Saint Louis University wanted its new Billiken mascot to be a little edgier, but based on reaction after it was introduced earlier this week, the school may have fallen over the edge.
Comments on Facebook, numbering more than 600 by Thursday morning, were overwhelmingly negative, starting with a mild “This is not ok” and going swiftly downhill from there. Signatures on an online petition calling on SLU President Fred Pestello to bring back the older, cuddlier version rose quickly past 1,500.
Reaction from students interviewed at the Clock Tower on campus Thursday showed mixed sentiment for the revamped symbol at the school that urges prospective students to “Be a Billiken.”
The Billiken has been the SLU mascot for decades. But most versions have been softer and more welcoming than the latest incarnation, which is part of an overall rebranding of the school that includes a new logo and new print version of the Billiken.
The 2016 Billiken, introduced this week in a video and at festivities on campus, with the tag line “New Billiken. Same Spirit,” is a definite departure. His face is two-tone, gray and white, and the soft lines that characterized former versions have become sharper, more angular. He’s still winking, but it’s less friendly, more challenging.
“The last Billiken was a little more friendly looking, and now it’s kind of creepy looking,” said Quin Brudney, a sophomore majoring in psychology and Spanish.”
“It didn’t look as menacing, like this one,” Matthew Graham, a sophomore studying math and computer science said of the old Billiken compared with the new one, “which genuinely looks like something you’d see in a child’s nightmare.”
Added Will Higgins, a junior studying computer engineering and music: “It’s definitely more intimidating, but I don’t know if that’s a bad thing.”
Camille Buckley, a senior studying environmental science, likes the old Billiken. “It was just funny and quirky,” she said, “ and it was just cute. And now this new one is kind of scary.
Owen Sinsky said the new version is starting to grow on him. “I’m starting to like it now,” said Sinsky, a sophomore studying psychology. “ It’s new. It’s different at least.
And Joe Roeckell, a freshman nursing student, saw a potential benefit for SLU athletics. “It’s got a lot of strength to him,” he said of the new Billiken, “so maybe our sports teams will play better.”
Online pro and con
For his part, Pestello tried to parry some of the negative reaction on his active Twitter feed, commenting:
“Change is hard. @The_Billiken is currently going through puberty. Like us, his awkwardness is best met with compassion.” and “My new beard terrified people at first too.”
But those were far outweighed by the force of Facebook comments. A sample:
“This dude is terrifying! Nothing like the fat & happy guy whose belly we rubbed as we walked down the quad”
“One of the greatest and most unique mascots in all of collegiate sports and they found a way to kill it”
“Thank god we are a catholic school….plenty of holy water around”
"One of the greatest and most unique mascots in all of collegiate sports and they found a way to kill it"
"The good news, it appears you have rallied the fanbase. The bad news, it's not the response you were looking for."
"It's embarrassing and will make SLU the laughing stock of the nation"
"SLU has apparently taken the racial divide that is present in Saint Louis and plastered it on its peterifying mascot's face"
“My 2.5 year old who LOVES Disney’s Beast screamed at this. In terror.”
“Oooooo, a light side and a dark side… just like the University itself”
Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger