Bailey, the Los Angeles Kings’ mascot, is a lion, and apparently one who, through the magic of corporate sponsorship, loves fancy popcorn.
Tim Smith is the Los Angeles Kings’ senior manager of game presentation and events.
These two individuals have separate headshots in the Kings’ guide, Bailey on page 25, Smith on page 28. While Smith wears a Bailey suit and performs as the character, he is not, in fact, a popcorn-enjoying lion.
This may not seem like an important distinction, but it is now, because of headlines like this:
Greg Wyshynski got it right in what he wrote for ESPN, as his article began: “The Los Angeles Kings announced they’ve suspended Tim Smith, who portrays their mascot Bailey the lion, following a sexual harassment lawsuit recently filed by a former member of the Kings Ice Crew. Along with being the mascot, Smith is the senior manager of game presentation and events for the team, overseeing the Ice Crew.”
How different of a story is it, and how much more seriously is it taken, if the headlines were to reflect that last, most important bit? And it would still be pretty explosive: “Kings suspend Ice Crew boss after former member files sexual harassment suit.”
The Los Angeles Times came closer to that with their headline, “Kings suspend mascot actor accused of sexual harassment in lawsuit,” as did, stunningly, the Daily Mail, with, “Man who performs as LA Kings mascot lion ‘Bailey’ is sued after ‘hurling sexually charged comments at female worker and staring at her breasts and buttocks.’”
That last one probably wouldn’t fit in the print edition, but it also gives an important distinction about Smith’s alleged actions with the detail about staring. Bailey, as a mascot, perpetually has his eyes open and it’s impossible to really say what he’s looking at. Smith, a man, has human eyes that make it possible to tell if he’s staring at someone in a sexual manner.
This isn’t even the first time this issue has come up in 2020, as January featured the classic tale “Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty accused of punching child,” followed in February by “Gritty vindicated: Philadelphia Flyers mascot cleared of punching child.” At least in that case, the actions in question involved something that happened at a game, with Gritty in character.
The media, specifically headline writers, needs to do a better job of differentiating between mascots and the people who wear the suits. Chalking this story up to “mascot accused of sexual harassment” serves to desensitize what is an awful allegation of a supervisor harassing an employee. That’s serious, and not the stuff of chuckles like “1985’s baseball season was scandalized by a coke-dealing parrot.”
Bailey is innocent. Smith? We’ll see.