The president of the United States has been impeached. Two Philadelphia city councilmembers have been indicted. But Gritty, the Flyers’ googly-eyed mascot, has done something that none of those elected officials has so far been able to do — emerge from an investigation without being charged.
Philadelphia police said Monday that their investigation into a Flyers fan’s claim that Gritty punched his 13-year-old son in the back has come to an end, concluding that there was no physical assault during a Nov. 19 event at the Wells Fargo Center. Police did not identify the person wearing the fuzzy orange costume.
“That investigation, which has been completed and is no longer active, determined that the actions of the individual portraying the Flyers’ mascot did not constitute physical assault as alleged,” the police statement said.
The investigation, first reported by The Inquirer, inspired memes and T-shirts and became fodder for late-night talk show hosts and Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” And it added to the growing myth of Gritty, whose wild-eyed appearance, reputation for roughhousing, and open hostility toward fans from opposing teams have made him a beloved figure on social media.
The police probe spawned from an allegation by Chris Greenwell, a Flyers season ticket holder who claimed Gritty punched his son Brandon during a meet-and-greet with the mascot. In Greenwell’s telling, Gritty got out of his chair, “took a running start,” and “punched my son as hard as he could” after Brandon playfully patted the mascot on the head.
The Flyers said they conducted a “thorough investigation” that found no evidence to support the claim. And Comcast Spectacor, the parent company of the Flyers, told Greenwell there is no video of the incident because nearby cameras “are focused on other locations,” according to emails between Greenwell and officials.
“I respect the police’s decision, but I stand by what my son told me and what I saw, and I just want to put this behind me,” Greenwell said Monday. “Any parent would have done the same if they were in the same situation.”
In a statement, the Flyers said: “We are pleased that the Philadelphia Police Department concluded there was no merit to the alleged claim. The Police Department’s statement confirms our thorough internal investigation that found no evidence of the described actions ever having taken place.”
As is the case with many elected officials in Philadelphia, being the subject of an active police investigation didn’t stop Gritty from making public appearances. This is a city where two sitting city councilmembers are now under federal indictment, and they still show up to work. One of them even ran for reelection last year after he got indicted — and won.
Just days after news of the police investigation broke, Gritty attended the NHL All-Star weekend in St. Louis, where he took to the ice to play in the Mascot Showdown.
And last week, he was spotted around Philadelphia and the burbs granting wishes like “I Dream of Gritty” as part of Flyers Day. From providing scads of free Flyers tickets in area offices to visiting kids at an elementary school, Gritty and his crisis public communications team tried to make him look better than free beer.
While Gritty has previously exhibited great kindness — as when he granted the birthday wish of a 4-year-old fan battling cancer by visiting him at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — it’s not his usual shtick.
From the first day he was unveiled, when he told the Pittsburgh Penguins’ mascot to “sleep with one eye open tonight, bird,” part of what has endeared Gritty to Philadelphia is that he’s unhinged, unruly, and unpredictable. He throws entire sheet cakes at opposing teams’ fans and at his dance partners. He roughs up refs, and is not afraid to put other people’s kids in their place when they act the fool.
It's all there. Check the receipts.
Which is why people were not so much shocked at the assault allegation against Gritty but rather astonished that someone actually reported it to police.
Almost immediately, the internet rushed to Gritty’s defense.
For Gritty is as much a child of the internet as he is of Philadelphia. While social media was initially aghast when the undefinable orange mascot debuted in 2018, within 48 hours, that disgust turned to devotion. And a lot of that had to do with Gritty’s social media savvy.
While mascots can’t talk, these days they can type and post, and Gritty does so with the help of a six-member crew from the Flyers marketing team, who emphasize his Philly attitude and have him defend the city at all costs. That, in turn, has resulted in Flyers fans defending him.
In the hours after news of the allegations against Gritty broke, internet sleuths scoured his accuser’s Facebook page, looking for clues to debunk his story. People who’d never met Gritty volunteered to act as character witnesses in his defense and the hashtag #FreeGritty began trending on Twitter — without Gritty ever being arrested.
Greenwell, 46, of Newark, Del., said he has received a flurry of death threats on social media. The residential development where Greenwell lives received an email warning of a planned protest, though that turned out to be a hoax. Greenwell said he won’t be going to Flyers games any time soon, fearing fan retaliation.
“I don’t want my 13-year-old son to suffer and be traumatized anymore,” Greenwell wrote in a text message Thursday, adding that he has no issues with the Flyers or even Gritty the character. “My issue was with the performer in the costume and the way it was initially handled by Comcast Spectacor.”
“It became something it shouldn’t have,” he said of the Gritty dispute.