Mascot Mania: Reject Modernity, Embrace Tradition

Written By Sarah Gibson

As entertainment evolves, I feel that production focus has shifted onto the “Bigger” rather than the “Better.” Every movie that does well gets a sequel, and even some movies that don’t do well get a sequel too. Everything is being rebooted and resurrected with budgets ten times their original, for the sake of the almighty dollar. More, more, more. Bigger. More. I feel like a similar doctrine can be applied to the evolution of mascots. 

Granted, sports mascots as we know them have only been around since the ‘60s, so there hasn’t been a lot of time for the craft to evolve, but I’ve found myself in a horrible habit this week of remembering and looking up ‘Failed Mascot Stunts.’ It struck me that the ones that always stuck with me were the stunts where the mascot was trying something dangerous to wow the audience, and it didn’t work out. For instance, SJ Sharkie, the San Jose Sharks mascot, got stuck while trying to be lowered down from the top of the arena. They had to lower a second rope for him to wrap around himself so he could be rescued. He was okay in the end, but the act in and of itself is incredibly dangerous, and several times more so since the person being lowered is in a suit. He has lowered perception, and a lowered capacity for fine motor skills, like those needed to tie a rope around yourself. It could have gone much worse, and it has.

Enter Rocky, the mascot of the Denver Nuggets. He was doing a very similar stunt, but had the wind knocked out of him during the pregame show. He was unconscious and motionless as he was being lowered down in the arena. What made it worse was the fact that the person inside was wearing a harness, which appeared to attach at the back of the neck. Those two things combined with Rocky’s collapse to the floor when he landed . . . 

There are kids who ended up in therapy from that one. And would you believe it, it’s not the worst incarnation of this stunt. I will warn you, the next one ends in injury, full stop. 

Dan Meers, who played KC Wolf of the Kansas City Chiefs for over two decades, was practicing a stunt where he would bungee jump and then zipline into Arrowhead stadium. In the beginning of the stunt, instead of falling 25-feet before ziplining, he fell 75-feet and hit the seats in the upper deck of the stadium, knocking a few seats from the concrete they were bolted to, before being dragged out of the seats and ziplining across the stadium. Meers suffered from seven broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a fractured tailbone, and he broke the largest vertebrae in the spine. He still lived, though, which I suppose is one of the only good details I can give you regarding the subject. 

What I’m trying to explain to you through this progression of horrifying stories, is that while mascots are often incredibly talented athletes under the suits, they aren’t superheroes, and they can be perfectly functional without risking their lives. While watching a mascot slam dunk a basketball through a ring of fire seems cool, I promise you it is not worth the worst case scenario, (like when Wild Wing of the Anaheim Ducks fell into a wall of fire while trying to jump through.) 

Big, Michael Bay special effects (or stunts involving bungee cords) aren’t the end all be all. Mascots can be loved and adored for funny skits, offering engagement for children, making charity appearances, harassing the opposing team, and whatever hodgepodge of activities Gritty is up to. I think it almost sullies the original intended purpose of a mascot. These aren’t stunt men, these are icons meant to rile up the audience and bring levity between the lulls. Expecting them to do these crazy dangerous things is overdeveloping the role of the mascot, and it asks too much of them. 

I think when it comes to performance, everyone should operate by the rules set by Penn and Teller: People shouldn’t be hurt for show business when it can be avoided. It goes for magicians as well as Mascots. 

Very rarely am I regressive when it comes to the industry. I love mascots, and I love to see them thrive. But I don’t ever want the role to turn into something that it isn’t. If you want a stunt man, hire one. The mascots already have plenty to do.