The life of a sports mascot can be more complex than you might think. Sure, it seems like there isn't much more to a fuzzy, friendly, costumed creature than to smile, engage with fans and try to rally their team, but exciting a crowd while dodging the potential hazards associated with being a mascot can make for a challenging job. Beyond risky stunts, mascots can also face the physical wrath of opposing fans who can tend to forget there's a human being inside the suit.
Yes, much of the abuse and torment hurled at mascots is entirely undeserved, but not necessarily all of it. Some playful pranksters can take things too far, going over the line with fan interactions that may not be all that funny and can even be downright painful. You'd think that part of mascot training might include lessons on the boundaries of engaging the crowd, and yet it seems that a year doesn't go by without a fury creature in some sport getting a little too mischievous - and proceeding to pay the price.
While mascots are largely expected to uphold a certain standard of wholesomeness in their act, it's worth remembering that the mascot is only as well-behaved as the guy wearing the suit. If their emotions get the best of them or if they show poor judgment in executing an ill-advised prank, then the mascot they play can prove to be a menace to the team, its fans and its opposition. When a mascot is on their game, they can create a fun atmosphere for fans while helping bring positive energy. When things go awry, the consequences can emerge in the form of physical altercations, lawsuits and even arrests.
Here are 15 inappropriate things that mascots have done to fans:
15 Benny The Bull
Believe it or not, Chicago Bulls mascot Benny the Bull once appeared on The Jerry Springer Show - and that wasn't the low point of the popular mascot's career. Never one to shy away from living on the edge, the gutsy Bull earned the ire of the Boston Celtics in 2008 by aiming a t-shirt cannon at Kevin Garnett and James Posey. Trouble didn't find Benny then, but it did soon thereafter.
Later that same season, he decided to take a relatively innocuous high five to a fan and put some oomph behind it. Benny put so much force into the hand slap that he hyper-extended the man's arm and ruptured his bicep muscle. Was it his worst offense? Nope, that would be punching a police officer who tried to stop him for riding a mini-motorcycle without a permit.
Most Saturday Night Live fans will fondly recall a hilarious 2007 United Way PSA spoof in which Peyton Manning mocks and abuses kids participating in a football camp. Well, it seems like Blue, the mascot of Manning's long-time Indianapolis Colts, took the skit a little too much to heart.
During the Minnesota Vikings' annual "Mascot Challenge" game between NFL mascots and a local youth team in 2014, the horse was captured in a video getting pretty into the action. As featured on ESPN's "C'Mon Man", Blue was shown tackling and taunting young members of the opposing team. In the video, he can be seen getting in an extra shove on some kids and even knocking a few pint-sized opponents to the ground between plays.
13 Mr. Met
It's a picture that will live on in viral internet infamy, surely to the embarrassment of the New York Mets' organization. In the midst of a hugely disappointing 70-win 2017 season, New York's other baseball team suffered through the indignity of having to get out in front of a viral photo of their iconic mascot, Mr. Met, flipping a fan off.
While the visual of a smiling, baseball-headed mascot flipping the bird is hilarious, the club found the incident to be no laughing matter. After stating that they would be "dealing with the matter internally" in their statement of apology, the Mets quickly fired the employee wearing the uniform, one of several staff members to take on the Mr. Met persona.
There can be a fine line to walk for mascots when it comes to 'encouraging' audience participation. Part of the act is allowing them some freedom to poke and prod, messing with fans to create comical situations and bring them out of their comfort zone. However, take it too far and trouble may await. Burnie, the mascot for the Miami Heat, found himself in some "hot" water for getting a little too pushy with one particular fan.
At a school event in 2013, Burnie got a little too assertive in trying to 'help' schoolteacher Susan Sanchez break into the splits. What the colorful, basketball-nosed mascot didn't know was that Sanchez had plates and screws stabilizing her back and, thus, suffered a labral tear in her hip when Burnie forced the spread of her legs. In 2015, Sanchez and her husband sued the Heat for negligence, battery, and loss of consortium.
11 Phillie Phanatic
Amidst a veritable array of "best mascot" designations and even a place in Cooperstown, the iconic Phillie Phanatic holds the unfortunate distinction of being the most sued mascot in pro sports. The big, green creature with a horn for a nose is believed to have been taken to court on at least six separate occasions for antics involving fans that went too far.
While some have argued that the massive size of the costume makes the folks inside the Phanatic suit more prone to recklessness, you'd think they would dial things back a bit after so much time in court. To date, the Phanatic's indiscretions include injuring a woman when throwing her into a hotel pool and damaging the knees of a fan during a 2010 game when it climbed over her.
10 Billy Cub
Unless you are from the North Side of Chicago and/or happen to be a diehard Cubs fan, you probably aren't familiar with Billy Cub. The cute, cuddly bear was a fixture outside of Wrigley Field for six years, but was never officially recognized by the club. He was simply the brainchild of Chicagoan John Paul Weier, who remained unchallenged in his unofficial role until the Cubs introduced Clark as the franchise's first mascot in 2014.
Soon thereafter, Weier and a couple of other Billy portrayers were sued by the club on the grounds of trademark infringement. The suit alleged that at least one portrayer had engaged in obscene and inappropriate behaviour while in costume, which had then reflected on the club. A video clip from inside a Wrigleyville bar has shown Billy throwing a punch at a patron who had tried removing his head.
9 Jazz Bear
While we're not sure why the Utah Jazz have a bear for a mascot, Jazz Bear certainly seems willing to show his claws when it comes to interactions with fans of opposing teams. To be fair, most of the combative interactions he's been involved in clearly seem staged and, as further proof, no club employee to don the bear suit is known to have been fired. But man, it's tough to deny the aggression shown in these 'skits'.
Jazz Bear has had heated head-to-heads with fans of the Cavaliers and Rockets, both of which look awfully realistic. Most recently, in last season's playoffs, he absolutely leveled a Clippers fan who was inside a giant, inflatable ball after the adult fan had taken out a little kid he was racing. Staged or not, Jazz still laid one serious body check to the guy.
8 Mr. C
Vanderbilt's Mr. C can get a little crotchety at times, but you can't blame a guy who has been around for as long as the university has. No, Vanderbilt doesn't have a 144-year-old professor on staff. Mr. C is actually short for Mr. Commodore, the school's official mascot. Despite the advanced age of Vanderbilt's elder statesman, he embodies team spirit - and can sure throw a punch.
The latter talent was put firmly on display during a 2011 Commodores' basketball game, when Mr. C got a little too exuberant in the Vanderbilt student's section. Following a bodysurfing session, a pumped up Mr. C bloodied the nose of a Vandy supporter with a wayward fist. His quick apology suggested an accident, but it's tough to see what his aim was if not to throw fists.
7 Hercules The Lion
Gavin Lucas' ascension to assuming the role of Aston Villa's Hercules the Lion stands as an unlikely mascot success story. A long-time supporter of the Villa, Lucas aced a tryout for the position after dressing as a giant dog in support of his own local club. But Lucas' Cinderella story ended in short order in March of 1999 after he, as Hercules, got a little too friendly with a local beauty queen on the field.
The interaction between lion and queen started innocently enough, with Hercules playfully chasing her around the pitch. However, he didn't stop once she began resisting, touching her and even trying to kiss her in front of a capacity crowd. In terminating Lucas, team official Dave Ismay indicated it wasn't an isolated incident, saying, "he has been warned three or four times and he has not taken those warnings to heart."
Here's a helpful tip to any aspiring mascots out there: if you're going to try a reckless stunt during a game, you'd be wise to avoid the area where the parents of your team's best player sit. Crunch, the mascot of the Minnesota Timberwolves, showed his name to be only too accurate during an early 2017 game against the Pacers. While sliding down an aisle railing during a break in play, Crunch clipped the seat next to Karl-Anthony Towns Sr., which then clipped his knee.
The impact required Towns to sport crutches leaving the arena and get an MRI on his knee. The father of budding Wolves superstar Karl-Anthony Towns was even reported to be considering legal action against the club.
5 Billy The Marlin
South Florida native Saul Schecter survived enemy gunfire during WWII, but couldn't dodge a t-shirt shot out of the cannon of Billy the Marlin at a 2000 Florida Marlins game. Schecter, who claimed to have suffered permanent loss of vision in one eye from the incident, sued the club for $15,000 for his injury and associated medical bills. An apology letter from Billy offering "Best Fishes" did little to diffuse the situation.
The Marlins and Billy, as portrayed by John Routh, were let off the hook on the suit after Schecter acknowledged that eye damage may have actually stemmed from a wayward elbow from another shirt-seeking fan. Although Billy was deemed to not be responsible for Schecter's loss of vision, the notorious prankster has certainly pushed the envelope with his antics more than once.
4 Robbie The Bobby
Finding himself near the top of this list of mascots gone bad is Bury FC's Robbie the Bobby, who ironically enough is a cartoon policeman. It has become clear over the years, though, that Robbie is one dirty cop. In 2001, alone, he was sent off on three separate occasions for an array of offences unbecoming of an officer or mascot.
On top of clashing with opposing mascots on two occasions in the same season, Robbie also was ejected from a Bury match for mooning supporters of Stoke City. That same year, the English Football League One just happened to introduce a set of etiquette guidelines governing its team's mascots, with mooning being established as a strict no-no.
3 Bucky The Badger
There seem to be a pretty arbitrary set of rules in play at Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium. On one hand, the "Jump Around" tradition carried out by Badgers fans that can cause earthquake-like tremors is entirely fair game. On the other, crowd-surfing in the stadium's student section is an offence. Valid or not, that still doesn't excuse Bucky the Badger from being a two-time offender of the latter rule.
Yes, Bucky has been arrested twice - in 1996 and again in 2004 - for surfing through the Wisconsin student section during a football game. Different people donned the suit on each occasion, but Bucky very much remained the prevailing identity. In fact, when the student charged in the '96 incident was asked to spell his surname, he began, "Badger, B-A-D-G...".
2 Cincinnati Bearcat
On December 4th, 2010, the Pittsburgh Panthers football team defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats 28-10. But the most fascinating battle of the day was forged off the field. An epic snowball fight broke out in the stands as Cincy fans pelted Pitt's Dion Lewis in the endzone after the second of his three touchdowns on the day. Front and centre in the fracas was the Cincinnati Bearcat.
The Bearcat wasn't the only snowball thrower, but he certainly stood out the most among the crowd. When warned to stop by stadium security, he proceeded to push the guard to the ground, thereby earning an arrest and a removal from the stadium in handcuffs. A backup option donned the Bearcat costume in the second half of the game.
1 Stanford Tree
The Stanford Tree is a survivor. The fact that it still exists despite an appearance that seems cobbled together by kindergarteners and a litany of infractions unbecoming of a mascot highlights its enduring charm. But not everyone finds the Stanford band's official mascot to be quite so charming.
On top of being photographed in a series of rather compromising positions over the years, the mascot was arrested with a blood-alcohol level of .157 at a 2006 basketball game between Stanford and Cal and was officially fined and sanctioned by the NCAA for drunken cavorting at the Women's Basketball Tournament that same year. It's of little wonder that the Tree has grown so nefarious, since being selected to don the costume traditionally requires candidates to undergo a series of risky, ill-advised pranks and stunts.