Ole Miss made some important changes this season replacing long time mascot and Rebel fan favorite Colonel Reb with a new mascot, Rebel Black Bear. Some fans are struggling to come to terms with the fact that Colonel Reb is gone and that is to be expected. After all, nobody got the crowd going at an Ole Miss football game like Colonel Reb. While Colonel Reb’s ability to motivate the fans was great, the success of Ole Miss on the football field was minimal. Since the Colonel appeared on the sidelines in 1979, Ole Miss has not won a national championship or an SEC title. The football team’s record with Colonel Reb on the sideline is an unimpressive 140-134-4, finishing ranked only five times with him on the sidelines of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium from 1979-2003.
Even with all the years of futility under Colonel Reb’s watch some Ole Miss fans are refusing to give Rebel Black Bear a chance. Few mascots are more beloved than Colonel Reb, but even fewer mascots carry the racial stigma that he does.
Ole Miss fans have always been slower than most to accept change, and you do not have to look too far in the past to see examples of their stubborn nature. In 1997 when then chancellor Robert Khayat banned sticks from the stadium in an attempt to keep confederate flags out of sporting events, Ole Miss fans responded the same way. Even though Coach Tommy Tuberville said openly on several occasions that the confederate flags make it difficult to recruit blue-chip black athletes. Fans hid behind a misguided sense of tradition and fought the decision every step of the way, just like they are doing now with Colonel Reb. Supporters are now trying to pass a measure to put Colonel Reb on the 2012 election ballot to get him reinstated as the schools official mascot.
Do the die hard traditionalist fans at Ole Miss not see that the traditions are making it difficult to recruit black athletes? Young and talented black people are turned off by images of a plantation owner as a mascot, the confederate flag, and “Dixie”. Ole Miss is losing top recruits because the school has not progressed with the times, and when the school does try and progress fans behave in such a way that it leaves a sour taste in the mouths of people across the country, hurting the perception of the university.
Maybe Rebel Black Bear is the mascot they need to get the job done at Ole Miss. He is a ferocious beast, does not offend anybody, and he has a great back story involving former president Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. After all, Colonel Reb’s tenure at Ole Miss was not as successful as some might think on the field, and off the field he served as a reminder of our nations painful past.
CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.
Photo by JD Meredith.