Racist NBA Remark Sparks Outrage: How About Offensive “Maniac” Mascot?


CAPTION: “The Maniac will embody the excitement leading up to the university’s first game.” YOSHITAKA HAMADA / SPECIAL TO THE LEDGER

I’m glad there has been a public outcry against the  racist rant by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. I hope Donald Sterling is held accountable for his words.

Now I am wondering when that same public outrage will surface for individuals with mental illnesses after they are stigmatized.

Take for example the announcement in the Lakeland, Florida newspaper, The Ledger,  that Southeastern University has chosen as it’s new mascot The Maniac. Mind you that this is a Christian school that describes itself this way on its website:

 Southeastern University is a Christ-centered institution of higher learning. We are committed to equipping the next generation of leaders so that they can go into the world as influential servants in their careers and their communities.

The last time I checked, I was told that Christians supported helping those who might be sick or afflicted. They did not portray them in ways that belittled them and made their lives more difficult.

The Houghton Mifflin Dictionary defines maniac as being “an insane person.” In fairness, it does say that it can be used to describe “a sports maniac.” But I wonder if that is what most people will think when they see a mascot with fiery orange hair and bug eyes that drew its inspiration from the villain in the movie, The Incredibles. (The folks behind the choice of name, costume and facial image felt the school’s previous mascot, a Dalmatian named Fuego, was just too tame.)

In praising the choice, reporter Ray Beasock notes:  “a mascot shouldn’t only be about cheering up the fans. It should also spread cheer in the community. It should be an icon the community can instantly identify with the school and its good will.”

Good will? A blazing haired, wide-eyed maniac?

Before anyone accuses me of being too politically correct, I’d like to remind The Ledger of what the Associated Press stylebook (the bible for newspapers when it comes to standards and ethics) says about using terms that marginalize persons with mental illnesses, you know, those “insane persons” out there who are often called “maniacs.”

Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story.

This is an instance where a Christian school, the newspaper, and the community should each ask itself if it believes The Maniac should serve as a community  “icon” that represents community values. If so, I’d like to suggest that the school invite Donald Sterling to be the person who dons the $7,000 suit.

I’m sure it would be a good fit.

(I contacted the reporter who wrote this story but have not yet gotten a reply. The president of the school, Dr. Kent Ingle ( kingle@seu.edu) is a former sports reporter who knows the power of both sports and words. Perhaps, he would enjoy hearing your’s.)


New Southeastern Mascot Introduced

Published: Friday, April 25, 2014 at 12:01 a.m.

LAKELAND | Drew Watson knows what a successful mascot should be like.

He’s originally from Philadelphia, and the Southeastern University director of athletics is very familiar with the Phillie Phanatic.

The Phanatic is known worldwide for its appearance. It’s large, it’s green and it’s considered one of the most recognizable mascots in sports.

So when Southeastern started to look into a mascot for its sports teams, it looked at some of the things famous mascots are known for, not only on the field but off the field.

There are appearances within the community — parades, charity events, children’s hospitals.

To Southeastern, a mascot shouldn’t only be about cheering up the fans. It should also spread cheer in the community. It should be an icon the community can instantly identify with the school and its good will.

But that’s down the road. For now, the mascot will embody the excitement and angst as the school careens toward its first football game this fall.

Say hello to The Maniac.

The Maniac’s conception started in 2010 when Chris Owen, vice president for student development, came to work at Southeastern.

Owen wanted to rebrand the mascot, which originally was a Dalmation named Fuego, which means Fire in Spanish.

Owen started talking with Roy Rowland IV, the school’s vice president for enrollment management, and began throwing around ideas.

They looked into what they wanted in a mascot. They looked at other famous mascots and decided they liked what they saw in Sparty, the mascot of Michigan State University.

Of course they weren’t going to copy the Spartan costume, but they had an idea on how to make the mascot the school’s own. They took some ideas from the school’s unofficial spirit squad, The Pyromaniacs, and even from the popular animated movie “The Incredibles.” The Maniac’s fiery orange hair drew inspiration from the movie’s villain, Syndrome.

“We started talking about concepts and things we wanted to look for in a mascot,” Owen said. “The students had come up with the Pyromaniacs. These were students who showed up at games with their faces painted all red and black, and that’s where we got the idea for The Maniac. The ultimate fan.”

Owen and Rowland got together with Lakeland-based Madden Brand Agency to help further the development. There were several months of back-and-forth with Madden and several focus groups with students, staff and faculty.

Finally Southeastern had its mascot. Or at least what it was supposed to look like on paper. The school sent the design to Cowan Costumes Inc. in Cleburne, Texas, the same company that made Sparty. The cost, according to the company’s website, was between $5,500 and $7,000.


The Maniac costume arrived on campus early this week.

It was a hit with those who saw it before the grand unveiling at Southeastern’s One Big Night on Friday, an Oscars-like awards program for its student body that honors the athletes.

“It blew my expectations,” Owen said. “It was literally everything we thought it was going to be. It captures the energy and passion of our students. We showed it to a small focus group, and their eyes lit up. They were blown away that this was going to be our new mascot.”

The arrival of The Maniac coincides with Southeastern’s inaugural foray into football. The Fire will take the field for their first game in their new stadium Sept. 13 against The Sun Conference rival Warner University.

It’s also a part of a campaign the school is undergoing called Fire ’14.

“We’re trying to take the momentum of our first home game on Sept. 13 and parlay that into a big move in our community,” Owen said. “(The Maniac is) part of a mission to create raving fans for life. We hope The Maniac becomes a public figure at parades, local schools and has that kind of presence in the Lakeland community. We wanted a mascot that kids would love and other mascots would fear.”


Of course there can’t be a mascot without someone to don the costume.

Right now there isn’t anyone, but Watson, the athletic director, said the school is going to offer two scholarship positions for the students selected to portray The Maniac.

“We want it to be a legit mascot,” Watson said. “We’ll have tryouts and make sure we have the best person available. This will happen as soon as possible. We have set scholarship money aside. We’ll have a spirit squad, which is basically being birthed with competitive dance, cheerleading, the mascot and a flag squad. It’ll all join with our drum line to create an incredible experience with football.”

Watson is certain the mascot will be a hit with the student body as well.

“There’s no fear,” he said. “With anything, with our (school) culture, it’s a collaborative effort. We very rarely have one department making their own ideas and throwing it out there. It’s been talked about for such a long time between a broad range of people. Everyone’s been involved. We’re very confident students will take to this.”


The Maniac isn’t a completed idea yet. It still has to go through some body alterations, and it’ll get a new name when school picks back up in August.

Watson and Owen said the school will probably hold a social media naming contest on Twitter or Facebook.

The vision is intact, though, and will continue until The Maniac takes the field for the first time Sept. 13. It’s the school’s hope that, with the debut, many new traditions will be born.

It’s all a part of making The Maniac known in the community and not just at sporting events.

“It’s exciting to see that get mapped out and programmed out,” said Watson of the plans involved in the new traditions. “They’re still putting the final touches on it. It’s going to be an experience here in the fall that you don’t get many other places in town.”

[ Ray Beasock can be reached at ray.beasock@theledger.com or 863-802-7537. ]

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.