#039;Proud to be a Packer#039;

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 10, 2002

An animal rights organization wants Austin High School to stop using the nickname "Packers."

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says the school's nickname is offensive and should be replaced.

However, Austin Public Schools officials and AHS alumni disagree.

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"I would not support this change," said Corrine Johnson, Austin superintendent of public schools. "The name Packers reflects the character of the community and its economic base."

AHS principal Joe Brown said, "We're very proud to be known as the Austin Packers."

"I'm proud to be a Packer," said David Simonson, a member of the AHS class of 1970 and current president of the Austin Board of Education.

"There are a lot of people who can find better things to do with their time than something like this," said Mike Ruzek, a member of the AHS class of 1968.

PETA made its case to have the Austin school district drop the Packers nickname in a recent letter to Joe Brown, AHS principal.

"As you know, the Packers are named, euphemistically, after slaughterhouse workers, which is nothing to be proud of. They'd never be called the Austin High Animal Killers, yet that's an accurate description of what 'packers' do," PETA spokesman Dan Shannon wrote Brown.

"Calling the team the Packers sends an unhealthy message to high school students. Eating meat is linked to heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity, to name just a few health problems," Shannon wrote.

The PETA "vegan" campaign coordinator suggested a new nickname for the AHS teams.

"A far better name would be 'Pickers,' which would promote a healthier, plant-based diet," Shannon suggested in the letter.

"No matter how you slice it, the meat industry is a violent, bloody industry that is bad for both animals and humans," he concluded. "We think it's time to send the Packers packing and have the teams' name reflect a kinder profession."

Simonson said the Packers' name accurately reflects Austin's longtime connection to the agriculture community, as well as the meatpacking industry.

Neither he nor Ruzek placed any credence in the PETA request.

"The name Packers represents the respect and honor held for a profession that has meant so much to so many generations of Austin High graduates," Ruzek said.

He reminded the name came into usage after another nickname, "Scarlets" was abandoned.

According to high school teacher Shirley Dallman-Morgan, the last time "Scarlets" was used as the nickname was 1946. Beginning the next year, the changeover was occurring and a combination of Scarlets' and Packers' names appears in the AHS yearbook.

As for charges by PETA, which said the name Packers glorifies a "violent, bloody industry," Ruzek countered: "As far as the humane treatment of animals goes, Hormel Foods Corporation ranks far and away the best in the meatpacking industry for their treatment of animals, and the meatpacking profession is still an honorable profession today."

Both Simonson's and Ruzek's fathers worked in the Austin meatpacking plant leased by Hormel Foods to Quality Pork Processors, Inc. and both Simonson and Ruzek themselves worked in the plant before embarking on other careers.

At AHS, the reaction was much the same.

Naomi Hatfield is the activities director at Austin High School, but spoke on her own behalf.

"Anyone's entitled to their own opinion, but sometimes they take it too far," Hatfield said, "I am a huge fan of animals, and I think sometimes people do treat animals poorly. But some people's perspective is different from others.

"I understand the outlook, but it's probably not going to be a popular one. This is not going to get a lot of support here (in the city of Austin)." she continued. "I'll even say something to people when they are treating pets poorly, I understand that point of view, but people are entitled to have their own opinions," she concluded. "That's strictly my opinion right now because we (AHS administration) haven't talked about it as a group."

AHS instructor Dallman-Morgan had this observation to make: " I'm from Wisconsin. Are they going to make the Green Bay Packers their next target and ask them to change their name? I don't think so."

Spokespersons for

Hormel Foods Corporation, Local 9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union and Quality Pork Processors, Inc. had no comment.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at

lee.bonorden@austindailyherald.com. Ross Thede can be contacted at 434-2234 or by e-mail at sports@austindailyherald.com