Wednesday, October 28, 2009


In the 1970's, when bald eagles were endangered in the USA, the United States Government devoted a lot of effort toward saving our national symbol. Laws were passed to outlaw the pesticide DDT, which was identified as the major detriment to the health of this "totem animal." Time was devoted to educating the public about the dangers of putting poisons into the food chain. The population of bald eagles gradually rebounded enough so that in the 1990's, the species was reclassified from "endangered" to merely "threatened", and in 2007 was taken off the endangered list altogether. It's a wonderful success story.

Just like many countries, sports teams commonly ally themselves with the images and characteristics of certain animals: Tigers, Lions, Bears, Cardinals, Falcons - I'll bet you can think of even more. I actually like this practice because I like animals to be front and center as often as possible. I think that animals have been totally sidelined in our modern society. People have forgotten how to live alongside our fellow creatures of the earth (when was the last time you slept in a log cabin with your livestock? - no off-color jokes please...)


I think that sports teams named after animals, especially endangered animals, should contribute a significant amount of money and publicity toward the health and preservation of those species. This should include major contributions toward preserving the natural habitats of these animals.

We can take this idea even further if we expand it to include team mascots. Notice how many of these major league baseball mascots are animals. There are some interesting essays about the relationships between birds and sports teams in the Sports Archive over at 10,000

Here is a fascinating article (with equally fascinating links) about live animal mascots used by college sports teams. Don't expect much reference to animal rights or animal conservation in these pages. Particularly disturbing to me is the plight of Louisiana State University's live mascot Mike the Tiger.

So - for instance - do the Chicago Bears do anything to help the plight of bears in this world? Maybe even just a little public education? I couldn't find any such thing on their website, but I did find out that Staley Da Bear is interested in helping human children live healthier lives through exercise. Laudable but perhaps short sighted in terms of global health.

Finally, I think that media images of animals have the capacity to lull us into a false feeling that everything is ok. Maybe it's hard to believe that the Siberian tigers are truly in danger when TV, etc. pummels us on a daily basis with pictures of cartoon tigers alive and well. Hey - I just ate some breakfast cereal sold to me by Tony the Tiger and then I went down to the gas station and put a tiger in my tank (come to think of it, does the Kellog Company or - perish the thought - Exxon give any money or time in support of the survival of tigers? Think of all the money they've made using tigers in their advertising. I think it's payback time!!!)

I actually had this idea on the back burner for years when I started to write this post months ago. Last week I was standing in front of a class of eighth graders, killing some time by making conversation with them before introducing a speaker, when I heard myself say, "Have I ever told you guys my great idea?" I spilled it out in one or two sentences before moving on. But as we turned our attention to the business at hand, I heard a young woman in the front row say (almost to herself), "That's actually a good idea." Inspiration.