Mascot Life

Curator's Note

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!



The phenomenon of dual accounts here is very interesting. Is it true that the school-sponsored social media presence functions like LinkedIn, a professional page for the mascot, whereas the personal accounts function like an informal Facebook page--loaded with personal photos and day-to-day chatter. For the humans inside the mascot costumes, is it like being named Miss America? One becomes somewhat famous and must internalize aspects of that persona and self-edit in public. Unless one has a professional publicist running things, t is very difficult to be consistently on message on social media without slipping up once in a while.

You provide a very interesting (and applicable) metaphor in regards to the personal and official Twitter accounts. I think the universities have to put a lot of trust in their mascots (much more than the pre-social media era) to not put forth offensive material. I do know, however, that 21/22 year-old students are apt to mess up.

Very insightful post, thanks. From European pro basketball I know that the behavior of the mascots (not the person behind it) gets discussed and sometimes reprimanded in online forums; I understood this as the characteristic attitude of sports fans who want to underline that in the end *they* define the identity of a team and not individual athletes or a mascot for that matter. I wonder how much these questions (e.g. the mascot's attitude is not considered 'appropriate' for the teams identity) also play a role in the evaluation of its Twitter accounts.

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