In Yes, It's Hot In Here: Adventures in the Weird, Woolly World of Sports Mascots, former NY Mets mascot AJ Mass documents the strange trajectory of this perennial lucky charm. Mass' stories involve everything from dealing with ballpark security (and potential sniper fire) to mascots getting assaulted by the fans of opposing teams to generally feeling like they never get the respect they deserve.
Such antics and feelings extend beyond the ball diamond, of course, as there are mascots to cheer on nearly every major sports team, mascots for advertising, for restaurants and theme parks, and for public service announcements. But money aside, what motivates people to crawl into these sweltering suits on the regular? VICE talked to three former mascots to find out what went on inside their enormous heads.
"Roger"* Peterborough Petes Mascot
VICE: What does your costume look like?
Roger: The costume is made to resemble a St. Bernard dog. We named him after our long-time coach, Roger Neilson, who went on to coach many seasons in the NHL. He passed away in 2002 and left a tremendous impact not only on Peterborough's hockey landscape but also in the National Hockey League as well. He was an innovator in coaching. We thought it would be a nice touch to name the mascot after him. We chose the St. Bernard because our last mascot—it was a barbarian-looking person—was a little too stern-looking. We wanted to appeal to our younger demographic with a loving, caring type of animal. Somebody they would love and cherish. We found the St. Bernard to be the most appealing.
Can you see out?
Many people have the misconception that you can't see anything. You can see quite a bit. You don't look through the eyes; you look through the mouth. It's a double-knit screen—the people can't see your eyes but you can see them. You don't have the peripherals or the big picture, you see straight in front of you. We'll typically have a spotter to communicate with; to look down or look at the kid behind you.
Do you still get hot when you're in the rink?
Roger is not just in the arena. He is out into the community, especially in the summer. Sometimes three times a week. Because the costume is not air conditioned like some of the more expensive costumes you can buy, it can get extremely hot. We have different tactics; drinking lots of water before and after an event, stuffing ice packs down your chest or on your neck, cold towels on your forehead, little tricks to help alleviate the heat. But at the end of the day it is still hot. It gives us a time restraint; sometimes people request the mascot to come to an event for two, three, even four hours—it can't be done. In the summer at an outdoor event, we'll last 30-40 minutes tops.
Do people treat mascots differently?
Certainly. If I meet a five-year-old kid in the community, I'm certainly not going to appeal to him at the level that Roger the mascot will. At the same time, I'm a friendly person out in public, no different than when I'm in the suit. So I think that's where it makes it an easy transition for me, just because of my personality. I'm able to act like myself.
Have you had any weird altercations?
We haven't had any problems yet—knock on wood! We hope that it will continue to be the case.
What's your favourite part of being Roger?
Seeing the smiles and the joy on the kids' faces. There's nothing like it. It doesn't take much to put a smile on a kid's face. You give them a hockey card or a puck--and they feel like they're on top of the world. It's a really neat feeling and you get a warm heart out of it.
It makes sweating to death inside worth it?
[Laughs] It certainly does, absolutely.
VICE: What exactly did you do?
Hamilton: My college has a mascot that goes to all the sport events. It's a role that's elected yearly. Your job is to go to the sporting events and create chants and support the teams; rowing, football, rugby, as well as kind of promote the college on things like opening day, when you have prospective students coming in.
What did you have to wear?
Essentially it's like a giant pink onesie. Very thick material, it's like a sleeping bag with sleeves and legs. It's quite warm to wear. You've got this big headpiece—it's kind of held onto your head by cardboard supports. It's like trying to look out of small coins, you can't really see where you're going in it. You're always bumping into things or people. You can breathe in it fine, the eyeholes bring in air, you just can't see anything. But the costume is just really warm. I'd be outside for sporting events in the hot sun, and slowly dying on the inside.
Were you ever hit on in the costume?
At the college ball, there was a very big difference between the amount of girls' numbers I got when I was wearing the costume, vs. the amount of numbers I got when I wasn't. The girls really dig the costume. I must have gotten four numbers that night. I was like, yes. I should wear this in the club more often.
What was the weirdest thing that happened to you in the costume?
I was walking through the park one day to get to a rowing event. A drunk homeless man decided he would like to have a go at the head. I was like, no. So we had a three minute fight over the head, trying to jostle it away from one another. Because he was drunk, he eventually fell over and I was able to run away.
What was the worst part of the gig?
There's a tradition that the mascot gets thrown in the river at the end of each rowing event. I was not a big fan of the water, so it wasn't the most pleasant experience. You go from being very, very warm in this sleeping bag to very cold, in the river, in this thing that's impossible to swim in.
Did you ever forget you were wearing it?
You were acutely aware at all times you were wearing it!
Do you miss it?
I miss going out and being a formal part of each sporting event; I miss talking with the athletes, I miss the popularity aspect, and I just really enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone—if you ever get a chance to be a mascot, do.
VICE: What'd the costume look like?
Brown: The costume was a six-and-a-half foot tall grey rat wearing a vest. The costume had no tail because they learned pretty early on that if there was a tail attached to it, people would yank on it. So Chuck E. Cheese had no tail. It was really ratty and threadbare. There was no kind of padding or cushioning inside the costume to kind of fill it out, so depending on who was wearing it, it just sort of sagged and hung off of your body.
Could you see out at all?
You could kind of see a little bit. There was a mesh screen where the eyes were and where the mouth was. You could see out of the top and bottom a little. But you had no peripheral vision at all. And the vision you did have out of those holes was pretty limited. You had to know your way around the restaurant, and take it on faith that nothing was in your way at any given moment.
What exactly did you do?
My job was pretty much 50/50 between being in the mascot costume and running around getting the tokens unstuck from the machines. They didn't want the rat on the floor all the time. I would run to the back and have to jump into this costume every time there was like a birthday party or something like that. They would run me out, I would shake hands, give hugs and have to do the YMCA dance, take pictures with the birthday kids, and there were a couple of different dance routines I had to do with other staff members for the different birthday packages. It was about half taking pictures with kids and dancing, and the other half getting punched in the balls and generally shoved and being insulted/propositioned by angry drunk parents.
The Chuck E. Cheese's I worked at started serving beer like a week after I worked there, so we started having this phenomenon of parents getting drunk at birthday parties. I guess some of the moms thought it would be funny to proposition Chuck E. They just assumed there was a guy in it. Sometimes it was me, sometimes it was this other girl who worked there. So there was a 50/50 chance that it could be a man or woman inside the costume at any point.
Did you go out on any dates with the moms?
The kind of woman who would get drunk at a child's birthday party and hit on a stranger dressed as a rat is not the kind of woman you want to go on a date with.
What about the dads?
We had drunk dads who would want to fight Chuck E, kind of half-serious but serious enough that they're like, "I could take a giant rat!" You had to sort of back away slowly and run. And you had no peripheral vision in the costume. So they would come at you from the side and start talking to you, and you're trying to turn your head slowly enough that the head itself doesn't like, shift or fall off, because it was only held on with velcro tabs. It was really weird.
Did you have somebody help steer you around?
There was always supposed to be another staff member with you when you were in the costume, but they would get distracted or somebody would ask them a question, so a lot of times you ended up just wandering around on your own, like, trying to defend yourself against weird drunk parents and tiny kids running at you full speed and head-butting you in the nuts trying to give you a hug.
Why do people treat mascots differently?
I always got the impression that there were kind of two different things at play. One was people trying to be funny for their friends, like: "Dude, I'll give you ten bucks if you punch the rat!" That kind of idiot bravado. The other one was just that it was kind of a crappy white trash low-income area we were in, and I think it made people feel kinda good just to have someone to look down on. There was just a lot of people there that didn't have a whole lot of other stuff going for them, and just having somebody they could look at, that they could point to that was lower on the social ladder than them—I think it made them feel better about themselves.
What's the biggest misconception about being a rat mascot?
I think people make the assumption that it's sanitary and safe. And it's not. I would feel more comfortable being a garbage collector than getting back into one of those mascot costumes. Looking back, I'm amazed I wasn't sick every day I was working that job. It was probably the most disgusting thing I've ever done. Dry cleaning a mascot costume is apparently very expensive, so they would just spray the inside with Lysol. It was kind of our job to spray it down before we got in it, and spray it down when we got out. It got so hot in that costume—they wouldn't pay to dry clean it but they bought a hair dryer so that when you weren't in the costume you could put the hair dryer inside it to try and dry it out. It was one of those things that, in retrospect, you could only do it if you were 18 or 19 years old and didn't realize how disgusting it was.
Did you ever forget you were wearing it?
I was always intensely aware I was wearing this sweat-drenched fur bag. There was no escapism happening there, it was grotesquely real at all times.
Do you miss it at all?
I miss being 19. That's it.
Were there any positive aspects to the job?
It's always good to do something that makes kids happy, you know. There's something super deeply satisfying about seeing a kid's face light up and knowing that you caused that. Since then, I've been in the yo-yo industry for 20 years now and spend a lot of times doing shows and working with kids and it's pretty fantastic. But I would say that being a mascot is one of the lowest possible forms of accomplishing that goal.
Plus, you can barely see their little faces.
Yeah. Every once in awhile you catch a glimpse of one and think, oh cool, it's working—and then the next kid you walk by bursts into tears because, oh my god, it's a seven foot rat.
*At the request of the Peterborough Petes, Roger's identity remained anonymous.
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