A mascot is typically an animal or human character used to represent a group with a common identity, such as a school, professional sports team, or corporation. American university sports teams are often identified primarily by their mascot. Sports team merchandise often bears the team logo as well as mascot. The team will employ an individual to accompany them to home and away games whom dresses up as the creature.
In the United States, there has been controversy surrounding some mascot choices, especially those of human characters. For example, the University of Illinois mascot is the "Fighting Illini," a reference to the Native American Indian tribe after which the state of Illinois is named. This choice is considered to be offensive and non-poltically correct to many, and may be a case of exploitation of an oppressed race. Others counter that the university is attempting to honor their heritage and recognize the contributions of the First Nations of America. Such debates are not unique to large universities: Alfred University, a school of about 2,000 students in Western New York State has the "Saxon" as its mascot. Its representation is a charging knight in armor. Meant to represent strength and courage, others protest that the Saxon represents chavanism and rape.
Wikipedia is currently having a vote to decide its mascot. 
See also: list of mascots