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September 27, 2021

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

UNLV did right by retiring Hey Reb! — now let’s find another mascot

A mascot creates an emotional connection with fans, which is something UNLV can’t lose

Rebels VS Colorado State Rams

Wade Vandervort

UNLV fans cheer as the Rebels defeat Colorado State, 78-76, at Thomas & Mack, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.

UNLV football coach Marcus Arroyo sported a hat on the sidelines this fall with “Rebels” written in cursive across the front. It became so popular that supporters on social media wondered how they could get their hands on one.

About the same time, university leaders were evaluating if they would continue to use the Rebels moniker and Hey Reb! mascot because of their association with the Civil War and slavery. Other sports teams also had Rebels on their uniforms, signaling the momentum from within for the nickname to stay.

New UNLV President Keith Whitfield, hired this summer amid racial unrest following the death of a Black man during a police arrest in Minnesota, promised he would consider community input when determining how to move forward.

His decision came down Tuesday.

The Rebels nickname would remain, but Hey Reb! would be retired.

The mascot, originally a wolf in a Confederate uniform and in more recent years a mustachioed “frontiersman,” has been under fire by some students on and off since the 1970s. The university removed its Hey Reb! statue this summer.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV Rebels head coach Marcus Arroyo talks with wide receiver Tyleek Collins (9) before a game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Allegiant Stadium Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.

While Whitfield agreed it was time for Hey Reb! to go, he defended the school’s nickname as embodying a certain sense of moxie.

“I was drawn to lead this great university because I identified with its spirit, determination and daring style,” Whitfield wrote to students. “Rebels are not afraid to fail and create a new path when one doesn’t exist. For all these reasons and many more, we will continue to be known as ‘Rebels.’”

Whitfield has only been on the job a handful of months. The athletic events he’s attended have been without fans because of the pandemic.

But he quickly learned the importance UNLV basketball, football and other sports have in our community.

Many of us have loved the scarlet and gray since Jerry Tarkanian’s “Hardway Eight” played in the 1977 Final Four. Still should have beat North Carolina in the semifinals, right?

Whitfield took into account our passion before removing Hey Reb! Now, it’s time to listen again.

UNLV is not introducing a new mascot, meaning it will be one of a handful of universities without one. Others include the likes of Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.

That seems odd.

A mascot is very much part of the college experience — on the sidelines on game day firing up the crowd or taking pictures with young fans.

A mascot gives a team an identity, even if it’s downright silly as in the case of the Stanford Tree or Delta State Okra.

A mascot also helps create an emotional connection with the fans, something UNLV must do to get supporters back in the stands after the pandemic. A mascot helps give the university character and a personality.

Maybe Whitfield and his advisers are right, and UNLV doesn’t need a mascot. But they should again consult the fans.

The university would be wise to survey season ticket holders or host a Zoom meeting with fans to throw around ideas for an alternative mascot.

Ole Miss, another school known as the Rebels, switched from its Colonel Reb mascot to a black bear in 2015.

While some have expressed disappointment in seeing Hey Reb! go, those have been in the minority. After all, we all know what’s really important: The football team getting the Fremont Cannon trophy back from UNR, the basketball team getting back to the NCAA Tournament, and for the baseball team to make the College World Series.

The question is will there be a mascot there to cheer them on? If there is, my vote is for it to be red cannon.