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Commentary: The 'big man on campus' should not be a wild animal

Commentary: The 'big man on campus' should not be a wild animal

A hand-painted concrete barrier stands in the parking lot of FedEx Field, home of the NFL's Washington Redskins team, on July 13, 2020 in Landover, Maryland. The team announced Monday that owner Daniel Snyder and coach Ron Rivera are working on finding a replacement for its name and logo after 87 years. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)

The Washington Redskins came to the realization - albeit belatedly - that doing the right thing is more important than clinging to archaic norms and has finally agreed to change its name after years of protests. That evolving mindset must now extend to schools and other institutions that are still exploiting live animals as mascots - a relic of an unenlightened past.

Is there any animal more quintessentially male than the African lion? These magnificent "men" truly are kings of the jungle, overseeing their prides, fending off danger and reveling in the adoration of their mates and offspring. So why in the world would any institute of higher learning believe that they belong on a college campus? Inexplicably, the administration at the University of North Alabama (UNA) thinks it's just fine.

Una, one of the lions forced to represent UNA's brand, recently died, leaving Leo, her brother, all alone. Rather than following the lead of the Redskins, UNA dug in. Instead of accepting an offer to transfer Leo to an accredited sanctuary to live out the rest of his days in a vast habitat, with the chance to be surrounded by other lions, school officials defended their position. Leo has been sentenced to a lifetime of being put on display whenever he isn't being trucked to rowdy, stressful football games, denied everything that gives his life meaning, because the "UNA community has enjoyed visiting our lions on campus."

Although most schools and professional sports teams use voluntary human mascots, UNA is not the only institution out of touch with changing public sentiment about our treatment of animals. The Air Force Academy, which epitomizes free flight, recently acquired a gyrfalcon to "replace" Aurora, another falcon, who died last fall. In their natural homes, the sky is the limit for these birds of prey. Gyrfalcons are known for their spectacular aerial displays. During nesting season, they defend a territory nearly a mile wide, and they're fast flyers, able to reach speeds of more than 100 miles per hour when hunting.

As attitudes about our treatment of animals continue to evolve, more and more people are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with using live animals as mascots, and progressive schools have reacted accordingly. Southern University, which used to use a live jaguar, now uses a costumed mascot. After its bobcat mascot died, the University of Arizona decided not to look for a "replacement." When the University of New Mexico was considering acquiring a wolf as its mascot, it decided against it after being overwhelmed with disapproving calls and emails.

Institutions that remain mired in tradition while others take progressive action put themselves in the undesirable position of being left behind. But with the limitless options available today, crowds can easily be entertained without compromising the well-being of any animal. There's no reason why any animal should be forced to endure a life of deprivation and servitude as a mascot.



Jennifer O'Connor is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

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