Attention Mascots (and teams with one)

Just want to make everyone aware… this got published to tumblr after WC:

"Dear Team Mascots,
Mascots are wonderful for upping spirit and bringing excitement to events, but there are some things I would like to share with you.
At robotics world championships this year, some of you made me very uncomfortable. I had mascots refuse to let me pass without a hug and who touched me without permission. I had a few very bad mascots who groped me. The anonymity that comes with the mascot head or mask also comes with a responsibility. You are representing your team. You need to ask permission to hug people (and that can be nonverbal). You need to represent your team positively. You need to understand that not everyone appreciates mascot interaction.
Keep bringing the spirit, just keep in mind that respect is still necessary.
It would be helpful for team members to bring this up to mascots and to mentors. Let’s keep gracious professionalism going."

This was a response posted to it:

"This was a huge problem for me at Champs. I don’t like mascots, particularly animal ones. It’s that simple. I have nothing against the people in the costumes… the costumes themselves just make me uncomfortable.
A certain mascot high-fived the team member I was walking with in the pits and as I tried to walk past, grabbed me from behind, hugged me full on, and whispered, “This is all your fault,” into my ear. It was a very creepy (and honestly almost rape-esque) thing to say. I was shaking when I walked back into our pit.
Mascots… if someone is avoiding you or not looking at you, don’t hug them. It’s not you, it’s the costume."

**~**At MAR Champs, there was a particular mascot that one of our students was not happy being around due to how it looked. The person inside found out, and made a big deal out of interacting with our student when [the mascot] saw him. I put my foot down when the mascot wrestled a scouting board (a match was about to start!) from the student and would not let go until i yelled into the eye holes to get his attention- he was so totally focused on being ‘funny’ that he didn’t notice when his actions were no longer wanted and went over the line.
**~**I also had a student comment off-hand about the number of times she was groped this year by mascots- the fact that this number is anything but zero is a problem.

Everyone that dons a costume needs to understand what is and is not acceptable behavior. Personally, I enjoy mascots. To be fair though, in my 7 years in FIRST I have never had a bad run-in until the episode mentioned above. There are really great folks inside some of those costumes- but it seems that once again a few bad ones are ruining a lot of people’s fun.
Think about this- the next time you give out an unwanted hug or physical interaction, do you really know who that person is, let alone what they are going through? What if it’s the kid of your biggest sponsor? What if it is one of your sponsors?

Mascots and kids who try to pump everyone up need to know this. No, I do not want to give you a high five. No, I do not want to hug you. It’s nothing against you or whatever team you’re from, I’m just not the type of person to get all hyped with some random kid.

I especially can’t stand it when these types of people try to use their “spirit” as an excuse to hug females for an unnecessarily long amount of time.

I’ve heard too many stories about mascots at competitions, all of them negative, some even involve police reports. I feel that it is time for either a mascot registration process (as ridiculous as that sounds) or some kind of greater oversight. Could we require them to wear a lanyard with their real name? I trust a majority of them, but clearly there are a few bad apples out there and they are ruining it for everyone.

It probably also doesn’t help that teams sometimes (overwhelmingly) put their strangest kids in the costume (or those kids volunteer). Stop being creeps, kids. Mascots at events are usually super annoying already, it doesn’t help when you interact with people who want nothing to do with you. The groping and creepy whispering account are just disturbing and gross.

Also ban mascot costumes in the pits, they bring approaching 0 benefit to the pit environment and only cause traffic jams and problems.

To be blunt, this type of unwanted groping is known in most jurisdictions as sexual assault. Unfortunately I’ve heard many stories like this from students at FRC events, both with mascot and non-mascot perpetrators (often kids giving out “free hugs”, with hands that both linger and wander). I know there’s a tendency to try and ignore this behaviour in an effort to avoid creating a scene, or inviting unwanted attention. However, this is serious stuff that needs to be reported so it can be stopped. I urge anyone who is a victim or witness to anything like this to please report it to a trusted mentor or volunteer at the event. FIRST has detailed policies and plans to deal with these types of situations, but unless someone is notified, they cannot be brought into action.

Thix x 1000. If you see a mascot causing an issue, grab the nearest key volunteer (or regional/district committee member), and march them over to the mascot and the team in question.

Explain what happened and issue a formal report. Call them out on it, report them, and if you’re truly uncomfortable being around them, don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s your fault, or your problem to avoid. Get these people AWAY from FIRST events.

This doesn’t even just go for mascots. This goes for ANYONE behaving in an inappropriate manner at events. Report them, immediately. Anyone who behaves like this, student, adult, mentor, volunteer, you name it – shouldn’t be a part of the FIRST community, and reporting issues are the only way to help solve them.

On that note, I believe it is our responsibility as mentors and coaches to understand and educate fellow mentors and students on this subject. It is equally important to not stand idle if such actions are witnessed or brought to our attention. It is completely unacceptable to pass off such actions as “childish fun” and should not be dealt with lightly.

As someone who has been the mentor overseeing the spirit team including the mascot I have been the one who has talked to people who have felt our mascot has been inappropriate or broke a rule without realizing it. Never anything to the extent of what has been stated here (which lets not split hairs this is sexual harassment in some cases), but I have never allowed anyone who I felt would not make our team proud behind a mask, I have seen mascots who use the ambiguity to do things they would not do without a mask.

Now as someone who was the mascot a few times as a student I can say the mascots have been abused as well. From heads being spun around, people being tripped, or even people taking inappropriate pictures around the mascot. So it is a two way street of treatment of mascots as well as mascots treatment of others.

Finally I ask any mentor who deals with reports or complaints of there mascots behavior to take it seriously and as soon as you receive it find the mascot and talk about it. For I have experienced both sides of this coin:

My first year mentoring we had one of our more socially awkward students in the suit and we started to get complaints of him being inappropriate with the other mascots, nothing uncomfortable, but more so that they were worried he would hurt the other mascots or damage them. Wrongfully I assumed that this student who did not like being touched would not do this and ignored it. The last day of competition the mascots had a “staged fight” and our mascot damaged another very expensive costume unintentionally, had I taken the reports more seriously and talked with the student it could have been avoided.

Now the other side was several different complaints from different cheerleaders brought to a competition by a team. After talking to him multiple times the decision was made to take the student out of costume for the last day of competition, and have no mascot. Surprisingly we continued to get complaints from the cheerleaders about our mascot the next day, after getting 5 of these (one of which when the student in question was standing next to me) we talked to the team who brought them and found out that the cheerleaders has been lying the whole time, so the student was allowed back into the costume and was given the most sincerest apology of my life. Had I believed the student who I trusted or talked with the team earlier the student would not have been unfairly punished.

So my advice to all teams who deal with mascots is make sure the student can be trusted, when receiving complaints take them seriously, but be sure that you get the mascots side of the story and talk to the team the person making the complaint is from to see if an event actually occurred.

Amen. As a follow-up, I’d love to see a rule that says you can’t walk around with a covered face/mask. These events are far too large for complete anonymity to be a good idea.

I don’t think we should go that far, a lot of little kids love seeing mascots at the event. At Orlando especially young kids travel with there teams and love to be around 1902’s Pig, 1065’s Moose, 2383’s assortment of Ninjas and this year our own teams Swampy.

Agreed. Mascots are a fun part of the event for a lot of people. If we promote accountability by reporting any incidents as Libby said, and as mentors ensure that students know that incidents will be swiftly reported, and what the consequences for this are. Knowing what things are acceptable behavior, and what aren’t is an important part of being a good mascot, or a good anything else; I’d rather see the community instill this in mascots, than create more rules to fix the problem. Of course, if that doesn’t work, we should do what it takes to prevent future issues.

I might have a soft spot since I use to be one of those kids in the mascot suits and I don’t want to band them from competitions but the prevalence of kids abusing the suits seems to keep getting worse.

I understand some kids abuse the anonymity of the suits to do inappropriate things (which should always be reported) but it shouldn’t ruin it for the people who use the suits for spirit.
I think to help combat this a registration is needed at competition along with some safety rules regarding suits, especially for those who wear any kind of mask.

Honestly, teams should sit down with kids and explain to them what is appropriate and what isn’t and punish those who do not follow those rules. (sadly, I know this will probably not happen with every team but one can dream)

Totally see your point here. Some people might make an untrue claim. But what if they were honestly reporting that the kid creeped them out or wouldn’t leave them alone?

Take your mascot’s story with a grain of salt - if any human being (marking them as girls or cheerleaders seems irrelevant and kind of unfair) comes up saying your mascot groped them, do you think the kid would own up to it?

Quite honestly, all it takes is a mascot ‘hands to yourself’ rule. Wave, put your hands in the air, whatever - but as mentors, it’s our responsibility to tell our students to behave appropriately, and touching anyone else (or just being too close for comfort) should never be OK.

Again, anyone who feels like they’re being harassed by a mascot (or any other human being at the event) should report it to a trusted mentor or volunteer. Harassment is harassment, and the fact that this isn’t one unique story shows that we need to put a stop to this.

There were two reasons for me including who was making the complaint:

  1. To state that it was a group of individuals from outside of FIRST
  2. In relation to 1 why we went back to the team because they were a group of guests who may not have known that they could go to event staff or even who to go to.

As an aside I never stated they were female infact 3 of them were Male cheerleaders you were the one who assumed they were girls.

If mascots, or anyone else, are verbally or physically harassing anyone at a FIRST event it should be reported and dealt with in zero tolerance fashion. Do this to one of my students and the proverbial hammer is coming down!

But in 10 years this is the first I’ve heard of anything like this - no input from our students, no rumors from other teams, nothing. I’d like to believe these are isolated incidents. Making FIRST-wide rules about mascots seems premature and a little too PC at this juncture.

Our mascot is the actual school mascot, not a robotics student in a borrowed costume (not that there is anything wrong with that). And I think it is always a nice young lady. That is probably the best move, make the mascot female. Girls are smarter and generally more socially appropriate at high school ages.

My 2 cents…

This statement can’t have any factual basis. Exactly how many teams have been canvassed? And what is the criteria for “strange” and “overwhelmingly”. Perhaps the behavior of a few mascots is disturbing but casting wide nets in this manner is not helpful (or true).

I don’t get the whole “spirit thing” (a personal fault) but we should not talk poorly of those who do enjoy cheering, mascots, dancing in the aisle etc.

You’re two cents is horrifically sexist. This isn’t a gender issue. It’s a issue of mentors/parents not telling their students "don’t be a [expletive] creep. I’ve had young ladies who were just as inappropriate as young men. I don’t care about the gender, harassment is harassment. Nobody deserves to feel unsafe.

If there is a complaint it must be dealt with. Preferably by sitting down with the accused party, getting their side of the story, and having a chat about what they can do to avoid situations like it in the future. Because, rarely are these complaints 100% fabrications. But they can sometimes be simple misunderstandings. Maybe it’s implement a hands off policy. Maybe require a mascot handler to protect them from he said/she said type situations (third party observer). Maybe it’s remove them from the costume. Have a conversation about it.

Folks, if you feel unsafe, go to a volunteer. Volunteers, if a person comes up to you and says they feel unsafe, go to a key volunteer.

Let me get this straight - it is “horrifically sexist” to credit young women (of high school age) with being smarter and more socially appropriate than their male peers? This is not an opinion, this is science - sociology. I’ve raised an daughter (EE) and a son (EE and lawyer). I’ve worked for 20+ years with young people in various volunteer roles. My wife is a 30+ year educator and concurs, I know exactly what I’m talking about.

Ummmm…no. Just no