Otis L. Sanford: An opportunity for a Rebel with a modern cause

University of Mississippi student Koriann Porter, seen in a Feb. 11, 2010 photo in Oxford, Miss., says the racial undertones of the Ole Miss mascot aren't what drove her to get more than 1,700 student signatures in support of a new on-the-field mascot. Porter says there are now clubs devoted to embracing the school's diversity and believes the mascot should reflect the school's new image.

AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis

University of Mississippi student Koriann Porter, seen in a Feb. 11, 2010 photo in Oxford, Miss., says the racial undertones of the Ole Miss mascot aren't what drove her to get more than 1,700 student signatures in support of a new on-the-field mascot. Porter says there are now clubs devoted to embracing the school's diversity and believes the mascot should reflect the school's new image.

In this Nov. 28, 2009 photo, Ole Miss mascot Col. Reb roams the stands of football games, as he did among Ole Miss supporters during last year's Egg Bowl game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. Formerly the on-field mascot, the longtime symbol of the university was nixed in 2003 as part of the University of Mississippi's ongoing move to distance itself from reminders of a Confederate past. Students will vote Tuesday on a new mascot.

AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis

In this Nov. 28, 2009 photo, Ole Miss mascot Col. Reb roams the stands of football games, as he did among Ole Miss supporters during last year's Egg Bowl game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. Formerly the on-field mascot, the longtime symbol of the university was nixed in 2003 as part of the University of Mississippi's ongoing move to distance itself from reminders of a Confederate past. Students will vote Tuesday on a new mascot.

— At a ho-hum University of Mississippi football game in 1973, my junior year, two fellow black students decided to make a bold political statement -- and stir up a little outrage -- in the stands.

They grabbed a Confederate battle flag, a staple at all Ole Miss games in those days, and set it on fire near their feet.

Several people responded with angry stares, but no one said much to them and the furor they were hoping for never materialized. After a few seconds, the fire burned itself out and that was that.

Although I admired my friends for their courage and defiance, I was not a party to their anti-flag protest.

Really, I wasn't.

I was on campus strictly to earn a journalism degree ASAP, find a job and move on. I mostly steered clear of campus politics and social activism.

I accepted the fact that the baby steps Ole Miss was making to improve the racial climate on campus were just that -- baby steps. After all, the first two African-American football players in the school's history -- Ben Williams and James Reed -- had just joined the team the previous year.

The band played "Dixie" practically every other minute, and the relatively small number of black students on campus at the time mostly kept to ourselves and leaned on each other for support.

Our acceptance by white students and the mostly white faculty and administration grew noticeably each year I was there. But I always knew that substantive change would take time and another generation or two.

I've been reminded of my mostly happy days strolling through the Grove as I've observed the recent debate and public angst over permanently replacing the Ole Miss mascot, Colonel Reb.

The student body is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to approve a student-led effort to develop a new mascot for the school. The administration retired Colonel Reb as the official mascot at all sporting events in 2003.

Students on Tuesday will have two options, approving a new mascot or not having one at all. Returning the old mascot is not up for a vote.

Since Colonel Reb was deposed, Web sites and blogs have sprung up lamenting his demise and accusing the administration -- mainly former chancellor Robert Khayat -- of hypocrisy because Ole Miss has continued to cash in on the old man's image on school memorabilia.

But just as there may still be some who want to continue fighting the Civil War, plenty of Ole Miss loyalists simply can't let Colonel Reb die in peace.

That's all about to change on Tuesday. Today's Ole Miss student body is getting a fabulous chance to start something new. To come up with its own unique image of what an Ole Miss Rebel should be in the 21st century.

Here's a chance for the creative talent and open minds currently on campus to develop a lasting symbol of Ole Miss' valor, strength, tenacity, even defiance.

Here's a chance for the image of an elderly Southern white gentleman with gray hair to give way to a more menacing, muscular rebel with a modern cause that says "defeat me if you can."

The Colonel Reb mascot had only been shuffling along the sidelines at football games since 1979. So the attachment wasn't all that enduring to begin with.

Besides, the most celebrated Rebel of them all, Archie Manning, agrees with the change.

I ran into Manning last week at Memphis International Airport and I asked him about the vote to replace Colonel Reb.

Manning said he hadn't followed the issue closely, but he understands why the old mascot needed to go.

In college sports, particularly when it comes to recruiting, image is everything.

Of the student vote on Tuesday, Manning said, "This is their opportunity to create something."

Despite its well-documented racial history, Ole Miss is a vastly different place today. Hundreds of African-American graduates, like me, proudly proclaim it as our university.

We enthusiastically cheer the sports teams, we show up on campus to speak to classes and student groups, and we hail the extreme makeover that has occurred at Mississippi's premier public university over the past 20 years.

The truth is, my allegiance to Ole Miss would not have wavered even if the mascot had stayed. Even today, I'm still not into much social activism.

But I admired the bold stance Khayat and others took in retiring the old man from campus events.

Now it's up to the students to come up with a new and improved Reb.

Don't blow it.

Otis L. Sanford is editor/opinion and editorials for The Commercial Appeal. Contact him at 529-2447 or at sanford@commercialappeal.com.

© 2010 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 13

SCarolinaVols writes:

Pity

easleychuck writes:

Obviously, racism existed before and will exist after Colonel Reb showed up at Ole Miss.
The Civil War is a factual event. It happened. It was essentially a rebellion against the government hence the name rebels. If it makes the academic world at Ole Miss feel better to "move forward" by selecting a new mascot for its athletic teams (primarily for financial reasons) then go for it. It will only be a matter of time before the name Rebels is removed. Just glad that Volunteers is regarded by today's history in a good light....let's just hope that Mexico doesn't annex us someday. Political correctness is just great.

Willis writes:

Colonel Reb never did nothin to nobody. It's a sad sad day=( Who in the hell decided to spell colonel this way?

Hudro writes:

Interesting in how things turn out as David Cutcliff reportedly wanted to get rid of Colonel Reb. He thought it made it much tougher to recruit black athletes to Ole Miss with a representation of the slave "massa" roaming the sidelines. He butted heads with the old guard at Ole Miss and was shown the door.

RockyTop1998 writes:

Otis is the biggest racist in memphis. All he does is stir the pot. How about some news on the Vols not this trash.

VOLinNYC writes:

In my mind, here is the leading contender:

http://www.notatrap.org/

Not a joke. It's an actual candidate and I endorse it. Haha!

joeparr2000#255292 writes:

....next thing you know, the university will change its name to miss-anthrope....

DaddyVol writes:

Surely there's something they could find on BET that would be more acceptedable???

By the way...South Carolina should cease and desist using "Cocky" for the mascot. After all, there are people in the south who truly love chicken, and this too could be construed as an insult.

gbeejr#1354500 writes:

in response to Hudro:

Interesting in how things turn out as David Cutcliff reportedly wanted to get rid of Colonel Reb. He thought it made it much tougher to recruit black athletes to Ole Miss with a representation of the slave "massa" roaming the sidelines. He butted heads with the old guard at Ole Miss and was shown the door.

Cut was unjustly let go, but your reason for his firing is beyond stupid. Besides, Tuberville and others complained to university officials to rid itself from practices that referenced negatives of the old south long before Cut came to town.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Revionistas have re-written everything from Southern history to the Bible.

They ignore facts, good or bad, like or unliked to seek the Pollyanna world.

Say one thing and do another will always be their non-public aura.

DannyVol writes:

You could apply this present obsession with politically correct homogeny to any institution or idea in America. In the end, at the most harmless end of the spectrum, it destroys our culture by rendering it virtually tasteless. On the more dangerous end, the advance toward homogeny has the potential to eat away at the fabric of of American culture until it is no longer recognizable, claims no beliefs or virtues, and therefore fails to support the ideas of our republic.

Colliervol writes:

My suggestion was that they change the mascot to one with khaki pants and a blue oxford cloth shirt with a giant over-sized swelled head. Said mascot could get drunker than a Shriner at a convention and throw up at the 50 yard line on his over-dressed girl friend's high heel shoes. Because, well, that's Ole Miss TRADITION too. But they didn't like that suggestion. Oh well, I tried.

1Volunteer writes:

in response to easleychuck:

Obviously, racism existed before and will exist after Colonel Reb showed up at Ole Miss.
The Civil War is a factual event. It happened. It was essentially a rebellion against the government hence the name rebels. If it makes the academic world at Ole Miss feel better to "move forward" by selecting a new mascot for its athletic teams (primarily for financial reasons) then go for it. It will only be a matter of time before the name Rebels is removed. Just glad that Volunteers is regarded by today's history in a good light....let's just hope that Mexico doesn't annex us someday. Political correctness is just great.

Secession of a state from a union of states is not "rebellion." A government of the people, by the people, and for the people should have the right make that decision and not be destroyed for it.

"...The good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states..." (U.S. Declaration of Independence)

The term "rebel" is a negative term and a poor choice for a representation of a university's ideals and identity. It is hard to fathom how UM could take this nickname and change it into something positive. This would be a good time for Ole Miss to leave the "rebel" label behind completely and choose a new name for their sports teams, making every effort to improve race relations and promote school unity. Apparently they are not considering that course.

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