Die-hard alumni of athletically minded undergraduate institutions take their allegiance with them to their graves. Presumably because of fond memories of their undergrad days, alumni devote a large portion of their fall Saturdays and winter nights to college athletics. But what about those who were the most spirited of all—the few, the proud, the mascots?
To the uninitiated, a mascot is just a human making himself or herself ridiculous, dressing up as a giant animal or imaginary creature for the purpose of promoting school spirit. For students and alumni, however, the mascot provides an accessible touchstone. A school’s mascot is a constant, and so appeals to both wizened, older alumni as well as bright-eyed freshmen.
Though the mascot as symbol does not change from season to season, the person behind the mask or in the costume must. Each year a new group of mascots learns how to best promote their schools’ athletic departments. They develop a set of public skills and represent their schools in a variety of ways, such as when the mascots visited hospitals and the NYSE on ACC Day in 2013. In the course of their tenures as representatives of their institutions, mascots frequently undergo a merging of their individual and school identities. Just like college athletes, their personal lives become open to public scrutiny.
In social media, this melding takes place on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media. For example, the University of Notre Dame’s leprechaun has both a school-sponsored account, as well as a personal account. Both accounts blast information about ND athletics, but it is the personal account that interacts most directly with fans. As part of the official training, the mascot will learn the institution’s social media policies and be reprimanded if there are any untoward interactions. Mascots from competing schools interact with each other, challenging each other and trash talking. This familiarity breeds friendship, leading to an extremely active yet selective network of mascot alumni.
Even after the mascot graduates, this spirited individual still retains countless followers and can choose to continue to promote his or her school. Despite no longer being the mascot, the individual is still a mascot, and social media allows the mascots to treat every day like game day.
Thanks to former ND leprechaun, Johnny Romano (@johnnyromano101), for his help in crafting this piece. Go Irish!