BYU’s football mascot Cosmo unmasked

In a guest opinion piece for the Deseret News, a former Brigham Young University Cosmo the Cougar football mascot did something no Cosmo has done before: reveal himself both by name and by coming out.

Titled, “Everyone loved me as Cosmo the Cougar, but would they love who I was behind the mask?” Charlie Bird tells the world that while he was dressed as Cosmo, he “kept the best part of my life a secret from everyone around me by wearing a mask.”

Bird was Cosmo the Cougar from 2015 through 2018. During his reign, NBC Sports named 2017–18 the “Year of the Mascot,” in honor of his viral influence. Headlines like “BYU is having a terrible season, but at least its mascot can dance” from Yahoo Sports were common. Bird, as Cosmo, is shown in many viral videos, from Star Wars-themed routines to snowboarding to dancing all over campus and Provo. He performed with the BYU Dunk Team, slamming balls through the hoop as he was dropped from a 3-tier human pyramid.

Inside Edition did a story that has 1.4 million views on YouTube called “Everyone Is Going Crazy Over This College Mascot’s Dance Moves,” where the host tells the rest of the BYU cheerleaders that they are awesome, “but Cosmo is stealing the show.”

He also did a dance-off with the Oregon Duck on ESPN’s College Football Awards.

But, with all that exposure, Bird had a huge fear.

“As scary as it seemed to dance in front of 60,000 people, an even scarier thought often crept into my mind — ‘If they knew who I really was, would they hate me?’,” he wrote.

“I wore another mask while I was at BYU — a mask to cover the shame I felt for being ‘different.’ For years I pleaded with God to change my sexual orientation, but after returning to BYU from a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I began realizing that being gay is an integral part of who I am,” he continued. “As I grappled to develop a better understanding of myself, I felt immense pressure to hide my sexual orientation. I was hyper-aware of what some of my peers said about the gay community, how they viewed same-sex attraction and the often unkind and insensitive words they used to describe LGBTQ people — people like me.”

He said, while he was regarded as a superstar as Cosmo, it “often simultaneously made me feel broken, unloved and defective.”

During his senior year, he was proudly representing the school while it was ranked the second-most LGBTQ-Unfriendly College by the Princeton Review. Another study released by LGBTQ media group, GLAAD, showed an increase in intolerance toward our community for the first time in four years.

“We must recognize that members of the LGBTQ community are present and participating in both academic and religious discussions. We must learn that showing empathy and support is not a compromise of moral values.” Bird wrote. Referencing a Book of Mormon scripture, he also wrote, “We must ‘comfort those that stand in need of comfort.'”

Now graduated, Bird is reconciling his sexual orientation with his faith.

“As I integrate my sexual orientation with my church activity and faith in Jesus Christ, my future sometimes seems bleak and overwhelming,” he wrote. “The family and friends who have shown me Christlike love and support, however, give me hope. I am grateful to everyone who used inclusive language or expressed empathy toward the LGBTQ community. They may not have known it, but in small ways they helped me feel a sense of belonging that I desperately needed. The LGBTQ community needs such visible love and support.”

He says that he misses his time as Cosmo “like I’ve never missed anything before.” Taking off both masks, he says, has “freed me from much of the shame and embarrassment that once seemed inseparable from my life. Doing so has allowed me to feel more fully the love of others. Doing so has allowed me to feel more fully the love of God.”

“Everyone deserves a life where exuberant, transformative experiences are not blanketed in sadness like mine often were. By actively showing love and acceptance, we can create a space in which people can remove their masks, no longer subject to the isolation and hopelessness that comes with feeling obliged to hide who they really are,” he ended the editorial.

A commenter to the story by the name of Wendell from Provo, Utah, said Bird was not alone in his situation.

I, too, was Cosmo, and I am also gay. Of course, it was very different 30 years ago, but I’m sure we have both experienced some of the very same things,” he wrote. “Representing BYU was one of the highlights of my life, and obviously dealing with my sexuality was a struggle for me for a long time. However, the decisions I’ve made have helped me become the man I am today. Life truly is wonderful for me, and I feel incredibly blessed for friends and family who accept and love me regardless of how I live or who I love.”

Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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