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The sad life of NFL mascots during a pandemic

What is a mascot’s life when there are no fans?

Las Vegas Raiders v Carolina Panthers
A flag waved for no one, over a kingdom of sadness.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

“If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” — Unknown

It’s a classic, cliched existential philosophical query. It questions the nature of identity and whether anything can exist if nothing is there to observe it. If a mascot’s job is to bring mirth and entertain, does that mascot still exist if nobody is there to enjoy it?

This is the life of a mascot in 2020. More specifically, an NFL mascot. No children to validate them. No drunken fans to high five. T-shirt cannons silenced by circumstance, trivia questions left unanswered, and gas station gift cards left unclaimed, without a fan in attendance to sit in the winning seat. There were times this weekend when you caught a fleeting glimpse of a mascot. Running through the stands, in full dominion of its concrete jungle, but with no subjects to lord. Lost, wandering souls, waving flags or dancing, with nobody to enjoy it. Occasionally a camera would face them, if only for a moment, making them feel alive until it turned back to the action and they vanished from consciousness once more.

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills
Billy Buffalo gestures for fans to cheer. But nobody is there.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

A great many things felt odd about starting the NFL season without fans, but it wasn’t until I thought of the mascots that things got truly sad. Make no mistake, I’m happy a human under the costume has a job, it’s a luxury far too many stadium employees don’t this season, but still think about it. Here is a person, dressed as an animal, dancing around in the heat for nobody’s enjoyment. They’re window dressing, a football amuse bouche. In attendance only for the brief moments when returning from a commercial break, and even then they’re at the whims of a TV producer.

The only “go time” for the pandemic mascot is field goals. Here, with the camera pointed squarely at the stands they can dance between the uprights and feel alive. Then, the point is over and they begin their sad trudge around an empty stadium once more, hoping the world will care about them again. Does the world care? Can they care with everything else happening? Alas, the existential crisis of the mascot grows — left to contemplate its existence in solitude. Desperately wishing to scream in anguish, but rendered silent. Mascots can’t talk, after all.

Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons
Freddie Falcon looks upon his dominion, and finds it empty.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This is not how we should be seeing mascots. It’s like a tiger at a traveling state fair zoo. Sure, it’s nice to see it — but you know this isn’t it’s natural habitat. It’s alone, scared and wants to be back among its kind. Unlike the caged tiger, the mascot desperately needs people to prove its existence. Without the fan the mascot’s job is unfulfilling, sad, soul crushing.

“Perhaps its inevitable, perhaps one has to choose between being nothing at all and impersonating what one is.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre, The Age of Reason

There is no good answer for the plight of the lonesome stadium mascot. They will continue their macabre dance for the remainder of the season. Perhaps into the playoffs, should their team be lucky enough, but for the mascot this prize is pain. The mascot wants all this to end, for their life is forfeit. For you see, the NFL mascot is in a prison not of their making. They didn’t want this. They didn’t ask for this. They wanted fans, life, energy around them, much as the players do on the field. That, however, is impossible. The players are the lucky ones. They have a game to distract them for a few hours, another point of focus to point their energy. The mascot does not have this privilege. It must continue to dance and entertain, without anyone left to appreciate it.

If there’s one thing we should all do it’s to pause our TVs the next time a mascot is on the screen. If only for a moment. Not for us, but for them. To make them feel alive, appreciated and loved for a fleeting few seconds. Then, at least their presence on Sundays will not be in vain.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Sourdough Sam has crafted friends out of paper, just so he doesn’t feel alone.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports