WVU mascot 'clean, but not lily-white'
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In today's YouTube and Facebook generation, anyone can become famous or infamous. All it takes is one viral video.
Jonathan Kimble found that out the hard way.
Kimble, West Virginia University's buckskin-wearing, rifle-toting Mountaineer mascot, lit up the Internet recently with a YouTube video that showed him killing a bear with the same muzzle-loading rifle he uses to rally WVU football fans.
Some viewers applauded Kimble's accomplishment. Others were horrified.
One of this newspaper's editors asked my opinion about the controversy. Here it is:
The moment Kimble purchased a hunting license, the state of West Virginia bestowed upon him the privilege to shoot a bear. In Pendleton County, where Kimble grew up, it's perfectly legal to use dogs to track and tree bears, and to shoot them out of the trees if necessary.
So when Kimble pulled the trigger on the university-issued .45-caliber caplock and dropped a not-very-large bear to the forest floor, he was engaging in a time-honored Mountain State pastime, a pastime fully sanctioned by the state.
However, to paraphrase former WVU football coach Bobby Bowden, Kimble was "clean, but not lily-white."
The videotape shows Kimble, dressed in camouflage, resting the rifle against a sapling for a steadier shot. A heartbeat or three after Kimble pulls the trigger, the camera pans to a nearby tree just in time to see the bear tumble from the tree and plummet to the leaf-covered ground.
Notice I wrote, "Kimble, dressed in camouflage." Bear hunters who use firearms must wear at least 400 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing - the equivalent of a jacket and a hat.
Someone in the West Virginia Natural Resources Police saw the YouTube video. Shortly afterward, an officer cited Kimble for failing to wear orange.
That was one mistake Kimble made.
Another, in my opinion, was that the video displayed at least three instances of poor judgment. The first, of course, was Kimble's decision to wear camouflage instead of orange. The second was using the WVU fight song as theme music behind the hunt footage. The third was his post-kill celebration, which included a prolonged war whoop, a "we're No. 1" finger raised skyward alongside the rifle, and his exuberant use of the "Let's Goooo, Mountaineers!" chant.
It was like a wide receiver faking out a cornerback, catching the football, sprinting across the goal line and, instead of celebrating with teammates, turning and spiking the football at the defender's feet.
In short, it was unsportsmanlike conduct.
Naturally, viewers opposed to hunting raised a ruckus. Viewers who support hunting raised a counter-ruckus. The national news media got hold of the story. Reporters contacted WVU administrators for "official comment."
In the end, Kimble drew a mascot's equivalent of a 15-yard penalty. University officials, no doubt a mite miffed that they'd been dragged into a controversy by the school's most high-profile goodwill ambassador, forbade any further hunting with the school's rifle and let it go at that.
Kimble wasn't the first Mountaineer mascot to hunt with the famous muzzleloader. Others had used it to kill deer. As far as I can determine, none of the other mascots got into trouble.
Had it not been for Kimble's lapses in judgment, he wouldn't have either.
One final thought on the subject: If I read another news item that calls the Mountaineer's muzzleloader a "musket," my head might explode. It's a percussion-cap rifle, not a musket. A musket's barrel has a smooth bore. The Mountaineer's has lands and grooves, and is much more accurate.