In Defense of Otey


By Colin Woodward

So, no likes Otey. The haters surely are correct. The Natural State deserves better. The Travelers should be ashamed of themselves. They should instead follow the example of Fayetteville and name mascots after more enlightened and respectable creatures: like the pig. I don’t know how to put possum-speak on a bumper sticker. But it could never have the gravitas of “woo-pig-sooie.”

Will Arkansas ever recover from the great Otey debacle? Only Bill could say.

I’ve only been to one Travelers game. Back in 2012. I had a good time. But I was a bit surprised by the large number of military-grade weapons that were being displayed inside the front gates. Was it some kind of gun show? Were Arkansans just being vigilant, given the possibility that an unwanted possum might show up? I’m not sure. I also saw a truck that was essentially a Confederate flag with wheels.

A possum mascot has no right to bring down the rebellion-fueled buzz of whomever drives this van.

High-powered rifles and Rebel flags, of course, deserve a central, even ubiquitous place at our baseball games (and in our society in general). But a cartoon possum? Not so much.

The barefoot Otey, with a bat slung over his shoulder, one button undone on his overalls—and wearing what I can only guess is an ironically displayed bowler hat—clearly perpetuates an Arkansas stereotype. Since Arkansas has eliminated all remnants of racism, poverty, political buffoonery, and religious extremism from its society, it’s time to focus our anger on the important things: the politics of minor league mascots.

At a Travelers game, you can get a beer, a dog, and a high-powered rifle.

I lived for five years in Richmond, Va., where the minor league baseball team was called the Flying Squirrels. Before they were the Squirrels, the Richmond team was the Braves, whose fans are known to do the “Tomahawk Chop” at games. In Richmond, I was also two hours away from the nations’ capital, whose professional football team is the Washington Redskins.

Clearly, Otey is a far more absurd and offensive creature, who is keeping Arkansas at the bottom of educational rankings, per capita income, and crime.

Otey needs to go. Or maybe Little Rock should change the name of the Travelers to the Awesome Possums. Think about it. Anyone can be a Traveler. But not everyone can be awesome. Or a possum. Unless you’re George Jones.

Colin Woodward is a historian and archivist. He is the author of Marching Masters, Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War (University of Virginia Press, 2014). He is writing a second book on Johnny Cash.

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