Former Nittany Lion Zach Sowa Hints At Possibility Of First Female Student As Mascot

Fifty-two men have dressed as Penn State’s beloved Nittany Lion mascot over the last century, but that exclusivity might soon be changing, hinted former mascot Zach Sowa in an interview with Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford Wednesday.

When one viewer asked Sowa a question about his successor’s transition into the job without the Blue-White Game and referenced the new Lion as a “he,” the former Symbol of Our Best carefully worded an open-ended response about their identity — which is usually revealed on Senior Day of their final season.

“I’ve been talking about [not having the Blue-White Game to practice] with them,” he said. “I’ll make it a gender-neutral pronoun.”

Clifford then asked Sowa a follow-up question if he’d ever welcome a female student as the Lion, to which he gave a very affirmative yes and explained his initial tactful response.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s exactly why I used a gender-neutral pronoun, so I didn’t disclose the gender of the current one.”

Although being male hasn’t been a requirement for the role in recent years, the debut of a female Lion would be a monumental first. Should a female student assume the role of the Nittany Lion in the near future, it’d make Penn State the latest university to eliminate such a historic gender barrier. Most notably, Notre Dame introduced its first female leprechaun last year. Other universities to do so include Rutgers in 2016, although some like Ohio State and West Virginia have had women in costume for years.

Whoever the Lion may be whenever football and other sports finally resume, Sowa said that inexperience due to all the events canceled this spring shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

After all, as Sowa noted, the new Lion has plenty of experience already and has already assumed the role at multiple basketball games. Sowa said he even thinks that because they began the transition earlier, they’re bit further along than he was three years ago when he made his debut in April just before Blue-White, his first major event.

“They’ve expressed a lot of concern that ‘Hey, I won’t have the Blue-White Game to do this. I’m just going to be thrown into this,'” he said. “I have the utmost faith in them. They’re gonna do great.”

Sowa said he’s offered plenty of reassurance that the new Lion will never truly be on their own, as plenty of people will help direct them on gameday. He even said that he plans to make himself available on the field if needed when he’s be back in town for games this season.

“I personally plan to be back when football season starts again,” Sowa said. “I’m hoping if need be, I can get a pregame pass just to tell them where they need to be. Whether I’m there or not, there were people throughout my whole career who held my hand until it became second nature.”

You can watch the full interview below. Clifford and Sowa begin to discuss the gender of future students to portray the Nittany Lion at 48:51.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected]. All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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