I admit it, I feel bad for the Clemson Tiger. For the past 48 hours, the big pop culture story has centered on the mascot of Clemson University. During the CFP National Championship game, there was a lot of social media chatter about the differences in appearance between the LSU Tiger mascot and the Clemson Tiger mascot. Unfortunately for the Clemson feline, public opinion of him was rather harsh.
In response to ridicule directed at The Tiger (official name of the Clemson mascot), an LSU fan (of all people) set up a GoFundMe account to purchase a new mascot suit for the Clemson athletic department. The fact that a Louisiana State fan created a GoFundMe account as an act of pity hurts just as much as him writing “It seems that the University purchased their mascot costume from the clearance rack from TG&Y in 1981.” Ouch.
But I am here to defend The Tiger. Yes, Clemson’s mascot was the punching bag for social media jokes on Monday night. However, was it warranted? It goes without saying that Mike the Tiger (the LSU mascot) looks more modern and polished but does that mean his worth as a mascot is greater than The Tiger? Hardly. Although a national audience sided with LSU’s costumed depiction of a striped cat, I don’t find many Clemson fans who object to the appearance of The Tiger. Sure, Clemson would have liked to win the social media “beauty contest” that took place on Monday night but at the end of the day their campus and fan base resonates with their mascot in its current form.
With that said, I also wanted to add some personal insight. Creating and PAYING for mascot suits is much more intense than most people think. During my time at the University of Montana, one of my responsibilities was to serve as the mascot coordinator. Monte, the costumed grizzly bear that serves as UM’s mascot, was constantly in need of suit maintenance because of his extreme stunts and a schedule that saw him make hundreds of appearances each year.
Anyway, providing the necessary upgrades wasn’t always easy. Creating a mascot suit is a science that needs to be handled by talented professionals. At Montana, we worked with a national company that did mostly good work but every now and then we received something that looked off brand (for example, during my time with the athletic department we had a Monte head that was never used because it looked like he was smiling). To keep costs manageable, we usually wouldn’t order an entire suit all at once. Believe it or not, a mascot costume costs thousands of dollars. So we might purchase hands and arms one year, a head the next, and then surplus fur and shoes after that.
Hold on. Doesn’t the university or athletic department pay for all maintenance? Not necessarily. At UM, we had a mascot account that was funded by the paid appearances that the student performers made and any donations our program received. Those monies funded any costume purchases.
In closing, don’t judge the appearances of mascots too harshly. They could be well-loved by their fan base just the way they are or the funds might not be there for a makeover. I am personally fond of The Tiger’s unique look. Don’t Blink.