A College HR Director’s Worst Weekend: When Mascots Fight

Does this look like a major HR problem?

If I’m the Human Resources Director or Vice President for HR at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, I probably woke up this morning wondering, “how did I ever deserve what happened this past weekend?”

That’s because Ohio U. was involved last Saturday in what will probably turn out to be one of the most infamous incidents of mascot-on-mascot behavior ever perpetrated at a major college or professional sporting event.

Here’s what happened, according to The New York TimesThe Quad college sports blog:

The most competitive part of No. 2 Ohio State’s 43-7 victory over Ohio on Saturday may have come before the game. That’s when Ohio’s mascot, Rufus the Bobcat, decided to tussle with his Ohio State counterpart, Brutus the Buckeye.

As you can see from a video taken of the fight, Rufus was clearly the instigator, tackling an unsuspecting Brutus near midfield and almost taking out an Ohio State flag bearer in the process. Brutus seems shocked at first, but when the fracas spills into the end zone he just gets annoyed. The Buckeye players who were closest to the fight appear totally uninterested.

Ohio has apologized to Ohio State, and the student who was in the Rufus costume has been barred from any further affiliation with the university’s athletics. But that may not matter to the student, Brandon Manning, who apparently only tried out for the honor of being Rufus so that he could tackle Brutus.”

And the Kansas City Star reported that Rufus the Bobcat was unrepentant about his conduct in this affair (and this video interview with the “student” who plays Rufus confirms that):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g5dvmOLC1M

It was actually my whole plan to tackle Brutus when I tried out to be mascot,” said Brandon Hanning, formerly known as Ohio University’s Rufus Bobcat. “I tried out about a year ago, and the whole reason I tried out was so I could come up here to Ohio State and tackle Brutus.”

The tussle led to an apology from Ohio University on Monday and 19-year-old Hanning is banned from further affiliation with the school’s athletics department. Actually, he’s not even a student there anymore; he now attends nearby Hocking College.

Hanning said his chance came as Brutus and a cheerleader hoisted an OSU flag, and prepared to lead the Buckeyes players onto the field. “I think I planned it pretty well,” he said, “and I definitely would have done it again.”

If I’m the HR person who has to sort out this silly mess, I’m probably thinking, “What fresh hell is this?” But then again, I’m not a seasoned HR professional. Maybe real HR pros view it differently. Maybe they think that having their school’s mascot attack the other school’s mascot before 105,000 people and a statewide television audience is a break from the usual HR routine.

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“If I’m the HR Director at a college, I have two roles,” said former HR professional and current HR blogger Laurie Ruettimann, “to manage the personnel function of the university and to help educate/train kids. I would wonder about the future potential of this stupid kid. Where would he work? What can he do with his life? If he’s too dumb to keep this college rivalry nonsense in check, he’s too dumb to work at a real job.”

Laurie is right, of course, but this guy who plays Rufus the Bobcat also did something else — he created a workplace issue, on a Saturday afternoon, in the midst of a pre-game festivities at a college football game, in front of more than 100,000 spectators, that somebody on Ohio University’s HR staff (probably a very senior human resources executive) now has to clean up.

But I want to hear from more of you HR pros like Laurie: is this just harmless fun, or a workplace issue that just gave you a football stadium-sized headache? How do you deal with a goofy but very public HR problem like this one?

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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