Originally Published: June 27, 2018 6 a.m.
Ballpark and stadium entertainment is a staple at sporting events, a necessary means of attracting and entertaining fans young and old. Most entertainment routines are harmless, even if they border on being sexist or inappropriate, like cheerleaders at NFL and NBA games and ice girls at NHL games.
Some promotions designed by a team’s marketing staff may appear to be innocent in theory, but they can be downright dangerous in practice. Take, for example, free hotdogs. Who wouldn’t want a free hot dog at a ballpark? But when they’re thrown or shot into the stands from a high-powered cannon they can become lethal. Such was the case in 2009 when a Kansas City Royals fan, John Coomer, was hit in the eye by a hot dog fired into the stands by the team mascot, Sluggerrr.
Coomer suffered a detached retina that required surgery. Who knew a hot dog weighing a mere four and one-half ounces could cause such damage? When Coomer sued the Royals for negligence, the team claimed the “Hot Dog Toss” is a common promotional event and the risk of getting injured is inherent to the game of baseball. A jury sided with the Royals, as did the Missouri Supreme Court on appeal. They agreed with the team that an airborne hot dog is no different than a ball or bat flying into the stands.
The Coomer decision was based on the so-called “Baseball Rule,” a 100-year old legal doctrine adopted by a majority of states that essentially says fans attending sporting events assume the risk of injury from flying projectiles.
History repeated itself on June 18 in a game between the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillie Phanatic, arguably one of the most entertaining mascots in the history of sports, used his customary launcher to send a hot dog into the stands. It was an act the Phanatic had been doing for over a decade without incident. Not this time.
The tube steak, wrapped in duct tape so it wouldn’t disintegrate upon launch, headed straight for Kathy McVay’s face. The rabid Phillies fan, sitting behind home plate, saw the Phanatic launch the hot dog but was unable to catch or deflect the projectile due to a previous shoulder injury. McVay went to the emergency room and underwent a CT scan to rule out a concussion.
The Phanatic and the Phillies were understandably concerned about McVay’s condition. The team reached out to apologize and offered her tickets to a future game. Unlike Coomer, McVay claimed she had no interest in suing her favorite team, but that statement was made before she had a chance to talk with an attorney.
Although she suffered a hematoma in her eye and multiple facial bruises that required icing every 20 minutes, McVay was a good sport about the incident and her new-found celebrity status.
If some fans get a laugh out of her experience, that’s OK with McVay. But she had some advice for fans attending future games. “Be aware,” she said good-naturedly. “You never know.”
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.