The 76ers New Mascot: You Are Not Reading This

It’s the day after Christmas, so the chances that you are reading this have never been lower, even considering that I once wrote a post about letter spacing. So given that you are off doing meaningful things with your family instead of reading this, I’m going to take this opportunity to write about the new mascot of the Philadelphia 76ers. (That’s a basketball team, in case you were wondering.) (Basketball is the one with the bouncing orange ball, in case you were wondering that, too.)

The 76ers, named for the number of fans they have in attendance during each home game, have never been known for their sophisticated design sensibilities. In the early 1990s, Sixers player Charles Barkley said this about his team’s new uniforms: “They look like my daughter got ahold of some crayons and designed them.”

Recently, the team asked fans to vote on a new mascot to replace their old mascot, Hip Hop. Hip Hop, pictured above, is notable for being unbearably stupid, possibly the worst mascot in all of sports, and that’s saying something because there are a lot of bad sports mascots (all of them but two, by my count). Anyway, the three new choices the 76ers presented were not much better than Hip Hop. According to a story on ESPN, “A poll by the local ABC affiliate found more than half of voters opting for ‘None of the above.'”

The first choice is “Big Ben,” modeled after Philadelphia hero Ben Franklin, if Ben Franklin were played by a drunken Nick Nolte in a sleeveless undershirt.

Choice number two is B. Franklin Dogg (“The extra G is for ‘Gah, what is that thing?'”). B. Dogg is basically what you’d get if McGruff the Crime Dog and Poochy from the Simpsons got together and had a puppy.

The final choice is “Phil E. Moose,” who, if he is selected as the new mascot, will be the first moose within 300 miles of the city.

We talk a lot on this site about the importance of design decisions being meaningful. I’d argue that the three mascot options the Sixers presented failed precisely because they were not meaningful. The moose and the dog(g) really have nothing to do with anything related to basketball or the 76ers. And while Benjamin Franklin is iconic of the city, I don’t think anyone wants to see him belittled in a tank top or a circus costume.

Personally, I think it would be fine with most fans if the 76ers did not have a mascot at all, because, as I mentioned above, most mascots are terrible. The only two who are not unbearably annoying are the Phillie Phanatic (by far the best) and the San Diego Chicken (a distant second). Also, mascots in NBA basketball are a bit superfluous because any break in the action is filled with fans taking half-court shots for a lifetime supply of turtle wax, short guys doing weird acrobatic routines with trampolines and basketballs, and “dance” teams performing routines that make parents shield their children’s eyes

But if the Sixers are determined to have a mascot, I hope they’ll listen the growing legion of fans calling for the return of Muppet-ish guy Big Shot, pictured here, who was retired by the team in 1996. I’m not sure why he appeals to me. Must be that we have the same physique and hair color.

Now get back to your families. Happy holidays!

Serial commas: With gratitude to my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope.

Call it what you will: the serial comma, the Oxford comma, or the Harvard comma. It is the cause of much consternation to writers and editors. It causes fights in bars (okay, discussions in libraries). Devotees of the Chicago Manual of Style insist on its use. Those who adhere to Associated Press style consider it superfluous. And there are those who say that it doesn’t matter whether you use the serial comma or not, so long as you are consistent.

Cereal comma: Snap, Crackle, and Pop (note the comma after "Crackle")

Cereal comma: Snap, Crackle, and Pop (note the comma after "Crackle")

I have always been a believer in the serial comma because I think that it eliminates the possibility for confusion. If you’re looking at a list of 1, 2, and 3, it’s clear that 1, 2, and 3 are three distinct items. Consider the example of this hypothetical book dedication from the Chicago Manual of Style:

With gratitude to my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope

You can picture the editors of the Chicago Manual of Style chuckling smugly at the notion that without the serial comma, readers might think that the hypothetical author’s parents are Mother Teresa and the pope. The absence of a serial comma might cause the reader to think that “Mother Teresa and the pope” is one unit equal to the author’s parents. As a believer in the serial comma, I’m laughing right along with them.

If you look at the popular style guides that do not use the serial comma, they are mostly related to the news industry (Associated Press, The Times, The New York Times, etc.). As a former journalism student and journalist, I can tell you that many styles espoused by newspapers are designed more for conserving ink than for clarity of writing (that’s why you see single quotes used in headlines instead of the more correct double quote). The style guides that call for the serial comma (the American Psychological Association, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the Chicago Manual of Style, to name a few) are more concerned with clarity of writing.

Opponents of the serial comma will argue that it can sometimes actually cause confusion rather than clear it up. A surprisingly engaging and in-depth entry on Wikipedia uses this example, again a hypothetical book dedication, this time inspired by editor and writer Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God

Here, the reader might believe that Ayn Rand is the author’s mother when the serial comma is used, but without the serial comma, the confusion is eliminated (“To my mother, Ayn Rand and God”). I argue that you have to work a lot harder to create a scenario where the serial comma causes confusion rather than eliminating it. Another example from the same Wikipedia entry is this:

My favorite types of sandwiches are pastrami, ham, cream cheese and peanut butter and jelly.

Without a comma after “cream cheese,” the reader is not sure whether the peanut butter belongs with cream cheese or jelly. With that, I’m off to the library to pick a fight with a journalist and then go out for cream cheese and peanut butter sandwiches.