A mascot is any person, animal, or object thought to bring luck, or anything used to represent a group with a common public identity, such as a school, professional sports team, society, military unit, or brand name. Mascots are also used as fictional, representative spokespeople for consumer products, such as the rabbit used in advertising and marketing for the General Mills brand of breakfast cereal, Trix. Costumed mascots are commonplace, and are regularly used as goodwill ambassadors in the community for their team, company, or organization such as the U.S. Forest Service’s ‘Smokey Bear.’
In the world of sports, mascots are also used for merchandising. Team mascots are often confused with team nicknames. While the two can be interchangeable, they are not always the same. For example, the athletic teams of the University of Alabama are nicknamed the ‘Crimson Tide,’ while their mascot is an elephant named ‘Big Al.’ Team mascots may take the form of a logo, person, live animal, inanimate object, or a costumed character, and often appear at team matches and other related events, sports mascots are often used as marketing tools for their teams to children.
Modern mascots originated in sports. Animals or imposing human characters were mostly used in order to bring a somewhat different feel to the game and to strike fear upon the rivalry teams. There was a boom in sports mascots in the 1960s following the popularity of the Muppets. Bonnie Erikcson, the creator of the ‘Phillie Phanatic,’ was also the creator of Miss Piggy, and Statler and Waldorf.
The word ‘mascot’ originates from the French term ‘mascotte’ which means ‘lucky charm.’ This was used to describe anything, which brought luck to a household. The word was first recorded in 1867 and popularized by a French composer Edmond Audran who wrote the opera ‘La Mascotte,’ performed in December 1880. But didn’t enter into the English language until the year after in 1881. However, before this, the terms were familiar to the people of France as a slang word used by gamblers. The term is a derivative of the word ‘masco’ meaning ‘sorceress’ or ‘witch.’ Before the 19th century, the word ‘mascot’ was associated with inanimate objects that would be commonly seen such as a lock of hair or a figurehead on a sailing ship. But from then on until the present day, the term was then seen to be associated with good luck animals, objects etc.
Often the choice of mascot reflects a desired quality; a common example of this is the ‘fighting spirit,’ in which a competitive nature is personified by warriors or predatory animals. Mascots may also symbolize a local or regional trait, such as the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ mascot, ‘Herbie Husker’: a stylized version of a farmer, owing to the agricultural traditions of the area in which the university is located. Another example, Pittsburg State University uses ‘Gus the Gorilla’ as its mascot due to ‘gorilla’ being an old colloquial term for coal miners in the Southeast Kansas area in which the university was established.
In the US, controversy surrounds some mascot choices, especially those using human likenesses. Mascots based on Native American tribes are particularly contentious, as many argue that they constitute offensive exploitation of oppressed cultures. However several Indian tribes have actually come out in support of keeping the names. For example, the Utah Utes and the Central Michigan Chippewas are sanctioned by local tribes. Similarly, the Florida State Seminoles are supported by the Seminole Tribe of Florida in their use of Osceola and Renegade as symbols. FSU chooses not to refer to them as mascots because of the offensive connotation. This has not, however, prevented fans from engaging in ‘Redface’–dressing up in stereotypical, Plains Indian outfits during games or creating offensive banners saying ‘Scalp ’em’ as was seen at the 2014 Rose Bowl.
Some sports teams have ‘unofficial’ mascots: individual supporters or fans that have become identified with the team. The New York Yankees have such an individual in fan Freddy Sez. Former Toronto Blue Jays mascot ‘BJ Birdie’ was a costumed character created by a Blue Jays fan, ultimately hired by the team to perform at their home games. USC Trojans mascot is ‘Tommy Trojan’ who rides on his horse (and the official mascot of the school) ‘Traveler.’
Many sports teams in the US have official mascots enacted by costumed humans or even live animals. One of the earliest was a taxidermy mount for the Chicago Cubs, in 1908, and later a live animal used in 1916 by the same team. They abandoned the concept shortly thereafter and remained without an official ‘cub’ until 2014, when they introduced a version that was a person wearing a costume.
In the UK some teams have young fans become ‘mascots.’ These representatives sometimes have medical issues, and the appearance is a wish grant, the winner of a contest, or under other circumstances. Unlike the anonymous performers of costumed characters, however, their actions can be associated with the club later on. Mascots also include older people such as Peter Cross (also known as ‘Mr. England’) is an English rugby union supporter, who are invited by national sports associations to be mascots for the representative teams.
Mascots or advertising characters are very common in the corporate world. Recognizable mascots such as ‘Chester Cheetah,’ ‘Keebler Elf,’ ‘Pizza Pizza Guy’ for Little Caesars, ‘Coca Cola Bear,’ and the ‘NBC Peacock.’ These characters are typically known without even having to refer to the company or brand. This is an example of corporate branding, and soft selling a company. Mascots are able to act as brand ambassadors where advertising is not allowed. For example, many corporate mascots can attend non-profit events, or sports and promote their brand while entertaining the crowd. Some mascots are simply cartoons or virtual mascots, others are characters in commercials, and others are actually created as costumes and will appear in person in front of the public at tradeshows or events.
Most American schools have a mascot. High schools, colleges, and even middle and elementary schools typically have mascots. Most of them have their mascot created as a costume, and use this costume at sports or social events. Examples of School mascots include ‘University of NC Ram,’ University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s ‘Scrappy the Mocking Bird,’ ‘Temple Owl,’ ‘Villanova Wildcat,’ ‘MIT Beaver,’ and ‘St. Joes Hawk.’
The Mascots that are used for the Summer and Winter Olympic games are fictional characters, typically a human figure or an animal native to the country to which is holding that years Olympic Games. The mascots are used to entice an audience and bring joy and excitement to the Olympics festivities. Dating back from 1968, the city in which holds the Olympic games every four years, has the job of designing a mascot that corresponds with the culture of the country. The most memorable mascots through the years from the Winter/Summer Olympic games have been Olly, Syd and Millie (Sydney, 2000), Neve and Gliz (Turin, 2006), The Fuwa (Beijing, 2008) and Miga, Quatchi, Mukmuk (Vancouver, 2010).
Mascots are also popular in military units. For example, the United States Marine Corps uses the English Bulldog as its mascot, while the United States Army uses the mule, the United States Navy uses the goat, and the United States Air Force uses the Gyrfalcon, the largest species of falcon.
The goat in the Royal Welsh is officially not a mascot but a ranking soldier. Several regiments of the British Army have a live animal mascot which appear on parades. The Parachute Regiment and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders have a Shetland pony as their mascot, a ram for The Mercian Regiment; an Irish Wolfhound for the Irish Guards and the Royal Irish Regiment; a drum horse for the Queen’s Royal Hussars and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards; an antelope for the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; and a goatfor the Royal Welsh. Other British military mascots include a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and a pair of ferrets.
The Norwegian Royal Guard adopted a king penguin named ‘Nils Olav’ as its mascot on the occasion of a visit to Edinburgh by its regimental band. The (very large) penguin remains resident at Edinburgh Zoo and has been formally promoted by one rank on the occasion of each subsequent visit to Britain by the band or other detachments of the Guard. Regimental Sergeant Major Olav was awarded the Norwegian Army’s ‘Long Service and Good Conduct’ medal at a ceremony in 2005.
Some bands, particularly in the heavy metal genre, use band mascots to promote their music. The mascots are found on album covers or merchandise such as band T-shirts, and in live shows or music videos. A famous example of a band mascot is ‘Eddie the Head’ of the English heavy metal band Iron Maiden. Eddie is a zombie-like creature which is personified in different forms on all of the band’s albums, most of its singles and some of its promotional merchandise. Eddie is also known to make live appearances, especially during the song ‘Iron Maiden.’
Another notable example of a mascot in music is ‘Skeleton Sam’ of The Grateful Dead. Hip hop artist Kanye West used to use a teddy bear named ‘Dropout Bear’ as his mascot; it has appeared on the cover of his first three studio albums, and served as the main character of his music video, ‘Good Morning.’