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Cheerleaders don't always dress the way they once did, as close students of the Dallas Cowgirls and their imitators well know. Now, that other stalwart of the sidelines, the costumed mascot, is dramatically altering its appearance, too. Mascots used to dress as wildcats, tigers, or whatever their teams happened to be called, but that was before such nicknames as Mariners, Astros and 76ers came into vogue. Obviously, something new in the way of mascots was needed. Hence a recent proliferation of furred and feathered creatures, seemingly inspired by Sesame Street's Big Bird.
The best known of these fanciful characters is Chicken Man, who wears a Day-Glo costume and clowns with fans at San Diego Padre games. Introduced five years ago in a promotional stunt by radio station KGB in San Diego, Chicken Man has become a celebrity, as has Phillie Phanatic, a birdlike creature that made its bow in Philadelphia last summer. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Montreal Expos will introduce similar characters at next month's home openers, and the Philadelphia 76ers—the phenomenon is not confined to baseball—boast a month-old, slightly jive mascot that wears dark sunglasses. The 76er creature is being named in a contest that has already drawn 20,000 entrants.
The Phillie, Expo and 76er characters are all the handiwork of Manhattan toy designer Bonnie Erickson and her partner, Wayde Harrison. They are negotiating with other interested pro teams, and Harrison says, "The characters are succeeding because they're cute, nonthreatening, and appeal to all ages."
The new mascots are ideal for merchandising tie-ins; a Chicken Man doll and calendar are on the market, and The Philadelphia Inquirer runs a comic strip based on Phillie Phanatic. The characters also lend themselves to confrontations like the much-ballyhooed one that took place last season when Chicken Man accompanied the Padres into Veterans Stadium, where he cavorted throughout the game with Phillie Phanatic. Even Philadelphia's crusty manager. Danny Ozark, was impressed. As he said afterward, "It looked like a bleeping circus out there."
The late Avery Brundage believed that there was room in the Olympic movement for two Chinas—both the tiny one on Taiwan and the great big one on Asia's mainland. The People's Republic of China disagreed and in 1956 bolted the Olympics, vowing not to return until the Taiwanese were expelled. The world's most populous nation has been an Olympic exile ever since.
But Taiwan hasn't always had things its own way, either—especially lately. In 1976 Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, whose country had long since recognized and traded with mainland China, refused to let the Nationalists compete at the Montreal Olympics under their preferred name of Republic of China, and the Taiwanese went home. Since then, the mainland Chinese have been quietly eroding Taiwan's support in amateur sport, to the extent that 11 of the 26 international federations that make up the body of Olympic competition now recognize Communist China as the sole Chinese sports authority.
Ever since Peking began playing Mister Nice Guy to the West, a concerted Olympic thrust on its part has seemed likely. Two weeks ago, at the International Olympic Committee's headquarters in Lausanne, Sung Chung, secretary general of Peking's All-China Sports Federation, presented a petition to rejoin the Olympics to Lord Killanin, Brundage's successor as IOC president. Sung said his country wanted to compete at the 1980 Winter and Summer Olympics. His assistant, Ho Chen-ling, indicated support for a combined Chinese team—an idea Taiwan has previously rejected. "There is only one China," Ho said. "It is not a question of exclusion of Taiwan, but rather a choice before the IOC of what belongs to whom."
Surprisingly, Sung accepted Killanin's suggestion that officials from both Chinas meet and thrash out representational differences. Such a meeting would be the first acknowledged one between Nationalist and Communist Chinese since 1949. However, Shen Chia-ming, president of Taiwan's Olympic Committee, called the offer "an insidious trick."
It may well be a trick, and a clever one at that. The decision to talk now rests with Taiwan, which could wind up riding its high horse right out of international sport. The IOC will meet in Montevideo April 5, and Killanin makes no secret of his desire to get Communist China back into the Olympics. Last month Vice-Premier Teng Hsiao-p'ing said that mainland China might wish to bid for the 1988 Games. Considering the scant interest that other nations have been showing in hosting the Olympics, that can only enhance its position in the eyes of the IOC.