July 1, 2020 10:43:25 AM
Football players are accustom to risk. Every time they strap on their shoulder pads and lock in their helmets, they do so with a tacit acceptance that serious bodily injury is one freak tackle away. Running backs play with this risk more than most. Each time they carry the ball, they try to avoid the slightest awkward move that could result in injury while also attempting to evade eleven defenders attacking them like lions stalking prey.
Anybody who has seen Kylin Hill play knows he embraces this risk. He stiff arms linebackers to the ground. He hurdles over cornerbacks. He dives past safeties for touchdowns. Fearlessness is perhaps his greatest attribute as a player.
Still, the move Kylin made last Monday, June 22, was riskier than any time he ran on a football field. In response to a vacillating tweet from the Governor, Kylin tweeted "either change the flag or I won't be representing this State anymore & I meant that...I'm tired." With that, Kylin staked his football career on whether the Mississippi legislature would change the state flag after 126 years. To make matters worse, it was late in the legislative session, meaning two-thirds of the legislature would have to vote to suspend the rules to even allow a vote for a new flag. Many would have bet Kylin had a better chance of scoring a touchdown with no helmet or shoulder pads than the legislature did of passing a bill to change the flag by a two-thirds vote within a week.
As a fan of Kylin since he ran for 1,750 yards and scored 18 touchdowns as a junior at Columbus High, I was worried he didn't understand the implications of his decision. At the time, the overwhelming odds were the state wouldn't change the flag, which meant he would have to either sit out or attempt to transfer. If he transferred, he would have to hope the NCAA gave him a waiver from the requirement he sit out a year. Additionally, he had to hope he could replicate the success he had at State. Last year he led the SEC in rushing. What if a change in scenery decreased his production and NFL stock?
Plus, this risk didn't come with the same rewards as scoring touchdowns. There were no potential championships or personal accolades or future millions as an NFL star. Like many of us, Kylin was simply tired of accepting a state flag with a symbol of white supremacy, tired of ignoring what that symbol says about the importance of black people in this state, and tired of letting that be Mississippi's representation to the world. So he gave the state an ultimatum. They could have his football services for one more year or they could have a flag with a symbol of white supremacy. They couldn't have both.
I'm not naive enough to believe Kylin's threat was the reason the legislature finally took action. Generations of Mississippians, like Aaron Henry and Governor William Winter, have fought for a new flag for decades. Speaker Phillip Gunn gambled his political future on the need for a new flag when he spoke out after the Charleston massacre in 2015. Since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, thousands of Mississippians have peacefully protested the state flag.
Once momentum for a new flag stalled, the SEC and NCAA came out with regulations that would punish the reputation and bottom line of most of the public universities because of the flag. Within a week, every business, religious and social association publicly requested the legislature change the flag. Without this historical tide, who knows if the sea would have been parted and the flag changed? Still, there's no doubt Kylin's bravery was a mighty wave in that tide.
In the years to come, Kylin will probably get drafted to the NFL and make millions of dollars. Maybe he leads the league in rushing or wins a NFL MVP or even a Super Bowl. But whatever he does, it won't take as much courage as he showed on June 22. It won't be as selfless. It won't be as important.
Never again will another mother have to explain to her child what that blue "x" with white stars mean on Mississippi's flag. Never again will another Black Mississippian have to explain how they can live in a state with a symbol of hate in its flag. Never again will a business decline to open here because of the potential backlash of our flag.
Columbus should lead the way in making sure the world never forgets Kylin Hill risked his football career for a better Mississippi for all. A key to the city is a good start.
1. Slimantics: Preparing for fall LOCAL COLUMNS
2. Our View: Student influx may impact Starkville in new ways this year DISPATCH EDITORIALS
5. Cartoonist View: 8/13/20 NATIONAL COLUMNS