The History of Sports Mascots
The team mascot is one of the most cherished traditions in sports. They weren’t always in a giant costume with funny dance moves, but they have always served as a sense of pride and unity between the team and the fans.
Many believe that mascots are uniquely American, but the word “mascot” actually comes from the French term “mascotte,” meaning lucky charm.
Back in the day, it was common to use animals and other symbols as good luck charms during games. The 1919 Chicago White Sox had a disabled orphan that came to every game and was thought to be responsible for their winning season because he was a good luck charm. The first mascot in American sports history was Handsome Dan, Yale’s bulldog, in 1892. Handsome Dan attended every football game with a ferocious attitude and winning spirit, especially against rival Harvard University.
However, things changed during the ’60s thanks to the Muppets. Americans were mesmerized by these fun, fuzzy characters, which led to the cute and animated team ambassadors we know today.
One fan favorite is Mr. Met, the New York Mets man with a baseball head. Since 1969, Mr. Met has been running the Citi Field as one of the oldest continual mascots in America. However, Mr. Met is far from the most outrageous mascot in sports history.
The MLB San Diego Padres’ Chicken started as an animated TV commercial for a radio station in San Diego in the mid-1970s, and a young journalist, Ted Giannoulas, was given the opportunity to wear the chicken suit for $2 an hour on TV. The Padres Chicken was a colorful character to say the least. The gimmicks, dance moves, pranks on umpires, cartwheels turned into splits over home plate, and the famous “Grand Hatching” led this mascot to be one of the most famous influencers in baseball history.
The NBA Chicago Bulls’ Benny the Bull is another popular mascot. Dating back to 1969, Benny the Bull is one of the longest-tenured mascots in all professional sports, running alongside Mr. Met. The slam-dunking, tumbling, break-dancing Bull makes the crowd rave with excitement. His mid-air dunks on the basketball hoop make him a crowd pleaser, and he loves to party with the fans.
So, how do teams come up with their mascots? Surprisingly, there is no limit for how creative a team can get. Many times, mascots tie into a regional theme, like the Florida Gators. Sometimes, mascots don’t have anything to do with the team name or region at all. The Big Red, for example, is Western Kentucky University’s fuzzy red blob of a mascot that portrayed the red towels waved around in the crowds. According to Forbes magazine, America’s favorite mascot is old Mr. Met, followed by Phillie the Phanatic of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Whatever your favorite mascot is, we can all agree that mascots give sports personality. Mascots provide fans with a sense of belonging and attachment to their teams. The mascot is designed to make the connection between athlete and fan so the games are filled with more excitement and joy. Face it: The teams need their mascots.
Written by: Hannah Simpson