Exciting times are coming for fursuiting, pro sports, and The National Mascot Hall Of Fame.
by Patch O'Furr
The National Mascot Hall of Fame is coming in 2017. This mainstream event might deserve attention from furries. Will hobby costumers indirectly benefit from the millions of investment and hype?
Sci-fi costuming and mascots probably developed separately. But some fursuiting is showing up in pro sports. Anthrocon had the San Diego Chicken as Guest Of Honor. A mascot was a viral sensation of the 2015 Super Bowl. Can we look forward to more crossover? Is this part of mainstreaming furries, with stuff like Disney’s Zootopia?
A three part series:
I have to admit that sports isn’t my thing. Ritualistically chasing a stuffed spheroid doesn’t set my curiosity on fire. Whenever I see a sportsball game, it seems quite possible, even unavoidable that one of the teams or the other is going to win. What’s the big deal?
However, even if the physical spectacle isn’t my thing, I can at least admire the ideals of positive team competition, and strength and bravery.
In ancient times, feats of strength were amazing. Muscle helped you to build shelter to protect you from hungry lions or the angry gods. Bravery in the hunt was amazing too. It was better to feed the tribe with antelope steaks than with bugs and berries.
But in modern times, you don’t need strength for that stuff. Use a forklift or order a pizza. Physical feats don’t impress me as much as they should.
Of course, I’ll take an invite to hang out with sports-loving friends if there’s beers and chatting. I have nothing against a good spectacle or playing outside. I just have different priorities.
I like creative and intellectual pursuits that help us evolve beyond the stone age, or even the silicon age – towards whatever comes next. (Like maybe a Mad Max future, where the most popular sport is watching cyborgs with chainsaw arms do gladiator battle.)
Mascots are fun and creative. I like their designs and how they act. Let’s talk about what they mean and where they came from. Plug your brain into the matrix, and let me take you back to the Pre-Furry Past… and beyond the horizon of time, to the incomprehensibly distant futureworld of 2017.
The history of mascots and the beginning of fursuiting.
In the Dark Ages Before Furries (the 1970’s,) what did fans like us have? There was sci fi fandom and funny animal comics. There were sports, theatrical, fast food and media branding characters. There was Disney’s Robin Hood to cause strange obsessions. But they all existed on their own.
A lot of fans shared common interests before they found each other. Personally, as a long time fan of art and writing, I got hooked at a furry dance where I went nuts about the fursuiters. They helped me to find a giant cartoon animal inside.
Coining the original term “Fursuit” helped make this hobby a thing of it’s own. It wasn’t a term until 1993 (although there was a “Furry costuming” track at ConFurence 0 in 1989.) Fans needed their own word to define their most original activity.
I call fursuiting the “expressive, theatrical soul of furrydom.” (You can fight me on this if you want – I’ll rev up my cyborg chainsaw arms.) It’s more than just wearable costume art – it’s more social, and fursonas make it more personal. I don’t think anyone else does it the same way.
Only some members own fursuits, but I’d say that nothing represents them better. A picture is worth a thousand words, and it’s hard to deny their hug appeal. (They help to define the touch-based “Furry” name.) They get to be public “ambassadors” backed by a booming cottage industry. Some fursuit makers are even reaching beyond the mainstream. They have gained so much skill that they’re being commissioned instead of commercial designers (see it in Part 2.)
Let’s go deeper in history, and look at how animals and sports are naturally connected.
In the times of cavemen, cavewomyn, and cavepersons, you had to own a literal fursuit. There was nothing else to wear except fig leaves (and those caused weird rashes.) Maybe you wore the hide of a wildebeest, or a sabertooth tiger if you were extra strong and brave.
Here’s a weird fact – they used to tan hides with stale urine. Febreze wasn’t invented yet, and even if it was it wouldn’t do a thing about your stink. Heck, hugs weren’t even invented yet. The only pizza toppings were bugs and berries. Being a prehistoric furry would have sucked.
In ancient times, the first game was “chasing game”. When they call a football a “pigskin,” it means more than what it’s made of. “Game” means animal. There are so many teams named for animal traits – the soul of sport is represented with anthropomorphism. Mascots aren’t sideshows. They’re totems on an almost mystical level, from when games and survival were one in our nature.
Oh wait… I went too far back. BACK ON TOPIC!
Here’s a neat History of Mascotting from the 99 Percent Invisible podcast. (There’s even more history about corporate branding characters with Disney or McDonalds, but this covers the bases.) It focuses on the kind of cartoony personality-based mascots that are closest to what furries love. In sports, they evolved out of plain pets kept for good luck.
His appeal has spawned a mascot cottage industry, for better or worse. Costumed creatures now abound in sports, business, schools and charities. In fact these days the Olympics and World Cup events even hold ceremonies to unveil their new characters. Yet, in the time Before Chicken–there were none.
The late and legendary sports editor Jack Murphy wrote, “The Chicken has the soul of a poet. He is an embryonic Charles Chaplin in chicken feathers.”
These creatures represent team identity for the biggest live shows that there are. But the performers are often anonymous and get low respect or even mockery. (That’s why mascot history was on “99 Percent Invisible”, which focuses on design and architecture taken for granted). The Chicken says:
It’s unlike Hollywood or Broadway, with high risk improvisations during actual games among a supporting cast of non-actors, with no script, no rehearsal and no second takes. And all of this takes place before an audience of thousands, plus live broadcasts.
That takes strength and bravery to pull off. And sports media productions are huge. Mascots can have uncanny power in their lowly jester roles.
This brings the magic of fursuiting on an epic scale.
Magic explains why a non-sports-fan would care enough to write all this. Personally, my most special mascot experience was dating Sammy the Slug, the UC Santa Cruz team mascot, who had no idea of my furriness. You wouldn’t believe how much magic can happen by discussing the mating habits of banana slugs.
Commercial mascot design and performance must have influenced fursuiters when the hobby was starting. (Professional mascot furries include maker/performers like Yippee Coyote, Bedtime Bear, and Oz/Duke AKA Critter Country.)
Of course, furry fan costuming was probably more directly passed down from sci fi fans. They were doing it as far back as 1939 before mascots were stars.
Sports mascotting only became mainstream a few years before fursuiting started. So the profession and the hobby share parallel paths rather than one spawning the other. It can have some credit, but furries still have their own original thing.
Mascotting is getting to be it’s own worthy subject with shows like Behind The Mask. Fursuiting is growing with strongly rising quality and a very devoted group of fans beneath mainstream notice.
What happens when they collide?
Next: Some good examples of fursuiting crossover with pro sports.