Hey Reb

Something (or rather, someone) caught my eye last night as I watched the NCAA men’s basketball game between Illinois and UNLV on TV (the Fighting Illini won, for those who missed it!).

The “Rebels” of UNLV have a mascot that looks amazingly like Ole Miss’s Colonel Reb!

How is it possible that this school of more than 28,000 students located hundreds of miles from the Deep South can still have a Confederate-based mascot and Ole Miss had to ban ours?

So I did some research. “Hey Reb” debuted in 1983 and underwent several makeovers. Today, he wears UNLV’s school colors of scarlet and gray, a Confederate gray hat, and has a flowing white handlebar mustache. He even was named one of 12 All-American mascots.

UNLV got its start in the 1950s as an extension campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. In 1965, it became Nevada Southern University, adopting the “Rebels” name and Confederate-styled symbols as a way of breaking free from its northern neighbor. Its first mascot was Beauregard, a winking Confederate-styled cartoon wolf that played opposite to UNR’s Wolf Pack mascot.

Beauregard was ditched in the 1970s after a group of black athletes complained about its connection with the wrong side of the Civil War. The student senate selected the human “Hey Reb” mascot and it stuck, sending UNLV to the top in college apparel licensing in 10 years.

I hate to belabor the point, but it’s all about Tradition.

Obviously, a cartoony college mascot dancing on the sidelines of an athletic event isn’t a big deal in the overall scheme of things. Not when you consider all the grave events taking place in our world today.

But that mascot symbolizes something to past and present students. It unifies them the way songs and slang unify generations.

Outsiders have a right to dislike a school’s mascot, but does any outsider have a right to strip an institution of its long-held, much-loved traditions?

I think not.