Planners Hope Flag Doesn’t Hoist Fury
Members of the Confederate Veterans of America wait to hoist their flag again at their memorial site off of U.S. 92.
By BAIRD HELGESON
Published: January 27, 2009
TAMPA – Super Bowl visitors coming to the Tampa area expecting a cosmopolitan waterfront city might be surprised to see the giant Confederate flag visible from Interstate 4.
Local Super Bowl organizers and community boosters met with the owners of the 30-by-60-foot rebel flag in September to see whether the group would take it down during the week leading up to Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans declined and instead plan to capitalize on the notoriety during Super Bowl week to promote what they say is an effort to honor Southern heritage.
"We fly it so we can explain it," said Marion Lambert, a member of the Seffner group that is building a veterans memorial near the intersection of Interstates 4 and 75.
Super Bowl organizers have decided to ignore the group and its flag, which many see as a heart-stopping symbol of racism and slavery. The issue caused a polarizing community debate when the group first hoisted the semitrailer-sized flag in June.
"What they are talking about does not represent the values of Hillsborough County," said Curtis Stokes, the president of the Hillsborough County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a member of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee. "All they want is publicity."
Much of the furor has died down, and the NAACP is no longer getting complaints, said Stokes, who attended the meeting to have the flag taken down. "It’s a nonissue."
Many visitors are likely to see the giant flag on their way to Super Bowl events or theme parks in Orlando or the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
The host committee, which organizes the game locally, hasn’t taken a public position on the flag.
"The display is a personal choice by a group of individuals on private property over which we have no control," said Amanda Holt, a host committee spokeswoman.
The NFL won’t say whether the flag tarnishes the host city. The flagpole had not been erected in 2005 when the NFL selected Tampa to host the game.
In the past, the league has taken a strong stand against at least one community event that discriminated.
When Tampa hosted the Super Bowl in 1991, the NFL refused to fuse its showcase game with the Gasparilla parade after complaints that the krewe hosting the event didn’t admit blacks.
"We are aware of the flag," said Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman. "The NFL does not have jurisdiction on what private groups or citizens say on private property."
The host committee is trying to focus on first impressions, not any consternation visitors might feel if they catch a glimpse of the flag.
"Our host committee volunteers will be the face of Tampa Bay Super Bowl week, and their smiles and offers of assistance will go a long way in generating a good first impression for our visitors," Holt said.
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