Habeeb ad stirs up University of Mississippi mascot issue

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – The Colonel Reb mascot controversy has resurfaced, apparently at the initiation of former Forward Rebels spokesman Lee Habeeb of Oxford.
In a half-page ad in today’s Oxford Eagle, Habeeb ghost-writes a letter from the perspective of Rebel, the Ole Miss mascot black bear. Rebel won a 2010 student election to replace the gray-haired plantation master dispatched from campus connections in 2003.
“It wasn’t fun,” the fake-Rebel bear writes about his first year as mascot. “I had anxiety attacks every day from the first football game on.”
Habeeb did not answer a Daily Journal call for comment Thursday.
But Michael Thompson, Ole Miss’ associate athletics director, tells another story: Rebel is bigger than game day and has spent the past 15 months promoting fitness for children in the state’s fight against obesity.
“Rebel is doing great, he’s excited about a big weekend ahead,” Thompson said, looking to the gridiron season opener in Oxford.
Rebel will be in the stadium Saturday after he signs autographs and promotes a healthy lifestyle at Rebel Fanfare on the west side of the stadium.
Forward Rebels was organized in 2011 its website says “to create a new tradition of excellence and excitement” around improved Ole Miss athletics. It claims credit for the ouster of Athletics Director Pete Boone, who was its primary target.
This summer, it announced it was disbanding and urged Ole Miss fans to rally around the university’s new athletics leadership.
Steven Godfrey, an Ole Miss alum and writer on www.sbnation.com, first announced Habeeb’s literary poke at the new mascot on his website Thursday.
Godfrey suggests that Habeeb’s literary remarks relate to continued rumblings between the university and elements of fans, alumni and boosters still angry over the Colonel’s dispatch.
Habeeb, a national talk radio producer and National Review contributor, was Forward Rebels’ spokesman, saying he’d volunteered for the role to shield the anonymity of the group’s members and financial supporters.
Last fall, Forward Rebels placed full-page, color ads in six daily newspapers blaming the Ole Miss administration for the athletic failures.
Chancellor Dan Jones, on board since 2009, termed them hurtful to the university and “irresponsible.”
Some on campus, especially faculty, see the “bear letter” as the beginning or continuation of something else – to restore the old symbols and return Ole Miss back to a more socially conservative time.
Curtis Wilkie, a journalist and director of the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, has publicly criticized Forward Rebels as a manifestation of a few, who “are trying to use their money to dictate policy and buy influence” for his alma mater.
As for the “bear letter,” Wilkie says it’s a free country and he supports Habeeb’s right to speak or write freely.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com