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Mascot Machismo

Take note Atlanta: This Cobi-phobic writer has had it with cuddly Olympic symbols

Please, please, I beg of you. If you have anything to do with the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, hear my plea: No more mascots! We don't want any huggable little catfish or huggable little football players or huggable little Rhett Butlers. Fight yourself. Dig deep. Resist the overwhelming urge. Say no to hugs.

We know that at the closing ceremonies of the Barcelona Olympics, you people from the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee are going to reveal your symbol for the 1996 Games. We have seen you parading around with your buttons—WHATIZIT? they read. But, listen, if you have any compassion, don't give us something squeezably precious. It is not too late. Say you changed your mind. Say the drawings got lost in customs. For the love of man, rethink this thing.

Because no matter how cute it looked when you first drew it, after four years of seeing it everywhere, from the lowest bumper sticker to the highest blimp, from the front of every ticket to the back of every Coke can, from the first clean and jerk to the last backward 1½ somersault with 3½ twists, your cuddly creation will drive you so clinically mad that you will begin slavering at its sight, your eyes twirling in your head, hot coffee dribbling down your wrist, unfelt.

We here in Barcelona know. We are up to our eyebrows with the mascot of these Games, the ever-present Cobi. The name is a play on COOB, the Spanish acronym for the Barcelona Olympic Organizing Committee. The first 1,000 times you see Cobi, you think he's cute. The second 1,000, you think his smile is disingenuous. The third 1,000, you vow to destroy his maker.

Cobi is seen in all places and on all things. He is on cigarette lighters and bus windows. He is 10 stories high on the side of a department store. He is selling Coke, Estrella beer, Panasonic electronic gear, whatever. He is an ambassador of goodwill, often seen shaking hands with the M&M Peanut above a message that reads: FRIENDS FOR LIFE.

Cobi is multimedia; he's on computer screens, on giant scoreboards, even on the ticket holograms. There is a Cobi for each and every sport: Cobi the archer, in his little Robin Hood costume; Cobi the taekwondo competitor, slanting his little eyes (yes, he is); Cobi the swimmer, in his little Speedo suit. Cobi in a Speedo is not something I was prepared for.

Señor Cobi handles everything. Here is Cobi at your hotel, dressed in his little bellhop uni. Here is Cobi at the press center, carrying a little microphone. Here is Cobi at the art museum, holding his little palette. If you had an attack of appendicitis over here, Cobi would be in the OR., with a little scalpel.

It is not natural, I tell you. You see so much of Cobi in Barcelona that you become obsessed with him. Is he a dog? you ask yourself. A cat? A hamster? What sort of animal has three fingers on one hand and four on the other? What sort has two right feet? Where does he live? Does he have a closet? Come to think of it, is he a he or a she? Why does he only have three hairs? Has he ever considered a weave? Who removed his neck? Why is his nose in profile and yet we can see both eyes? What is he, roadkill?

Cobi is a Catalan Pyrenean sheepdog, as drawn by a man on some serious pharmaceuticals. Four years ago, just to show his friends how silly the whole huggable mascot thing had become, underground artist Javier Mariscal of Barcelona sketched his rendering of Cobi and sent it to the COOB. "I was very stoned," says Mariscal, who lately has been bragging that he can draw Cobi in just four seconds. So now Mariscal is a billionaire (pesetas) but ostracized by the Barcelona art community.

You know what we say? Good. After all, Barcelona spent millions (dollars) on lawyers and copyrights, and then this Mariscal guy turns in an upgraded happy face that any matchbook art-school dropout could fake, including me. This drawing of Cobi (above right) took me 44 seconds.

So listen, Atlanta, if sportswriters can draw these things, how special can they be? Besides, it's not as if the Olympic charter says you have to have a mascot, emus, ALTIUS, FORTIUS, CARTOONIUS. You think they had a cuddly little winged horse at the ancient Greek games?

O.K., O.K., if you simply can't resist, make your mascot something plain and simple. Maybe Jimmy Carter. Or maybe just a fat good ol' Southern boy, Jim Bob, saying stuff like "What's the big ol' fuss about Athens? 'Tain't nuthin' but a 90-minute drive from here." Or maybe the mascot for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics should be the one thing truly indigenous to the South—a mess of barbecued ribs.

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Slabby!



Drawing the omnipresent Cobi was easy—even for Reilly.