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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Sports Mascots

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Thanks to pioneers like Mr. Met in the 1960s, few sports teams have felt complete without the presence of a mascot. These larger-than-life animated characters rally hometown crowds, work with charities, and can occasionally make baseball seem exciting.

To get a better look at what goes on under those mounds of fur and sweat, mental_floss spoke to several current and former mascots about the tricks of the trade, from scaring small animals to how they fit their massive frames through doorways. Here’s a little peek behind the mask.

1. THEY CAN GET FLEAS.

“This happened while I was in college,” says Erin Blank, a former mascot for the Detroit Tigers and a trainer with Keystone Mascots. “A rival school had a situation where their mascot costume got infested with fleas. They actually dipped it in a flea bath. All of the fur fell off. And they only had one costume.” The faux fur used in many costumes also leads mascots to use pet grooming tools to keep their coats clean and shiny.

2. THEY’RE NOT ALLOWED TO TALK.

Mascots are masters of gestures that need to be big enough to be noticed from the rafters. Since vocalizing can't travel far, most major mascots abide by a no-talking policy. “I never spoke when I was in character,” says Kevin Vanderkolk, who spent 14 years portraying Bango for the Milwaukee Bucks and now owns the SOAR Adventure Tower near Nashville. “You don’t want to humanize him.” Instead, Vanderkolk hoped for a lot of yes-or-no questions or mimed a response. 

3. THEY LIKE A GOOD VODKA SOAK.

While costumes have come a long way from the suffocating and heavy designs of decades past, there’s still no getting around the fact that many of them aren’t machine-washable. To try and fight off the permanent funk, many mascots use a tip first recommended by Bonnie Erickson, a former Muppet Workshop employee and creator of several legendary mascots including the Phillie Phanatic: a spray bottle full of vodka.

“That’s still applicable,” says Blank. “You want to kill the bacteria. Some mascots also use Listerine, but the problem there is the added flavor. The color can ruin fur.” (An alternative for the smell is Fur Breeze, a dog cologne that apparently works on fake fur.)

4. THERE’S A SECRET TO GETTING THROUGH DOORS.

Many mascots cut a recognizable figure thanks to massive heads and wide frames. The problem? The world was made for people with human dimensions, not 85-inch hips. Dan Meers, who performs as KC Wolf for the Kansas City Chiefs, let us in on an old mascot trick. “The hips are basically Hula Hoops,” he says. “You just pull up on the left and push down on the right and you can get through doors.”

5. THEY SOMETIMES NEED A COLLEGE DEGREE.

There’s no clear and singular path to becoming a mascot. Some are former gymnasts; others come from a theater or dance background. According to Blank, several pro teams are looking to formalize the hiring process by looking for mascots with college degrees in sports marketing. “The mascots are responsible for seeking sponsorships for teams,” she says. “It helps to pay their salary.”

6. THEY CAN UPSET FANS.

Despite the histrionics of Tommy Lasorda, most mascots get along with coaches just fine. The real adversaries can be fans. “Complaints never come from coaches,” Meers says. “It’s from the guy sitting behind someone who wanted to help me propose to his girlfriend, and I was blocking his view of two plays. He couldn’t see around me. That’s why we’re always moving and staying active.”

7. THEY FORGE THEIR AUTOGRAPHS.

Because no performer takes up permanent residence in a suit, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to have them sign their “name” organically. Instead, mascots practice a kind of house style, using exemplars from previous actors in order to emulate the autograph of the character. “Some teams have developed very specific signatures for mascots,” Blank says. “It’s something that gets passed on down through the years.”

8. THEY CAN GET REALLY HURT.

As Bango, former gymnast Vanderkolk bounced off trampolines, did a back-flip off a massive extension ladder, and occasionally played with fire. It was all enough to get him on the injured list nearly as often as the players. “I’ve had a torn ACL, some pretty significant ankle and shoulder injuries, hand injuries. It was a big factor in my retirement," he says. Once, when an injury confined him to the sidelines, Vanderkolk rolled out in costume in a wheelchair. “Any time I was hurt, Bango was hurt. You want to keep the integrity of the character.”

9. FOOTBALL MIGHT BE A BETTER GIG THAN BASEBALL.

“It’s simple math,” Meers says. “I started out working for the St. Louis Cardinals out of college before the Chiefs contacted me. I could either do 81 home games in baseball or 10 in football. It didn’t take me long to decide.” Personal appearances, however, are a grind either way: between store openings, parades, and other events, Meers figures he makes up to 500 drop-ins a year.

10. THEY SOMETIMES LIKE TO SCARE DOGS.

PETA may not approve, but sometimes the temptation to annoy a dog while in a giant anthropomorphic animal suit proves irresistible. “I used to love making dogs bark and freaking them out,” Blank says. “I get it can be a little bit of harassment, so I don’t do it as much as I used to.”

11. THEY HAVE BIRTHDAY PARTIES.

Mascots rarely meet one another, with the exception of their birthdays: Pro teams often use a character’s birth date as an excuse to throw a public relations party, inviting four to six mascots from elsewhere in the league. “The teams embrace it as a marketing platform,” Vanderkolk says. In 2015, the Phillie Phanatic had an on-field celebration that featured a giant cake, a visiting Philadelphia Eagles mascot named Swoop, and an inflatable iguana that appeared to devour the umpire.

12. THEY GET PAID TO BE PATIENT.

If a normal person can walk a path in five minutes, it will take a mascot more like 30: Everyone wants to stop them, take a picture, or grab a hug. That’s part of the job, but Meers says the problem starts when people treat them like plush animals. “Mascots do not like having their tail pulled,” he says. As for hugs: no problem, but be aware their line of sight may line up with the costume’s neck. “Every now and then, I’ll catch a shot in the nose.”

13. THEY’RE NOT ALWAYS A FAN OF THEIR OWN TEAM.

“You don’t necessarily need to be a fan,” Blank says, “but you should check what you put on social media.” In February 2015, Darnell Enrique, a.k.a. Franklin the mascot, was caught ripping his Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia fans in general in messages that were excavated from tweets a few years prior to his hiring. On the Philadelphia Eagles: “WORSE [sic] TEAM EVER hhahaha.”

14. THEY DO WEDDINGS.

As part of their personal appearance rotations, mascots are often invited to private parties like birthdays and wedding receptions. As KC Wolf, Meers has walked three brides down the aisle. “I throw on a tuxedo over the outfit,” he says. “At the reception, it’s a half-hour of dancing with bridesmaids, taking pictures, and hanging out with grandma.”

All images courtesy of Getty.

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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