UNLV to Remove 'Hey Reb!' Mascot, Will Retain Rebels Nickname

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2021

UNLV's mascot Hey Reb warms up the crowd before the start of the Mountain West Conference tournament championship NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, March 16, 2013, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is ditching its mascot but retaining its Rebels moniker. 

University president Keith E. Whitfield wrote a letter Tuesday in which he announced the Hey Reb! mascot "has been retired since last spring and there are no plans to bring it back." He added the school isn't presently exploring new mascots to replace Hey Reb!

UNLV will, however, continue to be known as the Rebels:

"Personally, I have always viewed the term 'Rebels' as a strong, nationally recognized brand synonymous with UNLV. I believe the word 'rebel' represents an attitude or spirit. It captures the essence of an iconic city that is unconventional and celebrates its independence, tenacity, and resiliency. Rebels have a purpose or motivation for a greater cause and are not afraid to take risks to make incredible things happen."

Last June, then-president Marta Meana announced that UNLV was removing a statue of Hey Reb! and that school officials were discussing the future of the mascot.

Especially in the wake of nationwide protests against systemic racism and social inequality, some universities and sports franchises have reevaluated their branding. The Washington Football Team and Cleveland's MLB franchise, for example, both moved on from nicknames that are considered derogatory toward Indigenous people.

As Whitfield explained, "rebel" can be a more general term with broad connotations. However, the term has also long been associated with Confederate States of America—the 11 states which seceded from the U.S. and fought against it in the Civil War.

The connection between the Rebels moniker and the Confederacy used to be more overt.

"After establishing the Rebels nickname, Nevada Southern students also created Beauregard, a cartoon wolf with a Confederate uniform, to 'rebel' against [University of Nevada, Reno] and its wolf-pack mascot in the North," UNLV wrote in a history of its nickname.

Criticism arose over Beauregard's depiction in a Confederate uniform, and he was removed in 1976. Hey Reb! was adopted in 1983 and was inspired by "the Western trailblazers of the 1800s who ventured into uncharted Nevada to discover resources and build communities." However, Hey Reb! still saw criticism for its resemblance to cartoon depictions of Confederate soldiers.