Hidden underneath a heap of fake fur, pounds of plastic, and presumably a whole waterfall of sweat stands a person above the law—a character only a miser would despise and everyone else must adore, or at least accept, as the jovial personification of the home team. I’m talking about mascots…cute from afar, creepy when close.
I attended my first big time sporting events as a young child, and was originally excited by the concept of lively team nicknames perusing the stands to celebrate with fans. But then at a University of Virginia football game, I witnessed my little brother break down at the sight of Buzz, the mascot of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. And I couldn’t blame him. Buzz is a perfect example of the inherently conflicted nature of sports mascots. On the one hand, he’s supposed to be a lovable, colorful animal and take pictures with families. But on the other, he represents the ferocity of an animal chosen specifically for its lethal fighting qualities as a moniker for a group of 11 large men poised to hit 11 other large men.
As an eight year old, I attended a football festival prior to the NFL’s Pro Bowl. As a proud St. Louis Rams supporter, I donned my Marshall Faulk jersey and was excited at the day’s possibilities. Yet, nearly every time I approached a beckoning NFL mascot I was met with the same cold, sometimes physical, rejection of my fandom. It’s the PRO BOWL! Back then, the NFL season was already over by the time the Pro Bowl was played. At that point, there’s no excuse for animosity towards an eight year old football fan—not as though there ever is. After my head was bitten by a Bengal and my neck choked by a Buccaneer’s bicep, I found solace in the Buffalo Bill’s mascot. First, he was the closest thing to a Ram I could find, and he also welcomed me with the Aloha attitude I was expecting from everyone else.
Even as an eight year old kid, what could I do? I couldn’t punch a Patriot or kick a Colt, then I would look like the sour aggressor. If you’re in a cute and colorful costume, aggression is just part of the game, but retaliation by a non-costumed kid would likely be a misdemeanor.
Aside from one quarter of a Titans game (accidentally), I have not been to an NFL event since I was ten years old. But mascots extend far beyond the football world.
When I was nine, I went to the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards to see my Florida Marlins in interleague action. Before 2013, interleague play in baseball was a once-a-summer ordeal that pitted teams in opposite leagues against each other just once every three years…translation: the Marlins and Orioles are farther from rivals than anyone. A cheap Marlins hat was my only team regalia as I stood along the railing next to Florida’s dugout in an effort to be close to the players before the game.
Baltimore’s Bird came over to rile up the O’s fans in the section. He spotted my Marlins hat and pointed at me in an effort to conjure up boos and heckles from the nearby Orioles fans. I was NINE! He then, without asking, removed the cap from my head and used it to wipe certain crevices of his bird body. Now, I understand that the inanimate mascot suit does not sweat and defecate like an actual living creature, but I would still prefer my headwear not to be defiled in such a way.
Five years later, I was walking up Half Street outside Nationals Park with my family. The Marlins were in town for one of their three series each year, which makes this aggression slightly more understandable but no less egregious. Teddy Roosevelt, the most beloved of Washington’s racing presidents, approached to high five the other three members of my family who were wearing Nationals garb. He then denied me a high five before taking the beautiful teal cap off my head and flinging it frisbee-style down the road. It was a damp day and the hat landed a good ways away from us. Luckily, it didn’t get too dirty, otherwise it would have been veritable property destruction. I take my head fashion very seriously—though not as seriously as those ignorant twits that are adamant a sizing sticker must be left on the bill of a cap in order to make it fashionable, but I digress.
People have had it far worse than me and my brother, though. The Vanderbilt Commodore punched a student’s nose as he was crowd surfing. And the Kansas City Royals’ mascot once launched a hot dog into a man’s eye, damaging his retina.
And corporate mascots? Even worse!
At a Chick-fil-A one day, what must have been a mascot-in-training repeatedly came to stand at the end of my table, just staring at me and my brother while we ate. He or she couldn’t talk, and didn’t really attempt to interact. They just stood there, and it was an unbelievably uncomfortable situation.
I’m fairly certain that the sole purpose of a mascots is to make introverts feel uncomfortable and unnecessarily raise the blood pressure of random people as they hide behind their mask of anonymity and the unwavering shell of silence. And as soon as that silence is broken, I believe the person should lose their mascot privileges.
Just a few weeks ago, I went to pick up a free pizza from a newly-opened restaurant here in Fredericksburg. While in line, I was approached by a teenager wearing a flimsy pizza slice suit. He high-fived the other customers, but I guess my hand wasn’t going to cut it for him. With both of his hands, covered in Mickey Mouse-style mitts, he started pawing for my face. And then he SAID “I want to touch your face!” If someone outside of a suit says that, police involvement is permitted. Instead, the other customers laughed as I swatted his hands away. The same thing happened again when I was further up in line. And then as I walked out of the restaurant, he spotted me and pawed for my face one last time as I ducked out of his way and scampered through the door.
This guy was by far the worst mascot I’ve encountered, simply for breaking the ONE rule of mascots (staying silent) if for nothing else.
Tommy LaSorda, I wish I had your gusto: