Having live animals as mascots is a tradition at many stadiums and arenas, not just in Athens. The Atlanta Falcons usually have a live falcon on hand at home games. Georgia Southern University in Statesboro has a live eagle, Freedom, at graduations and sporting events. It’s a scene played out around the country and does much to add to the tradition and excitement of such occasions.
So it is as well for Kennesaw State University’s mascot “Sturgis,” a live owl named for the school’s first president, the late Dr. Horace Sturgis. The trained bird is on hand at basketball games and will be on the sideline at football games when the team takes the field for its inaugural season in fall 2015.
Now comes the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, complaining that arenas and stadiums packed with thousands of screaming fans, loud music and (in some cases) flashing lights are not appropriate places for animals, especially solitary, nocturnal animals like KSU’s Sturgis.
“We should know better than to exploit animals for cheap amusement — especially at an institution of higher learning,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA is calling on Kennesaw State to teach students the important lesson that animals belong in their natural habitats, not in a basketball arena.”
KSU Athletic Director Vaughn Williams replied to PETA to, in so many words, not get its feathers ruffled. The owl’s training included getting it used to auditory and visual super-stimuli like cheering, blow horns, fireworks and pompoms.
Williams encouraged PETA to look at the positives of the situation.
“Many within our community will be introduced to a species they will not normally encounter,” Williams said. “The spotlight on Sturgis will contribute to the public’s appreciation for Sturgis and other owls, presenting opportunities both to raise awareness about owls and to raise funds to help replace owl and bird habitats that have been destroyed by human developments.”
Don’t be surprised if Williams’ words fail to placate PETA. This is a group, after all, that is pushing the state to erect a roadside monument along U.S. 129 in Gainesville to memorialize chickens killed in a Jan. 27 truck accident. What’s next? Tombstones in the parking lot of every KFC?
PETA’s pet solution is for sports teams to stick with costumed mascots or robot mascots, not live animals.
Americans are one of the most pet-crazy societies in human history, which speaks well of us. And man has identified with various animals and animal characteristics since the days of the cavemen. If that means adopting animals as sports mascots and showering them with adoration, that’s fine, as long as the animals in question are treated humanely. And there is no indication that those animals, particularly those in Georgia, are being treated improperly in any way.
Simply put, PETA’s proposal to KSU isn’t going to fly. Nor should it.