Sunday, October 27, 2013

America's worst-named team mascot

Truman, the Tiger, in front of the columns
on the campus of the University of Missouri - Columbia.

Life is unpredictable, but some things you can count on.

Every morning the sun will rise in the east.

Every two or three years Microsoft will introduce a new version of Windows.

And year after year, the Missouri Tigers football team will break the hearts of its long-suffering fans.

As they did again last night.

Mizzou, my alma mater, which has a long and distinguished history of slaying giants then losing the little games everyone expects them to win easily, last year joined the Southeastern Conference, which many consider the toughest in the nation. The Tigers were off to their best start since 1960, winning their first seven games, a feat that propelled them to the top of the SEC East and landed them on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Against their better judgment, fans got their hopes up, thinking that this time things might turn out differently – Mizzou might actually have a shot at the BCS national championship or, at the very least, finishing near the top of the heap.

But the Tigers lost last night to South Carolina when a field goal attempt during the second overtime bounced off the goalpost.

I contend the reason Mizzou consistently fails to rise to the top has nothing to do with shortcomings on the parts of its team members or coaches. It has everything to do with the name of its mascot, the most inappropriately-named mascot in college sports, a name that’s an affront to what a university should stand for – education. Specifically, educating students to respect and revere greatness.

Missouri has had, for decades, a Tiger mascot – a student dressed up in a tiger suit who runs around the stadium, whipping fans into a frenzy. In the early '80s, the mascot started behaving lewdly, taking his tail from between his legs and stroking it, as if masturbating, whenever Mizzou scored.

The University, which wanted to project a family-friendly image, in 1984 decided to introduce a new, improved mascot, a happier, more upbeat, PG-rated Tiger, and held a contest in which students were invited to submit names. The name the committee selected? Truman, the last name of Missouri’s most famous native son, who also happens to be – and this isn’t just my opinion, many historians agree – one of greatest presidents this country has ever had.

Of all the presidents who followed Washington, few, if any, had to make decisions as tough as Truman did. Among other decisions for which he is remembered, Truman made the gut-wrenching decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought WWII to an end. The war in Europe was over at that point, but Japan, even though it was clear there was no way it was going to win, had vowed its soldiers were prepared to fight hand-to-hand combat with our troops in the event America invaded, which it was going to have to do in order to vanquish the lunatic military regime that ruled the country. Truman, who hadn’t even known of the bomb's existence when he had become president a few months earlier following FDR’s death, made that decision on his own.

While some effete college professors like to claim Truman was an uneducated Missouri rube who dropped the bomb to extract revenge and make himself look good, millions of soldiers, sailors and airmen who were stationed in the Pacific and knew they were about to be sent to almost certain deaths thanked God for him every night, and those who are still among us still do.

And how does the state of Missouri honor its most famous son?

By naming a fuzzy mascot after him whose job is to ride into the stadium on a fire struck and run around being cute, urging fans to scream MIZ-ZOU.

Imagine the Universities of Virginia, Illinois, Kansas or Massachusetts naming their mascots, respectively, Washington, Lincoln, Eisenhower or Kennedy after native sons who became presidents. For that matter, imagine the University of Georgia naming its bulldog “Carter” after Georgia’s only president, the worst of modern times. Unthinkable?

Not to Missouri. Fans think Truman the Tiger is adorable; state leaders and university administrators fail to see they aren’t honoring but making a mockery of one of the greatest men in American history.  

And somewhere up in the skies high above Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri, someone is pissed and has vowed not to let the Tigers go all the way to the top until the University changes the name of its mascot to something appropriate. 

And until that happens, some things will remain predictable.

The Mississippi and Missouri Rivers will, every so often, overflow their banks.

There will be a heat wave next summer.

And the Missouri Tigers football team will never amount to a pile of what Harry Truman liked to call “hooey.”

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