Skip to comments.Mascots remain sensitive issue
Posted on 07/04/2003 6:54:52 AM PDT by ABG(anybody but Gore)
Today we can be thankful we live in a country where we're free to choose our allegiances: Republican or Democrat, Mac or PC, Leno or Letterman. Saints or winners.
Oops. We meant sinners, of course.
But as you grill those hot dogs and enjoy fireworks on Independence Day, consider how some longtime Ole Miss fans are feeling these days. They've had their last hotty toddy with Colonel Reb -- and they didn't get the chance to say a proper farewell.
A few weeks ago, the university said it will sideline its Colonel Rebel mascot, the familiar Southern gentleman with the snow-white goatee, a colonel's wide-brimmed hat and a walking stick.
"The Confederacy is behind us," Ole Miss Athletic Director Pete Boone told The Associated Press. "I just think that it's time for us to change our whole thought process, our whole image, our whole look and feel about being the team of the 21st century."
A university booster club paid a New York firm $30,000 to review options for a new mascot. Johnny Reb is history at Ole Miss, like the Rebel flag and the use of "Dixie" as the unofficial fight song.
Many Ole Miss fans see the retiring of Colonel Rebel as one more step toward erasing the school's heritage in favor of a more politically correct image. They are outraged that a New York agency will determine the new visual identity of a Southern university whose sports teams carry the nickname Rebels.
"I reckon the Yankees know what is best for the South," Jim Kail of Brighton, Tenn., wrote in a letter to The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. "They have been screwing it up since the Civil War."
But Boone said the issue isn't merely about the past. He said he wants a more intimidating look for a mascot.
"It just didn't look athletic," he said of Colonel Rebel. "It was an old man with a cane."
That's only intimidating if, say, you're in Singapore and sentenced to an old-fashioned style of corporal punishment.
Mascots and nicknames are sensitive issues. Stanford switched from Indians to Cardinal, a color. Its mascot? A tree. The St. John's Redmen became the Red Storm. Marquette's Warriors became Golden Eagles.
Shreveport baseball fans blew a fuse when their minor-league Captains were transformed into Swamp Dragons. The team has since left Louisiana.
There are cute nicknames that offend no one. University of California at Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. Delta State Fighting Okra, an unofficial mascot. And the best ever, the now-defunct Macon Whoopee.
Modern sports marketing and product licensing gives us formerly inanimate objects brought to lovable cartoon-like life: The Lansing Lugnuts. Albuquerque Isotopes. Colorado Avalanche.
It's possible only an environmentalist would be offended by the Williamsport Crosscutters. You want to scare me? A game against a team called the Auditors or Root Canals or Bad Cholesterol or Mooching Nephews frightens a lot more than one against the Blue Devils.
Anyone on a Do-Not-Call list would be afraid of the Telemarketers. A school of medicine might think twice about rivals known as the Free Radicals. Walk in my neighborhood and say you wouldn't be afraid of the Pit Bulls.
As for intimidation, nothing can really top the Kannapolis, um, Intimidators.
But Ole Miss fans aren't joking about losing Colonel Rebel. Many are calling for Boone to be retired instead.
Boone said only the mascot, and not the school's nickname, is subject to change, but Ole Miss fans and alumni are worried it's just a matter of time before their teams are no longer called Rebels.
Ole Miss Ladies and Gentlemen?
The Civil War -- in addition to being a classic oxymoron -- will ever be a hot-button topic in this country. Symbols of the Confederacy remind millions of the days of slavery. To them, they offend. To others, they suggest a fiercely proud culture struggling to preserve itself.
Some African-American athletes at Ole Miss say they're not bothered by Colonel Rebel or other trappings of the school's heritage. Some students of color say they like the idea of change.
Descendants of Confederate soldiers and families cry foul. To them, you can't and shouldn't try to rewrite history.
The same New York firm that created LSU's new logo will spend the next few months designing options for Ole Miss. Sorry, Rebels. Toonces is taken.
Expect Ole Miss to end up with a look, a logo, a mascot that is ferocious only in an X-Men sort of way, colorful only in a merchandising frame of reference and offensive to no one.
Except perhaps Colonel Rebel and his pals who will raise a glass to him in The Grove and forever sing about old times there that are not forgotten.
And the mascot of the Syracuse Orangemen or the Youngstown Penguins or the Ohio State Buckeyes is supposed to strike fear in their opponents' hearts? But what worries me more is changing the name of the school itself. As an alum of Mississippi State University I'm one of thousands who's second favorite cheer has always been "Go to Hell, Ole Miss, go to Hell!" We wouldn't feel comfortable yelling anything else...
Students of color? How many supposedly PC racial titles have they gone through? Can't they decide once and for all what to be called? Now it's "persons of color". Does that mean everyone else is colorless, transparent and invisible? That must be it because with all these special groups (let's not forget the Charlie Chan poll showing 0.9% wanting FOX to ban the series) I'm feeling more and more invisible every day. Banana slugs unite!
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