Meaning Behind The Mascot: Penn State

The mascot is the heart of not just the sports teams at a university but the pulse of the institution as a whole. Every college and university has a chosen creature, animal, or entity that embodies their mission and spirit. There isn’t a set way for a university to come up with a mascot as each college has their own unique process. Some mascots happen by chance while others are a result of a committee or campus vote. For educational powerhouse Penn State, their mascot was chosen out of fierce, undeniable competition.

The story behind the creation of the mascot is what competitive sportsmanship is founded on. Back in 1904, Joe Mason was a senior at Pennsylvania State University. While on a trip to the prestigious Princeton University, it dawned on him that his on school didn’t have a mascot of their own. Feeling a spur of creativity in the moment, Joe thought up a ferocious mascot that, as he put it, could tear the Princeton Bengal Tiger to pieces. Of course, Penn State actually didn’t have an official mascot so it was all on the fly. He created a creature that was far stronger than the Princeton Bengal Tiger that could defeat any enemy with his strong right arm. On that day, Nittany Lion was unofficially created.

When Joe returned to Penn State, he decided that Nittany Lion exemplified the brute strength of the sports teams at the university and the unwavering dedication of the students of the institution. He set out to make the Nittany an official mascot and by 1907, the beloved mascot was born.

Some mascots are based on real animals, some are created from completely fictional characters, while others fall somewhere between there. Nittany Lion was inspired by the mountain lions that were native to the Pennsylvania Mount Nittany in the late 1800’s. While Nittany Lion isn’t a specific lion, there is actually an original lion that roamed those mountains and inspired the design of the mascot that was to come.  

Fast forward to today and the mascot carries on the tradition that started over a century ago. You can see Nittany Lion performing his one armed push ups and hear adoring fans and students belt out the lyrics to the classic Hail to the Lion tune. Nittany Lion isn’t just a man dressed in an entertaining costume that comes out on game day. Nittany represents the one of a kind ferocity of the university and the students that uphold their mission from the minute they walk in as freshman to the day they walk into the first day of their dream job as proud Penn State alumni.

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