The Massillon Washington High School Tigers playing their opening game of the season sans their live tiger cub mascot “Obie” on the sidelines might be like going to a Phillies game and not seeing the Phanatic, a USC football game not seeing Tommy Trojan, maybe as bad as going to Kentucky Fried Chicken with no Colonel Sanders.
But thanks in large part to PETA, the unthinkable almost happened to one of the most storied high school football programs in the nation. The furry mascot managed to join the Tigers, a squad once coached by Paul Brown and featured on a Wheaties box, for their home opener on Thursday night. However, its prospects for joining the team and loyal fans for the rest of the season remains in jeopardy.
Pressure from PETA to block the 45-year-old tradition started in 2002 when the animal rights advocates sent the school a letter to stop using live cubs. Moreover, California activist Amanda Whelan started a petition in October on an international action website Care2. Some 58,000 signed the petition in 2014 to “save” Obie from attending the games.
“If this is such a great tradition, why is there not a book or a ledger containing the state and location of four decades of these tigers,” the activist complained.
“It’s a very third world thing to have going on in the U.S.A.,” Whelan commented. “Tigers are almost extinct, yet they suffer in people’s back yards. Maybe they know what they are doing, many times they do not.”
A 2011 incident involving a suicidal man releasing dozens of dangerous animals served as a lightning rod to move Ohio state regulators to impose stringent rules regarding the use of live animals as mascots.
A Cleveland.com article explained that in 2011, Zanesville, Ohio, farmer Terry Thompson liberated his collection of 56 exotic animals, including 18 tigers and 17 lions, to the community. Although authorities captured eight of the animals, circumstances forced them to shoot 48 others. The farmer, unfortunately, was found dead with a tiger bite wound on his head. A subsequent autopsy revealed that he killed himself.
Fox 8 Cleveland reported that Ohio law permits Massillon to continue its tradition, but the school district and the boosters must meet the strict regulations. On Thursday’s opening game against Perry, Massillon displayed a cub in a cage. Yet, a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Massillon boosters haven’t provided all requested documentation.
“They have to return the cub to an accredited facility and attempt to show in some way that the animal will be provided for for the rest of its life. They also need to guarantee just in an affidavit to the department that they are not going to allow the cub to come in contact with the public,” said department spokesperson Erica Hawkins.
Booster club president Matt Keller refused to say where the animal came from for Thursday’s game or who paid for it. He acknowledged that it would be premature to assume “Obie” will be at future games.