Commentary

'Ghosts' a story of family, home

Why this is a deeply personal story of integration, family and home

Updated: October 30, 2012, 12:56 PM ET
By Wright Thompson | ESPN.com

OXFORD, Miss. -- One of my most prized possessions is a pair of cufflinks my late father left me, gold with the seal of the State of Mississippi. I often wear the cufflinks symbolically, both as a way of allowing him to be present at important moments in my life, and as a way of honoring the beautiful, flawed state where I was born, and the place I've chosen to make my home. To me, those ideas -- of family, and of home -- are inexorably wound together, much like the stories of the integration of Ole Miss in 1962, and of the university's dominant football team that fall.

I wrote about that team, and that year, in a story several years ago, which led to a documentary, "Ghosts of Ole Miss," which will air tonight on ESPN. The folks in Bristol asked me to write something new, and for days now I've struggled with what to say. This is a personal story to me -- because it deals with family and with home -- and it's been a long and emotional process to bring it to this point, a few hours from airing. Fritz Mitchell, the director, really deserves the credit. I mostly just annoyed him and maybe, once, carried a tripod. His vision of my original piece is what you'll see tonight. But with apologies to Fritz and his team, it still feels like my story.

I have always been proud of being a Mississippian. I am doubly proud tonight, because the people watching "Ghosts of Ole Miss" get to learn about the football team that made my dad fall in love with sports, and because, at the end of the film, people will see how far Mississippi has come in these 50 years. I have been doing interviews in the past few days -- which is an uncomfortable position for someone used to holding the trigger, not looking down the barrel -- and someone asked me what my hopes are for the film. I hadn't given that much thought, frankly, since I mostly just wanted it to get finished on time to be aired. But I've been thinking about it in the past few hours. And here it is: If you are not from the South, I hope you watch this and realize how far my state has come, what incredible changes have been realized in the past 50 years. If you are from the South, I hope you watch and realize how far we have left to travel.

I'll be watching in Oxford, not far away from the building where the riot broke out. When it's over, I think I'll head out to the Square and celebrate the end of a long process. I'm pretty sure I'll put on those cufflinks, to allow my father to come out with us and to honor the idea that all of us are beholden to our fathers, to our past, and they are watching us, seeing what we do with the world they handed down.

Wright Thompson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson) is a senior writer for ESPN.com and The Magazine. He has been featured in seven editions of Best American Sports Writing and lives in Oxford, Mississippi.