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
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
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
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
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
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.