Behold the Rebel Black Bear, the new mascot of the Ole Miss Rebels. "Rebel" who is set to prowl the sidelines in 2011 was selected by a poll of students and alumni to replace "Colonel Reb," the costumed plantation owner who has appeared at Rebels games since 1979.
Colonel Reb was decommissioned a few years ago as Ole Miss tried to disassociate itself image-wise with the Old South. Not only was it felt that such iconography was offensive to African Americans given Mississippi's generally sorry history in the area of civil rights, it was also thought that the image of an elderly patrician clad in a frock coat did not exactly conjure up thoughts of virility and competence on the athletic field.
Naturally, there are plenty of Ole Miss alums who have their nose out of joint about this. They believe Colonel Reb was sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Some have even claimed that this is exceptionally wrongheaded if you consider that the image of Colonel Reb was fashioned in the likeness of a beloved black man named Blind Jim Ivy who was a fixture at Ole Miss athletic events until his death in 1955: http://www.campaignsitebuilder.com/templates/displayfiles/tmpl62.asp?SiteID=148&PageID=957&Trial=false
I have no reason to doubt that Blind Jim Ivy was a beloved presence on the campus and in Oxford. I do not believe for 5 minutes that the image of Colonel Reb, a white planter depicted wearing a plantation hat and the aforementioned frock coat, was patterned after a blind African American. That's just making stuff up.
This whole mascot thing is pretty silly. The NCAA has been leaning on it's "member institutions" to get rid of mascots and iconography that might be offensive to others. And so the Illini of Illinois did away with it's Native American mascot. Marquette, the Warriors no longer, are something called a "Red Storm." Hell, even tiny Hendrix College, my old alma mater, retained the Warrior nickname but did away with the Native American iconography. The new "Warrior" resembles a knock off Braveheart figure. Only our version of William Wallace's hair resembles Tom Brady. This warrior may represent no conceivable offense to Native Americans, but he offends me.
But what is really offensive is that the NCAA comes down hard on Illinois while laying off on the likes of Florida State and Notre Dame. You can certainly make a plausible case for the notion that "Fighting Irish" portrays an image of drunkenness and bellicosity that some may find offensive. But Notre Dame has too much money and can fight back. So the NCAA leaves them alone. Same deal with Florida State although the Seminole tribe in Florida has stated that it is not offended by having Native American imagery burlequed by those rednecks. Perhaps the Irish have told the NCAA the same thing.
I kinda liked Colonel Reb. But Ole Miss is simply following the modern trend of sports branding that attempts to offend no one. Hence the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
And now we have something called the Rebel Black Bear. Which assumes that bears have something of a political consciousness. Which I can certainly believe before I would ever believe that Colonel Reb was patterned after Blind Jim Ivy.
The loyal opposition has stated that they are still going to send Colonel Reb to pre-game activities out in the Grove. The Rebel Black Bear will be there too. Hopefully the Colonel won't be packing.