During a routine run at Memorial Park on an oppressively humid day in Houston, I felt as if I were wearing arm and ankle weights. I’ve been a runner for twenty years now, so I’m well versed in mood-boosting playlists and emergency mantras. Nothing worked. Just as I was contemplating taking an Uber back to my car, my eyes caught a flicker of red, white, and blue. An approaching runner was wearing Texas flag running shorts: a white stripe stacked on top of red on the left leg, a blue stripe with our beloved lone star on the right. In the way that only another Texan could understand, the unexpected sight of our state flag sent a jolt of energy through my limbs.
I first noticed these running shorts about fifteen years ago on a run around the Rice University loop. That pair, and every pair I’ve seen since, was worn by a svelte runner with one of those running watches that measures your time and distance and heartbeat; the type of exercise fiend who does plyometric hops at a crosswalk while she waits for the light to change. I, on the other hand, pray the light stays red a little longer so that I can have a traffic-sanctioned excuse to catch my breath. Whenever I’ve seen these shorts in running stores, I take a quick glance at the cut and let out a sad little sigh. Just as a pair of size 10 jeans from Old Navy fits very differently from a size 10 jean by a designer brand, these shorts—even the largest sizes—are cut for lean runners. My muscular build has never been conducive to comfortably wearing these shorts. This realization is always disappointing because, like Willie Nelson, I’d love to combine two things I love: running and our state flag.
As a Black Texan, I have a tense relationship with state pride. What does it mean for me to rep a state that is wonderful in some ways and horrendous in others? To help ease the swirl of emotions, I’ve remained willfully ignorant about changing attitudes around symbols of state pride like the Texas flag. While my brain attempted to make sense of a state that’s home to the big skies of West Texas and the aisles of H-E-B, and things as oppressive as its recent laws that restrict voting rights, abolish abortion rights, and whitewash the teaching of race in public schools, knowing denial became a coping mechanism. With news of Americans’ changing relationship with the U.S. flag making headlines, I knew I wasn’t the only Texan who was examining my attitude toward the lone star.
I decided to conduct a very unscientific poll, querying my 464 Texan Instagram followers for their thoughts on what these Texas flag running shorts might symbolize. Five percent of the responses were positive, 9 percent neutral, and 86 percent negative. Those in the last group were not shy about sharing the feelings these shorts elicited, from “yeehaw” to eye roll emojis to “run the other way.” It was one response from a native Houstonian—“unhealthy love for a deep red state”—that took my breath away. “If I’m going to wear anything repping Texas, it’s going to be something that could never be interpreted as threatening or intolerant,” Kelcey López Freeman, a Lubbock native who now lives in Georgia, told me. “I wouldn’t want anyone to see me in those shorts and think that I support that in any way.”
Still, other runners persist—because, after all, the flag represents every citizen of Texas. It has flown over the state for almost two hundred years, regardless of who’s in control of the Legislature. “I don’t think there’s a particularly strong political message that would come with these shorts. Texans of all backgrounds take a lot of pride in the state’s culture, regardless of the state’s politics,” said one runner, a native Chicagoan who now lives in Houston. “We can make that distinction because Texas is so diverse.” A few weekends ago, an illustration of this sentiment ran right by me. While logging my miles before a vegan barbecue cookout, I received a “good morning” head nod from an Asian American man running in a pair of Texas flag running shorts. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a nonwhite person wearing them. I don’t know anything about his politics, but the optics of seeing a fellow minority Texan displaying state pride felt comforting.
It’s quite possible that someone else might see these shorts and mentally toss them into the overflowing Tacky Texas Garb bin, where it would be in good company with Texas flag Speedos and bikinis. But I’ve worn tackier things in my life (I owned an arsenal of Victoria Secrets sweatpants in 2005). Even with the flag’s fraught symbolism, I still imagine myself in these shorts, running with perfect stride and form, unfazed by the heat and humidity. But even in my dreams, I can’t fathom myself as an elite runner for long.
“I’ve always had the perception that more experienced or veteran runners wear those shorts,” said Mason Gary, a sales associate at Lubbock’s FootTech running store. He explained that the Texas flag shorts that come from BOA, a running apparel company founded in Costa Mesa, California, are designed for high performance. Jeff Fleming, BOA’s chief marketing officer, cited the brand’s “full running-specific split short.” The split, with its vertical hem, increases the leg’s range of motion, which is nowhere on my list of concerns. (I’m more focused on making it through my run with minimal inner-thigh chafing.) BOA sells running shorts emblazoned with the flags of Alabama, Arizona, Montana, and more, but Fleming told me that when it comes to sales, “Texas typically lands at number one.”
“The Texas flag running shorts out there, they are made for a certain body type, and it’s not easy to find ones that can fit [others],” said Kate Hallaway, president of Houston Area Road Runners Association (HARRA). A third-generation Texan, Hallaway started running as a teenager and acquired her first Texas flag running shorts circa 2000 as a Christmas gift from her dad. As she got older and her body became more muscular, she was unable to find a version that would accommodate her body type. Over the years, she has opted for Texas-themed headbands instead. “It’s my way of expressing my Texas heritage,” she said.
I’m inspired by Hallaway’s resolve to run in Texas gear, no matter what her body shape. Stressful politics and small sizes be damned: I’m now awaiting the day when my Texas flag running visor will arrive in the mail. I believe that as a Black woman with broad shoulders and thunder thighs who will be running in this visor, I will be part of a quiet form of resistance. I’m determined that our flag should remain a symbol of pride for all Texans.