On Sunday afternoon before South Carolina played Duke for the right to move on to the Sweet 16, a Confederate flag was seen outside of Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
The flag’s presence on the South Carolina statehouse grounds once prevented the state from being host for the NCAA Tournament. Since it was removed in July of 2015, the state is permitted to have host sites.
Greenville, S.C., was a host site for first-round games in the East Region this year, the first time the city had NCAA Tournament play since 2002.
During a spot on SportsCenter on Monday afternoon, South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin was asked about his and his team’s reaction to the Confederate flag flying near the arena on Sunday.
Martin, as usual, offered a candidate take.
“I don’t know why that’s considered controversy,” he said. “We live in the United States of America. People have every right to do what they want to. They can protest, whether they agree or don’t agree with who the President of the United State is. People have every right to do what they want to do with their time.
“Our state is beautiful. Our state has incredible people. Our state is progressive and moving forward. We’re in a better place now than we were five years ago when we got here. That’s why we had an NCAA Tournament in our state. It is what it is. That’s the beauty of our country. We all get to express ourselves in our way. It doesn’t mean I have to invite those people to my house anytime soon. I’ve got plenty of people that I can invite.
“This university hired me, a son of Cuban immigrants who’s married to a daughter of Jamaican immigrants. We have interracial children and they’ve treated us as if we’re family, from day one, not because I coach basketball, but because it’s how they treat people in this state. It’s an honor to serve this university and I couldn’t be happier to live in the state of South Carolina.”
The flag was not being flown by the NCAA or the arena but by a group of protesters, according to a report from the Associated Press.
Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, released an official statement after pictures of the flag at the arena surfaced on Twitter.
The NCAA is proud and excited to host championships in the state of South Carolina once again. We are committed to assuring that our events are safe and accessible to all. No symbols that compromise that commitment will be permitted to be displayed on venue property that the tournament controls. Freedom of speech activities on public property in areas surrounding the arena are managed by the city of Greenville and we are supportive of the city’s efforts.
Greenville became an East Region host site after the NCAA decided to pull all championship events out of North Carolina because of that state’s controversial law regarding public restroom use.