There is an old Scottish proverb with more than a little Biblical linkage: “Confession is good for the soul.” Always aspiring to provide goodness to the soul (mine or to others) I go forth today with a timely and topical deep-fried confession.

For many years now I’ve held an ugly truth about my past. Though born and bred as a proper Bostonian in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, for 12 years just prior to moving to Maine in 2001.

Living a couple of peach trees beyond the constant yellow glow of a Waffle House sign for more than a decade, adding “y’all” as a conversational staple, and owning more than three Alan Jackson CDs made me a Southerner in all of the most meaningful ways.

Unlike here in Maine with our self-defeating “from away” shaming, you’re accepted in the South as long as you like country music, fried foods and cold beer, with extra points given when all three pursuits are enjoyed simultaneously.

During much of that time I was an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina, teaching sport administration. In addition, I wrote a thrice-weekly newspaper column for South Carolina’s largest daily newspaper, The State.

During most semesters I would drive over to Columbia, South Carolina, each Sunday night to teach on Monday mornings. And between teaching and writing a column, I spent a lot of time in South Carolina. In retrospect, too much time.

Living in the South ultimately made me sad. After a while, a regional operating system of ignorance, apathy and anger for many (not all) seeped into daily life in the forms of cultural and systemic racism, sexism, and an entire paragraph of other “isms.” Working in the South, especially teaching at a major university also made me mad, for primarily a different reason.

While the recent racist massacre in a South Carolina church is drawing much-needed attention to many critical issues (gun laws, mental health services, race relations, etc.), the Confederate flag has become the most identifiable symbol of institutional hatred in our country.

Yes, the Confederate flag and its undeniable and ugly connection to slavery should be banished forever. But, once that is accomplished, how do we identify and eradicate the underlying racism, hatred and ignorance that still exist within so many people in the South? And, sadly here in Maine, too?

My concern is that with so much intense focus on the symbol, the deeper and less visible substance of racial injustice and ignorance will revert to the back burner once the flag is inevitably taken down.

I hope that I’m wrong and that our better angels throughout the country will recognize that it is the fabric within our hearts that will matter most, long after the fabric of a flag is removed.

One other under-reported thought to share about South Carolina relates to my departure from its state university. Before reading further, do you know the official sports moniker of the University of South Carolina?

It’s the Gamecock. Really. It’s now 2015 and the largest university in South Carolina, with more than 30,000 students, has the school nickname of Gamecocks. You know: the fighting rooster famous for the inhuman and barbaric ritual of cockfighting, which still takes place as a blood sport throughout the South.

Many times, little razor sharp metal claws are attached to the legs of the birds to make each cockfighting battle more deadly and more appealing to the Neanderthal thugs who perpetuate these pathetic, non-sporting events.

Though the University of South Carolina purports that their sports teams are named after a Revolutionary War hero, Thomas Sumter, who was given the nickname for his ferocious approach to military combat, like the fighting rooster, the origin still leads back to cockfighting.

And, the official mascot? “Cocky.”

For years I actively spoke out against the South Carolina mascot in both my newspaper column and at the university. And for years I was roundly criticized for not appreciating the noble tradition of “Cocky” and the ferocious Gamecocks of South Carolina.

Beyond the horrible mascot name itself are the common displays at every sports event, and worn in all manner of apparel by students and adults, relating to the second syllable of the word “Gamecock:” “Ours are bigger, Go …, We love our …”

Like the Confederate flag itself, these sophomoric signs, hats, shirts, etc., are ever-present in South Carolina. Imagine the message that this sends to young kids about gender respect, among other things?

While there is no comparison to the pain and hatred associated with the Confederate flag, there is common context with the Gamecock mascot of the University of South Carolina.

In both cases, hatred, racism, sexism and the darker forces that tug at human character can only exist in a closed vacuum of ignorance. Such a vacuum should never exist in a modern society. And it should never, ever exist (or be sanctioned) in an academic institution.

Take down the flag, South Carolina. And then, please kill Cocky.

Sidebar Elements

Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLOB-AM 1310.