LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Googly-eyed, furry, orange and terrifying - when the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team introduced its new mascot Gritty this year, it became an Internet sensation. Now there's a new museum in Whiting, Ind. It opened last week, dedicated to honoring the hard-working mascots of college and professional sports teams - a Mascot Hall of Fame.
The man who connects these two things is Dave Raymond. He helped create Gritty and co-founded the museum after a long career as the original Philadelphia Phillies mascot, the Phanatic. And he joins me now.
Thank you for joining us.
FADEL: My pleasure.
DAVE RAYMOND: This has been a project of yours for a long time. You started this as a website in 2005. Now it's a physical museum. What does this mean to you?
RAYMOND: Well, about five years ago, I got a call from the city of Whiting, Ind., that said, hey. How about we help you build a bricks-and-mortar hall of fame? And I actually thought - (laughter) I thought I was getting pranked by part of my organization, somebody...
RAYMOND: ...Calling me from another phone. And so I asked a few questions. And lo and behold, a trip out to Whiting and meeting the mayor started the whole thing. So, you know, to say it's a dream come true is almost underselling it, you know, for me, personally, and, I think, for the people who really love mascots and have, you know, built their career doing it.
FADEL: You were a mascot for a long time being Phanatic. What are some of the more bizarre moments or your most bizarre memory playing that character?
RAYMOND: There were many. I mean, I performed at a funeral for an 89-year-old Irishman who wanted his wake to be fun. And he was a...
RAYMOND: ...Big Phillies fan. And I - coming into that environment in the beginning in costume, I wasn't too sure how it would work out. But everybody cheered and slapped the Phanatic on his back in the Supreme Court justices' private chambers, when Justice Alito was brought on the bench because he was from Trenton. This was at the Supreme Court. Oh, yeah, in their private chambers...
RAYMOND: ...At dinner, so there was a lot of security (laughter).
FADEL: You know, you were one of the creators behind Gritty. Were you expecting the reaction that came...
FADEL: ..With Gritty (laughter)?
RAYMOND: Well, I'll tell you what we were expecting, which is part of my preamble when I sat down with the Flyers for the very first time. And that was, hey, you guys recognize we're going to get killed - right? - from the standpoint of social media and negative feedback. And sure enough, in the first 24 hours, they received it. But they actually celebrated it (laughter) by sharing, probably, the meanest tweets...
FADEL: Right (laughter).
RAYMOND: ...Or the funniest tweets.
FADEL: Do you have a favorite meme or Gritty punchline?
RAYMOND: (Laughter) Well, my favorite was that fake ad for making sure that you're following safe sex because it said, after all, if you look at Gritty, you see that he is the love child of the abominable snowman and Yukon Cornelius from "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" animations. So (laughter) that was pretty creative and very funny.
FADEL: So we've talked about mascots being loved and adored, but they can sometimes be controversial and seen as polarizing or possibly prejudiced, depending on what they're depicting. Can you react to that a little bit?
RAYMOND: So what I would say is it's all about, you know, trying to do your best to be away from any of those lines, so neutral gender, fantasy character that doesn't have a representation of an animal. And I've been asked this question a number of times throughout my career. And it's just, like - it's just - to say it's counterproductive is not even reaching the level of what a mistake it would be to either honor or create a character that does those things.
FADEL: Dave Raymond, the original Philadelphia Phanatic and creator of the Mascot Hall of Fame. Thank you so much.
RAYMOND: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.