Big Confederate flag is no flap for Super Bowl weekend

By Chandra Broadwater, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Thursday, January 29, 2009

TAMPA — The Super Bowl is in town. So is the world’s largest Confederate flag.

But groups on both sides of the 1,800-square foot flag that flies over the junction of Interstates 4 and 75 aren’t so concerned about a potential black eye for the city or the game.

Some wonder if many football fans will even see it. The flag is planted just east of Tampa, miles from many of the Super Bowl events and hotels.

"We’re not much interested in this event," said Marion Lambert, who heads the local Sons of Confederate Veterans group that owns the giant battle flag.

Lambert said his group has no plans to capitalize on the Super Bowl. The flag’s brief absence last week stirred opponents’ hopes when it was taken down to repair storm damage.

It’s just coincidence that the flag project and work on a park to honor fallen Confederate soldiers at the .3-acre site continues during Super Bowl week, Lambert said.

Rumors aside, the group has no plans to light the flag at night, he added. The site doesn’t have electricity yet.

"We don’t have a motive for impacting the Super Bowl or anything else other than to express and exhibit our belief that our heritage is worth defending," he said. "Part of our group wanted to do ‘this and that’ because the Super Bowl was coming, but that’s not the motive we’re functioning under.

"We’re trying to be proactive, not reactive."

The controversy about the flag seems to have died down, said Curtis Stokes, president of the Tampa chapter of the NAACP and a member of the Super Bowl host committee.

"At the NAACP, we haven’t received a call about the flag in six months," Stokes said. "And it’s never come up in discussion (with the host committee). I think the flag is a non-issue."

He said the Sons of Confederate Veterans overplayed their hand, thinking that the flag would always be a burning issue. Stokes, who passes it every day on his way to work, said he barely notices it anymore.

The same goes for those staying at the Embassy Suites in Brandon. Guests have really never asked questions about the flag, said Linda Urban, the hotel’s sales director.

For the Super Bowl weekend, which starts today, all 147 rooms are booked.

"It’s been up for quite a while," Urban said. "And I don’t know if many people will necessarily pass it. It’s kind of out of the way for most people who will be flying into the airport.

"We get more comments from people asking about the homeless folks who walk down (State Road) 60."

Amid much outcry, the group raised a smaller 30- by-50-foot version of the flag in June. At 139-feet-tall, the flag pole is the highest the Federal Aviation Authority would allow.

While aware of the flag, the National Football League doesn’t have jurisdiction on what private groups or citizens "say" on private property, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

In the past, the league has been involved in racially divisive issues in Tampa. When Super Bowl XXV came to the city in 1991, the centerpiece event — the Gasparilla parade — was canceled when the NFL asked for more minority participation.

The Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, sponsors of the parade, came under fire when NFL officials questioned the all-white, all-male club’s exclusivity.

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