games at all is because the Confederate flag no longer flies at the South Carolina statehouse. While it flew, the NCAA banned its championships from taking place on South Carolina soil.
University of South Carolina coach Frank Martin understood exactly what the flag represents, and the negative storyline it created on a day that should have been about two basketball games.
He addressed it, coupled with a passionate plea, in his post-game news conference after his seventh-seeded Gamecocks upset Duke, 88-81, to earn a trip to the program’s first-ever Sweet 16.
"It's unfortunate, but it's America,” Martin said. “You think we all agree on everything? Our state is united. Our state believes in peace and harmony. That's why this event is being held in our state right now. Our state is progressive. Our state has incredible people that's about moving forward.
"But it's America. We have freedoms. People have freedoms to do whatever they want to do with themselves and their property. It is what it is.
“There are things out there that I don't like. But I can't force people to do what I want them to do. All I know is this unbelievable university and state has taken in a son of Cuban immigrants that's married to a Jamaican woman, has mixed kids, and they've treated me like I'm one of their own from Day 1.
"I wouldn't want to coach in any other state or with any other group of people, for any other bosses than the ones I've got. Our alums, our community is a beautiful, beautiful place. It's a united state. Unfortunately, things like that happen but we live in the United States of America — and we don't all agree on things."