Rashard Mendenhall: A Renaissance Man in Pads


            Many people have joked that the NFL stands for “Not For Long” rather than the National Football League. The average length of a professional football career is brief, and players are becoming increasingly aware of it. Take Rashard Mendenhall, a healthy 26 year-old running back that recently announced his retirement from football. Mendenhall’s retirement came in the form of a lengthy essay published in the Huffington Post, and many fans were surprised to read why he decided to leave the game so early.

As it turns out, despite the opportunity to earn several more millions of dollars as a professional athlete, Mendenhall would rather quit while he’s ahead to go explore other aspects of life. In his essay, he expresses deep interest in dance, art, and literature. He voices a desire to go out and simply live his life without the constant public spotlight. Fans may have previously realized that Mendenhall was humble and soft spoken, but they likely never knew just how much of a Renaissance man he really is.

I don’t contend that Rashard Mendenhall deserves any special praise for the choice he made. It was a personal decision and he didn’t do anything spectacular for anyone else. However, I argue that he deserves a great deal of respect for the way he handled his business. In a well-written piece directed at his fans, he revealed his integrity and sophistication like no other athlete has recently done. By reaching out to his fan base in this particular manner, Mendenhall showed us that football players are people too. And some of them have hidden desires and interests that we would never expect.

Read his essay here:

A Changing Sports World: America and Soccer

The life of an immigrant in America is anything but conventional. There are countless things one comes to learn about this nation by way of pure exposure to culture. Having come from Bulgaria, I predicted that the passions of Americans would differ drastically from those most prevalent in the rest of the world. America has always presented itself as being divergent, but also as being a leader. The proverbial “city on a hill” has always set a political and economic example that other, less powerful nations use as a benchmark to evaluate their progress. The question is, can we say as much about America from a cultural perspective?

To evaluate this question, we can look to sports. There is nothing more global than a common passion that almost serves as a universal language. Throughout the world, football, or soccer (admittedly an American fabrication) serves this type of purpose. The majority of the world’s nations cite football as the dominant sport within their culture and some even go as far as comparing it to religion. If you think this claim is an exaggeration, I urge you to visit a nation such as Brazil, where the kick of a ball precedes the first roll of the tongue. The sport is entirely engrained in the culture and a single match has the power to unify or divide an entire nation.

Can this phenomenon be achieved in the United States? Basketball, football, and baseball all serve as national sports, but there are few people who harbor an equal amount of passion for all three. Football season always brings about feverish fanaticism, but it doesn’t ever seem as if the entire nation is unified over a single event, barring the heavily advertised colossus that is the Superbowl. Different regions of the country seem to swarm around distinct sports, so sectionalism is unavoidable.

Until recent times, “soccer” had been relegated to a lowly place on the ranking of sports in America. It was simply seen as a way in which kindergarteners, pre-schoolers, and elementary school students could get their exercise without any serious commitment. Starting in middle school, soccer was abandoned and most likely replaced by sports more in tune with American culture. The passion behind soccer has always seemed rather foreign to the American people. This is one of the first things I noticed when I initially set foot on an American playground as a ten-year-old immigrant. As late as the early 2000s, the majority of participants in soccer programs across the United States were likely to be of foreign descent. This begs the question, how has such a global phenomenon had such difficulty penetrating American culture? The question will likely remain unanswered.

An encouraging move was eventually made in 2007, when a footballing icon in the form of David Beckham made his move from Spanish giants Real Madrid to the Los Angeles Galaxy. America was buzzing. Youngsters were starstruck and, for the first time, felt passion for the beautiful game. Training facilities were expanded, the media increasingly began to integrate soccer into mainstream culture, and the nation’s attention turned to something it had been missing for years. There are bright times ahead for soccer in America and we can only hope its progress remains unimpeded.


Lionel Messi: Living Legend

Who is Lionel Messi? Not anyone too impressive; he’s only an Argentine footballing prodigy that had multiple world-class clubs at his feet at the tender age of 11, shortly after a daunting diagnosis of growth hormone deficiency. The diminutive twinkle-toed forward caught the eyes of the world while playing in the Argentine youth divisions with famed Newell’s Old Boys. Sporting a significantly smaller stature than other boys his age, Messi startled with his close control and commanding balance, weaving through defenders and excelling when odds seemed to be stacked against him.

Seemingly destined for fame, it was only a matter of time before the big boys came knocking. Lionel couldn’t escape the attentions of talent scouts in his time in Argentine football. On a day that shaped his destiny, a representative of Catalan giants FC Barcelona expressed his desire to bring Messi to Spain in order to continue his development and eventually transform him into a first-team competitor. In a strange turn of events, many clubs were turned off by the enormity of Messi’s medical expenses, which all went toward the consistent treatment of his growth hormone condition. Barcelona’s board of executives likely looks to the sky and gratefully embraces the clairvoyant whose astonishing foresight prompted the signing of a legend, despite a hefty cost. The world wasn’t quite prepared to witness Messi’s astronomical rise and still stands in awe as the Argentina captain commandingly embodies the essence of Barcelona football club and the beautiful game upon every single match day.

Despite the generous sprinkling of talent throughout the world of football, Messi’s shadow is seemingly all encompassing. Witnessing the brilliance of the little genius on a football field is virtually equivalent to being in the presence of Da Vinci as his hand calculatedly traces the outline of Mona Lisa’s infamous visage. The ball is magnetized by his feet, which scuttle around defenders, often leaving them dumbfounded. Concrete examples of Messi’s magic are innumerable. Consider his performances in La Liga – the goal against Getafe a few seasons back, when he picked up the ball right by the midfield line to go on a mazy streak past all opposing defenders and finish in an effort that immediately drew comparisons to Diego Maradona. How about his Champions League career and his single-handed dismantling of Arsenal?

In an era of footballers such as Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi Hernandez, and Andres Iniesta, Messi’s mercurial talent has indubitably distinguished him as a legend. His imprint in football culture renders him immortal in my own head, as well as in the hearts of fans all across the world.

Olympics & London Love

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’re well aware of the hoopla surrounding London, the Royal Family—Will and Miss Kate included, and of course, the Summer Games.

Last summer I studied abroad in London. I spent three amazing months there and needless to say, it was hard to come home. I loved everything about it, from roaming the streets pretending to be Kate Middleton, to shopping on Oxford Street, and most of all, taking the tube to and from work every day (In addition to my classes I had a summer internship).

While I was there the city was well underway preparing for the Olympics. You could take tours of the event sites, some which were still under construction, and there was even a digital countdown in Trafalgar Square in anticipation of the summer to come. I was having a blast, but part of me was jealous. I came across the pond a summer to soon it felt like. Instead of living in the moment, London was fast-forwarding my time there and already looking ahead to the next big event.

I managed to get over my small twinge of Olympic jealousy and enjoy the rest of the summer. From copious amounts of tea, to lazy days in Hyde Park, it was a summer to remember. However, as I sit and reminisce of my London days gone by I can’t help but wonder, what would my time there have been like just one year later?
Here are things I would have loved, and some I’m glad I dodged.

For one, this year marked the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. There was a huge celebration—and as I mentioned before, unless you’re living under a rather large rock, I’m sure you heard, saw, or read about it. The energy surrounding the event alone would be enough to make a London summer spectacular—not to mention if you got close enough to see any action! What a way to kick start the Olympic summer season. Anything remotely involving the Royal Family gets the city excited. You can smell the joy and tradition in the air.I would have loved to watch the commotion and join in the cheers.

As the games grow closer, I would have loved to be able to see the preparation for large amount of athletes, spectators, and tourists. When I was living there last summer, one of many preparations, was a huge apartment project under construction specifically to accommodate the large numbers expected to visit over the duration of the games. It was supposedly an “Ikea Village”, meaning everything was designed efficiently and to utilize the least amount of space while still being trendy and modern. The Swedish know how to use their space. These apartments would have been incredible to see—I would have taken note on how to maximize my school townhouse floor plan!

Now despite the energy, the cheering, and the pure thrill of being in any city for the Olympics (which I’m sure nothing can compare to), there’s one thing I’m glad I didn’t have to encounter.

Traffic. London is packed. It’s busy all the time. Add the Olympics into the mix and I’ll let you do the math. The tube, the streets, even the sidewalks are going to be a nightmare. If there weren’t designated sidewalk lanes before, now might be a good time to think about adding some. Travelers be prepared and have your traffic game face on.

Not a day goes by when I don’t secretly wish to be back in London, practicing my British accent and drinking tea, and the preparation and anticipation for all of the summer events, whether they be royal or Olympic in nature, have me wishing just a little bit harder. The Olympics are always fascinating and fun to watch, regardless of where they are taking place, but the fact that they’re in London this year makes it that much more exciting. I’ll be anxiously awaiting—and drinking tea, of course!

-Ring Queen

Best (and Worst) College Mascots

March Madness is upon us, and as we flick on the TV and colleges campuses all around the country fill up the bleachers with screaming fans, it seems only fitting to take a look beyond the court and see who is cheering these teams on. While the outfits of the fans can be fun to watch, it’s usually the furry friends that take center stage. I’m of course talking about the team mascot!

The school’s mascot says a lot about the spirit and enthusiasm of a team. They are the ones who help rile up a crowd and often have their name and face plastered all over a campus. So which mascots would the paparazzi be lining up to capture a shot of and which ones are a little, how do you say, out of the ordinary? From Wildcats to Trolls, Bulldogs, and Gophers, there are mascots out that will make you laugh, and some that will no doubt leave you scratching your head.

Let’s start with the front-runners of this year’s tournament and teams that are predicted to go far. Could you name their mascots? Do you think you’ve ever heard of them, or could guess if someone made you try? If not, here is your chance to catch up. Feel free to jot down notes—stump your friends with new trivia!

The Kentucky Wildcats. The University of Kentucky has enthusiastic and obviously athletic students. Their fans are often referred to as the Big Blue Nation. Wildcats are a popular mascot—Kansas State is also home of the Wildcats, but the obviously prefer purple and white!

Syracuse is another team that is on the “watch list” for this year’s games. They are looking fresh and are ready to roll, coincidently so is their mascot—Otto the Orange! It may seem odd, an orange for a mascot, but you couldn’t ask for a brighter or healthier friend to cheer you on!

The Missouri Tigers are also roaring and ready for ball time. The home of Gold and Black have fans that are almost as fierce as their players and are sure to bring some tiger heat to the court!

Have you ever been to North Carolina? If you have I’m sure you’re familiar with the North Carolina Tar Heels. Their mascot is big horned Ram, Rameses. He has big ram muscles, a jersey and a huge following of fans. If I must say so myself, he looks great in blue!

I’m quite partial to the next team. The Kansas Jayhawks. I’m a Kansas girl, and have a brother who went to KU. And if you must know I still walk around wearing my 2008 National Championship shirt. I’m a La Salle Explorer now, but that won’t stop me from loving the Jayhawks through and through.

So what other reputable mascots are out there? Well of course there are the Duke Blue Devils, the Butler Bulldogs, and another family favorite—the Georgetown Hoyas, with “Jack the Bulldog” as the mascot.

Some mascots aren’t as mainstream, in fact may not have ever realized what they were!

Trinity College is home to the Trolls.  And then there’s Whittier College, home of the Poets— Do you think they all have the gift of rhyme? Concordia College is home to the Cobbers. Their mascot is a human sized cob of corn, again a very healthy choice. You know for sure their students are getting their full serving of vegetables—whether they happen to be real or school spirit driven!  Stanford University doesn’t have an “official” mascot, but their adopted cheerleader is the Standard Tree.  It’s said that it even changes its leaves with every season!

Mascots can be the heart and soul of a campus, or just a figment of every student’s imagination. Whether your mascot is well known, or locally loved and cherished, each character or symbol tells a story and showcases a little of what makes your school unique! Here’s hoping we seen a wide range of these guys on the sidelines this March!

-Ring Queen

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