There’s a Man Behind the Mask

By: Sarah Hoover

Last week, the buzz amongst baseball fans was not a stunning defensive play or a record-setting long ball. Instead, everyone at the water cooler was asking, “Did you hear about Mr. Met?”

On Wednesday night at Citi Field, The New York Mets’ mascot made a less-than-professional gesture while being heckled by fans. Just before disappearing into the tunnel, Mr. Met turned to the fans yelling from above and quickly flipped them the bird. This heckling was the last straw for the mascot of a team that had just lost the game 7-1 and whose 2017 season is already riddled with injuries and drama.

The incident begs several questions. For one, is it even possible for a four-fingered character to flash the middle finger???

But beyond that, we ask: Who is at fault here? What was the appropriate course of action by the Mets organization? And what lessons can we fans learn from the incident?

Ultimately, the man behind the mask is responsible for his actions and should know better. He didn’t sign up for the job without knowing the type of pressure it entails. Mr. Met must serve as a positive representative of the Mets organization at all times, to an audience of diverse ages and backgrounds. Everyone working in customer service knows they must listen sympathetically to angry tirades when they are neither at fault nor particularly sympathetic. The players themselves must persevere when their every move is picked apart during games and the criticism becomes personal on social media. That is the job. If the man portraying Mr. Met cannot muster the self-control his profession requires, he should find something else. The customer is always right, after all.

That being said, customers who go out of their way to make an employee’s life a living hell are just as culpable when that employee is pushed past the breaking point. Few things infuriate me more than self-entitled customers verbally abusing employees and disregarding those employees’ life circumstances or feelings.

At least with athletes, we fans can see their faces. We see them and their families on social media and realize they are human – albeit with superhuman talents. With mascots, we see the character they portray, not the human inside the suit.

Professional mascots report being punched by drunken fans, kicked by children, and injured while performing stunts. They are prone to heat stroke and dehydration, their peripheral vision is limited, and they must maneuver crowded sporting venues in a suit that adds both weight and girth. And they hear all the stupid things fans say, unable to say anything in return.

According to The New York Post, fans made derogatory comments towards Mr. Met’s mom, which triggered a harsh reaction from the mascot performer who is dealing with a “personal matter with his mom” in real life. Such a reaction is certainly extreme for one bout of heckling. But we must evaluate the reaction in the context of accumulated stress, exhaustion, and emotional pain.

No, the mascot performer portraying Mr. Met that night should not have reacted as he did. But it’s so easy to criticize, sipping our beer in the stands, when we don’t have to walk in his [oversized] shoes. Given the circumstances, can we blame him?

According to a statement released by the Mets on Twitter, the situation is being dealt with internally. The mascot performer responsible for the outburst will remain employed by the Mets organization, but has been relieved of his duties as mascot.

The worst part of the Mr. Met incident is the impact it could have on mascot performers from now on. With every fan carrying a camera and Internet access in his pocket, mascot performers should beware of idiots looking to provoke them for 15 minutes of viral video fame. The job will be especially difficult for the other mascot performers who portray Mr. Met.

The onus is on mascots and their teams to strategize how to react in tense situations, and how long to tolerate poor fan behavior before walking away. One minor league baseball mascot performer reported: “We [have done] events where kids would not listen to the rules the handler was giving them, or they would try and climb on the mascot or pull his gloves off. So we just left.”

We fans should not let things escalate to the point where our mascots cannot do their jobs, or risk losing them by lashing out. Do not blame mascots for poor team performance, do not verbally and physically abuse them, and do not forget that there is a man behind the mask.

Cover Photo via New York Daily News

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