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Top 10 Crazy Bobblehead Controversies

by Domenico De Luca
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Bobbleheads may be small in stature, but for many, they are a very big deal. Often made in the image of a popular player and given away by professional sport teams, Bobbleheads are everywhere. They even have their very own museum.

There are Bobbleheads made in the likeness of Supreme Court Justices, Presidents, and, yes, even the Pope has one.

Mostly, these goofy plastic statuettes are meant for fun – stick one on your car’s dashboard and watch its head bobble as you drive.

But, there have been some Bobbleheads that have been anything but fun. These Bobbleheads have stood at the centre of controversy and have led to heated debate, great shame and, in one case, actual physical injury.

10 Einstein Gets Too Close To Marie Curie

Marie Curie won 2 Nobel Prizes. She won one, in 1903, with her husband Pierre and one on her own in 1911. Together, they discovered a new chemical element they named polonium. The Curies work was instrumental in the development of X-rays. Marie Curie went on to become the first female teacher at the Sorbonne – France’s internationally celebrated university.[1]

All of those achievements were briefly put aside by host Joe Hanson on an episode of his PBS web series, “It’s Okay To Be Smart.”

The offending segment was part of an imagined Thanksgiving dinner between Einstein, Curie and a few other famous scientists – all represented by their respective Bobbleheads.

At one point, Hanson has the Einstein Bobblehead ask the Marie Curie Bobblehead to, “wear him like a Parka.” Then, later, the Einstein Bobblehead appears naked. Finally, Hanson puts the naked Einstein Bobblehead on top of the Marie Curie Bobblehead.

Not surprisingly, there was negative feedback. Initially, Hanson tried to defend his segment saying that he was trying to show, “the dark reality that many men in his time acted inappropriately toward women.”

PBS also came to his defense – even passively mocking those who were outraged – by stating, “NOTE: Some people were offended by the scenes involving Marie Curie and Albert Einstein. We apologize for our comedic error.”

Eventually, though, PBS took down the video and Hanson apologized, saying, “We failed in using satire to shine some light on the problem of women’s under-representation in science.” He added, “Harassment is real and unacceptable — I never meant for my work to indicate anything other than that.”

The web series survived the controversy and completed its 7th season in August of 2019.[2]

9 Blackface Bobblehead

Blackface – where a white performer darkened their face and depicted African-Americans in insulting ways – became popular in the mid 1800s as part of Minstrel shows. These white performers would act stupid and lazy to the delight of their white audiences. The black make-up would often cover the whole face of the white performer, except for the area around their mouth – that was covered with bright white clown’s make-up.[3]

Apparently, bobblehead artists are not history buffs, because when it came time to make one to celebrate the beloved Afro-Latino Boston Red Sox player, David Ortiz, the small figurine was given white lips.

The David Ortiz Bobblehead giveaway – meant to celebrate the player’s moving tribute to the city in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing – was cancelled by Red Sox President Sam Kennedy just 5 hours before game time.

“I personally thought it seemed to be an offensive portrayal of him and the facial features were racially insensitive, ” said Kennedy.

Ortiz, himself, didn’t think the bobblehead looked anything like him, “That’s supposed to be me?” Then he seconded the club’s decision to trash the bobbleheads with language the newspaper could not print.

BDA Inc., the company that made the bobblehead, agreed with the Red Sox decision, saying, “We value our decades-long relationship with the Red Sox organization and its decision to postpone Tuesday’s David Ortiz bobblehead giveaway. We’re currently working closely with the Red Sox to ensure the team and its fans receive a quality product.”

In total, 15,000 of the offensive bobbleheads were made – and later returned – for the special night.[4]

8John Wilkes Booth Bobblehead

United States Republican President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at the Ford Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865. He was killed by John Wilkes Booth, who shot him in the head with a pistol at very close range. The bullet entered Lincoln’s left ear and settled behind his right eye. Paralysed and close to death, he was taken to a boarding house across from the theatre. He passed away 9 hours later.

In 2012, the bookstore at The Gettysburg National Military Park’s visitors center started selling a John Wilkes Booth bobblehead – complete with drawn gun. Visitors to the location of the famous Civil War battle and equally famous Lincoln address, and a major Lincoln scholar complained. A week later, the bobblehead was pulled from shelves.

Dru Anne Neil, the spokeswoman for the Gettysburg Foundation, acknowledged that the bobblehead had triggered some concern.[5]

Bobblehead sculptor, Rick Lynn, felt his intentions were misunderstood, “I use these bobbleheads as teaching tools,” he said. ‘It’s hard to get young people interested in history. But if you make an interactive figure, it becomes tactile and more accessible for them.”

Harold Hozer, prominent Lincoln scholar, objected to the plastic figurine,”‘There’s a line between freedom of expression and insensitivity and boorishness,’ he said, in an email. “I hold no belief for censorship, but I do believe in common sense, respect, and good taste. And these souvenirs featured none of the above.”

7Obama Bobblehead In Bottle Of Urine

In 2011, Glenn Beck was a mostly loathed political TV show host. That may be why his Fox News Channel show ended, in that same year, even though he predictably delivered a steady diet of Anti-Obama content.[6]

Shortly after his Fox News show signed off for good, Beck got all tangled up in one doozy of a crazy controversy. It involved a bobblehead Obama and whether or not it was submerged in a bottle of Beck’s own urine.

It was up on eBay and, apparently, while a lot of people got very pissy about it, others were willing to part with $11,000 to get their hands on it. But, eBay took it down – urine or no urine – stating in their notification sent to Beck, “We do not allow bodily fluids to be listed on our site. Even if the liquid in the jar is not urine, you are describing it as such.”[7]

6Bobblehead Gift A No-No For Politicians

Lou Gehrig was a legendary New York Yankee baseball player known for playing in an astounding 2,130 consecutive games.

His streak ended abruptly when he couldn’t play due to a mysterious neuromuscular disease that was slowly ravaging his body. Today we know that disease by the name ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). It is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He died in 1941.[8]

Back in 2015, Lou Gehrig made the news again – this time in the form of a bobblehead. It all started when the ALS Association gave Lou Gehrig bobbleheads to Albany lawmakers. They were forced to give them back because the bobbleheads were considered a violation of the Legislature’s gift ban.

Lisa Reid, executive director of the Legislative Ethics Commission put it this way, “There was concern that it could be seen as a violation of the public officers law.”

The concern expressed had to do with a letter the ALS Association sent along with the bobbleheads. In it, it mentioned that the ALS Association was seeking a grant of $250,000. It also didn’t help that the bobbleheads arrived just as Albany lawmakers were negotiating ethics reform.

Democratic Senator George Latimer was okay giving back the bobbleheads, but expressed the silliness of the moment succinctly, saying, “The real question is how do you compare this with something like a campaign donation in which you could receive in theory $10,000 from an interest group. That is worth a lot more than a bobblehead doll.”[9]

5Pitchwoman Dumped For Bobblehead Look-A-Like

Being the face of a popular product can be very lucrative.[10]

It was for Phoebe Jonas, who regularly appeared in ads for Bayer’s Phillip’s products until they replaced her with a bobblehead. Not only that but Jonas claims the bobblehead looks just like her.

She filed a claim in New York State Supreme Court suing Bayer for $500,000 in damages. She wanted them to stop using the look-a-like bobblehead, which she claimed was used to, “avoid renegotiating the right to continue to use [Jonas’] likeness.” She also accused the company of using her in ads beyond the time her contract expired.

The two parties managed to work out a deal regarding the use of Jonas in ads after the contract ran out. However, Jonas’ bobblehead twin was still bobbing its head for Bayer in Phillip’s product commercials.

VP and head of external communications for Bayer, Chris Loder, didn’t mince words responding to the claim, “The allegations contained in this complaint are baseless.”

Jonas’ lawyer, Steven Mintz, showed he had not lost his sense of humor when he shot back at Bayer, saying they chose to, “create a big headache for everyone.”[11]

4 Coach Bobblehead Shooting Range Target

Lane Kiffin caused quite a stir when he left his football coaching job at the University of Tennessee for one at USC. Police had to be called in to control an angry crowd of fans who started turning up outside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center – where the University of Tennessee football team plays.[12]

Tennessee Gun shop owner, Brant Williams came up with a different way to show how angry he was with Kiffin – organizing a shoot-em-up fund-raiser for a food bank. For $5 bucks, pissed off fans would get a chance to blow to smithereens bobblehead representations of Kiffin and his father, Monte – University of Tennessee’s defensive coordinator.

This proved to be a particularly ill timed event. A few days prior, Gabrielle Giffords was shot while holding a meet-and-greet outside of a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona.

The event started to collapse when the food bank, Second Harvest, who planned to benefit from the fund-raiser, pulled out. They had received dozens of irate phone calls and emails. Regardless, Williams was defiant, saying, “People won’t leave the event wanting to shoot Kiffin.”

It was only after members of the Knoxville Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church – itself the victim of a shooting by a lone gunman in 2008 – reached out to Williams. “I was impressed with how much this seemed to be hurting them,” he said, adding, “Their pain and remembrance of what they went through caused me to back off my stance.”[13]

3Indian Killer Bobblehead

In 1697, Abenaki Native Americans kidnapped a woman named Hannah Duston, her infant daughter and her nursemaid. While traveling north from Duston’s home in Haverhill, Massachusetts the Abenakis killed Hannah’s young child. They ended up stopping in Boscawen, New Hampshire for the night. As the Abenaki families slept, Hannah and her companions murdered 10 Abenakis – including 6 children. Duston and her friends then scalped each victim before returning home.[14]

The New Hampshire Historical Society decided to commemorate this grisly historical moment with a Hannah Duston bobblehead – complete with hatchet.

The controversy was complicated by a second bobblehead the NHHS made of Chief Passaconaway. He actively encouraged his people to live in peace with English settlers when they started turning up in New Hampshire in the 1600s. He had also been dead for more than 30 years when the deadly encounter between Duston and the Abenaki Indians took place.

Within weeks of the dolls being put on sale, one employee quit and another refused to sell or touch the offending hatchet wielding bobblehead.

Historian for the state’s Intertribal Council, David Stewart-Smith, was frustrated, saying, “To have the New Hampshire Historical Society come out with a caricature of an Indian after all these years of us working on this issue … is just staggering.”

Bill Veillette, executive director of the NHHS, countered, saying, “If (the society) gets scared of every little criticism that comes at us, we’ll crawl under the rock and do nothing.” He went on, adding, “We’ll become the most boring place in the world. We’ll reinforce the notion that history is like religion and politics: You don’t talk about it in polite company because you don’t know who will offend.”[15]

2 Bobbleheads Scrapped By Sexual Assault Allegations

Legendary baseball player Pete Rose is Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader. You would think that alone would qualify him for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, he is not in the BHOF because he bet on baseball. Not only is he not in the BHOF, but, in 1989, he was suspended from the game for life.[16]

Regardless, in 2017, the Philadelphia Phillies wanted to honor Rose by holding a Pete Rose Bobblehead giveaway day. They immediately ran into trouble – not because of the gambling – but, because a woman accused Rose of having sex with her when she was a minor.

The Jane Doe court filing claimed that Rose started having sex with the girl in 1973 when she was only 14 or 15. She also claimed that the relationship went on for several years.

Rose’s lawyer countered by saying that the woman’s allegation was unverified.

The Phillies were going to give away 35,000 bobbleheads and induct Rose into their Wall of Fame. Not surprisingly, everything was cancelled once the allegations surfaced. The Phillies then made plans to destroy all 35,000 bobbleheads.[17]

1 Fan Hits Goalie With Bobblehead

Back in 2011, Major League Soccer team Sporting Kansas City had a Bobblehead giveaway day for Omar Bravo.

During their match against the Portland Timbers that night, one fan threw their Omar Bravo Bobblehead into the field of play and struck Sporting Kansas City goalie Jimmy Nielsen in the face.

How much damage could a small piece of plastic make? Nielsen lay on the field for 4 minutes being tended to by a trainer. He received cuts around his eyes.[18]

Nielsen became disoriented, “I did not see it coming.” He added, “First I thought I walked into the post, then I realized I was a long way from the post.” Immediately after being struck, he had a,”…crazy headache…” and had to lie down for a while.

Security nabbed the bobblehead bombers soon after, “Two people from the same group in the third row both threw the head of bobbleheads, one of which struck Nielsen,” SKC’s VP of communications said, adding, “Both were apprehended, both will be prosecuted.”

In the end, SKC won the game 3-1, which made all the drama worthwhile for Nielsen, “The victory helped.”[19]

fact checked by Jamie Frater