Kentucky Coach John Calipari said Monday that he supports the movement to remove Confederate symbols, a hot-button issue throughout the Southeast after a racism-motivated killing of nine black worshippers at a Charleston, S.C., church earlier this month.
In the aftermath of the killings, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordered the removal of Confederate flags from that state capitol. Mississippi State House Speaker Philip Gunn called for the removal of a Confederate emblem from the state flag, and Tennessee lawmakers called for a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest to be removed from the state Senate.
Businesses including Wal-Mart, Amazon, eBay and Target discontinued the sale of Confederate-themed items. NASCAR chairman Brian France said the sport will be aggressive in disassociating itself from the Confederate flag.
"Obviously, it offends a portion of our society, so people are deciding to take them down," Calipari said. "That's how I feel."
When asked directly whether he'd support removing Confederate symbols, Calipari said, "Sure. ... They offend, and I would say do it. Yeah."
Calipari seemed taken aback by the question, which came during an annual Southeastern Conference coaches summer teleconference designed to promote the league's basketball programs.
The UK coach asked whether Confederate flags or symbols were displayed in Kentucky.
When told that a statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan stands on the grounds of the old Fayette County courthouse in downtown Lexington, and that a statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis stands in the Kentucky capitol in Frankfort, Calipari said, "Wow."
After a pause, the UK coach tried to leaven his comment.
"Since I'm not running for public office, I will let the powers that be decide those matters. I was thinking of running for president, and I was discouraged from that."
During the teleconference, South Carolina Coach Frank Martin, Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey joined Calipari in calling for Confederate flags to be removed from public grounds.
Pearl acknowledged that the Confederate flag was "in some circles very positive." Said Martin: "It's part of our history. It's part of our fabric."
But both coaches acknowledged that the Confederate flag is offensive to some.
"There's a place for that flag in people's private homes and, you know, museums that represent the Confederate states," Martin said. "But not in public places. Government buildings are a representation ... of all our people, not just some of our people."
SEC athletics provide a rallying point for the region and its people, Sankey said. SEC schools, stadiums and arenas should be "welcoming places."
Within an hour of his comments, Calipari sought to clarify his opinion about Confederate flags and symbols.
"I don't want any confusion," he posted on Twitter and Facebook. "I think we should take it down!"
Reactions to his posts initially ran about 3-to-1 against Calipari's view that Confederate flags should be taken down.
"Stick to basketball," Johnny McIntyre wrote. "But being a northern guy, we understand your confusion. ... DONT LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN."
Calipari grew up in the Pittsburgh area.
Another commenter, John Strode, advised Calipari to not answer questions about Confederate flags and symbols.
"It's sometimes better to keep your opinion to yourself, especially when it has to do with things close to the heart of the people whose basketball program you run," he wrote. "And it's not a good idea to alienate yourself from the fan base!"
In the past, Calipari has suggested that Kentucky basketball has a role outside of sports. For instance, this past season he said that the players' willingness to sacrifice individual goals for the common good was a lesson for society at large.
Calipari's stance Monday also drew support.
"Thank you Coach Cal for common sense," Esherica Price wrote.
Matt Braunwart said Calipari's support for taking down Confederate flags is "aligned with the rest of rational humanity."
Sue Jones McCullough suggested that Calipari not give up the idea of running for public office. "Win another national champion title and you've got the commonwealth governor's job if you want it!" she wrote.