By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
Just when you didn’t think the rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State could get any more heated, the Bulldogs took it to another level.
Or Adidas did. Either way, the baseball warmup shirts Mississippi State had on last week prior to Super Bulldog Weekend were over the top. Ole Miss and MSU fans know by now what the shirts had printed on it.
The message of “F—K The School Up North” were tweeted over and over again April 16. The debate about how they got on there and who is responsible was ignited immediately. Adidas took full blame saying they never showed the shirts to MSU officials. Athletics director Scott Stricklin was quick to say the shirts were “unacceptable” and that’s what he should have said. Still, the damage was done.
It was an embarrassing moment that lasted well into this week on radio shows and social media. Adidas not only cost themselves from a public relations standpoint, it almost certainly cost themselves future business. At the least from Ole Miss. Ross Bjork has never mentioned to me that he was looking to change apparel companies, but if he did, Adidas would be the last on the list now. For a company that had made progress against other brands like Nike in the world of college athletics, this was a critical step backwards.
Besides the bad business aspect of it all lies the fact of blame, and recognition of the rivalry. If Adidas just went out and made up the shirts and didn’t check with Stricklin or anyone else in Starkville about the warmup what does it say about the relationship between the Bulldogs and Rebels? It’s obvious that their executives or people that are in charge of apparel believe MSU thinks of Ole Miss in vulgar terms.
Of course MSU football coach Dan Mullen has repeatedly tried to belittle Ole Miss since he was hired with his “The School Up North” saying. Adidas not only picked up on that message, but made a shirt about it. Starkville is referred to as “Starkvegas” by the students, so they figured mixing the two would be OK.
It was an inside joke that went very badly for sure, but it was so much more than that. It was calculated and orchestrated. It was an idea that had to be pitched and approved somewhere along the chain of command. Did MSU officials really not know about the message? It’s hard to believe someone didn’t.
I could see Stricklin not being in the loop, but the equipment manager? Head coach John Cohen? His assistants? When the box of gear arrived at Dudy Noble Field, didn’t someone look at them then? The whole point of this design, filled with a rainbow of colors, is to be looked at. It’s hard to believe that someone didn’t just stare at them for a minute or two. Maybe three minutes would have been better because it didn’t take the media covering MSU’s practice too long to see the message. That’s how this whole thing got started.
What the warmups signify is Mississippi State’s desire to see Ole Miss do poorly in a competitive endeavor. Baseball is the big revenue sport currently going on. Football and basketball are the same. MSU fans that say they could care less about what the Rebels do each and every game, in any sport, don’t have a leg to stand on after this incident.
Ole Miss has all the ammunition it needs to prove that point in a debate now. Ole Miss fans cheer against MSU like they do against Alabama or Auburn or anyone else in the conference. There are also some Ole Miss fans that like to see the Bulldogs do well, just like there are some MSU fans that have cheered for the Rebels over the years because it’s a Mississippi school.
Unfortunately, the MSU fans that hate Ole Miss just to hate Ole Miss feel like the majority right now. I’m sure there are number of MSU fans who feel like the incident was embarrassing. There may be just as many who feel like this is all being blown out of proportion by the media. Both points are understandable, but at the same time, a third point about how MSU feels about Ole Miss can’t be overlooked.
The Bulldogs have let their “little brother” syndrome spill over to a new level, a new low. Even if Adidas says it was all on them. The point is in Adidas’ mind, MSU feels slighted by the Rebels, like they are below Ole Miss. Why else do you have that saying if that’s not the case? When you use the F word to describe the emotions of a relationship, or in this case a rivalry, how else do you describe it other than “little brother” syndrome?
Moving forward, Mississippi State would do better to calm the rhetoric about Ole Miss. The damage has been done and it will be used against them in recruiting, for all sports. That’s what one high school coach told me right off the bat. If he was thinking that, what are Ole Miss coaches thinking?
Better point is what are other coaches from other schools in the SEC thinking? My bet is the point will be made in living rooms and camps in the coming months. Why send your son or daughter to State when all they care about are sayings about the other team? If MSU was smart, they would focus on themselves more than anyone else. Each of the 14 schools in the SEC have so much to offer, more than a lot of other schools in all the other power conferences.
Talk about the good things, the recent trip to the Orange Bowl, all the trips to the College World Series and all the new facilities. Shirts with upside down messages pinned at a rival are immature, and so unnecessary. It’s really insulting to us all that Adidas thought this would go unnoticed and that it was OK. It’s insulting that MSU has let this type of behavior reach this point as well.
Ole Miss is set to play the Bulldogs for the first time in baseball this Tuesday in Pearl. Then the Bulldogs come to Oxford in two weeks. All those meetings were going to be competitive, but now, katy bar the door because they could be downright atomic. And not just on the field. That’s the unfortunate part of this whole ordeal.
People’s emotions are problematic enough when sports is involved. But when you mix in backhanded insults, it’s hard to predict the outcome. Hopefully nothing gets too crazy, and cooler heads prevail. It still needs to be said that the worst can happen. We’re all human and we all make mistakes, but this was a mistake that could have easily been avoided, for all of us involved.
John Davis is the Oxford Citizen sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @oxfordcitizenjd.