Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Rebel Yells: A Plan to Replace the University of Mississippi's Controversial Mascot Is Meeting Resistance

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Rebel Yells: A Plan to Replace the University of Mississippi's Controversial Mascot Is Meeting Resistance

Article excerpt

When Levi West walks across the University of Mississippi campus on game day, admirers sprint to take his photograph. Women coo. Men slap him high-fives. The 25-year-old senior owes his star power to his get-up--a knockoff of the university's longtime mascot, Colonel Reb, a caricature of an antebellum Southern plantation owner.

"There's no more of a noble cause than continuing the tradition of Colonel Reb," says West, standing in the baking Mississippi heat in a giant stuffed mask and foam shoes. "Everyone loves the guy."

Well, not quite everyone. After years of complaints about the insensitivity of having a man dressed as a Confederate soldier as the symbol of a university where 14 percent of students are black, Ole Miss, as the school is known, is pulling the plug on Colonel Reb this football season.

While the white-bearded, cane-toting mascot--a cross between Mark Twain and Colonel Sanders--has not been the Rebels' official team cheerleader since 2003, his image is still on fan merchandise, including T-shirts, Confederate flags, and corkscrews.

That led to the school's announcement this summer of a ban on the sale of any items with his image. The university plans to hold a student-run election this fall to pick a new mascot.

It's all part of a long-standing plan to recast the university's image, still tarnished by its reputation for racial strife in the 1960s, and signal that it is more tolerant and diverse. Confederate battle flags were discouraged from football games years ago, and "Dixie" is no longer the unofficial fight song. …

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