Who’s Afraid of Roar-ee?
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
The labor behind the lion.
By Amogh Dimri
On a Sunday afternoon earlier this year, I found myself scrolling through the work-study portal in search of a listing at the elusive intersection of the campus job Venn diagram: one that pays well, yes, but may also teach me something new about my school. I was instantly struck by one such position: “Roar-ee Mascot, Wage: $20.00/hr, Openings: 6, Hours: 0 to 20 hours/week.” I applied on the spot.
Frankly, I was not interested in elevating Roar-ee to new heights of social relevance nor in solving Columbia’s “school spirit problem” so much as I thought it’d provide a new conversation starter at parties. That said, after I was called in for an interview, part of me grew curious as to whether I could break dance or troll rival school attendees at Baker Field well enough to warrant my own feature on @BarstoolColumbia. While the onus of actualizing this daydream obviously rested upon my ability to perform Roar-ee, part of me wondered: Is Columbia’s culture even one that allows Roar-ee to thrive? The six openings for Roar-ee performers already paled in comparison to large state schools’ investment in their mascots. Ohio State University, for instance, boasts 12 student performers each semester for their beloved Brutus the Buckeye. Meanwhile, as of early November, three of the six Roar-ee work-study openings remain vacant.
For the student body, Roar-ee is a meme. At Homecoming, the line to take a picture with Roar-ee wrapped around Baker. The consequences played out on my Instagram feed, which was soon teeming with Roar-ee selfies captioned “Dad came down for Hoco!! <3” or images of my peers biting their lips and doing the ‘ice in my veins’ pose. But during the game itself, Roar-ee was seemingly absent from the sidelines. Columbia College Student Council’s 2024 President Priya Chainani tells me that Roar-ee only comes out on special occasions, while at other schools the omnipresence of their mascot increases its notoriety. Chainani’s experience with Roar-ees at other athletic events such as Basketball Mania (a CCSC-sponsored event in which select students had the opportunity to make a half-court shot for $10,000 off their tuition) confirmed what I saw at Homecoming. Before the event started, Chainani watched a long line accumulate for a photo with Roar-ee, but during the event, Roar-ee served no hype-building functions. Even at a family weekend event dubbed “Roar-ee’s Birthday Dinner,” attendees I spoke to were surprised to learn that the dinner’s purpose was to celebrate the mascot.
For one semester, Anabelle Brodeur, CC ’24, assumed the alter-ego of Roar-ee. She was tasked with filming intermission videos aired at Columbia’s annual athlete awards ceremony in which Brodeur (as Roar-ee) played all 32 varsity sports. She affirmed my suspicion that being Roar-ee is hard labor: The suit is hot and itchy, Roar-ee’s head is reinforced with a helmet inside that makes it extra heavy, and the costume’s one-size-fits-all approach meant that for Brodeur, some of the suit was too large, especially Roar-ee’s paw shoes. When I interviewed for the position myself, I was warned that being a Roar-ee is not for the claustrophobic.
On hot days, breaks are a slog. Naturally, Roar-ees are strictly prohibited from removing any part of their costume in public, forcing Brodeur to trek from the fields back to a private room in Baker each time she needed a sip of water. This challenge is exacerbated when fans abound for pictures at big games, since Roar-ees, who cannot speak, must subtly signal their handler for help.
After hearing this, I wondered whether the bragging rights of being the school mascot make this toil worthwhile. I was then shocked to learn that the identity of the six Roar-ees is a well-kept Columbia secret. Brodeur guesses that she is “the only person that’s ever been in Roar-ee” who can openly discuss their assumption of the bipedal lion: The work-studiers who don Roar-ee’s fuzzy limbs and lion-shaped helmet are obligated to shirk the spotlight. Despite the wide net I cast in search of a Roar-ee to interview, none came forward; the Columbia Athletics officials who strive to bolster Roar-ee’s allure also ignored my request for comment. The veil of secrecy surrounding Roar-ee isn’t only for the benefit of the greater Columbia community—it’s also for the Roar-ee performers themselves. Brodeur says that while hidden inside Roar-ee’s enormous head, only able to peer through the two small nostrils in Roar-ee’s snout, she had the confidence to have fun and truly channel the anima of Roar-ee.
Ultimately, I declined the position of Roar-ee. I was scared to be stuck in a hot, dark, itchy, ill-fitting, heavy costume with infrequent water breaks, forbidden to speak of the job both on and off the clock. I came to wonder why anyone would want to be Roar-ee.
When Brodeur’s Roar-ee skits aired at the athletes’ dinner, the audience gushed when Roar-ee played their sport on the big screen. Brodeur’s video kept the ceremony funny and engaging. Perhaps being Roar-ee is a thankless job at a spiritless school, but in the absence of widespread school spirit, Columbia has good use for a meme like Roar-ee that the whole school can get behind, however sporadically. Maybe Roar-ee will never dance on the sidelines of each football game in front of thousands of cheering attendees like one may see at a state school. But if the goal of a mascot is to engage students, then the anonymous Roar-ees who populate my Instagram and TikTok feeds once a year on Homecoming have much to show for their sweat-matted fur.