Unless we’ve missed something, no NBA coach has been honored as the namesake of an educational institution. There is no Red Auerbach High School, no Phil Jackson School of Economics, and no John Lucas Junior High. Instead, as it has been for decades, most schools are usually named after the more popular political, military and sometimes social figures of this country’s first century.
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One of those names is often Robert E. Lee, who despite leading the Confederate charge against the United States in the Civil War, has been lauded endlessly for his leadership in the Mexican-American war, and his attempts at improving North/South relations during Reconstruction. One high school in San Antonio remains named after him, and one alumni would like to change all that.
Emmanuel Casasola, a 2002 graduate of the Northeast Side school, said he started the online petition on Friday after discussing the controversy surrounding landmarks and institutions like the campus with namesakes tied to the Confederacy.
“I’m not advocating to change the name, but if it does change, it should be to honor one of our own,” Casasola said in a phone interview with mySA.com. “I think Popovich exemplifies several of the characteristics young people of today should strive for – leadership, commitment, loyalty and the way he and RC Buford have created an organization that is envied in all sports.”
I understand that the name may be offensive to some even though I do not believe that his service to Virginia and the Confederacy should tarnish Robert E. Lee's legacy. His father was a patriot, Robert E. Lee married George Washington's granddaughter, and his family was one of the original first families of Virginia. He was a top graduate from West Point and served the US Army for 25+ years. His true allegiance was to his home state of Virginia, and given the same circumstance, I would wonder what other Virginians such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, among others, would have done.
That is all besides the point. We live in the new millennium and there has been a huge civil rights debate brewing in the country which has caused a number of knee jerk reactions, one of which is to change the name of the school. I propose, if the school board is going to make such a case to community, why not honor one of our more recent, local heroes: Gregg Popovich.
A sports website is not a place to be indelicate about these sorts of things, and Lee has acted as a polarizing figure dating back a century and a half. He was a slave owner yet against Confederate secession. He fought against the Union yet was almost immediately given amnesty upon surrender mainly due to his brilliance as a general and his conciliatory tone following the Civil War.
Casasola isn’t asking that the name be changed because Lee led the charge under the Stars and Bars, however. He wants a local figure to be honored; and Lee (who famously would not fight for the Union because he could not “draw [his] sword” against his home state of Virginia), is not a Texan.
Neither is Gregg Popovich, who was born in Northwest Indiana. The Air Force Academy graduate, however, has spent all but one year in San Antonio since 1988, and he remains the most respected and longest-tenured coach in major North American sports.
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Coach Pop, as you’d expect, wants nothing to do with the honor. From My San Antonio:
“You got to be kidding,” Popovich said when told of the petition. “Are you serious? I would hope that you would use all your muscle or whatever you have to squash that ridiculous idea as soon as humanly possible. Can you please do that for me? Squash that ridiculous idea right now. That is laughable.”
“It’s probably that obsession America has with celebrity,” Popovich said. “So if you reach any level of celebrity, there’s gonna be somebody who’s going to take it too far, and attach to you qualities that are not there or glory you don’t deserve, all that kind of crap. It happens all the time. I don’t need anything named after me.”
Nobody, truly, needs anything named after them. However, if we’re due to start naming schools after either famous sporting figures or celebrities in general, Gregg Popovich would be a good man to start with.
While we’re at it, Casasola is also proposing another name modification. He’d like to change the name of his former high school’s sports teams to the “Falcons,” which is also the mascot of the Air Force Academy.
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