In the 10 months since Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt took office, he has overseen an $800 million street repair project, unveiled a new streetcar route and read stories to Kindergarten students most Fridays.
But this week, he announced on social media that he had accomplished a “personal mission” — ending the city airport’s sales of T-shirts that linked Oklahoma to cow tipping.
"NOTHING TIPS LIKE A COW," the offending shirts said in all caps, according to an image Holt shared Thursday. The garments featured a silhouette of a cow on its back printed over the shape of Oklahoma, and Holt said they were on prominent display.
Cow tipping, an activity typically said to involve drunken youths sneaking up on cows and toppling them for fun, might seem like a plausible past-time in Oklahoma, home to one of the nation's largest cattle populations. But Holt said it has nothing to do with the sprawling metropolis of Oklahoma City.
The shirts "weren't, like, some item in the corner of the airport shop. It was like our 'Welcome to Oklahoma City' sign," Holt said in an interview, adding that about 4 million passengers pass through Will Rogers World Airport each year. "There's no cow-tipping in Oklahoma city."
Not that cows themselves were Holt's priority. "I would be lying if I told you it was about animal welfare," he said. "That was not on my mind."
Holt emphasized that the city owns the airport and its stores, meaning his campaign against cow tipping garb did not amount to censoring "some poor shopkeeper." Many locals had long had a beef with the shirts, he said, and several cheered his announcement on social media.
Others criticized it, suggesting Holt had better things to do than micromanage souvenir slogans. Holt, 39, an attorney who won his position with nearly 80 percent of the vote, dismissed that.
"I just gave my State of the City address. It was 45 minutes long, and there was not even a mention of cow-tipping," he said. "But nevertheless, I'm happy to have crossed it off the list."
Oklahoma is hardly the only state where such T-shirts are sold — nor where an official has battled them. Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, Ohio, tweeted Thursday that she, too, had ousted similar cow tipping shirts from her city’s airport.
But for what it's worth, cow tipping is probably not happening in rural Oklahoma, or in Ohio, or in any state where the shirts are sold. That's because it's been fairly well debunked as bull. In 2005, University of British Columbia zoologists did some math and concluded that it would probably take five or six people to push over a 1,500-pound bovine. A Duke University biomechanics researcher later wrote that tipping would require at least 10 people, and perhaps as many as 14.
In a 2013 deep dive on cow tipping, Modern Farmer magazine noted that no YouTube videos documenting the feat existed. It quoted a dairy farmer who pointed out that cows don't sleep standing up and that they're quite vigilant. "A group of strangers walking up on them?" the farmer said. "I don't think that's going to be possible."
With cow tipping shirts out of the way, Holt said he's hoping that the airport shop will begin to stock "really cool, witty" T-shirts to promote Oklahoma City. (The mayor is fond of one that says, "Party on, Wayne. Party on, Garth," a nod to the duo of "Saturday Night Live" fame, but that locally refers to country singer Garth Brooks and Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne, both Oklahoma City-area natives.)
“We’re not a city of white male rancher frat boys,” Holt said of Oklahoma City, where 60 percent of residents under 18 are nonwhite. “We’re a city full of people who are just as likely to practice some sort of world religion as they are to go tip a cow. In fact, more likely to do so.”