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UM Student-Athletes Object to Statue Views; 13 Test Positive for COVID-19

The UM football team ran drills as construction crews put up privacy screens around the Confederate monument nearby. Photo by Christian Middleton

Following conversations between University of Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce and an unidentified group of UM student-athletes, the university has installed additional privacy fencing on the northwestern side of the Confederate cemetery where a contentious construction project is still underway. On July 14, a crew took down the rebel-soldier statue that had stood at the central entryway into campus since 1906, loaded it onto a flatbed truck and moved it to the Confederate cemetery behind the Tad Smith Coliseum that had sat barely noticed or visited since the Civil War.

Before new screens went up, college football players could see the Confederate statue in the trees near their practice field. Photo by Zeus

Apparently, some UM student-athletes—many of whom are Black and who practice on fields only a short distance from the cemetery—objected to continuously looking at a monument dedicated to white supremacy.  

The new barrier facing Hill Drive and Manning Way will temporarily obstruct the view of student-athletes who do not wish to see the statue. University spokesman Rod Guajardo told the Daily Mississippian that the fencing will stay in place until the university can install “permanent, limited landscaping,” which would be an extension of the sparse woodland that currently surrounds the Confederate cemetery on campus. 

That is, the statue will hide behind fencing until the trees and greenery grow enough to shield the state from view.

The expeditious nature of this response comes at a pace unknown to others who have vocalized their objection to the statue, a fact that captures what UM history professor and director of the African American Studies Program, Charles K. Ross, told the Mississippi Free Press last week about Black student leaders: “This is a very, very powerful group of individuals. …The more they recognize how much power and leverage they have, the more that they can potentially do to effect change. More so than maybe any group of people on our campus.” 

Backtracking from Master Plan?

The Mississippi Free Press previously reported on the possibility of UM expanding construction projects in the area that encircles the Tad Smith Coliseum and Confederate cemetery, which was detailed in the 2017 Master Plan Update on the University of Mississippi’s Department of Facilities Planning Website. The plan showed the new location of the Confederate statue next to what the master plans calls the “New Grove,”  an area which would link a purported Tad Smith Mall to the existing stadium district.

A little more than one month ago, University of Mississippi Associate Professor of History Dr. Anne Twitty addressed the problem with simply relocating the Confederate statue from its original home at the Lyceum to another location on the Oxford campus.

“What we’re saying here in many different ways is this is a problematic object to have on campus, and anywhere you put it is going to be some kind of problem,” she told the Mississippi Free Press. “And I think that should tell you something about the object itself, right?”

 “Relocating the monument to the Confederate cemetery is kind of just kicking the can down the road,” she added. “It’s a whole lot of money to spend to kick the can, too.”

Human Cost of College Football

The University of Mississippi released a memo to the UM community Wednesday stating that 14 individuals have tested positive for Covid-19. Thirteen of the 14 are student-athletes, 11 are the same on the same unnamed sports team, and one of the individuals was an employee. Jake Thompson of the Oxford Eagle tweeted that the infected athletes are not part of the football team.

Construction crews installed privacy screens intended to temporarily obstruct the campus’ newly relocated rebel-soldier statue from the sight of UM student-athletes in its new home in front of the campus’ Confederate cemetery. The football team practices nearby in full view of the monument’s new location. Photo by Christian Middleton

This revelation comes in the wake of notable cancellations by the Big Ten and Pac-12 athletic conferences due to the inherent dangers large gatherings present to populations fighting Covid-19. The Southeastern Conference is charging ahead with football season despite player concerns about safety and countrywide outbreaks linked to universities.

During a call on Wednesday, July 29, which included Commissioner Greg Sankey, over a dozen SEC football players, SEC officials and members of the conference’s medical advisory board, UM linebacker Momo Sanogo expressed his concerns to those participating in the conversation.

The Washington Post reported that Sanogo asked the leaders why the University of Mississippi was allowing thousands of students to come back to campus and participate in face-to-face classes. An unidentified official told Sanogo, “It’s one of those things where if students don’t come back to campus, then the chances of having a football season are almost zero.”

For the SEC, which generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, that is not a welcome scenario. But as U.S. COVID-19 deaths begin to roll past 173,000, the human cost of college football is still an open question. 

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