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Houston school district bans 'inflammatory' nicknames, including Redskins

Ben Rohrbach
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This antique "Big Red" mascot was presented to Houston's Lamar High as a gift from the Class of 2011. (Twitter)
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This antique "Big Red" mascot was presented to Houston's Lamar High as a gift from the Class of 2011. (Twitter)

The Houston Independent School District announced plans to spend an estimated $250,000 to replace four "inflammatory" mascots relating to Native Americans and the Confederacy, but the progressive action is not moving forward without opposition from the folks down in Texas.

On Tuesday, the HISD unveiled the new nicknames, according to the Houston Chronicle.

  • The Lamar High Redskins will become the Texans
  • The Hamilton Middle School Indians will become the Huskies
  • The Welch Middle School Warriors will become the Wolf Pack
  • The Westbury High Rebels will also become the Huskies

The first three former mascots all feature Native American imagery, and the taxpayer dollars will be used to offset the cost of replacing uniforms and school property bearing the mascot. The Rebels was a common mascot for Confederate-themed schools, according to the Chronicle. Schools using a Warriors mascot with no affiliation to Native American imagery may reportedly continue to do so.

In early December, State Senator Rodney Ellis, a Democrat from the 13th district, brought the issue to the forefront in Houston upon tweeting a photo of a letter he wrote to HISD superintendent Dr. Terry Grier.

"I recently met with local Native American leaders, all of whom expressed sincere concern about the use of Lamar's inflammatory mascot name," he wrote. "This comes at the same time as recent press reports that have brought new attention to the mascot and a Houston Chronicle editorial in favor of changing the name. I echo their call to update the mascot to something that is a positive reflection of the Lamar community, not a racially charged slur that groups all Native American cultures into one offensive word."

Days later, Grier wrote an opinion piece for the Chronicle depicting Houston as "the most vibrantly diverse school district in the nation" and announcing a new district policy aimed at banning offensive mascots.

"As educators, we see teachable moments in every experience, lessons to be learned from every challenge," Grier wrote. "It's time we adults stand up and show our children how a thoughtful and caring community responds when made aware that our traditions are unwittingly hurtful. This is how we teach."

At a school board meeting the following week, a Lamar graduate who opposed changing the Redskins mascot arrived with mock war paint on her face. Another Lamar grad told the Chronicle, "You should be spending your money, time and attention not on changing mascots but on educational matters. These names were not meant to be offensive. They were meant as a rallying cry to bring students together."

The board, however, unanimously voted in favor of changing the mascots, and trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones had the best possible response to the many in attendance who were disappointed by the result.

"But times change," Skillern-Jones told the attendees, according to the Chronicle. "We have to evolve. If we did not, I would still be called colored. I don't think we should continue to celebrate a name that people find offensive. We should put ourselves in other people's shoes."

Meanwhile, professional sports teams continue to face public scrutiny over controversial nicknames. Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's misguided step toward progress came under fire in March, and a Cleveland Indians fan painted in "redface" appeared opposite Native American protesters in a contentious photo earlier this month. Perhaps they should take a page of Houston's playbook.

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