Chris Greenwell took his boy Brandon to the Wells Fargo Center one night in November to meet the most famous person on the Philadelphia Flyers payroll: Gritty.
The Flyers had invited Greenwell and his 13-year-old son to get a photo and some face time with the fuzzy, googly-eyed mascot, all part of an exclusive event for season ticket-holders. But after waiting in line for about an hour behind dozens of fans to get to Gritty, something shocking happened, according to Greenwell.
Gritty punched Brandon in the back, Greenwell claims.
In Greenwell’s telling, Brandon playfully patted the mascot on the head after the photo was taken. As Brandon walked away, Gritty got out of his chair, “took a running start," and “punched my son as hard as he could," Greenwell said Wednesday.
Officials at Comcast Spectacor, the company that owns the Flyers, told Greenwell there is no video footage of the incident because the “cameras in that area of the center are focused on other locations,” according to emails between Greenwell and officials. The company declined to identify who was playing Gritty that day. It said it conducted an investigation that included interviews with that person and couldn’t verify Greenwell’s account.
“We took Mr. Greenwell’s allegations seriously and conducted a thorough investigation that found nothing to support this claim,” a Flyers spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Greenwell said he took his son to see a chiropractor about a week after the incident. The chiropractor noted that Brandon suffered from mild pain, and diagnosed him with a back bruise, or a “contusion to lower thoracic spine with subluxation,” according to documents from the chiropractor, provided by Greenwell.
The dispute has crossed from he-said, Gritty-said into the realm of law enforcement.
About a month after the alleged punch, as Comcast Spectacor and Greenwell couldn’t come to an agreement, Greenwell reported the incident to Philadelphia police. The matter is being investigated by South Detectives Division. A police spokesperson on Tuesday described the case as an alleged "physical assault” that occurred “during a photo shoot with 13 year old white male and Flyers mascot Gritty.”
“The investigation is active and on-going,” police said.
For the Flyers, the Nov. 19 photo shoot was a chance to reward their loyal fans who pay thousands of dollars a year to support a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2012. For Greenwell, it was an opportunity for his son to meet Gritty, who was introduced in 2018 and described by the Flyers as someone with “bully” tendencies.
Instead, Greenwell, 46, of Newark, Del., said he’s dumping his season tickets after 22 years.
After the alleged punch, Greenwell emailed officials at Comcast Spectacor, first complaining of the “lousy picture” with the mascot who didn’t look at the camera. Then he raised the “more serious and disappointing” concern.
“I know it was not correct for my son to harmlessly tap him on his head but for a Flyers employee to get [sic] throw a full punch at someone with his back turned and hurt a 13 year old boy is assault, unprofessional and unacceptable for your organization,” he wrote.
Comcast Spectacor officials said there was no proof that Gritty hit the boy, but offered special perks to make up for the “bad experience.” Greenwell suggested the Flyers show his son on the giant scoreboard or let him into the locker room to meet players and get autographs. The company offered to sit Brandon on the players’ bench during warm-ups before a future game.
“I have investigated your allegations and cannot identify anyone who witnessed the incident as you described it,” wrote Laurie Kleinman, vice president of risk management at Comcast Spectacor, in a Dec. 5 email to Greenwell. “It is unfortunate that you and your son had a bad experience at our Gritty Photo Event. Therefore, we are offering an opportunity to discuss a creative way to restore your son’s love of the Philadelphia Flyers.”
The email exchange soured when Greenwell and Kleinman disagreed on what was said during a December phone call. Greenwell claimed Kleinman told him that Gritty admitted he hit Brandon. Kleinman denied saying that.
“At no time did I state that one of my colleagues hit your son," Kleinman replied in a Dec. 23 email. “Gritty, however, recalls being hit on the head repeatedly by someone during one of the earlier photo shoots.”
Weeks before speaking to the Inquirer, Greenwell wrote about the incident in Flyers fan Facebook groups.
Philadelphia mascots are no strangers to allegations of physical attacks. The Phillie Phanatic was dubbed “the most-sued mascot in the majors” in a 2002 study published in Cardozo Law Review. Claims against the Phanatic have ranged from injuring a woman’s knees while climbing through the stands to hugging someone too hard, The Inquirer has reported.
Greenwell said he hasn’t hired a lawyer, adding that all he wanted was an apology and something special for his son. He filed the complaint with police Dec. 21.
A police spokesperson said there are no other open, or closed, investigations into alleged assaults by Gritty.