Mixed mascot identity won’t last forever, fortunately

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If only I were a banana slug through and through.

At least then I wouldn’t be facing this identity crisis. But alas, I was born a politically incorrect Rebel, and my mascot must change.

The University of California-Santa Cruz’s mascot Sammy the Banana Slug faced adversity, too. But, just like any good slug, his tale has a trail of success.

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Colonel Reb’s fate most likely won’t be the same, nor should it be. No level of school pride or tradition in a foam rubber head is worth offending scores of Americans. Ole Miss can’t erase its history, or the perception that comes with it. But the school can make positive steps away from the symbolism that some find offensive.

It’s been seven years since Colonel Reb officially walked the sidelines at any Ole Miss sporting event.

In his absence, the football team rose to its highest level of success in recent history, including two Cotton Bowl victories in the last two years.

The baseball team gained strength right as Colonel Reb was exiting the scene. Now, the crowds at Swayze Field are three times what they were 15 years ago.

Enter the parade of mascots.

A special committee has been working since February to dream up a new Ole Miss mascot. Monday, they released their finalists.

Drum roll, please!

Animals fill much of the list, and all seem totally random at best. The words Rebel lion mushed together create a proposed name for the cat, “Rebellion.”

Cousins of tigers are no good in my book. But thankfully, the lion is the king of the jungle, and I’m sure he’d certainly make short work of the lesser cat that prowls our current backyard.

A land shark, horse, cardinal and black bear also made the cut.

Human characters on the list include a Rebel blues musician and a riverboat pilot.

Muppet-like characters included creatures to be named Hotty and Toddy, the Rebel Fanatic and Rebel Mojo.

And to wrap up the list, why not shoot for the skies, with Rebel Titan.

I’m sure more than one Mississippi State fan had quite the chuckle at the list. But Sammy the Banana Slug doesn’t care if the opposition laughs, and perhaps Ole Miss shouldn’t either.

Sammy’s very existence is a commentary on our country’s perhaps overzealous passion for athletics.

Coed teams at UCSC were taken aback by the fierce athleticism of other schools across the country, while UCSC focused on sports as a fun, healthy activity for everyone, not just the best athletes. They chose to mock the country by picking the most unlikely of mascots.

When the slugs’ teams became a bit more organized, a group of students and the chancellor pushed for a slightly better mascot — the sea lions.

For five years, the sea lion was the official mascot while the banana slug stayed prominent.

Finally, the student body spoke out in favor of Sammy, and the chancellor made him official.

Sammy now boasts national fame, including the title of best college mascot awarded by Reader’s Digest.

The moral of Sammy’s story? It’s not the ferocity or seriousness of your mascot that matters. What counts is support from the fans.

Ole Miss may need a powerful PR campaign to sell the concept of a new mascot to current and former students, and some folks may never buy in. But with thousands upon thousands of future Ole Miss students yet to even be born, there’s still time to start a new tradition, however silly it may be.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.