The owner of Washington’s professional football team just lost another ally in his struggling campaign to convince the world that his team’s mascot is a celebration of a noble history, rather than a racial slur: the Houston ISD school board, which voted in January to change the names of culturally insensitive mascot names in the district’s schools, unveiled the new mascots yesterday.
Thus do the Lamar High School Redskins become the Texans, the Welch Middle School Warriors become the Wolf Pack, and both the Westbury High Rebels and the Hamilton Middle School Indians become the Huskies. (Rebels and Indians coming together: Albert Pike would be proud.)
The potential cost of the changes, which will involve repainting and replacing uniforms, logos, banners, and more that bear the offensive names, is not cheap: the Houston Chronicle reports that costs could go as high as $250,000. That puts a few different forces in conflict. The same progressively-minded folks who tend to want teams to abandon mascots often lament the shocking amounts of money spent on school sports programs. It’s hard to countenance spending a quarter of a million dollars on these changes, but it’s also reasonable to recognize that there’s an intense national dialogue about the appropriate of mascotting Native Americans, and that continuing to use those names at youth levels isn’t really appropriate. (Alternately: We suspect that there might be some Lamar High School football boosters who have no problem spending a lot of money on the team who are going to decry this as a waste.)
Also complicated here is the fact that these new names are kind of bizarre choices. Replacing “Warriors”—probably the least egregious of the four—with “Wolf Pack” makes sense; “Wolf Pack” is a neat-sounding name that suggests unity and preserves the alliteration with “Welch.” It’s harder to make sense of “Huskies” at two different schools, though, since this is Texas, and huskies tend to spend most of the year in Texas shedding their undercoats and panting from the heat. (On the other hand, when the El Paso minor league team picked a more Texas-specific dog breed as its mascot, people threw a fit—maybe you just can’t win.) The Lamar High School Texans, meanwhile, make little sense given that every team they play could also be described as “Texans.”
Of course, “Texans” wasn’t the first choice for Lamar, which intended to take the more historically-minded “Texians,” as the Houston Press explains. The paper investigated whether “Texians” was an exclusionary term that referred specifically to the Anglos fighting for Texas independence:
We called up Dr. Raul A. Ramos, director of undergraduate studies at UH’s History Department, who told us that “Texian is the self-identified term that Texan separatists used in 1835, 1836 in the war against Mexico. Generally it was used by Anglo Texans to refer to themselves. That’s the definition. “
“Does that exclude the Mexican Texans living in that time? It’s a controversy. It appears to exclude that. You could get into a debate about whether it would exclude Mexican Texans – Tejanos – and certainly it would exclude Mexican Texans who didn’t agree with separating from Mexico,” Ramos said.
To avoid yet another potential naming controversy, it was decided that the team would be the Texans—which, at least, preserves one element of the prior name: specifically, that it’s also the name of an NFL franchise. That’s not a small deal for Lamar, which is a football powerhouse with at least three current NFL stars among its alumni: 2013 Pro Bowlers Josh Gordon and Brian Orakpo, and New England Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell.
Lamar High School has seen the sort of consistency and results that you’d expect from a program that’s placed multiple top stars in the NFL: They’ve lost just twice since the end of the 2011 season, with one of those losses coming in the state championship game. The team’s coach, Tom Nolen, has been there since 1985, and he came in as the replacement for a coach who started in 1966. That’s two coaches in almost fifty years, which means that for Lamar, “legacy” and “history” aren’t just words.
Perhaps that’s why the Washington Redskins organization trotted out Nolen and the school during one of its occasional propaganda pieces defending their own team name. In addition to talking about Orakpo, who’s played in Washington since entering the NFL, the team, in a video interview (sadly not embeddable) asked Nolen to talk about what the nickname means to him. “A redskin warrior is certainly something to be admired,” Coach Nolen explains. “It’s a great mascot and nickname.” (Here is a photo of the school’s “Big Red.”)
At this point, though, it’s also a part of history, at least at Lamar High School. We suspect that the Lamar High School Texans—along with the Wolf Pack, and both sets of Huskies—will manage to find ways to continue to thrive. We hope that HISD, $250,000 poorer after the changes are complete, does the same.