Whether they’re there to hype the home team or distract the opposition, sports mascots are a staple of the game. Most of the time, they make sense: Their appearance either matches the team name or has some connection to the state or city of the team. There are instances, however, that the concept of a sports mascot has completely missed the mark.
They may still be entertaining, but there is no doubt that these four sports mascots go down as the worst in the history of the practice. Either poorly designed or an ill-conceived concept, they’re nothing you’d want representing your home team.
King Cake Baby
There are few things more jarring than watching a giant, plastic baby stroll across the court during a New Orleans Pelicans game. At first glance, finding the connection between a crowned baby demanding cake and an NBA team may be difficult. In fact, unless you’re from New Orleans, it may never make sense, but King Cake Baby is more of a historical figure to locals.
It doesn’t make it any less unsettling knowing the origins, but the giant baby dates back to the 1950s when a New Orleans bakery started baking cakes in the shape of baby Jesus figures. To honor the tradition, the New Orleans Pelicans chose to adopt the giant baby as a part-time, seasonal mascot during the period that King Cake is in season, particularly during Mardi Gras.
The common representation of Native Americans, from feathered headdresses to ritualistic dancing, has been a big part of professional sports. The Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, and Washington Redskins have all received criticism for using such a caricature as the inspiration for their mascot.
One of the worst offenders was the University of Illinois, which banned its over-exaggerated design in 2007. Chief Illiniwek would perform his mascot duties donning a long red, white, and black headdress, colorful outfit, and appropriate warpaint. Illiniwek also rarely smiled, which makes the design both effective and inappropriate.
After Illiniwek was banned, students of the university were vocal about their displeasure, indicating a clear failure to recognize appropriate and inappropriate representation.
When you think of basketball and Philadelphia, it’s likely that you don’t conjure up the image of a bunny. Dress it in a 76ers jersey, and there is still an apparent disconnect between the team name and location and the person in a suit that’s representing them.
In December 2011, the 76ers decided to rid itself of the horrid mascot, but Hip-Hop had a good run. He was adorned with late-90s garb, including a do-rag, sunglasses, and fingerless gloves. But Hip-Hop was a dud who was replaced by Franklin the Dog. There may still be a disconnect between mascot and team, but at least everyone loves dogs, and Franklin doesn’t frighten kids and adults with his creepy face and muscular build.
There is not a lot of love for Roboduck, even in its hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Designed to cheer on the Oregon Ducks, Roboduck, also known as Mandrake, took the scene in 2002 and was met with a cold reception. Though he did cool things like ride a motorcycle and do backflips up and down the field, there was something not lovable about the robotic duck.
Students of the University of Oregon were not shy about voicing their displeasure in the mascot. When the complaints started to pour in, an Athletic Department representative had to fire back, stating that the mascot wasn’t for the students but for young boys. In 2003, Mandrake made his last appearance, allowing the original mascot, Puddles, to return.
The University of Oregon had a little fun in April 2013 when it joked that it was bringing Mandrake back on April Fools’ Day.
Mascots Don’t Always Land
Sports mascots exist to entertain and delight fans and the team. Whether controversial in nature or downright strange, some miss the mark and go down in sports history as unfortunate failures.