Sports

How 2020 Became the Gritty Election

Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty holds up two peace signs during a hockey game.
The networks don’t decide who becomes president—Gritty does. Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Scanning foreign media outlets to see how they cover our country’s news events is a time-honored American tradition. It’s a little narcissistic, sure, but there’s more to it than simply reinforcing our collective belief that we are the center of the world. Looking at all those front pages is a dizzying, out-of-body experience that can help usher in clarity. This was the case on Monday morning when I saw a tweet highlighting Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds’ above-the-fold photo on its story about the U.S. presidential election.

How better to explain the insane, drawn-out conclusion to this election than with a photo of a triumphant Gritty drumming through the streets of Philadelphia? While the city has enthusiastically embraced him since his debut with the Flyers two years ago, he now serves double duty as the mascot for the craziest week of the strangest month of this most bizarre year.

Gritty is the only candidate for this role. He was forged in the fires of the past four years—September 2018, to be precise. That’s when the Philadelphia Flyers introduced him as the team’s first mascot in 42 years. The rotund, googly-eyed monster was initially met with derision and mockery, but he quickly proved himself on social media and conquered this modern arena with a charming combination of wit and threats of violence.

His status as a bourgeoisie-toppling Jacobin may not be NHL-licensed canon, but Gritty’s image has been ubiquitous in leftist political memes and on protest signs for the past two years. His orange mug was everywhere in Philadelphia last week, which led a reader of the French daily Le Monde to ask, “C’est quoi Gritty?” The newspaper responded that he is la coqueluche du mouvement antifasciste—“the darling of the anti-fascist movement.”

But that only tells a small part of the story. Gritty is first and foremost a Philadelphia icon. Granted, I am not from that city, but I have eyeballs and can see that its citizens revel in the kind of deliriously joyful chaos that the mascot happens to embody. I mean, there’s a reason everyone took Gritty’s side after he was accused of punching a child in January. (Gritty was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.) As one Twitter user pointed out, theirs is less a match made in heaven than it is divinity borne from a tangle of orange fur.

That Gritty is directly connected to Philadelphia sports only adds to his chaotic bona fides. Eagles fans famously booed Santa Claus and threw snowballs at him in 1968, and their celebrations after the 2018 Super Bowl triumph turned the city’s police scanner into dadaist radio theater. Sure, they don’t get to celebrate championships all that often, but we can count last week’s electoral carnival as a victory parade for the city.

In a sensible political climate, the eyes of the world would not have been focused on Philadelphia all last week. But Pennsylvania’s Republican-led state Legislature refused to approve the processing of mail-in ballots before Election Day, which would have resulted in Biden’s victory being announced as early as Tuesday night. Instead, we all had to watch as fate pulled the 2020 presidential election toward Philly. But when the president’s disciples descended upon the city to make baseless claims about ballot fraud, Gritty was waiting.

Thank you, Gritty. You may be Philadelphia’s own, but now you belong to the ages.

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