By Trenton Winford
I grew up as one of the biggest little fans of Ole Miss sports. I donned Rebel gear for school, and I made sure my friends who supported Mississippi State were well aware of each Ole Miss success. I had a stuffed dog named Rebel, which has great sentimental value to me. On the Christmas tree every year, I would hang a Col. Reb ornament with my name on it.
When Col. Reb was removed from the sidelines, I was too young to really know what it meant. As I grew up, I still ardently supported the school without a mascot. I tried to explain to people what Col. Reb meant to me as a mascot, including being in the Grove on game days and getting high-fives as he led the team down the Walk of Champions.
When the decision was made to determine a new on-field mascot, I was not exactly thrilled. I understood Ole Miss’ need for a mascot. After all, I wanted little Rebels to have a physical embodiment of the Ole Miss spirit as I had growing up, even if it wasn’t the character that I enjoyed as a child. While I am not exactly enamored with the Black Bear mascot, it isn’t meant for me. I understand that, and I am OK with that.
On the other hand, I am not OK with the recent decision to remove the title of Col. Reb from the personality elections. I am told it is because the title is blatantly racist. I am told that Ole Miss is moving forward. I am told that anyone who continues to support the title is clinging to a war that was lost and is backward thinking.
Finally, I am told that I must be cognizant of the feelings of others. Since others dislike the title of Col. Reb, then I should respect that and approve its removal. What is missing, though, is a respect for what Col. Reb means to me.
Even further, what does Col. Reb mean to Ole Miss? Every year since 1940, the student body has elected a Col. Reb: a male on campus who best embodies the spirit of the university. Notable alumni like Robert Khayat, former Ole Miss chancellor, and Ben Williams, the first black football player at Ole Miss, were honored with the Col. Reb title during their tenures on campus.
Ole Miss is currently on a slippery slope. It started with things that absolutely needed to be banned, such as the Confederate flag — or, well, sticks. It then moved on to a misunderstood mascot. Next was “From Dixie with Love.” Now it’s the Col. Reb title. What is next?
I have heard some say that this argument is nonsense, that it is missing the point. But I then read quotes like this from the chair of the African American Studies Department, which was included in the ESPN film “The Ghosts of Ole Miss”: “Any symbol that can be remotely construed or interpreted as having any kind of racial insensitivity should be eradicated.”
With people, especially employees of the university, saying things like that, am I really so clueless to make the slippery slope argument here? I honestly do not believe so, and if you look at what has been done and what is being said around you, I think you would agree.
Trenton Winford is a junior public policy leadership major from Madison.