TAMPA — In a case of viral video and cloak-and-dagger intrigue, ThunderBug has been fired.
The final offense? Inappropriate use of Silly String.
The Tampa Bay Lightning mascot sprayed a Boston Bruins fan at a Jan. 17 hockey game. The fan took offense and pushed ThunderBug down. Thousands saw it on YouTube.
The team did not condone ThunderBug's actions.
Kelly Frank, the woman in the ThunderBug suit, was let go. She wasn't a full-time employee of the team but was the primary performer as ThunderBug the past few seasons.
The Lightning said the Silly String wasn't the only reason for the mascot change but didn't want to comment further on ThunderBug's actions.
"We're keeping this internal," Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett said.
Frank, who runs a business, AMAZING!! Mascots, didn't return phone calls and emails. Turns out, this isn't her first experience as a wayward mascot.
Frank was dismissed as the Tampa Bay Rays' mascot Raymond at the end of the 2008 season.
Like the Lightning, the Rays had little to say about her dismissal. Fans of both teams lamented her loss.
Justin Jolley, an 18-year-old Apopka resident and mascot devotee, started an online petition at change.org (which by Wednesday afternoon had more than 230 signatures). There's also a Facebook page, "Save the Tampa Bay Lightning's ThunderBug's job."
"It was never fair what happened to her," said Jolley, who runs mascotmadness.net, a social networking site for mascots and fans. "It's just a little Silly String, mascots do it all the time. Everyone likes her because of the way she interacts with fans, she knew some season ticket holders, she did special handshakes a lot. It will be disappointing going to the game."
The only consolation for fans?
A backup took on the ThunderBug persona at Tuesday's Lightning game.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.