Gritty Claus

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Update, 10:30 a.m.: According to Gritty on social media, the NHL has relented and will allow the mascot arena access. Said Gritty in response to future quarantine plans, “I’m back.”

Original story below

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition asking the National Hockey League to allow Gritty to attend Flyers games when the pandemic-shortened hockey season kicks off next month. That’s cool with Philly health officials, a spokesperson confirmed — as long as the NHL approves first.

The petition, written in the first person, pleads with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to declare the mascot “essential.”

“Greetings from me, Gritty,” the campaign reads. “It is with great care that I write to you all in my most desperate, but also most energized, hour.” The note goes on to hype the author’s ability to bring joy and be an “orange light of hope.”

No one would suggest the mascot doesn’t spread amusement and levity wherever it shows up. Would it be COVID-safe to allow Gritty at games?

As long as all the regular safety protocols are followed, yes, according to James Garrow of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health — and he’s sure Gritty would adhere to the rules.

The mascot was spotted early on wearing a face shield, and even did a promo video for the health department in a city-branded mask, Garrow noted. “He’s been excellent at this; we applaud the Flyers and Gritty for continuing to demonstrate best practices.”

As far as actual science goes, character masks are not a substitute for protective face masks, as many medical experts noted around Halloween this year, “but a Gritty head is probably more protective than that,” Garrow said.

The holdup, then, rests solely with the NHL. At issue is the definition the league uses for mascots.

The Sixers, for example, plan to showcase their dancers at home games this year, using the crew to liven up the empty arena. But a different set of rules applies when the Wells Fargo is hosting hockey instead of basketball.

“It’s our understanding that the NHL has decided that the mascots aren’t an essential part of the game,” Garrow said. “They’re basically considered to be spectators, and according to our current guidance there cannot be spectators for indoor events.”

C’mon Gar, as the petition puts it. This mascot is more than a spectator.

If there ever could be someone essential in the world of sports, every Philadelphian, every hockey fan — every person who’s set eyes on the creature and been equal parts inspired and freaked out — knows Gritty is it.

Danya Henninger was first editor and then editor/director of Billy Penn at WHYY from 2019 to 2023.