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Carlson: Why former OU football player Josh Norman had a 40th birthday to remember

Josh Norman, who was a tight end on OU's 2000 national championship team, turned 40 on Monday. He’s now the head coach at Southmoore High School. [PHOTO PROVIDED]
Josh Norman, who was a tight end on OU's 2000 national championship team, turned 40 on Monday. He’s now the head coach at Southmoore High School. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

This might make a few of you feel old — players who were on OU’s 2000 national championship football team are turning 40.

Doesn’t seem possible.

I know this because Josh Norman, who was a Sooner tight end in those glory days, turned 40 on Monday. I’ve kept in touch with Norman over the years as he’s done music production and gotten involved in coaching — he’s now the head coach at Southmoore High School — so we became friends on Facebook.

And of course, Facebook always tells you when it’s someone’s birthday.

Thing is, Norman had something wonderful happen on his 40th — the school board back in his hometown of Midland, Texas, voted to change the name of his high school alma mater, Midland Lee High School. It decided having a school named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee wasn’t right.

Now, you may have heard about Midland Lee because of its football rivalry with Odessa Permian, the high school football program made famous by the “Friday Night Lights” book/movie/series. The schools sit less than half an hour apart, and while the football programs battle like crazy, they are both sources of great pride in the oil fields of West Texas.

Midland Lee produced NFL standouts such as Cedric Benson and Eric Winston not to mention non-football notables such as Laura Bush and Tommy Lee Jones.

It has a proud history.

But its name has long been a source of consternation. When the courts ordered schools be desegregated in the 1960s, some folks in Midland thumbed their nose at the mandate by naming a soon-to-be-opened, soon-to-be-integrated high school after a Confederate leader. They didn’t stop there. They made the school’s mascot the Rebels, its flag the Confederate banner.

None of that wasn’t done to honor anyone.

It was done to intimidate.

There have been attempts to change Midland Lee's name over the years, but a push in recent months really seemed to gather momentum. The national conversation over racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police seemed to give change a chance in Midland.

Still, when I talked to Norman earlier this summer, he wasn’t sure it would happen.

Monday night, Norman did what he could to help the cause, speaking to the Midland school board via Zoom from his Oklahoma home. He shared his remarks on Facebook and agreed to let me share them here:

“Hello, my name is Joshua Norman. I was born at Midland Memorial Hospital on July 27, 1980. Raised at 1824 E. Maple and Midland Lee graduating class of 1998. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

“I’ll begin with a quote from the great philosopher, Aristotle: ‘Virtue means doing the right thing, in relation to the right person, at the right time, to the right extent, in the right manner, and for the right purpose.’

“Growing up in Midland, there were always invisible lines and boundaries. These were not only physical boundaries but boundaries that exist socially and mentally. As a young Black kid, there were many assassinations attempts on my dreams. Whether it was a coach telling me I wouldn’t play football for Midland Lee or my third-grade teacher telling me I’d never play in the NFL. Although hearing these things were very discouraging, they were not the dreams that would have the biggest effect on my life. The biggest attempt of destroying my dreams had nothing to do with my desire to play professional football or win a Heisman trophy. I remember multiple occasions, as a junior high student, asking adults why the high school I would attend was named after someone who fought to preserve the slavery of my ancestors. And at a young age, I learned to just shut up — we don’t talk about that around here — just deal with it. This invisible boundary has existed in Midland for decades and is a form of oppression. I had, and still to this day, have a dream of every student in Midland, Texas, to be free of this oppression.

“The truth is, not every person of color wants to be a professional athlete. Some aspire to be doctors, lawyers and even the President of the United States. But there isn’t a soul on earth that doesn’t aspire to be treated with equality and dignity. There is not a soul on earth that doesn’t desire to not be under an oppressive boot.

“Changing the name of Midland Lee High School probably will not change the minds of those who believe in the oppression of others — whether consciously or subconsciously. However, changing the name will prove to everyone that the City of Midland chooses to stand with ALL their students and all communities. Changing the name also proves that the City of Midland recognizes a mistake that was made and is willing to reconcile that mistake. But most of all, making this change will show LOVE and VIRTUE.

“I’ll close with scripture from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’

“Today, as I celebrate my 40th birthday. I am asking for the Midland Independent School District School Board to vote in favor of changing the name of Midland Lee High School.

“Thank you.”

Norman was one of many people who spoke during the meeting, and after several hours of comment and discussion, the board voted almost unanimously to change the name, 6-1.

A significant change on a significant birthday for Josh Norman.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at or follow her at

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›