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Soup of This Day #388: With A Streak Of Rin Tin Tin

July 30, 2014

Naked mole rat
This is the nicest image of a naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) that I could find. They’re just not conventionally good looking and so I’ve yet to find a sportsperson who has adopted 1 as a mascot. Which is wrong because these rodents are tough little critters – So hard on life are they that they’re the longest-living rodents and are fantastically resistant to cancer. Get naked and get mole rat – Photo: brx0, 2010. brx0 is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

It seems to me like a lot of sports people have a nickname of ‘The Honey Badger’. This could just be my misperception and even if it isn’t then I’m not saying it’s a bad thing – Just that it strikes me as common.

To illustrate this I thought I’d pick out three prominent examples from the sporting world I have a view of. None of them are women. I’m not sure why this is – I don’t feel like men have an exclusive lock on being honey badgerish. I reckon that if there isn’t a roller derby jammer out there called Honey Badger then there should be as of now and you’re welcome lady.

Because honey badgers are tough. These African mustelids (Mellivora capensis) are anatomically most like a weasel – They’re low-slung, sturdy and thick-skinned. These attributes allow them to survive in harsh environments and against heavyweight predators, such as lions. An adult male lion weighs in around the 190kg mark, while a male honey badger typically tops out at 16kg. On paper then, a fight between the two is mostly going to go the lion’s way.

Honey badgers don’t read the odds though and so they’re liable to take on situations that seemingly exceed their capabilities. They’re particularly fond of aggressively approaching and messily devouring cobras and puff adders for instance, even wearing a venomous bite in pursuit of a meal. Just watch this:

Yep, the honey badger slept it off like I sleep off anti-seasick tablets.

So the honey badger has some gumption. The kind of gumption that sports people might aspire to have – They often need to disregard the odds, take a venomous hit and then get into the game. This is why the honey badger makes such a great personal mascot.

Don’t just take my word for it though – Here’s how Nick Cummins, formerly of the Western Force and the Australian Wallabies, answers when asked why he took on the handle:

‘The Badge? Oh look, yer know, long story short, basically ahh there was a documentary on National Geographic or Animal Planet, one of them Fox bloody setups and ummm, yeah I… I watched this… this thing and this honey badger was goin’ toe to toe with a… With a male lion and managed to ummm… It was underneath him – Underdog obviously, bloody on his back, clawing away, one-two and then bloody the… The big fella ummm got his canastas clawed off and… And he trotted off round the corner and fell over and the badger gets back up and I thought, what an animal yer know… That’s bloody… It’s impressive.’

Here’s the interview in full. It’s worth watching just for Nick’s bloody Australian enthusiasm in the telling, with his explanation starting at the 35s mark.

Also, canastas = testicles, in case you were wondering.

Nick Cummins isn’t wondering and neither are honey badgers. They’re less about figuring it all out and more about going in with everything they have. This approach has stood Nick well in his role as a winger playing in the elite Super Rugby format, whereby he’s been a fiercely combative player on attack and defence. The resultant commitment to the on-field objectives saw Cummins drafted into the Australian Wallabies squad in 2012 and now in 2014, he’s earned a lucrative move to a Japanese side, West Red Sparks.

Which is big, but not quite as large as the deal netted by Daniel Ricciardo in late 2013. Dan, the second of this post’s sporting Honey Badgers, is from my home town of Perth, Western Australia. Specifically, he hails from the leafy northern suburb of Duncraig, which is where both of my sons were born. He has an incredibly wide smile, also like my sons, but there the similarities come to an end, for Daniel Ricciardo is a Formula 1 driver, plying his trade in the most demanding of all motorsport categories.

I’m not saying never, kids – It’s just that you’re not ready yet.

To make it all the more daunting for the 25 year old Ricciardo, his deal for 2014 sees him driving a Red Bull Racing RB10 as the teammate of reigning Driver’s Champ Sebastian Vettel. The German ace has in fact won the past three F1 Driver’s Championships, along the way climbing all over his then-teammate and likeable Aussie, Mark Webber. That Vettel’s treatment of Webber at times crossed an ethical line is seemingly of little consequence to the German and nor did it appear to matter to Red Bull Racing’s management – He’s a racer and he won. Ricciardo then, with less than three years of competitive F1 in an uncompetitive car would surely just be more fodder for that rapacious hunger for honours.

Honey badgers though don’t shirk from the apex of the pyramid of life and they’re not out there to be fodder.

In 2014, with a series of radical changes to the cars tempering Vettel’s driving style, Ricciardo has been Red Bull Racing’s ace driver. While his German teammate has managed just two podiums in 11 races, both of them third placings, the honey-badger-inspired efforts of Ricciardo have seen him notch up 5 podiums. Those numbers too have not been down to luck – As well as out-badgering his more experienced colleague on race day, Ricciardo consistently out-qualifies Vettel in the lead-up too.

It’s not just Vettel that Ricciardo out-badgers either. Two of those podiums in 2014 have been wins, both achieved via overtaking moves on quality opponents with scant laps remaining. In the latest of those, last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Dan hunted down Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, former Driver’s Champs no less, and then picked them off with a series of intelligently brazen passes. This is the honey badger way – It’s not the victory, it’s the manner in which it gets achieved.

This leads us to the final sporting Honey Badger of this post. Lithuanian cyclist Ramūnas Navardauskas rides for the Garmin-Sharp team. Unusually for a professional cyclist (and a honey badger), he is a big dude – 6’3″ and weighing at nearly 80kg. There’s another un-honey-badger-like pointer – Navardauskas isn’t just a giant, he’s described as a ‘gentle’ one too.

He wasn’t gentle in Stage 19 of this year’s Tour de France though. As a late call-up for the race, and replacing the popular David Millar on the Garmin-Sharp Tour roster, Navardauskas tried a move that almost never comes off – He made a solo break for the line with a little over 10km to go. The odds are against solo breaks – A group of riders, such as the mass that makes up the Tour peloton, will always have the edge in cutting through the air and time after time they will utilise that advantage to hunt down escapees before the line and in such a way that sets up an en masse sprinting battle.

Honey badgers and odds though – They just don’t read ’em, and so this cycling honey badger tore through the streets, barely ahead of the chasing pack, and aided by a crash in that chasing pack, was able to surge across the line for Lithuania’s first ever Tour de France stage win.

Vive le Honey Badger!

Which brings us almost to the end of this post. There will be no solo break to finish it though. Instead I thought I’d let it tail off with a Honey Badger sacrificing himself for the good of his most precious team – His family.

Nick Cummins left the Western Force and turned his back on the Australian Wallabies earlier this year to take up a lucrative contract in Japan. He did so for the money but you can’t fault him for it. Rugby is a wearing game and all the more so when you go at it like a honey badger. Cummins can’t do it forever and he needs to make the maximum amount of money now.

For his family.

Cummins has 6 siblings and two of them have cystic fibrosis. To make matters tougher, his dad is a sole parent and is battling prostate cancer. That’s a fight worthy of the name, Honey Badger.

Luck to ya Nick. You and all the honey badgers out there.

With A Streak Of Rin Tin Tin

  1. My first “encounter” with a honey badger was former college and current NFL football player Tyrann Mathieu. From his days at Louisiana State he played a tenacious, relentless brand of football which earned him that nickname. I didn’t know a honey badger from a honey bee until then. Of course, all the requisite media stories followed once he acquired the nickname explaining more about the creature he was named for. Vicious little devils.

    • Had briefly read of Mathieu – Not enough to write about him. Tenacious and relentless though are worthy descriptors for a sportsperson. I personally used tenacity to make up for a lack of shooting skill, height or jump on the basketball court so I’ll keep an eye out for the NFL’s honey badger in the upcoming season.

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