As an undergrad at Michigan State University, I spent many Saturdays tailgating with my friends and rooting on the MSU football team. We would watch and cheer along with our team mascot, “Sparty” the Spartan. An anonymous student would wear Sparty’s warrior costume and appear at most of the university sporting events. Sparty spread team spirit, energized the crowd, and was even cool enough for my friend Darcie to have his image permanently tattooed on her thigh. One thing I never thought I would see at these games, however, was a live animal mascot roaming the sidelines.
Turns out I was wrong. Many schools feel the need to use live animal mascots and bring them to sporting events. Some of these mascots include bulldogs, horses, goats, steers, falcons, wild boars, tigers, and bears. Before any of my readers write letters in protest, I will acknowledge that “Uga,” the Bulldog at the University of Georgia apparently leads a pretty good life and there may be other dogs like him. What I’m protesting is the use of wild boars, bears, tigers, and other exotic animals. What kind of normal life can these animals lead on college campuses? Is it really necessary to have a live animal mascot at sporting events?
The Arkansas Razorbacks have “Tusk,” the 380-pound Russian boar, as their live mascot. Wild boars are known for the fierce behavior. I agree that this is a great animal to pick as a team mascot-as long as it’s not a live one. On Arkasasrazorbacks.com, the official website of Arkansas athletics, they boast about their boars: “Big Red III escaped from an exhibit near Eureka Springs in the summer of 1977 and ravaged the countryside before being gunned down by an irate farmer. Another live mascot, Ragnar, was a wild hog captured in south Arkansas by Leola farmer Bill Robinson. Before Ragnar’s spree was done, the mighty animal had killed a coyote, a 450-pound domestic pig, and seven rattlesnakes. Ragnar died in 1978 of unknown causes.” I personally don’t think this is something to brag about.
Louisiana State University has two mascots: “Mike,” the live Bengal tiger, and “Mike,” the costumed tiger. Before home games, Mike the live tiger rides through the stadium in his cage with the LSU cheerleaders sitting on top. His cage is then placed next to the opponent’s locker room, so they must all make their way past him while he roars. Not only is transporting a tiger through crowds an extremely dangerous procedure, it’s also stressful to the animal. All the screaming fans and bright lights are confusing to an animal and to do this repeatedly constitutes cruelty in my mind.
Baylor University in Texas has been using live bears as their mascots since the 1920s. “Joy” and “Lady” are the current 350-pound North American black bear mascots. These bears are sent to football, basketball, and volleyball games. They live on campus in what is known as “The Pit.” Supporters claim that Baylor University has a license for a Class ‘C’ Exhibitor Zoo. However, this only means the university has a permit to own these bears; it doesn’t they are necessarily living in an environment fitting its species.
The University of North Alabama uses live lion mascots. After Leo II died in 2000, PETA urged school officials not to subject any more lions to the mascot life. However, in 2003, the school built a new campus enclosure and acquired two lion cubs, Leo III and Una. The university also has a costumed lion. I wish they would release the live lions to a sanctuary and stick to the costumed one.
Southern University and A&M College have been using live jaguar mascots since the 1970s. Even after 2004, when “Lacumba II” was found dead in her small enclosure, the university still talked about acquiring another one.
“Ralphie” the buffalo is the live mascot of the University of Colorado. She has been called one of the best live mascots in sports. However, watching this YouTube video doesn’t convince me. What bothered me the most, aside from the fact that Ralphie seemed irritated, confused, and downright stressed, was that of the 19 comments posted after this video, only one mentioned that it was cruel.
Supporters claim that live animal mascots are loved by the fans, are treated wonderfully, and lead healthy, long lives. Do you know how the University of Texas mourned the loss of their first live mascot “Bevo”? According to ESPN, they barbequed him. Granted, he was a steer, but still. My point is this, if the live mascot is someone’s pet, such as “Handsome Dan” at Yale or “Uga” at the University of Georgia, I won’t protest the use of a live mascot. On the other hand, animals who are not accustomed to humans-such as bears, exotic cats, and wild boars-do not belong at athletic events under any circumstances. These animals are wild, despite any amount of training and there’s no way to judge how they’re going to react during an event in front tens of thousands of people. In addition to the danger of using live animal mascots, it is also cruel. These wild animals should be living in their natural environment raising their young and roaming the land, they shouldn’t be forced to parade around at sporting events.
I’m a huge fan of costumed mascots. Not only are the mascots the identity of a team, but they also help me pick my NCAA tournament bracket each March by determining which team will win based on their mascot. (I have actually out-performed my husband utilizing this method!) However, let’s stick to the costumed mascots. These mascots can not only pump up the crowd, but they also can be actively participating and interacting with the fans throughout the entire event. The only way the use of a human mascot can be considered cruel, is when the poor student has to endure extremely high temperatures inside the costume, while battling inebriated fans!