Whenever I stray into education issues that touch on sports, I regret it almost immediately because sports fans are highly wired in both senses of the word and quick to bile.
But I think this New York Times story about the angst at the University of Mississippi over its Colonel Reb mascot is interesting and worth reading.
As I have said with recent blogs on the demon high school mascot in Warner Robbins, I don’t get the mania around costumed characters. I am not one of those folks who runs to get my photo with the Disney characters or the Chick-fil-A cow. At a football game, I could just as easily ignore a grown man jumping around in a gopher costume or a tiger’s. Doesn’t matter to me. (BTW, am I the only one who finds the plasticine Burger King king in the commercials creepy?)
But Ole Miss doesn’t have a cute animal as a mascot. It has a Confederate soldier. And the university, anxious to shed any remnants of a racist past, wants the old coot gone for good.
I agree. Send Colonel Reb to the old mascot’s home, where he can reminisce with other politically incorrect mascots. And then Ole Miss students can stop worrying about the mascot and concentrate on graduating in four years. I think we all would be better off as a result.
According to the New York Times:
After many years of complaints about the racial insensitivity of having a man dressed as a Confederate soldier as the symbol of a university where 14 percent of students are black, Ole Miss is pulling the plug on Colonel Reb this football season.
The white-bearded, cane-toting mascot — think Mark Twain crossed with Colonel Sanders — has not been the Rebels’ official team cheerleader since 2003. But his image is ubiquitous on fan merchandise, including T-shirts, Confederate flags and corkscrews.
This summer, Ole Miss announced a ban on the sale of any items with his image. And in coming weeks, the university is expected to hold a student-run election to pick a new mascot.
It is part of a longstanding plan to recast the university’s image, still tarnished by its reputation for racial strife in the 1960s, to signal that it is more tolerant and diverse. Confederate battle flags were discouraged from football games years ago, and “Dixie” is no longer the unofficial fight song.
But whether Colonel Reb too should go, and what might replace him, has divided fans.
“Over. My. Dead. Body,” said Mack Allen, 36, an alumnus and technology analyst from Memphis, who wore a T-shirt to a recent football game that read, “Colonel Reb — Loved by Many, Hated by Few.”
A group of fans called the Colonel Reb Foundation said it had gathered 2,000 signatures on a petition against any new mascot and plans to deliver it to the chancellor, Daniel W. Jones, and newspapers across the state. It also paid for the costume that Mr. West was wearing.
Like controversies at other colleges involving team names or mascots of American Indians, this started as a dispute about the university’s core values.
But it has raised a new question about whether having no mascot at all hurts school spirit and the football team. In a campus referendum in February, 74 percent of students voted in favor of creating a new mascot rather than remaining mascotless.
“We’re the only school in the Southeastern Conference without one,” said Ellison Brown, 21, an African-American junior from Jackson. “These are new times, we need a new image. But we also just need a mascot.”