Live mascots have been an integral part of college football for generations. Two of the most famous faced off during Bowl Week, and that tussle upstaged the games that were yet to be played. Now, there’s a narrative openly asking if the time of livestock on the sideline should be left in the past, and partisans are lining up on both sides.
The story began just before the recent Sugar Bowl, which pitted The University of Texas Longhorns against The University of Georgia Bulldogs, in what many thought might be the game of the weekend. As many programs do, Texas and Georgia bring live animal mascots to the games. In this case, Bevo the steer and Uga the bulldog.
During pregame, with TV cameras live to witness, Bevo suddenly broke through its barricade and charged toward Uga, scattering trainers, camera operators and spectators. Uga and all the assorted humans escaped harm, and Bevo was eventually calmed and returned to its pen, but the live shots were seen from coast to coast, and the stunned reactions from the announce team was repeated consistently on sports TV and social media for days after the event. Some even joked, given the score of the game, that this pre-game dust up was the most exciting thing that happened at the Sugar Bowl.
The initial narratives coming out of the media was that “Bevo charged ‘at’ Uga,” a claim that, given the stakes of the game, played very well with audiences. Not wanting to add narrative insult to injury, Bevo’s handler, Silver Spur alumni association executive director Ricky Brennes, said this was not the case. Brennes argued that Bevo was simply upset over being restrained.
“He had kind of gone up and bumped the barricade a few times before… He ran through the gate and into where Uga’s area was. It really was more just unfortunate timing and he wasn’t aware Georgia’s mascot was there. It had nothing to do with the dog.”
Some were willing to buy that story, others not so much. But the narrative quickly morphed and took on a life of its own, when people started debating whether or not live animals should be allowed at college sporting events at all. Suddenly, a simple “agitated” steer turned into a conversation that could have consequences for the entire NCAA.
So far, college football’s top association has not yet weighed in on the discussion, but many spectators and fans are taking sides. Some are arguing for the strength of “tradition” while others are arguing about “safety” and “security.”
Boiled down to single words and emotional soundbites, these arguments travel very well and very quickly. Many who never even saw the incident are now choosing a side, and, if this continues, the NCAA may well have to address the incident well before next season.