Georgetown mascot fracas rages on

Last week, Georgetown's athletics department released a statement informing its weary-eyed public that Jack, Jr.("J.J."), the bulldog mascot in training, would not in fact take the Hoyas mascot throne. Instead, according to a statement, considering the "hectic lifestyle" and "thousands of screaming fans" every mascot pup must deal with, the school had "determined that returning to a home environment is what is best for J.J." I wrote a quick tongue-in-check post about a bulldog turning down a lifestyle of fortune and fame, complete with forced Radiohead reference, and figured that would be that.

Not so much! Indeed, even last week, a controversy was already brewing. A story in The Hoya, Georgetown's student newspaper, was filled with wholly outraged quotes from student body leadership bemoaning both the sudden decision and the lack of transparency with which it was reached. That outrage was quickly accompanied by an open letter by Father Christopher Steck, the mascots' caretaker, who was reasoned and reflective (he admitted he was biased on the topic of J.J., which, awwwww) but clearly confused by the decision.

Now, a few days later, Steck has taken to the pages of the Hoya himself, writing in critical, stern terms about Georgetown's mascot throwdown:

Unfortunately for Jack and J.J., Healy [Hall, home to Georgetown's administrative offices] has been more enthusiastic about control than support. While Healy, no doubt, appreciates the mascot, I have not sensed a great deal of passion for him within its corridors. My one request to any administrator in Healy for $200 of funding was declined because, I was told, his unit was not involved in the mascot. (The university, by the way, does not provide any financial support for Jack and J.J.’s upkeep). Before J.J.’s arrival, a few reporters shared with me their puzzlement over the university’s ambivalence toward the mascot. I invited several Healy administrators to join me any time on a walk with J.J. so that they could meet him and see his interaction with children on campus — a cause for concern in Healy. All of them declined. A university spokesperson’s recent praise for the importance of having “no emotional attachment” in making decisions about the mascot was institutionally revealing, even if unwittingly so.

The fear here, it seems, is that Georgetown brass is plotting to either a) begin phasing out the live Hoyas mascot entirely, a practice that began when students pushed hard for it in 1999 or b) mitigate school liability by transitioning to a "rent-a-dog" model (when random ringer dogs are brought in for campus events for a day or two at a time). In its original statement, the school said it planned to continue the live mascot tradition, but Steck and more than a few Georgetown students seem worried that's just a cover. At the very least, as Steck writes, "if the mascot is to be an adequate symbol of Georgetown, decisions about him should reflect its rich, dialogical life" -- as opposed to being made unilaterally.

It would be easy to chalk this up to some good old-fashioned campus lather. There's nothing like a seemingly minor controversy to rile students active in the school government and newspaper; in case you hadn't noticed, college kids love to argue passionately about matters both small and large. Everyone is finding their voice, and this often produces hilarious results.

There's a good bit of that going on here, sure. (As I wrote last week: Is it November yet?) But at the heart of the matter, it's hard to fault the aggrieved parties for wanting their clear emotional investment in J.J. to come to some clear resolution. At the very least, they'd like some input on the matter. Silly as it may seem from the outside, people love their fuzzy mascots something fierce, and it's hardly surprising when a poorly explained decision coalesces that attachment into outrage.

I can already see how this ends: In a moving final courtroom scene, J.J. is asked to pick between his life as a mascot and his life sitting around being an awesome bulldog. Faculty members scowl on one side; students cheer on the other. As the final soundtrack flourish rises and swells, J.J. saunters over to his mascot uniform, pauses for a second, and lays down, panting. The crowd rushes the scene, lifting the little bulldog hero above their heads, and as we zoom in we see J.J. almost smile ... just before winking unmistakably at the camera.

Freeze frame, star wipe, roll credits. You're welcome, Hollywood.