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Fully Krewed—The Traditions of Mardi Gras

With the 2017 Mardi Gras season upon us, the new year promises that even more individuals from all corners of the world will flock to New Orleans to witness the massive lineup of parades. However, many may visit for the spectacle of the festival without being entirely aware how Mardi Gras works. If you’re considering visiting New Orleans and aren’t sure what to expect, or are just looking to gain a little insight into what the festival is all about, I’d like to delve into the practical ins and outs of Mardi Gras!

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is a celebration with ties to both Christian and Pagan traditions. It is held on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent, marking a day of excess before giving up unhealthy food and drink. However, the season officially begins on January 6th, with multiple days of parades planned between them and Fat Tuesday.

The festival has certainly escalated since its estimated inception in the days of ancient Rome. Modern New Orleans traditions include the throwing of trinkets to awaiting crowds—a practice so popular that trees on the street are often decorated with beads for months after—to exclusive balls celebrating the city’s young debutantes. Now more of a cultural phenomenon than a religious festival, Mardi Gras remains a large draw for visitors to Louisiana to this day.

The Culture Behind Mardi Gras

The groups of people that set up floats and throw balls are called krewes. Part party planning committee and part community service organization, krewe members pay dues to finance their activities during the festival.

Generally, invitation to the aforementioned balls is based on who you know in the krewes. Though some offer public tickets, don’t count on getting invited to a Mardi Gras ball unless you have connections (or can make friends fast!).

King Cake

A traditional aspect of Mardi Gras is the serving of king cake at various functions. January sixth is also known as “the Feast of the Epiphany” and is also the first time that king cakes are eaten during the festival.

The cake itself resembles a doughnut and is comprised of cinnamon-laced dough topped with icing and colored sugar, traditionally in purple, green, and gold. These three colors traditionally represent justice, faith, and power, respectively.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the cake is the inclusion of a small baby figurine inside, representative of the baby Jesus. Whoever receives the slice of cake with the figurine is treated like royalty for the evening, but is also obligated to purchase the next cake. In other countries, the baby is often replaced by a pea or a bean.

Where to go on Mardi Gras?

In a broader sense, many cities across the world celebrate Mardi Gras, though New Orleans is the most famous for the practice. If you’re looking to get a sense of how the festival is celebrated elsewhere, check out Baton Rouge, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Cologne, Germany.

In New Orleans, the bulk of the celebration is held in the city’s French Quarter, and is renowned for being family-friendly despite the prevalence of alcohol during the festival. Bourbon Street, as the name suggests, is home to the raunchier Mardi Gras crowds; but the rest of the quarter is lined with families looking to take in the spectacle of parades.

What else do I need to know?

Be smart and be safe!

Despite being a tradition dating back centuries, Mardi Gras is fairly loose and not particularly stringent about the behavior of its revelers. That said, expect a lot of costumes from attendants; even if you’re from out of town, consider joining in the festivities by dressing up! There are no particular limits on how to dress, but many of the popular costumes are satirical or humorous. If you happen to be invited to a ball, the requirements are much stricter, requiring gowns and tuxedos for guests.

Mardi Gras isn’t just a celebration; it’s a cultural staple that defines New Orleans as a city and something that everybody should experience.

Paragon of the Pitch—Christian Pulisic’s Budding Career

Called a “fast-rising talent” by Sports Illustrated, Christian Pulisic is making waves as a new addition to the U.S. men’s national soccer team (USMNT). The 18-year-old, born in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is of slight frame but possesses strong dribbling skills, a talent which gained him attention as part of Borussia Dortmund, scoring four goals in his career with the organization.

Among USMNST fans, Pulisic quickly earned a reputation for modesty in the face of circumstances that would certainly inflate other egos. In the face of a recent loss to Mexico, Pulisic insists that he didn’t do enough to push for a U.S. victory.

Really, that simple admission sums up who Pulisic is as both a player and an individual: a hard worker with the determination to consistently improve his showing. Any individual forming the backbone of the USMNT offense in their first appearance has to have both the physicality and the mentality to contend with career players. Pulisic’s tactical approach to his game, exploiting holes in opposing defenses, displays a patience and expertise formed by a lifetime of soccer.

His game against Mexico may have been a disappointing loss for the USMNT, but his showing, marred only slightly by a bad touch, demonstrates that he has the mettle to play with the game’s titans. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann praised Pulisic’s performance during the game, but is keeping the teen under wraps for now, refusing to overhype his prowess.

However, this hasn’t stopped the rest of the soccer community from doing exactly that. And it’s not hard to see why. His list of accomplishments includes the honors of being the youngest American to play, score, and later start, in a World Cup Qualifier.

Pulisic may well have been inspired by his parents, both of whom played collegiate soccer at George Mason University. His father, Mark, went on to play professionally for the Harrisburg Heat.

After playing for various youth teams, Pulisic joined the U-17 Borussia Dortmund squad, distinguishing himself and earning the respect of his teammates not only for his skill, but for his personality and down-to-earth nature. With ten goals and eight assists over the course of 15 games, the team’s management knew that they had something special on their hands.

He was quickly promoted to Dortmund’s U-19 team, netting experience in the FIFA World Cup as part of the U.S U-17’s before being recruited for the USMNT.

There’s a lot riding on Pulisic’s shoulders at this point. Criticisms of Jürgen Klinsmann’s coaching have been met with calls for Pulisic to rescue the franchise from the jaws of what many view as mediocre management. Is it a lot to ask from a single 18-year-old? Maybe, but Really, it’s too early to tell whether he’ll be able to deliver on whatever high hopes his team and country have ascribed to him, but his position as a young rising star ensures that his career is far from over.

The Saints of Baton Rouge

Todd BernerThe past year has been a trying time for America. With police officers having shot and killed over 800 victims, 43 of which were unarmed, the country has seen an unnerving racial divide between African-American men and police officers. Fortunately, the New Orleans Saints and former NFL running back, Warrick Dunn, are looking to mend the still fresh wounds by uniting both sides.

On July 5th, 2016, Alton Sterling, an African-American and Baton Rouge native male was shot and killed by at least one police officer, according to The New York Times. After a video of Sterling’s murder went viral, it sent shockwaves not only through the state of Louisiana, but through the country as a whole. Then, not less than two weeks later, three police officers were killed by Gavin Long, an African-American male who openly expressed his frustration with police killings of African-Americans, in Baton Rouge, shaking the city to its core.

This hit all too close to home for Warrick Dunn, whose mother was a police officer killed while on duty. Dunn, whose NFL career spanned 11 years playing for both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons, made it his mission to bring unity at a time when it was sorely needed. Being from Baton Rouge, Dunn used his connections in the NFL to partner with the New Orleans Saints in order to help ease tensions in Louisiana. And what greater way to do so than through one of Louisiana’s greatest prides?

The Saints and Dunn invited both Cameron Sterling–Alton Sterling’s 15-year-old son–and Dechia Gerald–wife of fallen police officer Matthew Gerald–to attend both the Saints practice meeting as well as the team’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

In a video aired on the NFL Network documenting the hopeful meeting, Dunn shared his thoughts on the situation and his motivation, stating, “I understand the issues of being a young black man in the community, but I also know that there’s a lot of great police officers. My mom was that type of person. People can unite and put their differences aside. We do it all the time on the football field.”

After the Saints’ practice meeting, Sean Payton, the team’s head coach, brought Dunn, Sterling and Gerald onto the field and reminded them of their similarities. “There’s three things you have in common: You’re from Baton Rouge, you’re Saints fans and you lost loved ones to gun violence.”

This somber moment reflects the tight and powerful community that makes up Louisiana. Regardless of the pain and frustration that is being experienced by many, the close-knit people of New Orleans and the surrounding area can always count on the Saints to bring them together.

This isn’t the first time the Saints have eased the pain of tragedy in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina rocked “The Big Easy” in 2005, killing almost 1,500 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless, one moment managed to lift the spirits of an entire city. On September 25, 2006, while the city was still recovering, then Saints safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt from the Saints’ rival, the Atlanta Falcons. This single play gave hope and spirit back to the devastated city of New Orleans and was, in many respects, a well-deserved rebirth.   

Is 2016 a Rotten Egg for the NOLA Pelicans?

There is little silver lining in New Orleans for the Pelicans right now. With eight losses and no wins, the only team in the Western Conference with such an abysmal record, the Pelicans are facing an uphill battle that is only getting harder. Granted, no one expected the Pelicans to effortlessly glide their way into the postseason, but 0-8? Really?

Thankfully, it is far, far too early in the season to be making such postseason condemnations. 74 games are left—so although Pelicans are not flying high now, they may be doing so in the future. Let’s take a look at the positives. Namely, Anthony Davis.

A hyper-athletic big man capable of both hitting hard in the paint and running the court, Davis carries the roster on his broad shoulders. This poor start for New Orleans is not at all like the Sixers and their historical losing streak spanning the 2014 and 2015 seasons (at an astounding, though depressing 28 losses). In fact, Davis is currently averaging a double with 30.9 pts and 11.4 rebounds (not to mention an impressive 3.0 blocks). Yet, despite Davis’ clear leadership both in stats and in character, he is hardly the only star talent on the struggling NBA squad.

Tim Frazier and E’Twaun Moore, in particular, have improved considerably and are bright prospects. While Jrue Holiday spends time with his unfortunately ill wife and Tyreke Evans is sidelined for his knee, both Frazier and Moore have stepped up to fill their shoes. Their vast improvement coupled with the eventual return of two of the league’s best scorers in Holiday and Evans bodes very well for the future.

Additionally, it’s not like the Pelicans have been blowing games against subpar teams. They have gone head to head with some of the best teams in the league, twice with the Warriors alone (the West’s champion last year); and even in those games, they lost by a cumulative 18 points between the two. That’s not even counting their two overtime losses where they just barely missed the cut.

The Grizzlies beat them 89-83 in a hard fought battle to the end, but it was clear the Pelicans were still exhausted and reeling from the previous night’s game with the Milwaukee Bucks. The second overtime defeat was dealt from the Phoenix Suns just two days after the bristled Grizzlies. Taking into account the Pelicans’ reduced roster and the closeness of the games just mentioned, great things are right around the corner for the Crescent City’s NBA representatives.

With an MVP candidate in Davis, spectacular talent to return, and an upcoming easier schedule, the Pelicans are in good shape to hatch a golden egg postseason run—soon.

Bradley’s Going to Swansee

American soccer is exponentially increasing in popularity across the country. As a result, immense stadiums are sprouting up in cities from Minneapolis to Miami and with these crowds comes a remarkably higher level of competition. MLS athletes are performing at a level not previously seen in the league’s short-lived history, and now—they are beginning to be recognized for such.

Bob Bradley, 58, started his career in the United States with the Chicago Fire, then moved through the ranks from the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, to Chivas USA, and finally to the US Men’s National Team. In 2010, Bradley managed the USMNT to a spot in the 16th round at 2010 World Cup, overcoming England for the top spot in the group. He is best remembered, however, for his signature win over Spain at the 2009 Confederations Cup, a 2-0 victory enshrined in the annals of soccer history.

He soon went on to coach the top caliber Stabek squad in 2015, and even managed to lead them to qualify for the Europa League. His accomplishments did not go unnoticed and now he’s been selected to oversee Swansea City in none other than the Premier League. Considering his record is less extensive than many in the Premier League (and it’s speculated Swansea City’s American owners exhibited bias), his prospective performance is already subject to severe scrutiny.

The pressure, in particular, will be exponentially higher than any Bradley has thus far endured, at least in regards to publicity. When Bradley presided over a national team in Egypt back in 2011, he was forced to overcome the Egyptian revolution in addition to the Port Said stadium catastrophe, an event that saw the suspension of the Egyptian Premier League. So Bradley is no stranger to pressure. Whether or not he is able to deftly manage global scrutiny, however, remains to be seen.

Regardless, Swansea City can expect to see a few things as Bradley assumes his role. They will likely be incredibly organized. Plus, Bradley has a particular inclination for maximizing the ability of the players beneath him in addition to identifying outside talent that can be put to good use. He demonstrated such recruiting skills during his time with both the United States and Egyptian leagues. So, it stands to reason these universal skills will benefit him with Swansea City as well.

Bob Bradley’s ascension to the Premier League is an outstanding achievement not just for him, but for American soccer as a whole. It signifies our increasing role on the world soccer stage.

Brees to Remain

Earlier this month, New Orleans breathed an audible sigh of relief as Drew Brees committed to continuing his career in a black and gold uniform for at least the next two years.

He signed a five-year extension that offers Brees the opportunity to sign voids after two years and includes a no-trade clause. This reportedly means he is guaranteed to receive $44.25 million, not a bad deal.

What is more important, however, is that the best player in Saint history will continue his path to the Hall of Fame in a Saints uniform. With the Saints already having exhibited an incredible offense in the past few years, this bodes very well for the coming season. Currently, Brees is already fourth on the NFL’s all-time list for passing yards with 60,903, third in all-time for both touchdowns at 428 and completion at 5,635, and first in 5,000 yard seasons with four.

Moreover, this is all on top of Brees’ season last year, his best yet, in which he led the league in passing yards (4,870 over fifteen games), completed 428 of 627 pass attempts (a 68.3% completion rate), had 32 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. With respect to his recent decision, Brees stated,

“Both sides are very happy. Certainly, I’m very happy. I want to play my entire career here and I’m just taking it one step at a time, one year at a time, one opportunity at a time. But this allows me to be around here for a bit longer, and I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me.”

Although contract negotiations were likely a bit more dramatic than necessary, it does seem to have paid off (literally) for both sides. Not only do the Saints get to continue taking advantage of Drew Brees’ outstanding career, but Brees gets to stay where he feels more comfortable. As he said himself, he wants to complete the rest of his career in the Big Easy—it’s just a matter of the right opportunity at the right time.

I, for one, am very excited Brees has decided to remain for at least the next two seasons. He’s not just the leader of the Saints. He’s also a legend in New Orleans.

3 Questions for the USMNT Roster

The USMNT roster is facing some serious questions in the wake of some very significant losses to their lineup. Clint Dempsey is out after being benched to undergo medical evaluations for an irregular heartbeat. This leaves the team to suck it up in the meantime—hopefull Dempsey will be back in action in no time; and at least for the next two weeks, the absence should be negligible. We are, after all, playing Trinidad & Tobago and St. Vincent & the Grenadines. Nonetheless, what is to become of USMNT and the rest of its players?

Can Jozy and Bobby be effective together?

Altidore, for one, is in the prime of his career. He’s an all-around threat embodying athleticism, field awareness, and deft skill who strikes fear into the heart of his opponents. Wood is already raising the bar (check out his goal here). Over the last year, Bobby and Dempsey worked together very well, playing off of each other to make the most of situations.

The same goes for Jozy and Wood. Yet, Wood and Jozy may not produce the same results. Considering both are center forwards and have no secondary position, their play may be hindered significantly. Each of them plays in center channels, engages in hold-up play, and when they drop back to pick the ball up, it’s with their back to the goal so they can turn to let other players pass.

As can be implied, if they’re playing the way they have in the past, they’re bound to step on each other’s toes, maybe even literally. Dempsey, though, was not confined to a single manner of play and that’s partly why he was so successful. He has been a box-to-box midfielder, an inverted winger, a second forward, and even a lone center forward. That’s not to say he was a superstar in every position, but he definitely always got the job done; and he wasn’t doing that, he was surpassing expectations. What Dempsey was particularly wonderful at (that Jozy and Wood may not be so fantastic at) was dropping into midfield to take off some of the pressure and initiate long passing sequences.

Is this the official roster?

It seems Bill Jamid, David Bingham, and Vincent Yarbrough have been intentionally left off of the goalkeeper depth chart. There is no real rush to replace Brad Guzan and Tim Howard, anyway. Kellyn Acosta has been selected to play left back which should prove interesting.

Paul Arriola and Caleb Stanko have been selected for mid-field. Arriola is a wing player from Tijuana and has only played just over a hundred minutes over five games (he hasn’t scored just yet). Caleb is on loan from SC Feiburg of the Bundesliga to FC Vaduz of the Swiss Super League at the moment. As for forwards, Rubio Rubin will be worth keeping an eye out for. He has so far played three games with FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie and hasn’t scored yet either.

Whether or not this roster will do us well remains to be seen. There are obvious questions, like why is Stanko ahead of Perry Kitchen when he just lost his starter position and was subbed out with an injury when Kitchen actually started and already scored for the Hearts. Regardless, there’s not much we can do but trust in Jurgen and hope for the best.

The MLS in Minneapolis

The MLS is a growing professional league with bright prospects. A single team is on average worth $103 million. In just twenty years, the league has expanded from ten teams to what will be twenty-three by 2017, and this is just the beginning. Now even Minneapolis is getting in on the action.

With only five professional teams since 1970, there must be a serious push for Major League Soccer to even be considered in the Twin Cities, and that is exactly what’s happening. William W. McGuire, the former chief executive of UnitedHealth Group and the owner of the Minesota United of the North American Soccer League, is spearheading the effort and attempting to launch the expansion franchise by claiming he will build an open-air soccer stadium with private money.

He has committed $250 million (100 for the M.L.S. expansion fee and 150 for the stadium itself) and intends to focus solely on soccer. This is fantastic news for soccer because the Wilf family, owner of the Minnesota Vikings, opposes the M.L.S. expansion. An immensely powerful family, they potentially have (or rather had) the ability to shut down the project entirely.

Before McGuire pledged the $250 million, they were bidding to make the team play in the Vikings stadium. Had this transpired, soccer would be relegated to a position of lesser significance. It would come after the Vikings. It would, in short, be second.

Mcguire explains, “The sport I love would be a second priority. The N.F.L. is a gold mine, and everything else has to be second. There was always a chance the league would look at that situation and say ‘This is what we want to do.’…the best thing for soccer is to have soccer-specific stadiums, if it could be pulled off, rather than putting the sport into a stadium that’s fundamentally built for something else.”

M.L.S. officials agreed with McGuire and allowed him to build the purposeful stadium he envisioned. Funny enough, McGuire was not born into a soccer-filled childhood. Hailing from Troy, New York, his 6’6” lent itself to basketball and he played at Clear Creek High School in Texas. He spent his spare time fishing instead of kicking a ball around—until 2011, that is. That’s when the N.A.S.L. took control of the at-the-time failing Minnesota franchise, the Stars.

The N.A.S.L. got in touch with Bill’s daughter who, in turn, got in touch with Bill. Still, he was not interested. It was only after going to a couple games and meeting fans in 2012 that he changed his tune. Taken with their passion for the sport and the palpable energy immersing the sport, Bill decided he’d give it a shot. In fact, Bill took on the initiative with an eye to philanthropy than profit. “It was not analyzed extensively on a financial basis,” he claimed.

A sport that has never received much publicity is being kept alive based off of its presence in the community. McGuire elaborated “It was something we should not let disappear from the community after 35, 36 years.” If soccer is already being kept alive on goodwill even without the following it’s known for across the world, it bodes very well for the future of the sport.

Major League Soccer is making a splash in professional sports, and I expect it will only continue.

The Saints’ Savior’s Questionable Future

Drew Brees has seemingly been the Saints’ savior over the years. Coming back from what should have been a career-ending injury to establish the timeless legacy he has is a 30 for 30 just waiting to be made, and it’s this resilience that has won the hearts and minds of New Orleans fans across the nation. Yet, the question of his contract extension still looms large in nearly every conversation even remotely involving the Saints.

Training camp has started and negotiations still haven’t stopped. To put the situation in as base terms as possible: Brees wants four more years and the Saints want Brees but don’t want to commit to four years with him. Now, from Brees’ perspective, it only makes sense that he wants four more years. Already having displayed an absolutely remarkable affinity for physicality (his recovery speaks for itself), he also has the numbers to back him; and he doesn’t think they’re going anywhere. In fact, he has even gone so far as to claim that he can play well beyond forty. He’s thirty-seven now so that would make him forty-one by the expiration of his desired contract.

While Brees is no doubt an outstanding quarterback (honestly, legendary may be a more accurate adjective here), that is not say he will stay such. Every player has a shelf life, and as unfortunate as that is, it’s the incontrovertible truth. When Saints Vice President Mickey Loomis was asked how negotiations were proceeding, he responded that the ball is in Drew’s court.

Certainly, this is not Sean Payton’s, Mickey Loomis’, or Drew Brees’ first time around and they all seem to be waiting one another out, or rather, Loomis and Payton are trying to wait out Drew Brees. In the meantime, it is the fans who are struggling with the stress of uncertainty, who have to wrestle with the anxiety of their greatest player potentially leaving the franchise after a historical role with them.

Apparently, Brees has a self-imposed deadline of September 11th, the season opener against the Oakland Raiders, for the proceedings to come to a close. As training camp continues, here’s to hoping that Brees and the staff can compromise so that the fans do not have to suffer any longer than necessary. All this said, the Saints could be in for a fantastic, or a miserable season. As we approach the beginning of the 2016 season, all I can say is—Who Dat?

The Indiscernible Saints

Entering training camp this season, there is a sense of uncertainty surrounding the New Orleans’ Saints and what the future holds for them. Aside from the fact that Brees is sure to play for the Saints this offseason, there is really not much that is known for sure. Yet, the Saints are constantly full of surprises, both good and bad.

Take 2014, for instance. Many NFL commentators and analysts believed the Saints could not only go to the Super Bowl, but win it. Many thought their 2014 roster was the best collection of talent on a Saints roster in recent memory. Their 7-9 record points to the contrary.

2015 was a bit more predictable. Recently suffering the loss of Junior Galette, the Saints were clearly poised for a rebuilding year, and this time their record agrees: they went 7-9, again, a kind of cold reinforcement of the year before. This year, however, could go a number of different ways, and the Saints’ staff agrees. Payton, Looms, and the remainder of the team and staff all agree that there is a murky haze pulled over what this season has in store.

Questioned if there were more questions surrounding this upcoming year than seasons past, Payton conceded, “Look there are certain areas we’re paying attention to, nut I don’t know if we’d sit down and list specifically [areas of concern].” More to the point, Payton and particular was cited saying “Obviously we’ve had teams that were better than what we thought we’d have at this point and then teams that we felt real good about that underachieved or weren’t as good as we expected. So we’ll kind of get started and get a chance to see what we’ve got. There’s a process involved with that, but I think that’s the exciting part of training camp.”

Honestly, it sounds like Payton is picturing the 2014 season as he said his answer. If I had to guess, I would think that he is happy with what they’ve put together so far but is hesitant to make any bold proclamations considering the disappointing result of a couple years ago. Loomis said something interesting as well.

“I think there’s always jobs available; and jobs sometimes mean roster spots, sometimes they mean more roster spots and sometimes it means, ‘Hey, who’s going to be the starter? Or who’s going to be the contributor?” He went on in much the same fairly ambiguous tone.

It largely seems like Loomis is alluding that there may more open positions on the team this training camp, open positions in the sense of role players, who’s going to step up and who may fall off. The opportunities are certainly available, and now is the time, if any, for a perhaps unexpected player to make a statement, to take control and take their game to the next level.

While I understand this idea is a perpetual notion in sports, that there is always an opportunity for unknown players to make themselves known, I am saying that this season, in particular, and the shrouded atmosphere of obscurity enveloping it, presents an especially conducive environment for such a development. In fact, the last time the Saints missed the postseason two consecutive years, they returned to claim the championship in 2009.

Only time will tell; but the indiscernible undercurrents of this training season may just provide the perfect chance for an unexpected, though highly welcome, player to emerge.