Johns Hopkins study shows pro sports mascots take a beating

It's not easy being green, or red, or blue ...

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2001

BALTIMORE -- Take it from the folks inside those huge, fuzzy heads and big, floppy feet: Prancing around at ball games in furry costumes is not only hot work, it's dangerous.

More than half of the 48 professional sports mascots who responded to a Johns Hopkins University survey said they had suffered heat-related illnesses from performing.

Many also reported injuries ranging from serious knee damage to lower back pain.

''You can't believe how many ways mascots get injured,'' said Dr. Edward McFarland, the senior author of the study and director of sports medicine and shoulder surgery at Hopkins.

The study didn't turn up any life-threatening injuries but plenty of unusual ones, McFarland said.

One mascot was hit by a camera-lift truck and hurt his knee. Another one was tackled by a football player during a game and broke his thumb.

There was even one mascot struck by a player swinging a bat in the on-deck circle during the Little League World Series.

''The youngster took a warmup swing and bonked him in the head,'' McFarland said.

Baltimore Orioles mascot Bromley Lowe, a study participant, lost a section of his finger last year when a steel door shut on it while he was in costume. Lowe has witnessed even worse injuries among his colleagues.

''There's been everything from broken bones to accidentally being set on fire,'' he said.

Baltimore Ravens mascot Greg Black said he understands how accidents can happen to costumed characters.

''The vision's pretty bad,'' said Black, AKA Poe the Raven. ''There's always moving objects around you.''

McFarland said his research was inspired by an injury last year to the mascot for the now-defunct Baltimore BayRunners minor-league basketball team. The green dragon mascot tore a knee ligament when he fell awkwardly while doing an air-guitar routine.

''I was impressed meeting him and talking with him ... by how hard he worked and how treacherous it was doing the things he did in a big costume,'' McFarland said.

McFarland also knew that another Orioles mascot was hurt in 1999 when a fan pushed him over the outfield wall at Camden Yards. John J. Krownapple suffered a broken left ankle and a bruised right heel after falling 15 feet to the field.

Hopkins mailed surveys to 70 professional football, baseball and basketball mascots.

Twenty-eight of the 48 who responded reported suffering heat-related illnesses. Half were treated with intravenous fluids and one was hospitalized.

Lowe said he twice has needed ambulance treatment after performing in parades. During games, he can sweat off 10 pounds in his bird outfit, which is ''hot on a cold day.''

The mascots responding to the survey reported 179 injuries. More than half of those were to the lower half of the body, with knees the most commonly injured area. Twenty-two of the injuries required surgery.

Basketball mascots had the highest injury rate, at 4.9 injuries per 1,000 performances, the study found. By comparison, male college gymnasts have a rate of 5 injuries per 1,000 practices or competitions.

McFarland said the results suggest that changes are needed to make life safer for costumed creatures cavorting on sidelines and in stands.

Outfits could be made of lighter materials to reduce the risk of heat-related illness and could be designed to allow freer foot movement to lessen the chance of leg and ankle injuries.

But some risks will persist.

McFarland said he has seen a tendency among fans, especially children, to hit mascots. He recalled a Hopkins lacrosse team mascot having to cut short a conversation and walk away from a crowd of boys surrounding him.

''These little boys were all pummeling the mascot at about the level you don't want to be pummeled,'' he said.

McFarland hopes the Hopkins study will remind fans that a human being is underneath the fur or feathers.

''The mascots are taught to portray themselves as larger than life,'' he said. ''I think a lot of people forget there's someone inside that uniform.''

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