If anyone has the right to hold a soft spot in their heart for the Raiders, it is the extended family of Roger Laird. In the 1920s, as a Raider, Roger suffered a traumatic brain injury on the football field behind the high school on Library Avenue; one that would take his life just seven years later at the age of 25.
However, in the 1950s and 1960s, as Raiders, Roger’s brother and nephew returned the title of State Champion to Rutland in both baseball and basketball. In the 1970s, as a Raider, Roger’s nephew set the state record in shot put; one that would stand for four decades. In the 1980s, as Raiders, his great-nephews competed in cross country running and downhill skiing. Most recently, in the 20-teens, as Raiders, Roger’s great-nieces earned distinction in hockey, softball, tennis, and academic bowl. Even an adopted Spanish nephew, one Roger would never know, attended Rutland High and competed as a Raider. Why? Well, to steal a line from “The Blind Side,” because “That is where my family goes.” Roger, and his extended family, have a century of commitment, sportsmanship, joy, and tears all as Raiders.
What, if anything, do any of these accomplishments have to do with the mascot? Nothing, absolutely nothing. We could have been the Ravens, the Railroad, or any other R-noun and the experiences, pain, enjoyment, and outcomes would be the same because we at our core represented and embodied Rutland. Our experience was not enhanced by the Raiders printed across our jerseys and it will not be diminished if, or when, we carry another R-noun on our chest. How do we know this? Because we are Roger’s family.
The animosity around the current mascot debate is fueled by two opposing positions, both hyperbolic and impediments to meaningful discussion and progress.
The name “Ravens” immediately and incorrectly correlated the Raiders with racism. It is irresponsible to characterize concern about changing a century of tradition with harbored racist sentiment in one single step. This argument is lazy and devalues the complexities of both history and community pride. For instance, a recently dedicated plaque and statue on Center Street commemorates the connection of Rudyard Kipling to Vermont. Kipling, despite holding a Nobel Prize and an interment in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, is a troubling figure. Beyond the racial stereotypes we are all familiar with in his “Jungle Books,” Kipling penned the poem “The White Man’s Burden.” This poem, published in 1899, calls upon American citizens to uphold the “white man’s burden,” which he describes as a universal responsibility for whites, to civilize the “sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child” through colonization. As a well-documented supporter of the eugenics movement in England and the United States, Kipling, from his home in Brattleboro, undoubtedly holds some responsibility for Vermont’s shameful past — one that the Vermont Legislature unanimously apologized for in April 2021. However, a downtown business sponsored the creation and placement of this statue in 2017. Is commissioning an installation commemorating one of history’s greatest eugenicists, the creator of the term “white man’s burden,” any different than supporting a Raider mascot? Should we immediately label the business, their employees, and patrons racists as a result? No, of course not. Nothing is that simple and to proffer otherwise is both irresponsible and inflammatory; not unlike the “Raiders equals racists” argument.
On the other side, “Raiders” immediately and incorrectly conflates “Ravens” with a cancel culture and a disrespect for their accomplishments and community pride. It is a false equivalence to characterize concern about a now-troubling mascot with disrespect.
As American society moves forward, away from its sometimes-troubled past, cultures change, attitudes change, and thankfully, what is acceptable changes.
For instance, the Vermont State School for Feeble Minded Children, established in 1912, was rebranded as the Brandon Training School in 1956. This change, required by evolving attitudes of modern society and acceptable language, did not diminish the hard work, efforts, and accomplishments of their staff over the four prior decades. Corporations continually rebrand to reflect change as a part of normal business practice, whether or not their actions were prompted by a connection to previously accepted sentiments and language.
Effort, teamwork, accomplishments, and heartbreaks as Washington Redskins are not erased by the Washington Football Team.
To move forward we must stop incorrectly conflating Raiders with racists and Ravens with disrespect. The mascot we deserve is hiding somewhere beyond the hyperbolic arguments currently offered by both sides, which only create instant animosity and prevent constructive progress. Let us move forward as a community with trust and respect. Let us show the past and future graduates of Rutland High School that their experiences, victories, defeats, accomplishments, friendships, and pride were not the result of the letters across their chest, but the result of our shared Rutland experience.
Sean A. Sargeant, RHS ‘86 and Phoebe A. Sargeant, RHS ‘17, Rutland