Protesters fly Confederate flag next to NCAA tournament arena in Greenville

The NCAA tournament is back in South Carolina for the first time since 2002. (AP)
The NCAA tournament is back in South Carolina for the first time since 2002. (AP)

A small group of protesters marred the return of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament to the state of South Carolina.

They flew a large Confederate flag from the back of a pickup truck located atop a parking garage adjacent to the arena where two second-round games were being played Sunday evening.

The Associated Press reported that Greenville police had the protesters move the truck about 50 feet away, citing safety concerns if the flag tipped over. The protesters told the Associated Press they hope to make their presence known to the NCAA.

For more than a decade, the NCAA refused to host major championship events in South Carolina because of the Confederate flag’s presence on statehouse grounds in Columbia. The state only became eligible to bid to host again after the flag was officially removed in July 2015, just weeks after white supremacist Dylann Roof shot nine African-American people to death in a Charleston church.

Last fall, Greenville bid to host the NCAA tournament games originally ticketed for Greensboro, N.C. The NCAA yanked all major championship events out of the state of North Carolina in September in response to its controversial House Bill 2 law, the so-called bathroom bill that requires transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding with their birth gender.

Only a few hours before North Carolina and Arkansas tipped off in Greenville, the NCAA released a statement regarding Sunday’s Confederate flag protest.

“The NCAA is proud and excited to host championships in the state of South Carolina once again,” NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said. “We are committed to assuring that our events are safe and accessible to all.

“No symbols that compromise that commitment will be permitted to be displayed on venue property that the tournament controls. Freedom of speech activities on public property in areas surrounding the arena are managed by the city of Greenville and we are supportive of the city’s efforts.”

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