8 Sports Mascots Who Went Rogue

Doug Pensinger, Getty Images
Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

Nothing livens up a sporting event quite like a team mascot—a polyester-filled costumed character that excites crowds, poses with fans, and raises team spirit. But sometimes, these harmless morale boosters wind up getting a little too involved in the action. Take a look at eight mascots who exceeded their boundaries and brought shame to the costume.

1. The Phillie Phanatic’s Pool Party

The Phillie Phanatic stands behind a police officer
Rich Schultz, Getty Images

Many well-known mascots are hired out to perform at private functions, spreading their trademark brand of cheer to people who recognize them from stadiums. The Phillie Phanatic, the Philadelphia Phillies's mascot of unknown species, saw one such side gig go awry in 2010, when he was booked for a wedding in New Jersey and thought it would be funny to toss a woman resting in a lounge chair into a pool. The unwitting participant, Suzanne Peirce, filed a lawsuit against the Phanatic, the Phillies, and the hotel that hosted the wedding, claiming she suffered shock and a herniated disc among other injuries. Because Peirce didn’t know who was in the suit at the time, she named several men known to wear the costume.

The suit was settled in 2014, but the Phanatic still holds the distinction of being the most controversial mascot in sports. He has been the subject of several lawsuits, including one in which he allegedly damaged a woman’s knees by crawling on her and another in which he was blamed for hugging someone too hard. In 2018, he was accused of injuring someone in the stands by shooting them with a hot dog gun. These misadventures have earned him the nickname "the Big Green Litigation Machine."

2. Tommy Hawk's Pecking Order

Despite the propensity of hockey players to punch opposing players when a dispute arises, their mascots are expected to keep the peace. Tommy Hawk, the cheerleading bird for the Chicago Blackhawks, was unable to keep his wings to himself in December 2018, when he responded to an aggressive fan by body-slamming him in the United Center arena concourse. The altercation, which went viral thanks to some intrepid fans with cell phone cameras, apparently ended with Tommy Hawk getting the best of his assailant. The next day, a Chicago police spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times they were still trying to locate the attacker. Tommy Hawk, who was not reported to have suffered any reprisals for the scuffle, is set to be inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2019.

3. Miami Feels the Burnie

Burnie sits down during a Miami Heat game
Eliot J. Schechter, Getty Images

Basketball-nosed Burnie of the Miami Heat found himself playing defense in court after an October 1994 incident in which he dragged a spectator out by her legs during an exhibition game against the Atlanta Hawks in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The woman, Yvonne Gil-Rebollo, sued for $1 million, claiming severe tendonitis. Burnie had lousy luck when he picked Yvonne out from the crowd: Gil-Rebollo happened to be the wife of Puerto Rico Supreme Court judge Francisco Rebollo as well as the sister of Guillermo Gil Bonar, the island’s U.S. attorney. In 1994, a jury found the Heat liable for $50,000 in damages.

Burnie has long had a penchant for causing trouble. In 1997, he was punched by Dolph Schayes, an NBA veteran whose son, Danny Schayes, played for the Orlando Magic. The attack came after Burnie sprayed Magic fans with a water gun. In 2015, the team was sued after the mascot lifted a teacher up during a school appearance to assist with a leg split during a dance routine and tore her hip. A confidential agreement was reached in December 2016. In 2018, an AmericanAirlines Arena security guard named Juanita Griffiths sued for a 2017 incident in which Burnie bumped into her while cavorting. She alleges that the collision caused her to fall and injure her leg. No resolution has been reported.

4. The Cincinnati Bearcat's Snowball Spiral

Few team sports offer more emotional investment than college football, a highly territorial clash of teams that can lead to emotions running high. During a December 2010 game between the University of Cincinnati and Pitt, the Cincinnati Bearcat began to spend an inordinate amount of time pelting people in the stands with snowballs. After security cautioned him to stop, the Bearcat became unruly and officials were forced to wrestle him to the ground. He was detained and cited for disorderly conduct.

5. Sebastian the Ibis's Fowl Play

Sebastian the Ibis appears during a University of Miami game
Streeter Lecka, Getty Images

Mascots often think of ways to put an entertaining spin on games, from dancing with fans to tossing giveaways into the crowd. In 1989, University of Miami mascot Sebastian the Ibis thought it would be amusing to walk onto the field carrying a fire extinguisher, ostensibly to put out the flaming spear of rival mascot Chief Osceola of Florida State University. Sebastian was spotted by a police officer, who was not enthused about the idea and tried to grab the extinguisher. In the ensuing melee, an officer was sprayed and Sebastian was tossed against a fence, while cops attempted to bend his wings behind his back. Perhaps sensing arresting a bird was not going to end well for anyone, authorities released Sebastian and cautioned him about trying to interfere with the ritual. The bird maintained he would never have actually put out the flame.

6. Harvey the Hound Loses His Tongue

When it comes to crossing over into hostile territory, it pays to be careful. That lesson was lost on Harvey the Hound, the mascot for the Calgary Flames hockey team, who opted to climb into the bleachers behind Craig MacTavish, head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, in January 2003. Following a protracted bit of taunting, MacTavish reached up, grabbed Harvey’s lolling tongue, and ripped it out of his mouth. A spokesperson for the Flames later said that Harvey was not supposed to be so close to the opposing team.

7. Georgia's Exploding Bulldog

Smokey appears during a Tennessee Volunteers game
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

Prior to an NCAA women’s basketball title match between the University of Tennessee and the University of Georgia in November 1996, Tennessee's mascot—a bluetick coonhound named Smokey—decided to have a little fun with a stuffed bulldog he brought out to center court for demonstration purposes. Smokey improvised a pro wrestling match, battering and smashing the plush animal with fierce blows. Smokey then delivered an elbow, which prompted his adversary to explode, the foam balls inside spreading all over the hardwood. After pausing for cleanup, game officials ejected Smokey.

8. Bob the Shark's Ill-Advised Attack

Bob the Shark appears with Julio the Octopus and Spike the Sea Dragon during the Great Sea Race at a Miami Marlins game
Marc Serota, Getty Images

In 2013, Beth Fedornak was attending a Miami Marlins game and watched as a costumed character named Bob the Shark was trotted out as part of the entertainment between innings. In the performance, Bob races other sea creatures like Julio the Octopus and Angel the Stone Crab. Suddenly, Bob was upon Fedornak, and tried to mime biting her head. Fedornak claimed the interaction caused her severe neck pain and injuries. She sued in 2015. The case went to mediation in 2017 in the hopes of avoiding a jury trial, but no resolution was disclosed. The team ended the sea creature race in 2018, retaining only the services of a single mascot: Billy the Marlin.

103-Year-Old Julia 'Hurricane' Hawkins Just Set a New World Record for the 50-Meter Dash

Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins participates in the 2019 Senior Games,
Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins participates in the 2019 Senior Games,
All images copyright NSGA

Here she is, as the Scorpions would say, rocking the 50-meter dash like a hurricane. On Monday, 103-year-old Baton Rouge native Julia "Hurricane" Hawkins set a new world record in her division—the women's 100-plus—by completing the 50-meter dash at the Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in just 46.07 seconds.

Amazingly, this isn't the only world record Hawkins holds: In 2017, the former teacher set her first world record (which she still holds) by finishing the 100-meter race in less than 40 seconds. "I thought it’d be neat to run at 100, and do the 100-yard dash,” Hawkins told KRQE. Although family members say she has always been active, she only started running fairly recently—lacing up her sneakers for the first time at the age of 101.

Hawkins, who credits the sport with keeping her mind and body sharp, says she has no plans of slowing down any time soon. Her preferred method of training? Walking around her garden. "I have an acre of land and I have 50 kinds of trees, and I’m working on them all the time,” Hawkins said.

While the "Hurricane" nickname is certainly befitting, the world-class athlete has a better suggestion: "I like the flower lady better."

Aside from maintaining her personal health, Hawkins has a more noble goal each time she picks up the pace. "I hope I’m inspiring [other people] to be healthy,” she said, "and to realize you can still be doing it at this kind of an age.”

[h/t KRQE]

4 Reasons Why Climbing Everest Is Deadlier Than Ever

Prakash Mathema/Getty Images
Prakash Mathema/Getty Images

On April 18, 2014, an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas on Mount Everest, making it the deadliest day in the mountain’s history. But one year later, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake triggered another fatal avalanche that killed more than 20 climbers and shut the mountain down for the 2015 season. During this year's season, at least 11 climbers have died on Everest experts say.

At 29,029 feet, Everest is known for its dangers; that's part of the allure. But in recent years, tragedies have spiked, and frozen bodies scattered across the mountain are an eerie reminder of the growing hazards. So why is the world’s tallest mountain claiming more lives than ever before?

1. Climate change makes Mount Everest unpredictable.

Everest tragedies are nothing new; since 1990, at least one climber has died in pursuit of the summit every year. But each climbing season, Everest is getting more unstable. Kent Clement, a professor of outdoor studies at Colorado Mountain College, argues that climate change is possibly the most imminent risk for climbers.

“As temperatures rise, Everest’s thousands of feet of ice and water are becoming unstable, making the mountain even more volatile,” Clement said.

Collapsing seracs—50- to 100-foot columns of ice formed by intersecting glacier crevasses—are a growing threat. Seracs can stand perfectly still for decades, then spontaneously fall over, killing those nearby and, in some cases, triggering avalanches further down the mountain. Case in point: The deadly 2014 avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas was caused by a serac collapse in the Khumbu Icefall, the most dangerous section of the route up Everest's southeastern face.

As you’d expect, climate-related risks are the new norm. A study in the journal The Cryosphere [PDF] predicts that Mount Everest’s glaciers could shrink by 70 percent this century, making currently unstable sections of the routes even more so.

2. Human biology is at odds with high altitudes on Mount Everest.

Climbers ascending the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest
Prakash Mathema/Getty Images

In addition to natural disasters, Everest climbers face a number of life-threatening health risks.

In high-altitude settings, there is less oxygen in the atmosphere, and oxygen doesn’t diffuse into a climber’s blood as well as it would at sea level. That can lead to serious medical problems. The two most common illnesses on Everest are high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), in which constricted blood vessels cause fluid to leak into the lungs' air sacs; and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), in which fluid leaks from blood vessels in the brain, causing headaches, neurologic dysfunction, coma, and eventually death if not treated (and in some cases, even when treated).

“Altitude illness impacts people in different ways, and we don’t really know who is susceptible until they have altitude illness,” Christopher Van Tilburg, an expert in travel medicine and a physician Oregon's Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, told Mental Floss. “High-altitude pulmonary edemas can hit people suddenly—even highly trained, fit mountaineers.”

3. Neurological and psychological factors can impair Everest climbers' judgment.

Another health risk that affects a climber’s cognition is hypoxia, which is simply when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. According to Clement, hypoxia can drastically impair judgment, making it one of the most dangerous Everest risks.

“The higher you climb, the more your judgment gets impaired,” Clement said. “It’s amazing how hard it is for smart people to do simple math and memory problems at high altitudes.”

In addition to causing treacherous missteps, hypoxia can drive climbers to push harder and go farther than they normally would—but not in a good way. These “cognitive traps” often happen when a climber gets closer to the top and replace logic and safety with stubborn determination, putting everything at risk to reach their goal. Another word for it? Summit fever.

According to Clement, the cure is setting a strict turnaround time: an ironclad moment when a climber promises to turn around and forego the summit to save their life. Turnaround times are decided before setting foot on Everest, and should be agreed upon between climbers, guides, and expedition leaders. But hypoxia, exposure, and inexperience can encourage climbers to ignore the protocol.

“Every time you ignore your turnaround time, you’re putting yourself at risk,” Clement said. “Professional guides are also supposed to follow these rules, but they get stuck in cognitive traps, too, because the more clients they get to the top, the more clients they’ll have next season.”

4. Medicine can reduce—but not eliminate—Mount Everest's dangers.

Any climb above 19,000 feet—the altitude known as “the death zone”—will have associated health risks, but there are treatments that can help climbers survive. Medicines include acetazolamide (sold under the brand name Diamox), a diuretic that helps prevent a mild edema, and dexamethasone (brand name Decadron), a steroid used to treat a brain edema and reverse the symptoms of acute mountain sickness. The only true fix for acute mountain sickness is immediate descent.

The best way to stay alive on Everest is proper training, fitness, and organization, but even those steps can't guarantee safety.

“Training doesn’t really offset objective hazards like rock falls, ice falls, avalanches, and earthquakes,” said Van Tilburg. “And while we have medicine for altitude illness to help people acclimatize, we don’t have medicines for the myriad other risks on Everest.”

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