The NAACP has an outspoken supporter of its fight to remove the Confederate flag from atop the dome of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia: University of South Carolina men's basketball coach Eddie Fogler.
"I'll say it here," Fogler said Monday morning during a twice-a-week Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference. "I support the flag coming down. I personally think that's the right, proper thing to, and I've always felt that way."
Fogler's comments came on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when the NAACP staged a rally in Columbia to remove the flag and called for a regular state holiday to honor the civil rights leader.
Supporters of the flag remaining atop the Statehouse dome contend it is a symbol of heritage. Detractors -- including the NAACP -- assert that it represents racism.
Clemson University's Board of Trustees issued a statement Monday advocating the flag's removal, and Tigers men's basketball coach Larry Shyatt said through a school spokesman that he "strongly" supports the board's stance.
While saying he has "friends on both sides of the issue," Fogler stressed that the flag "is just a symbol of what went on in the past."
"It needs to come down, and the bottom line is it's just hurting our state," said Fogler, a native of New York. "This is a great state, they've got great people here. And the perception at what's going on, it's just not good for our children, it's not good for our schools, it's not good for our economy, it's not good for the people."
Two national coaches' organizations, the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Black Coaches' Association, have recently aligned themselves with the NAACP by trying to relocate a future phase of the NCAA Tournament if the flag remains atop the Statehouse.
The South Regionals of the 2002 tournament are scheduled for the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, which would represent the first NCAA Tournament regional to be held in the Palmetto State since Columbia played host to the East Regional finals in 1970.
Fogler, a member of the NABC, said he voiced his approval of moving the regional during a teleconference with association members last week.
"I strongly support and favor that motion," the seventh-year Gamecocks' coach said.
The NAACP began a tourism boycott of the state Jan. 1, and some say it plans to dissuade high school student-athletes from attending college in South Carolina until the flag is removed.
Fogler said he wouldn't try to influence a recruit's decision if it involves this issue.
"I in no way would ever try to talk a young man out of (not) coming here who didn't want to come here because the flag was flying over the state Capitol," Fogler said. "I just think that is a personal decision, something that could very well influence families and student athletes to go out of state. And I certainly would understand why."
One signee of the Gamecocks' recent basketball recruiting class hails from South Carolina, Rolando Howell of Columbia's Lower Richland High. The Gamecocks have seven South Carolinians on their roster.
"Let's just get our heads together," Fogler said. "Let's come up with a compromise. I say put it in a very prominent museum depicting the history of the state of South Carolina."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.