The Flyers’ new googly-eyed mascot embodies everything that’s good and bad about the author’s hometown. But mostly the bad
Philadelphia is home to the undisputed king of professional sports mascots: the Phillie Phanatic. No less esteemed a source than Wikipedia reveals he is “widely acknowledged as one of the best ballpark mascots” and “arguably the most recognizable mascot in all of North American sports”.
You can imagine the horror, then, when he got a new sibling this week: Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot, is a horrifying bearded man-Muppet hybrid whose eyes are permanently rolling in their sockets, presumably from years of drug use. He is a nightmarish frat boy who communicates only in bro-friendly gestures – the guy who was loudly present at every college party but had never experienced true friendship. He fills the hole in his heart with a violent Flyers obsession. He is toxic masculinity incarnate.
And I fear, to many, he is a perfect emblem of my city. Philadelphia is known for greasing poles to minimize damage by – and to – fans after Eagles victories; we’ve been forever branded as the city that hurled snowballs at Santa Claus and where a guy purposely threw up on a cop and his child (RIP). The main attraction of our art museum is not Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase but the fact that Sylvester Stallone ran up the stairs there once. Gritty, in short, is the last thing we need. The Flyers’ website describes him as being descended from a “bully” who is “unwelcoming to anyone who opposes his team”. Surely his presence will only encourage more tourists to skip over the city between New York and Washington on their east coast trips.
Meanwhile, we’re raising our kids with this thing as a role model. My sister used to receive cheerful birthday cards from the Phanatic. I assume Gritty will send children half-drunk cans of Yuengling. (At least he is, inexplicably, concerned over sports-related brain trauma: he always wears a helmet.)
All this comes at a terrible time for Philadelphia, with our post-victory antics on full national display after the Super Bowl victory last year. Even the sainted Phanatic has run into trouble of late: a hot dog he fired from his fabled cannon flew into a 58-year-old fan’s face and sent her to the emergency room. I’m sure he is gripped with a sense of remorse that would be completely foreign to Gritty.
Why can’t we have more mascots like Swoop, the upstanding eagle who backs the Eagles? Sure, he’s got his tough side: his official bio reveals that he eats “smaller birds such as Cardinals, Falcons, Ravens, and Seahawks”. But that’s only natural, and at least he is an identifiable organism – more than can be said for Gritty.
Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird. pic.twitter.com/wLmGBa0Oyh
— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) September 24, 2018
The 76ers, years after jettisoning the beloved Big Shot and subsequent Hip Hop, have Franklin the Dog, a name that evokes the city’s rich history. The team’s website offers visual proof that his ancestors crossed the Delaware with George Washington. And he was designed “by kids, for kids”, rather than emerging from a fever dream in the mind of Jim Henson’s evil twin.
I would encourage the Flyers to reconsider Gritty and select a new mascot representative of the better angels of Philadelphia’s nature. What about our rich cultural offerings – maybe the Thinker from the Rodin Museum would strike fear into the hearts of our rivals? Or we could go with a giant Liberty Bell whose steadfast image of freedom would drive away those who wish the Flyers ill. Hell, a walking cheesesteak would be better than Gritty.
Alas, I doubt any of these powerful ideas will win over the powers that be at the Wells Fargo Center. In the meantime, we’ll just have to hope that Gritty’s too hungover to come to practice.