NEVADA VIEWS: The Rebel mascot and cancel culture
The Rebel is a caricature, like Yosemite Sam, rather than a representation of European colonizers.
June 20, 2020 - 9:00 pm
The slogan “Battle Born” is emblazoned on Nevada’s state flag because Nevada became a state during the Civil War on Oct. 31, 1864. Nevada was admitted into the United States of America for two primary reasons: Nevada’s voters would help re-elect President Abraham Lincoln, and the natural resources of Nevada would help the Union prevail over the Confederacy.
In short, even though this state did not play an active role in the Civil War, Nevada becoming a state was a repudiation of the Confederacy and Southern values.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas was founded on Sept. 10, 1957 — more than 90 years after the end of the Civil War. As far as I can tell through a limited amount of research, the Rebel mascot was adopted to represent UNLV’s disassociation from the University of Nevada, Reno and the frontier spirit.
There is nothing inherently racist about our (soon to be former) mascot, the Rebel — the Western frontiersman. It is not an incendiary symbol like the Confederate flag. Unlike many mascots, it was not arbitrarily chosen — it was selected as a symbol of the independent spirit of United States Westerners and the university itself.
It is too easy to hear the word “rebel” or the slogan “Hey, Reb!” and automatically assume a connection to the American Confederacy — and, with it, not-so-subtle racist undertones. But to automatically assume that a silly little cowboy with a 10-gallon hat and an oversized mustache is a symbol of racism seems like a knee-jerk reaction in our cancel culture. The connection between the Southern Rebel Confederacy and the UNLV Runnin’ Rebel mascot is too attenuated to be credible. In short, aside from the word “rebel,” there is no logical nexus.
Yes, the United States was founded on racism and inequality. The United States became an industrial powerhouse due in large part to slavery. Every state, territory and the country of the United States itself was founded at the expense of the aboriginal people who resided here before Europeans colonized the North American continent.
But the Rebel mascot is a symbol of the Western spirit — not a colonizer. I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, but I lived in the South and spent time in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic seaboard and New England. The West, specifically the Southwestern United States, is different. It is diverse (like the student body of UNLV) and it is progressive. The Runnin’ Rebel was a symbol of the pioneering spirit of the West. The Rebel is a caricature, like Yosemite Sam, rather than a representation of European colonizers.
But at the end of the day, it is just a mascot. If it genuinely does cause pain to a significant number of people, then it should go. I always just thought it was a cool mascot.
Ernest C. Zacher is a student at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.