Mascots speak out about Mr. Met controversy, fan behavior

It shouldn’t exactly be shocking in 2017 that a pro sports mascot was caught in a social-media video flipping off fans. We’ve seen people more famous than Mr. Met get caught doing the wrong thing while a cell phone was recording.

Still, the situation was no less embarrassing for the New York Mets — and, coincidentally, no more reveled in by the internet. The schadenfreude was strong with this one.

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The headlines came quick. The apology came just as fast. And the next day, the Mets had promised the person wearing the Mr. Met costume on Wednesday night would never wear it again. The Mets — like many other pro sports franchises — have more than one performer who wears the mascot costume. By Thursday morning, thanks to the middle finger heard ‘round Twitter, it had one fewer.

“Mascots are supposed to use non-verbal communication,” one pro sports mascot told Yahoo Sports, “but I think that crossed the line right there.”

Yahoo Sports talked to a handful of professional mascots — a few from Major League Baseball, one from the National Football League and one from Minor League Baseball — about the Mr. Met saga to see how they reacted to what will almost certainly be the biggest mascot controversy of this sports year, and to see how close they’ve come to losing their cool with a fan.

“I guarantee that most mascots at some point have wanted to flip somebody the bird or slap someone,” said the NFL mascot performer. “I don’t think the general public knows what mascots put up with at games. It’s one thing to come out and do a nursing home where everybody is laughing with you. Trouble is, most game days are not your typical nursing home. You’re dealing with people who are extremely passionate and maybe have been drinking too much. If you’re team’s not playing well, you’re taking the abuse.”

New York Mets mascot Mr. Met was at the center of a controversy after the person behind the costume flipped off fans at Citi Field. (AP)

Playing well? That’s not the Mets, who had World Series talent and aspirations at the start of this season, but have followed it up with a series of frustrating injuries and bizarre controversies, this one right there at the top of the list. They’re 23-30 entering play Saturday.

“I understand the frustration,” one MLB mascot performer said, “that can build up sometimes with an organization or fan base or even just a rowdy fan in general, but just walk away, man. This type of incident also tends to fan the flames of the stereotype of mascot performers who are doing this type of work because they can’t get any other type of work, which is nonsense. Yes, part of our jobs is to generate headlines and content and there isn’t a more visible position for an organization. But this incident crossed the line.”

A few of the performers we talked to guessed that the Mr. Met performer that night was a part-timer and, thus, didn’t bring the right mentality to the job.

“I think it’s symptomatic of a trend of part-time performers and teams that don’t necessarily have the right structure set up where someone can take ownership of the character and really be seen as a contributing member of a staff,” the same MLB mascot performer said. “The Mr. Met thing just seems like an employee that isn’t thinking big picture about the franchise and how the employee culture, if there is one, is followed. Most good, impactful performers and programs at this level don’t necessarily get the attention they deserve because they’re not grabbing salacious headlines for incompetence.”

Oh, but the opportunities are there. Every mascot performer we talked to admitted that fans cross the line all the time. They all said it’s important to have a handler who can help avoid dicey situations and having enough sense to just walk away.

Other mascots suggest a good handler is key to avoiding controversies like the one Mr. Met is facing. (Getty Images)

“When people are drunk it’s the worst,” says the Minor League Baseball mascot performer. “I’ve had drunk people come up, being aggressive and I broke character just so they would stop. It was getting to a point where it’s affecting the person inside the suit as well as the mascot brand.”

“Words do not affect me nearly as much as people getting physical with me,” says another MLB mascot performer. “I have definitely become upset when people are hitting or grabbing me. The best solution is to run away as quickly as possible. Easier said than done when it’s hot and everyone’s pissing you off, but I have had enough encounters of my own with people getting out of control that I have become a less accessible mascot at games for fear of losing my job.”

Being able to walk away sounds great in a neutral situation, but in a heated moment, that’s a tougher decision to make. It’s not any different than the other big story out of baseball this week: The brawl that started when San Francisco Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland hit Bryce Harper with a pitch.

Harper chose to charge the mound in response to Strickland throwing at him. In a different situation, Harper probably knows better. In the heat of the moment? People sometimes do things they regret.

“I have never flipped anyone the middle finger because I do not see the use in that,” said one of the MLB performers. “That does not mean I have not responded to people. If someone is getting physical with me I have responded by grabbing the hand they are hitting me with and either twisting it to get them off of me or yelling at them while in costume. I’m sure a lot of performers have done things that they are not proud of or that could potentially get them fired, it just didn’t go viral on social media.”

In the aftermath of the Mr. Met middle finger, don’t be surprised if that changes. The minor-league performer we talked to said some fans will now be trying harder to goad performers into lashing out, so they can catch it on camera and find a sliver of internet fame.

“Being the person in that costume will be tough for the rest of the season,” he said. “They will hear it from everywhere like, ‘Hey Mr. Met, flip me off.’ You have to assume eyes are always on you. I would not want to be the person inside of that costume.”

Mr. Met during happier times with Mets’ fans. (Getty Images)

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!