There is an unwritten rule in the secretive mascot community never to reveal the identity of the people inside the costumes. But now the person behind the mask of one of Houston's most prominent sports teams has broken years of silence and spoken exclusively to the Houston Press, making allegations of intimidation and abuse that reach all the way up into the highest echelons of sports fandom.
"People don't realize being a mascot is hard work," our clearly nervous source says, on the condition that his identity -- human or foam -- not be revealed. According to him, children often try to imitate the scene in Ace Venturawhere Jim Carrey beats up a man in an eagle costume. "People don't realize when they hit you, it actually hurts," he says, adding that the problem extends to grown-ups as well. Drunk fans will occasionally beat up on a mascot to impress their friends. Such instances have become so widespread that many teams are now providing protective escorts for their good luck charms.
Mascots are a close-knit bunch. They often run into each other at events like the upcoming Mascot Super Skate Off, where the leading professionals (Toro from the Texans, Junction Jack of the Astros, Chilly of Aeros fame, the Rice Owl and TSU's Tex the Tiger) will compete in a game of broom hockey and contests of showmanship.
What glimpse can our insider provide into the locker-room antics, the infighting, the backbiting, the illicit acts with mascot groupies? "Mostly we talk about new techniques or exchange ideas," he says, somewhat anticlimactically. Our source does want the public to know about the mascots' sweatshop-style working conditions. Running around in the heat for hours requires cardiovascular conditioning, patience and sometimes even training in gymnastics. The most important thing, he says, is to drink lots of fluids to survive the extreme temperatures in those giant heads.
The rationale behind the profession's culture of silence stems from the belief that it ruins the fantasy if children know a human being is in the suit. One woman went so far as to sue Disney for intentionally inflicting duress on her grandson when employees dressed as Donald Duck and other cartoon characters removed their heads.
Though small-timers like the Chick-fil-A Chicken are less strict about protecting their identities, professional sports teams make it a priority, even booking special, secluded hotel rooms for the entertainers when they're on the road. It's possible to lose your job if you allow what our informant calls "the integrity of the mascot" to be compromised. In one close call, a Hooters Owl lost his head at a soccer game. "Luckily everyone was paying more attention to the other mascots," our source recalls. "He just picked it up and put it back on."
The professionals have a special rigging in their suits to keep such accidents from happening, but this mascot is coy about the specifics. "The making of the costumes is a secret," he says. There are some things so sensitive that even anonymity can't coax them out.