Report: Mascot’s antics could cost Arizona State six figures

Sparky wasn't playing it safe.

Chris Coduto/Getty Images

The Arizona State Sun Devils mascot caught some heat after accidentally injuring a fan during a football game earlier this season, and it will likely end up costing the university more than $100,000 to put out the fire.

Tempe city councilman David Schapira was on the field at halftime for a ceremony honoring Tempe city officials at the team’s Sept. 18 game against New Mexico when Sparky, the school’s mascot, hopped on the 6-foot-5 Schapira’s back from behind.

Unfortunately, the person playing the role of Sparky was unaware that Schapira was still recovering from a series of back surgeries, the most recent of which was an L5-S1 fusion on July 10. Schapira was still walking with a cane at the time of the incident, and the impromptu piggy-back ride ended up re-injuring Schapira’s back, putting the 35-year-old in the hospital with a muscle tear.

“It’s painful and pretty much debilitating for three or four weeks, and I was, two months after the surgery, finally getting back to some normalcy when this happened,” Schapira told FOX Sports in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “So I kind of feel like I’ve had to go through it twice.”

Schapira was taken by ambulance to the ER from Sun Devil Stadium after the run-in. He spent the next several days in the hospital and missed more than a week of work following the injury. Schapira’s doctor has told him the injury could take up to six months to fully heal, but Schapira says his second recovery is going well so far.

“I’m getting better,” Schapira said. “My physical therapist said to me that healing from a back injury is not linear. You kind of zig-zag around, and it gets better and then a little bit worse and then a lot better and then maybe a lot worse. So it’s just been kind of frustrating since I’ve been trying to get better since July.”

As a result, Schapira has filed a claim seeking $96,146 to cover his medical expenses and $27,000 to reimburse the city. However, Schapira made it clear that the claim is nothing more than a matter of following procedure and says it was actually the university that guided him through the steps of getting reimbursement.

“They’re the ones that actually sent me the notice of claim form so that I could fill it out, because they wanted to pay for my bills and that’s the only way to do it,” Schapira said. “Arizona has what’s called a gift clause ban, which means no state entity can give money to a person unless that person has sent them an invoice or a notice of claim, or something along those lines.

“It’s also not a lawsuit, nor is it any precursor to a lawsuit,” Schapira added. “I have no interest in suing ASU.”

So if you’re looking for a contentious battle over the claim, you probably won’t find it here. The school, which previously issued a statement apologizing for Sparky’s “excessive exuberance,” has indicated that it intends to pay out Schapira’s claim, and Schapira says he has no ill will toward the program or the mascot going forward.

“I’m not mad at anybody,” Shchapira said. “I’m not mad at ASU, and I’m not mad at the kid. Should he have jumped on my back or anyone’s back? No, but he didn’t think he was going to hurt me and he wasn’t trying to hurt me.

“Everyone wants me to be furious, but I’m not,” he added. “If it had been Wilbur the WIldcat from U of A, I might have been furious, but I’m not mad at ASU or Sparky or anyone.”

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