In the ‘Gritty’ World of Sports Mascots, Safety is No Accident

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By Sam Pearson

It only took 26 seconds for the Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot, Gritty, to create his latest viral moment—descending from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center to the tune of the Miley Cyrus hit “Wrecking Ball.”

But it took a lot of behind-the-scenes planning to make sure the stunt went off safely before the Oct. 9 game against the San Jose Sharks, according to the consultant who produced the stunt.

Set-up only took about one day, but it required calculations to align Gritty’s path with the geometry of the arena where the Flyers play, according to Brett Rhinehart, the owner of Aerial Concepts Inc. in Charlotte, N.C. Plans must consider how far above the ice the performer will be, the spacing of structural high beams, and obstructions like speakers and banners, Rhinehart said.

“We spent a great deal of time identifying a safe flight path,” Rhinehart said.

The Flyers—who haven’t had a mascot since 1976—announced Gritty as the team’s new costumed character Sept. 24. The orange-haired mascot drew ridicule, with comedian John Oliver calling the googly-eyed creature “hostile, consistently unsettling, [and] temperamentally unpleasant,” but has been embraced by the Internet.

A spokeswoman for the Flyers didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Environment’s request for comment, but Rhinehart said Gritty’s flight at the home opener may not be the last for the furry creature this season.

Risks in the Air

Stunts like Gritty’s are less common than in the past, Erin Blank, owner of Keystone Mascots LLC, a mascot-training school in Lancaster, Pa., told Bloomberg Environment.

Several high-profile mascot mishaps have led to serious injury or simply embarrassment for a performer. Some leagues like the NBA have, as a result, limited the kind of stunts teams can perform, Blank said, and teams sometimes want to avoid the spectacle.

Failing to execute a stunt of this nature safely can lead to liability costs and fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In 2013, Dan Meers, who performed as the Kansas City Chiefs’ mascot, KC Wolf, sustained spinal and pelvic injuries requiring surgery after slamming into Arrowhead Stadium’s upper deck while practicing a zip-line routine. Records show OSHA opened an inspection of the Chiefs but didn’t issue a citation for the incident.

The San Jose Sharks—the Flyers’ opponent Oct. 9—had their own mascot disaster in 1999 when a malfunctioning rappel line left a performer dressed as S.J. Sharkie stuck dangling above the ice after a failed bungee jump before the game. Workers had to pull the mascot by hand back to the overhead walkways.

Rhinehart performed similar pendulum swings while working as Gnash, the mascot of the Nashville Predators, during their inaugural season in 1998.

“It’s great,” Rhinehart said. “You’ve got 15-, 20,000 people all screaming and cheering at the same time. It’s phenomenal. Ask any mascot.”

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