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Panthers support removal of Confederate flag from SC Capitol grounds

The Carolina Panthers joined the groundswell of support for removing the Confederate flag from grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse.

The Panthers, who since their inception have marketed themselves as a team for both Carolinas, indicated they have little tolerance for “divisive symbols and actions.”

In the wake of last week’s shooting deaths of nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds in Columbia.

The Panthers, who have held their training camp in South Carolina for their entire, 21-year history, back Haley’s efforts. But until Monday, they had never responded publicly to the flag issue.

“Our organization prides itself on bringing people together,” Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said in a text to the Observer. “Divisive symbols and actions should not stand in conflict to progress, healing and the unification of all our citizens.”

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson last week donated $100,000 to the families of the Charleston victims – $10,000 to each of the nine victims’ families for funeral costs and another $10,000 to Emanuel AME as a memorial honoring the victims.

In his letter to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, Richardson wrote: “Our hearts are one with those who grieve the loss of these individuals.”

As part of a legislative compromise in 2000, the flag was removed from the dome of the Capitol and placed on permanent display alongside a Confederate soldier’s monument. Any changes to the placement of the flag would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of South Carolina’s General Assembly.

But pressure to bring the flag down intensified after nine members of Emanuel AME, a historic black church in Charleston, were shot and killed last Wednesday. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white male, has been charged with nine counts of murder.

Authorities have called the shooting a hate crime, and a white supremacist website has photos that appear to show Roof holding the Confederate flag.

“We’re not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” Haley said during an afternoon news conference. “The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand. The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the Capitol grounds.”

Several University of South Carolina athletics leaders voiced their support for taking down the flag, including athletics director Ray Tanner, men’s basketball coach Frank Martin and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley.

Gamecocks football coach Steve Spurrier in 2007 denounced the “dang, damn Confederate flag.”

The Panthers have had strong ties to South Carolina throughout their history, incorporating the outlines of both states into their logo.

The team played its home games during the 1995 inaugural season at Clemson and holds training camp in Spartanburg on the campus of Wofford, where Richardson was an Associated Press Little All-American receiver in 1957 and 1958.

The Panthers in February extended their training camp agreement with Wofford for five years through 2019. Spartanburg leaders estimate 49,000 fans visited Wofford last year for the Panthers’ camp, generating a $5.2 million economic impact.

Richardson’s donations have funded several buildings at his alma mater, most recently an arts center and basketball arena that are in the works. Panthers president Danny Morrison played basketball at Wofford and later served as the school’s athletics director.

Panthers players were reluctant to jump into the divisive issue.

The Observer reached out to 10 current or former players about the flag; none responded.

New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, who went to high school in Rock Hill, wrote a long, poignant Facebook post Monday about the Confederate flag.

Watson wants the flag to come down for the right reasons.

“This is not the time for political statements and worrying about national perception. But if we … listen to the cries and concerns of those we say we care about, soften our hearts, and choose to lay our liberties aside to assuage the pain of our brothers, the only suitable option would be a unanimous decision to remove the flag from the public grounds at the Palmetto State Capitol,” Watson wrote.

“The past and its people, as acclaimed or afflicted as they may be, should always be remembered. But it is difficult to completely ‘move forward’ if painful, divisive icons continue to stand unchallenged.”

Cleveland Browns quarterback Connor Shaw, who played for the South Carolina Gamecocks, tweeted his views about the issue: “Any flag that contradicts everything our Country flag represents, it shouldn’t fly. We ALL stand united.”

Staff writer Jonathan Jones contributed.

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