Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:


April 20

The Greenwood Commonwealth on baseball and the pandemic:

Baseball is a game in which coaches and managers are taught that if they want to increase their team’s chance of winning, they have to “play the percentages.”

If a left-handed slugger, for example, is coming up to bat in the late innings of a tight game, and a right-handed pitcher is on the mound, the manager of the team playing defense will often yank his right-handed pitcher and put in a left-handed one. That’s because in same-handed contests, the odds increase that the pitcher will get the batter out.

Lately, though, Mississippi’s two premier college baseball programs have not been playing the percentages when it comes to balancing fan attendance at their home stadiums with lingering concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

On back-to-back weekends, the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University have opened up the turnstiles and packed the people in, averaging more than 11,000 per game.

It’s not a surprise that fans of both schools would abandon caution. Mississippi’s COVID-19 numbers have dropped steeply over the past couple of months, and nearly a third of the state has received at least one vaccine shot against the virus. There’s a cautious optimism that the virus is petering out, at least in this state.

There’s also a huge pent-up demand for having fun, and sports is a great provider of that. After a year of either canceled seasons or stadium capacity restrictions, college sports fans in this state were primed to watch first-hand some great matchups. Back-to-back weekends featuring three of the best college baseball teams in the country — Ole Miss first hosting Arkansas, followed by State hosting Ole Miss — are pretty irresistible.

Still, it’s questionable as to whether the schools, left to their own discretion after Gov. Tate Reeves dropped his order dictating capacity limits, are being reckless by providing an environment that could potentially spark a surge in infection.

Although both schools have implemented certain COVID protocols for their baseball stadiums, such as requiring masks upon entrance and exit and in the concourses, there wasn’t much mask-wearing or social distancing going on in the stands at either Swayze Field or Dudy Noble Field. And even though the risk of transmission of a virus is less at an outdoors venue than an indoors one, it’s not negligible, particularly when those in attendance are talking and cheering — and emitting lots of airborne particles — in such close proximity to lots of others traveling from all parts of the state and beyond.

It’s a little early to act as if this pandemic is over. Several nations, including Brazil and India, are as bad off as ever. Some states in this country, too, have seen another surge in recent weeks, fueled by the spread of variants from the original virus. Even with vaccinations steadily rising, it’s doubtful that Mississippi has reached herd immunity yet.

It would be a shame, given how close this state may be to escaping the throes of COVID-19, to give it new life because Mississippi’s passion for sports — and the universities’ desire to recapture some of the attendance revenue they’ve been losing — resulted in imprudent individual and collective decisions.

Ole Miss and State have gone with their gut instinct that crowded baseball stadiums, at this juncture in the pandemic, will not produce a lot of new infections. When a baseball manager does that — opting for his intuition rather than the odds — in a critical game situation, it sometimes works out just fine. Nevertheless, that manager is holding his breath the whole time, knowing that if it doesn’t, he will be second-guessed.

The administrations at Ole Miss and Mississippi State have to be holding their breaths, too.



April 15

The Dispatch on a new documentary that features Columbus:

More than a few Columbus residents may not be inclined to watch the new documentary “Our Towns” on HBO Max, which features Columbus among eight small cities across the country.

Once bitten, twice shy, as the saying goes.

The documentary features Atlantic magazine correspondent James Fallows and his wife, Deborah, and is based on their 2018 series “American Futures” published in the magazine.

But for some residents, it’s another instance of national exposure that left a bitter taste in their mouths more than two decades later.

In June 2000, on the CBS show, “48 Hours: Mystery,” a segment focused on the then-unsolved murders of five elderly Columbus residents, casting the city in what many Columbus citizens felt was an unfair and unfavorable light.

Memo to Columbus folks: It’s OK to watch this latest national broadcast, which once again shines a light on the city.

In the spring of 2014, the Fallows spent eight days in Columbus collecting materials for the magazine series. The Fallows visited 10 small cities across the country. Eight of them were featured in the HBO documentary.

In the documentary James Fallows said the cities were chosen because “they all had things to be reckoned with, usually involving some economic shock.”

In the telling of the stories of the cities of California’s “Inland Empire” — Redland, Riverside and San Bernardino — along with Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Eastport, Maine; Charleston, West Virginia; Bend, Oregon; and Columbus, the Fallows don’t ignore the struggles of those communities, but rather their reactions to them.

In the Columbus segment, it opens not with economic troubles, but with the city and state’s troubling history of race relations.

“There are things to be reckoned with,” James Fallows says at the beginning of the segment.

Even so, the segment focuses not on reciting the litany of abuses of Black residents, but on how the community is addressing it. The segment begins with footage of the Eighth of May Emancipation Day Celebration by Mississippi School for Math and Science students at Sandfield Cemetery.

Only then, does the segment address the economy, connecting the dots between the city’s racial history and its present economy.

“Factories around Columbus used to make things like blue jeans, hot dogs, pork chops and toilets,” James Fallows said. “Those industries disappeared, leaving 20 percent unemployment in the poorest state in the country. Getting out of that kind of depression just doesn’t happen. It takes community action.

Fallows cited the founding of the LINK as the pivotal moment, introducing LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins, who deftly connected the city’s racial struggles of the past with its present trajectory.

“Columbus has a foot in antebellum and a foot in the future,” Higgins says in the segment. “Some days, they almost seem confused.

“When I got here, I said, ‘Before I take this job, answer a question for me: Are you a community that values your past more than your future?’ They said, ‘Oh no.’ I took the job.”

The segment notes the arrival of industry in the county as well as its efforts in educating residents to be employable.

Former East Mississippi Community College workforce development director Raj Shanauk talks about the then-as-yet-to be-completed Communiversity.

“The old attitude was that vocational school was a penalty a person paid,” Shanauk tells the Fallows. “Today, we are about second chances. Many individuals in our community are one flat tire away from losing their job or not finishing their education. We help bring partners in to remove those barriers. We lift up the community as a whole.”

Deborah Fallows is clearly impressed. “That’s the best description of community college and what you do that I’ve heard anywhere,” she said.

Columbus certainly has its share of problems, but “Our Towns” reminds us that we have much to take pride in.

There’s nothing cringe-worthy in the 10-minute segment.

In other words, it’s not “Another 48 Hours.”



April 16

The Vicksburg Post on tourism:

Sunday, the riverboat Queen of the Mississippi was scheduled to make another stop in Vicksburg.

It was scheduled to arrive at 1:30 p.m. and leave just after midnight. And while it may not be at full capacity — the number of passengers and crew are restricted due to COVID-19 guidelines — it was still bringing a large group of visitors eager to visit Vicksburg, learn our history and take in all they can of our noted southern hospitality.

But when those visitors venture off the boat and into our city, what will they find?

Because it is Sunday, they may very well find many of downtown Vicksburg’s iconic shops and destinations closed.

They will find eateries open, offering great food and beverages, but there is more to downtown than just food.

When riverboat cruises were shut down due to the spread of the virus, local retailers, museum operators and restauranteurs noted the loss of business tied to those who hop on and off the riverboats in their near-daily visits to our riverfront.

Now that they are back, are we as a community taking the steps to fully maximize the impact these riverboats — especially when they arrive and leave on a Sunday — can have on the bottom line?

By no means is this meant to criticize the business operations of our downtown business owners. They have fought and scraped to get by during an incredibly tough year. Instead, this is to encourage and walk alongside their efforts.

Visit Vicksburg provides an in-depth schedule of upcoming dockings, giving local retailers a running start to prepare for these visitors. And, it gives retailers the chance to be flexible in how they attract these customers and secure their business.

For those of us who live in Vicksburg, we know of the treasures that are found downtown — whether it be the quaint shops, the astounding history or the decadent food options. It would be a shame for those who only visit Vicksburg once to miss out on what we cherish just because they happened to come on a Sunday.