The Kansas City Chiefs have certainly had their ups and downs. But after this year’s Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers, there’s never been a higher high for the man who has been inside the team’s mascot costume as KC Wolf for three decades. For about five weeks, Dan Meers got to bask in the afterglow.
“The first two months of 2020 were the busiest I’ve ever been during my 30-year mascot career,” Meers said. “KC Wolf was averaging about 20 appearances per week.”
But March 12, everything changed. “Because of the COVID-19 crisis, I was instructed to stop doing appearances until further notice,” he said. “Since that time, I’ve experienced the slowest period I’ve ever had. I feel like I’ve gone from feast to famine.”
As fans, we’ve all had to deal with the sudden disappearance of sports from our daily lives due to the coronavirus pandemic. Intuitively, we understand that the players are also dealing with the reality of not being able to take the field. However, it’s quite easy to forget the fact that there’s an actual mister inside of that Mr. Met costume. Yes, mascots are also stuck in their homes, far removed from doing what they love to do.
Dave Raymond, a marketing and branding expert and the original Phillie Phanatic, understands better than anyone what these performers are going through. “Whether a mascot performer knows it or not, their work connects them emotionally to fans,” Raymond said. “That’s great for the fans and the organizations they represent, but even more powerful for the performer. Imagine having a job that forces you to focus on positive energy all the time. Because of the current epidemic, all of that opportunity has been stripped away. It’s very ironic, because that social interaction is a big part of how we will overcome this challenge.”
It’s not just at the top levels that mascot performers are feeling the effects of this sports-free “new normal.” The Clearwater Threshers are the Class A Advanced affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. Each spring, when the major league team arrives in Florida for spring training, the Threshers’ mascot, Phinley, is there to greet the players, to help them unpack their equipment and to cheer them on.
For the past 18 years, the man who brings Phinley to life has been David Deas. But now, just a few weeks after he once again donned the costume to start another season, he’s had little to do. “I’m just bummed and waiting, unsure if the season will even happen at this point,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything from our front office as it is shut down as well. We were having a lot of fun with spring training and I had many appearances booked through April. Now … just, nothing.”
While nearly all of the mascots for the “big four” leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) are full-time employees of their teams and should continue to get paid, for those in leagues such as the National Women’s Soccer League or working for minor league organizations, salary typically comes only on a gig-by-gig basis. Luckily, the time Deas spends in the shark suit is not his primary source of income, as he works full time for the city of Clearwater. Still, the extra income he gets from being Phinley is something Deas and his family have learned to rely on.
“We are definitely missing the money,” Deas said. “But more than that, I am definitely missing the performing — which right now would make so many people happy in these times. I have been thinking of getting the costume from the ballpark just to do some fun social media. People need humor right now. Just a distraction, you know.”
This sentiment is shared by a lot of current mascots across all levels, and indeed, some have been using their online presence to try to elicit a few smiles. Exhibit A? Here’s Gritty:
Class is in session. 🎒📝
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 7, 2020
Unfortunately, because a large number of teams prefer to keep the identity of the people in their mascot costumes a secret, there are a number of performers who don’t feel comfortable speaking freely about their jobs, for fear of not having one to go back to once we’re on the other side of the current crisis.
One performer from the Double-A baseball ranks who was willing to speak only anonymously about what it’s like right now put it this way: “I only mascot part time, but I have many friends who do it as their main job and source of income. They are crushed. No games, no appearances, no schools to visit because they are closed. Wearing the costume is a part of your life. Last weekend, I almost talked myself into mowing the lawn in my personal costume. It kind of feels like when there’s a rain delay. We know the weather will improve, but we don’t know when. In the meantime, we sit alert on the bench, watching the skies and raring to go when summoned.”
School mascots are feeling equally sad. Aiden Daly, 14, attends Ridgway Middle School in Edgewater Park, New Jersey. As Sammy the Hawk, he was getting ready to make appearances at several minor league stadiums around the state. Obviously, those experiences are no longer on the schedule.
“My typical day starts with going to school. Sometimes assemblies come up and Sammy has to run around and entertain students and teachers. Now, all of my [school]work is being done from home, and there is even the possibility that my eighth-grade graduation could be canceled,” Daly said. “With all of my appearances being canceled, it makes me upset, especially considering it’s my last year as Sammy the Hawk … [but] it’s better being safe than sorry. I’m hoping all of this can end soon and we can go back to our everyday lives.”
That’s a sentiment that can be shared by mascots at any level, middle school to the NFL. At some point, when things start to get back to some sense of normalcy and sports once again become part of everyday life, mascots will be ready to welcome fans back — with paws wide open.
“I’ve spent my down time working out and trying to stay in shape for next season,” Meers said. “I can’t wait to get back into costume and start giving hugs and high-fives to Chiefs fans. In the meantime, I will be practicing social distancing and praying for all those who have been impacted during this difficult time.”