UNLV officially retired Hey Reb! last month. (Unofficially, he had been absent from UNLV athletics since the summer of 2020.) But the nickname Rebels has stuck.
While new the university president, Keith Whitfield, made the decisions, Desiree Reed-Francois wanted to keep the name Rebels.
“President Whitfield has a style where he really listens to people. He did ask my opinion. I really felt it was important that we maintain the Rebel name because of the history and what the Rebels mean. It’s a spirit. It’s an ethos. Hey I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. You can tell me I can’t do something and we’re going to prove that we can. I was pleased that we were able to respect the tradition and maintain that,” Reed-Francois said in a recent interview on ESPN Las Vegas.
The decision to remove Hey Reb! but keep Rebels seemed to be a fence straddling decision.
UNLV has ties to the confederacy. The football team wore helmets with a confederate flag emblazoned on the side in 1968. The original logo/mascot combination was a wolf in a confederate soldier’s uniform.
But Hey Reb! was introduced to distance the university from the confederate imagery. Hey Reb! is supposed to be a western trailblazer.
Western trailblazer came with its own controversy, as UNLV’s Native American Association asked for the mascot to be removed back in 2019 because the mascot represents violence and the murder of Native Americans.
Ditching Hey Reb! may have been the right decision for UNLV, but if the goal is to avoid ties to the confederacy, the name Rebels should have been cut first.
But UNLV has decided that the nickname is more about the spirit of being a Rebel than honoring the confederacy.
Within the UNLV bubble, I believe that to be true. UNLV fans aren’t celebrating the confederacy. People don’t become Rebel fans because they want to honor the confederacy.
The problem with the nickname is what the outside perceives. For now, UNLV has decided that outside pressure is not enough to change the nickname.
However, Reed-Francois gave a vague look into the future.
“I think there will be a natural evolution of what comes next,” Reed-Francois said.
That could simply mean how UNLV decides on the next mascot, if there ever is one. But the natural evolution in the sports world implies the name Rebels will be gone in the future too.
The Washington Football Team dropped a racist nickname before the 2020 season. Cleveland’s baseball team is ditching the nickname Indians after the 2021 season.
Natural evolution would seem to lead to more teams changing names. While Rebels might not be next on the list (hello Atlanta Braves?), it is certainly on the list.
A change for UNLV seems to be a part of the natural evolution.
Reed-Francois did offer up that fans have submitted new nickname and mascot ideas to here.
“I’ve had some wonderful suggestions. To the gentlemen who wrote me the very nice letter about being the Rainbow Unicorns, very cool suggestion. I hadn’t heard that one before. I’ve heard the Neon Lights. I’ve heard the Guy Fieris – the Fighting Fieris. So there has been some wonderful creativity in our community.”
Sign me up for Guy Fieri roaming the sidelines as UNLV’s official mascot. Honestly, any contest, vote, discussion for UNLV to name a new mascot or nickname will be phenomenal.
So please, call or email Reed-Francois and UNLV with as many nickname and mascot ideas as possible.