The Slatest

The Best Photo We Didn’t Use This Week: Give This Mullet a Gold Medal

Two Team USA men's rugby sevens players lift their teammate in the air, while a Team Kenya player looks on. The player in the air has a long blond mullet, and his arms extended to catch the ball.
Ben Stansall/Getty Images

Slate’s homepage editors spend a lot of time looking for editorial photos to put on our site. Those searches sometimes yield unexpected results: random, perplexing, and mesmerizing photos that don’t belong on the homepage, but that are too good not to share. Every week, we’ll share the weirdest photo from the wires.

What search term was used to find this in Getty?
“olympics rugby”

What were you hoping to find?
A photo of the U.S. men’s rugby sevens team competing in Tokyo. While American teams don’t excel at rugby union—the conventional version with 15-player teams playing for 80 minutes—they have proved more successful at the sevens version, in which seven-player teams compete in breezy 14-minute matches. However, the U.S. men failed to medal in Tokyo after Great Britain pulled off a long shot comeback in the quarterfinals to knock them out of contention. The U.S. ultimately finished sixth, with Fiji bringing home the gold, New Zealand coming in second, and Argentina third.

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What did you find instead?
A luscious mullet, attached to a burly American rugby player being lifted in the air as part of a lineout, during which players may lift a teammate to make a catch. Long locks cascade from his tidy crew cut as he reaches for the ball in front of him. Unlike the other players in the shot, he lets his mane flow freely, to dramatic effect.

What’s the actual backstory here?
The owner of this mullet is Joe Schroeder, a first-time Olympian from Indiana. Schroeder had a winding road to the Games. He played rugby throughout high school, but stopped in college because Trine University, where he pursued a degree in civil engineering, did not have a team. Instead, Schroeder became a cheerleader in his sophomore year. In his new sport, he worked on increasing his upper-body strength and improving his balance, both crucial for throwing female cheerleaders in the air as well as for rugby.

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After graduating from college, Schroeder got back into rugby, playing on a club team in Columbus, Ohio, where he was spotted by one of the U.S. national team coaches. Schroeder went on to represent the U.S. in the World Rugby Sevens Series before joining Team USA in Tokyo for the Olympics.

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Why the mullet?
Schroeder’s distinctive hairstyle has a deeper meaning for him and his family. In 2020, Schroeder’s younger brother Will died suddenly at age 22. Schroeder explained that Will “loved to rock mullets. That was kind of his hairstyle. … Just to honor him a little bit, [the mullet] comes on the back. So, he’s going to be covering my back” at the Games.

The Olympic sevens event has been a bittersweet affair for a number of players. Schroeder’s teammate Carlin Isles also competed in honor of his younger brother Charles, who was shot to death last year. Two of Fiji’s players paid tribute to late family members after winning the gold.

Why is this the weird photo of the week?
While Team USA did not win gold in rugby, Joe Schroeder’s golden mullet, and the message behind it, is definitely medal-worthy.

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