If you’re like me you were surprised, if not shocked, to learn that the South Burlington school board had rejected calls to drop the “Rebel” nickname for its high school sports teams.
After all, it’s easy for us in the north to criticize southern states for clinging to Confederate flags and other symbols of slavery and racial oppression, but we’re immune to that up here in enlightened Vermont, right?
Well, it turns out maybe not.
The Burlington Free Press has done great reporting on the history, establishing beyond any doubt that the school was fully immersed in Confederate iconography, including the use of a rebel mascot and Confederate flags in its yearbooks, cheerleaders’ gear, and more. Nevertheless, the board rejected the proposal, blithely proclaiming that the connection between the symbol and the Confederacy “ended two decades ago“. In the face of the call from the Free Press that, “The worst thing the school can do is to listen to those who say the Rebel controversy is a “non-issue” and belittle any attempt to have an honest discussion about the historical baggage the word carries,” that is exactly what South Burlington has decided to do.
Democracy is founded on the idea that in an open, public process elected officials will generally do the right thing. It clearly didn’t work in South Burlington this time around. Still, this decision need not be the end of the debate. As with the better known symbol of racism, the Washington, D.C. NFL team, it is time for media outlets across the state to express their principles and reject racism. Vermont newspapers and other media outlets should decide, as a matter of policy, that they will not use the name “Rebels” in their coverage of SBHS sports.
Almost 100 media outlets have taken this step with the Washington NFL team, and now it’s time to do the same in South Burlington.