On Jan. 1, 2019, viewers were shocked to see Bevo, the 1,600-pound longhorn bull, charge at Uga X before the 85th edition of the AllState Sugar Bowl. Bevo and Uga are the live animal mascots for the University of Texas and the University of Georgia, respectively, and the potentially dangerous situation caused PETA to revive their argument against universities using live animal mascots.
There are points for and against using live animal mascots. Below are a few of them.
Many universities, such as UGA and UT Austin, have a long history of using live animal mascots to enhance the football spirit. Uga and Bevo are the stars of the show when they enter the football stadium, so keeping them on the sideline keeps alive a special joy for football goers.
Universities pamper their animal mascots. The animals receive a quality of life much better than they’d get in a zoo due to personalized, specialized handlers and veterinary care.
Some universities, like Auburn University and LSU, rescue animals and use them as their mascot. Auburn rescued their previous war eagle, Tiger, from illegal breeding operations and uses their eagle mascots to promote wildlife conservation initiatives and educational outreach programs.
Most people will never see longhorns, eagles, tigers, bears or other wildlife unless at the zoo or the university’s football game. Seeing such animals up close could cause football goers to gain a respect for the animals they might not have gained otherwise. People often maintain in their urban lives and rarely see non-domesticated animals, so live mascots bridge the gap between the nature and urban divide.
Humans dressed as animals are far better suited for football games than actual animals. Costumed mascots can interact with the crowd, wave at people and engage with fans much better than a live animal. All live animals, such as Uga, Bevo or Auburn’s war eagles, must be kept under strict supervision when on the field. Football fans can only take a picture with the animal mascot, whereas fans can high-five, hug, shake-hands with or in other ways interact with a costumed human mascot.
A live animal’s dangerousness cannot be generalized, but some animals are certainly more dangerous than others, as seen with Bevo charging at Uga. Bevo and other large animals like LSU’s Mike the Tiger, are designed to hurt other animals. If something goes wrong, these animals could easily hurt human football goers.
According to PETA, live animals “[are] frequently carted around to sporting events and public appearances, which are confusing and frightening for them.” Most universities thoroughly check if their live animal mascot will be scared by people or loud noises before bringing them onto the field. UT shot off fireworks and brought their marching band around an “auditioning” longhorn before making him the mascot. Still, no matter how much preliminary testing has been done, there’s always a chance a certain noise or crowd action could spur the animal to act dangerously, putting human life at risk. No matter how docile the animal seems, the chance is always there.
On one hand, I think the live animals are there to be gawked at by football goers. They’re like a zoo exhibit, except one totally out of the animal’s natural habitat (except for dog mascots).
And yet, how can we measure the cost of tradition? Despite the arguments against their usage, live animal mascots have been a part of university tradition for decades. Uga has been around since 1956, so there are Georgia fans who have lived their lives with a real dog starring the football games. Getting rid of Uga would be too abrupt and difficult a change for many Georgia fans.
Despite human attachment to them, animal welfare should be the final indicator of whether an animal should be used for entertainment purposes. Animal mascots are indeed pampered and have high-quality care, but they are put in situations where they could be seriously injured or injure other living things, such as with the Bevo-Uga debacle.
While there are certainly pros to the situation, live animals should not be used as a school’s mascot. Football is a uniquely human institution, so humans should be the only ones mascotting it. This isn’t to say that schools can’t use animals for their branding. We can and always should be the Georgia Bulldogs, University of Texas should always be the Texas Longhorns and so forth. Animal symbology is not the issue.
The issue arises when animals are expected to behave in human-preferred ways when certain animals are not meant to be in human spheres. Domesticated animals were selectively bred for thousands of years to understand human speech and learn human behaviors. Therefore, Uga and other dog mascots can stay, but the non-domesticated animals should remain in environments more suited to the animals’ biologically and ecologically correct roles. Such roles do not include being eye-candy at a football game.
I don’t see what a live animal does that a human dressed as an animal can’t do (except for flying like an eagle — I’d love to see that!). Humans understand human language, understand what football is and will behave in ways that don’t harm other football goers. This can’t be promised from live animals, especially carnivorous ones.
While animals mascots will probably continue to stay for a while, large non-domesticated animals should be retired and costumed humans should take their place. Football will always be the main focus of a football game, so the mascot should be as practical and safe as possible.