All it took was a tweet – a short video of a high school football team taking the field – for Robstown High School to draw the ire of the Internet.

On Friday night, Chris Thomasson – a reporter for Corpus Christi, Texas, TV station KIII – posted a pregame clip with the caption, “The Robstown Cotton Pickers come out before their season opener against London tonight.”

Yes, the Cotton Pickers, a name that for many brings forth thoughts of slavery in America. The public high school, located in a suburb of the South Texas town, has had this team name since the early 1900s. Thomasson’s tweet quickly went viral.

By Sunday the video had been viewed more than 2.5 million times. Many viewers expressed outrage or confusion, asking whether they had read the name correctly. Former NFL defensive back Charles Tillman called it “so offensive on so many levels.”

The Robstown Independent School district responded to the outcry with a statement Saturday.

“Robstown Independent School District has not received commentary from parents or community members regarding our school mascot,” the statement said. “The area around Robstown is one of the leading cotton producing regions in the United States. To be a Robstown ‘Cotton Picker’ represents a sense of pride based on tradition for the students and a historical legacy for the community members of Robstown.

“Thus, the community does not perceive a negative connotation connected with its nickname. At this time, Robstown ISD will stay focused on student needs as a priority. This district remains committed to our vision of inspiring lifelong learning, by providing limitless opportunities for success.”

Robstown ISD came to the defense of its team name in 2017, too, when a local middle school changing its mascot from a rebel prompted discussions about whether Robstown should consider a renaming. Locals who stand by the name argue that it’s a point of pride for the small community and the families in it.

“We’re Latinos. We’re migrant workers, and we picked cotton,” Robstown alumnus Herman Rodriguez told KIII at the time. “My parents picked cotton.”

According to census data, nearly 94% of Robstown’s 11,000-plus residents are Hispanic or Latino. 

NFL Hall of Famer and former NFL Players Association President Gene Upshaw, who was Black, is among Robstown’s notable alumni.

Across the country, the intersection of sports and social issues have led teams at all levels to re-examine or change mascots or nicknames that some may find offensive.

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