Dean Schoenewald, once the unofficial Philadelphia Eagles mascot, plies a career of reinventing himself while fending off detractors

Dean Schoenewald as "Bird Brain," unofficial Eagles mascot in the '80s. He now promotes himself as a liberal Christian Democratic pundit.
Dean Schoenewald as "Bird Brain," unofficial Eagles mascot in the '80s. He now promotes himself as a liberal Christian Democratic pundit.
Posted: November 13, 2010

HIS RESUME READS like pure fiction, a fairy-tale checklist crafted by a dreamer yearning to make a name for himself in unique ways.

Dean Schoenewald's obsessions and newfangled plans have taken him across the country for decades, and his titles are legion and legit, he claims.

A Google search for Dean Schoenewald, however, offers another bio, one he claims was fabricated by "detractors" and "stalkers" who accuse him of being a master manipulator, scam artist and worse. He claims he's been accused of 652 crimes, but says the only infractions he has been guilty of are violating some traffic laws and ripping a phone off a wall in his mother's house.

"I run drugs, I run meth labs, I human-traffic," Schoenewald said loudly with a laugh one afternoon. "I've been crucified."

The Ocean City, N.J., native is best known locally as "Bird Brain," a beloved but unofficial mascot for the Philadelphia Eagles in the '80s, and his stunts as an official mascot for a host of professional teams have thrilled thousands.

Schoenewald had stints as a weatherman for Linwood, N.J.-based NBC40 and as a women's football league commissioner, and was once a mayoral candidate in his hometown. Now, at 49, he's back in Ocean City, promoting himself as a liberal Christian Democratic pundit and budding talk-show host on his new website, www.liberalfaith.com.

Among those who denounce him are two of his seven siblings, who have posted allegations and warnings about him on local websites.

"We're all trying to get him exposed, because he just feeds off people," said Janet Bright, Schoenewald's younger sister, who lives in Texas. "He's a leech."

Some of Schoenewald's detractors have made serious accusations against him. There appears to be two warrants for his arrest, but they're both for misdemeanors in Tennessee. "I haven't had time to do anything illegal," he asserts.

And he has made some serious accusations against others. There's a hearing scheduled Tuesday in Philadelphia over a slander lawsuit he filed against NBC-10 and reporter Lu Ann Cahn regarding a story the station ran about him in 2009. He wants $100 million in damages.

The story focused on Schoenewald's Up to Par Foundation, a teenage suicide-prevention charity that collected money at city traffic lights that he claimed was used to fund seminars that he would conduct at schools. Cahn and NBC questioned where the money was going and whether Schoenewald's foundation was legitimate.

In a letter Schoenewald sent to the station, he claimed he had offered services to 277 schools but admitted that only one had booked him at the time the story ran.

The Pennsylvania Department of State filed a cease-and-desist order against Up to Par months after the story ran, but Schoenewald was never charged with a crime. He believes that NBC was duped by his brother, Tom, who wrote letters to Philadelphia schools when he heard about his brother's venture.

Cahn and an NBC-10 spokeswoman declined to comment. Tom Schoenewald, who is also being sued by his brother, said he's been speaking out about his brother for years now.

"I've just always felt bad for all these people he's screwed over time," the California man said.

The Schoenewalds grew up poor but proud in Ocean City, raised by their mother, Lois, after their father, Lester, went to prison for counterfeiting. Dean Schoenewald says his father served with Jimmy Hoffa at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

Becoming a mascot after high school was a mixture of Schoenewald's two loves: sports and the arts. After he graduated in 1979, he became "Bird Brain" and for the next decade or so, he was a favorite of Eagles fans, particularly after a fan in Dallas lit him on fire. He also drove Eagles' management crazy by making unsanctioned appearances at local schools.

In 1991, Schoenewald drove to California and won over the San Jose Sharks' management, media and their fledgling National Hockey League fans with his thrill-seeking mascot, S.J. Sharkie. The gig didn't last long, but Schoenewald has no regrets.

"I don't have that fear that I can't do it again," he said. "I have a morality I live by, and one of them is not explaining myself."

In 1992, Schoenewald claims, he paddled across the St. Lawrence River, using a hockey stick as a rudder, because he didn't have a work visa for his short-lived job as the mascot for the NHL's Ottawa Senators. The following year, he claims, he left a lucrative NHL gig as the New Jersey Devils' mascot because management made him shoot T-shirts into the crowd, a stunt he felt was beneath him.

Tom Schoenewald said his brother's talent and inexplicable power to mesmerize people were undeniable, but he claims most of his brother's gigs and grand schemes ended by his own doing and were capped off with lawsuits.

"He blew it," says Tom. "He could have been a superstar, at least in his own mind."

Schoenewald's brother Joe and his sister Nancy Hunt said that he's never had the full support of their family and that they believe his good intentions keep getting derailed by jealousy.

"He keeps going, no matter what happens," said Hunt, who lives in Texas. "I could never turn my back on him despite all the crazy things he's done."

Schoenewald found work as a mascot in smaller markets through the '90s and garnered national media attention when he opened a mascot-training academy. A bum knee sidelined the costumed mayhem, he said, and he went on to dabble in a minor-league hockey team in Ohio, a women's football league in Colorado and Christmas festivals in Texas and Tennessee, where he lived on and off and became a talk-show host and Christian literary agent.

"Dean's a great guy. He's real controversial, I can tell you that," said Rev. T.J. Graham, of WVOL (1470-AM) in Nashville. "He gets started and really captures you."

In Nashville, Sherry Frazier's ex-husband befriended Schoenewald in the mid-'90s, but she said she pegged him as a "con man from the word go." One of the two active warrants against him in Tennessee involves an aggravated-trespass charge that Frazier claims stems from an incident in February when Schoenewald was asked to leave her ex's apartment. Schoenewald claims he had permission to stay there and bristles over the charge, saying it is a false police report.

Frazier and Schoenewald have accused each other of a host of other offenses. He calls her a "rat bastard" and "stalker." She laughs, because she's not too fond of him either. Schoenewald sued Frazier for defamation in Tennessee, but she said he's never shown in court or to face his charges.

"I dare him to come back here," she said.

A Nashville police spokesman said the aggravated-trespassing and a driving-on-a-suspended-license charge were both misdemeanors.

"Whatever. It's a moving violation, please," Schoenewald said.

Schoenewald's now focused on selling his book about the "hypocrisy" of faith-based Republicans, "Fear and Denial: How the greatest scam in American history lives on." He's raising funds to buy airtime on local radio and appears to have convinced some organizations to donate, including the Ocean City Democratic Club, which donated $250.

If liberal Christian radio doesn't work out in New Jersey, or the message in his book doesn't resonate, Schoenewald will likely reinvent himself again, adding more seemingly unbelievable chapters to a life story he calls "Confessions of a Mascot."

"I'm an artist; that's what I do," he said. "I created things, but I don't use oil and watercolors. A lot of times I used fur."

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