A long time ago, in a faraway land, a young lad was doing research on the college he had just signed up to attend. In his country, universities did not have mascots, cheerleaders or even really sports teams. When he finally did look to such matters, he discovered that the football team had seen better days, and the school’s mascot was not a lion or tiger or bear, but an oddly proportioned pacifist dressed like he’d just returned from a Glenn Beck rally.
Over time, I’ve mellowed in my views of the Quaker, but never quite accepted him wholeheartedly. I’d like to tell you that my objections are valorous, or humanitarian. That I object to our mascot for being a shameless exploitation of a minority community, much as criticism has been leveled at teams employing caricature Native Americans. Or that I feel having a clearly gendered mascot is sexist. But none of that really bothers me much at all.
I object to the mascot because, as an amusingly attired representative of a pacifist sect, he fails to represent any kind of fighting spirit. Consider the following: Princeton University’s mascot is a tiger, Columbia University’s is a lion, Yale University’s is a bulldog. Drexel University’s mascot is a dragon! Now sure there’s John Harvard, but I think we can all agree that this is the one area in which no school wants to be like Harvard University. Surely the purpose of a school mascot is to inspire a school’s teams and their fans, to encourage feats of grand prowess and to embody virtues of strength, speed and some variety of animal-based willpower.
But what does Penn’s Quaker embody? To my mind: pacifism, silliness and public awareness of giant-head syndrome. I appreciate that some enjoy the irony of “the Fighting Quakers,” but I’m not really sure that irony is what our athletics programs need. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if our mascot were an animal, even one chosen to keep Penn unique (the Mighty Mongoose?), that alone would turn us into the single greatest athletic powerhouse in the country. True story. Nobody understands the need to obsessively brand themselves more than resume-obsessed Penn students, so why do we put up with a mascot that is clearly not conducive to a positive brand identity?
But tradition, that dear old gal, cannot so idly be brushed aside. When I contacted people for the story, they started to get scared that the University was actually changing the mascot. Penn Band Director Greer Cheeseman asserted firmly in e-mail his attachment to the Quaker as representative of his long career of service to the University. Penn cheerleading coach Joe Neary, rather than finding the Quaker odd, noted by e-mail that “the ‘Quaker’ is something special and different than most mascots” and that it is “starting to gain more attention.” He also noted that his program was working with the Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics’ marketing office to update the Quaker’s wardrobe.
So maybe I’m overshooting things. The Quaker is a unique mascot, one that does differentiate us from others. Such differentiation can itself promote positive brand development, but only if correctly managed.
We might want to consider some more radical updating than I’d wager Neary’s team is looking into. While Quakers have historically been kindly pacifists, there’s one Quaker we could use as a model for the fierce warriors that we Penn students know we can sell ourselves as. A Quaker with the gumption to firebomb whole countries and defraud his own government. A Quaker whose head really was as big as the mascot’s. A Quaker that bank robbers have been attiring themselves as for years.
How does everyone feel about cheering for the Fighting Richard Nixons?
Luke Hassall is a College senior from Auckland, New Zealand. His e-mail address is hassall@theDP.com. Hassall-Free Fridays appears on alternate Fridays.Comments powered by Disqus
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