Episode 108: Women's World Cup Hype (pt. 2), Softball, and Pregnant Athletes
On this week’s show, Shireen, Amira, Lindsay, and Jessica talk about the Raptors [7:11] before previewing groups D, E, F of the Women's World Cup in France. [31:22] Then Amira talks to professional softball player AJ Andrews, former college softball standout at LSU and the first woman to receive the Rawlings Gold Glove award. They chat about softball as a revenue sport, the National Pro Fastpitch’s lack of professional options and the importance of role models of color in the game. [46:38] Then the gang discusses the recent pieces addressing how Nike has failed pregnant athletes and the intersection of reproductive rights and sports. [1:03:18]
Of course, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, [1:15:16] our Bad Ass Women of the Week, starring Furdiki Sherpa and Nima Doma Sherpa, [1:18:02] and what is good in our worlds. [1:22:46]
Congrats to Brenda Elsey on her new book co-authored with Josh Nadel, titled Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America! https://utpress.utexas.edu/books/elsey-nadel-futbolera
“Fans who spent thousands on Women’s World Cup tickets irate to learn seats are not together” https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/05/22/fans-who-spent-thousands-womens-world-cup-tickets-irate-learn-seats-are-not-together/?utm_term=.49d24040ccd8
“The sexist imbalance in how FIFA treats women's soccer is as stark as ever” https://sports.yahoo.com/the-imbalance-between-how-fifa-treats-womens-soccer-vs-mens-soccer-is-as-stark-as-ever-151019447.html?guccounter=1
Alysia Montaño op-ed: “Nike Told Me to Dream Crazy, Until I Wanted a Baby” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/12/opinion/nike-maternity-leave.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article
Allyson Felix op-ed: “My Own Nike Pregnancy Story” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/22/opinion/allyson-felix-pregnancy-nike.html
Nike says it is changing contracts to protect star athletes’ pay during pregnancy https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/19/nike-says-it-is-changing-contracts-to-support-athletes-in-pregnancy.html
WNBA’s star players speak out against anti-abortion bills https://thinkprogress.org/wnba-players-speak-out-reproductive-rights-a359dcd1584f/
Vibrator prize for Spanish squash champion spurs sexism debate https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48348431
Chris Broussard Gets In His Car, Loudly Defends Himself From Kevin Durant https://deadspin.com/chris-broussard-gets-in-his-car-loudly-defends-himself-1834981016
Diamilette Quiles is first woman to play in PR men's league https://www.mlb.com/news/diamilette-quiles-plays-in-puerto-rico-men-s-league
Abby Wambach, Sunil Gulati voted into National Soccer Hall of Fame https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2019/05/25/abby-wambach-sunil-gulati-voted-national-soccer-hall-fame
Allyson Felix, Alysia Montaño and other athletes start #DreamMaternity campaign to draw attention to the lack of support for women athletes. https://www.si.com/olympics/2019/05/23/nike-maternity-protection-sponsorships-contract-allyson-felix-alysia-montano
Sherpa widows to climb Everest to inspire single women https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nepal-everest-widows/sherpa-widows-to-climb-everest-to-inspire-single-women-idUSKCN1OP0N0
Jessica: Welcome to Burn It All Down, the feminist sports podcast you need. I'm Jessica Luther, freelance journalist and author in Austin, Texas. On today's show I'm joined by Lindsay Gibbs, a reporter at ThinkProgress in Washington DC, Amira Rose Davis, an Assistant Professor of History and Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University, and Shireen Ahmed, a writer, public speaker and sports activist in Toronto.
First things first, as always, thank you to our patrons who support this podcast through our ongoing Patreon campaign and make Burn It All Down possible. We are so grateful for you. If you would like to become a patron it's easy go to patreon.com/burnitalldown. For as little as $2 per month you can access exclusives like extra Patreon only segments or a monthly newsletter.
On today's show, we're going to round out our breakdown of the groups in the Women's World Cup. On last week's episode we talked A, B and C, so this week we'll be doing D, E and F. Then Amira talks to professional softball player AJ Andrews, former college softball standout at LSU and the first woman to receive the Rawlings Gold Glove Award. They chat about softball as a revenue sport, the National Pro Fastpitch's lack of professional options, and the importance of role models of color in the game. If you want to hear AJ Andrews breakdown the NCAA college softball postseason, including teams and players to watch, and why the SEC keeps on dominating, check out our hot take from Sunday, May 26.
Finally, we will discuss the recent pieces addressing how Nike has failed pregnant athletes and the larger discussion around reproductive rights and sports happening now. And of course, we'll cap off today's show by burning things that deserve to be burned, doing shout outs to women who deserve shout outs, and telling you what is good in our worlds. But first, before we get into all of that, Shireen.
Jessica: The Raptors, they are in the NBA Finals. How are you doing today?
Shireen: I'm feeling a little surreal. I am so excited for those of you that don't know, I refer to Kawhi Leonard as my son. And I am the proudest-
Jessica: I feel like he knows that at this point.
Shireen: I do want to take a moment to recognize Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and all the Spurs for fostering him, to give him to us in this impeccable condition. Toronto loves this person we love Serge Ibaka, whose cooking show I will be on at some point in my life. I hope Pascal Siakam, all the guys, even Marc Gasol, Jeremy Lin, Danny Green. They came together and became a family, and then we're going to the playoffs. This is the first time in franchise history. It's like 25 years.
The Raptors became a thing in '95, I moved to Toronto in '95. There was some excitement and hype around Vince Carter and around the 2000s, but it wasn't ... this is so tangible. There's children who have grown up, mine included, who have never seen their team go to the finals, and it's like, you know, we won the Eastern Conference Championship. It's a really big deal, and Toronto is great. Drake is not our poster boy, but he's very excited, and I get that.
Lindsay: It would be nice if he didn't randomly massage the coach during the games. That makes me so uncomfortable!
Shireen: It's a bit weird when you see that, I have to say. But then there's all these people out in Toronto that are walking around that are just literally euphoric. Don't forget this city, since the TFC won a championship, and soccer's not the biggest sport, most popular sport, since the Blue Jays won in 1992-1993, this city hasn't won something of this magnitude or been close to it. That's a long time coming, so we're very, very, very excited.
Amira: Can I tell you something?
Amira: So you know how you guys say, "We the North."
Amira: In my head, when I'm reading it I know that it's supposed to be like, "We the North," and then like DJ Khaled beats and stuff like that, but I ... because Canada is very proper in my head. I read it as like, "We the people." So I read it as, "We the North." And so every time I see I'm like, "That is such a weird ... " never mind.
Jessica: Do they chant it? Do you guys chant that?
Shireen: I think a lot of people chant a lot of things. Yesterday like, "Refs you suck."
Jessica: People chant a lot of things.
Shireen: They chant a lot of things, but that's funny Amira because I think that's the interesting thing that you from America would read that as, "We the people." I've never even thought of that, but I also refer to that restaurant as "Chick-filla", not Chick-fil-A, so I actually read it "Chick-filla" I don't ... because I speak French and “filet” is not how you would ever, it's a bastardization. I would-
Jessica: Oh God, that's amazing, you learn so much on here.
Lindsay: I have a question for you-
Amira: It's not even that ... it's because I think of Canada proper, so I don't see Canada as like, "We the North!” I see them as like, "We are the North."
Shireen: Yeah, which is true, which we probably would say. I see it as, "We, the North."
Lindsay: I feel like this is like I shouldn't even be saying this, but Shireen, is it worth it if Kawhi leaves now? Does this make it all worth it, because I think it would?
Shireen: You know what, I've seen a lot of answers to this on Twitter, people opining. It's not about the win, it's about the team and how they've gelled together. I would be really heartbroken if you left, but that's me because I have an attachment to Kawhi. But it's not just about this win. We know we could do this, but for me, I would be even more sad if he left. I'm not one of those people that just wants to get to the finals and I'm good. It's about continuity and sustainability for me, and it's about making sure that I will get access to Tim Duncan at some point and having him here longer-
Amira: Priorities, priorities.
Shireen: ... will do that. But also to watch him grow and blossom. You guys saw him at San Antonio, there was something that was holding him back, and I love Popovich and Becky Hammon and the team there but there was something that was holding him back. He has truly given us this best self, so I would love to see that go forward. He's been offered all kinds of shit up here. He's been offered luxury penthouses to live for free. There's actually a movement called "Ka'Wine & Dine" that if he stays here, all these restaurants will let him eat for free in Toronto. But then there's this one activist named Desmond Cole, and a writer, he's a Black journalist here and he goes, "Yeah, I guess white Toronto found one Black man that's worthy of free housing and food." So there's a commentary on that. For me to answer your Linds, in a roundabout way, but I want him to stay, it wouldn't be worth it for me.
Jessica: Well, we will be rooting for the Raptors alongside Shireen.
Shireen: Yay, yay.
Jessica: So go Toronto.
Amira: We are the North.
Shireen: We are the North.
Jessica: We are.
Shireen: Queue up Kardinal Offishall. Oh, love it.
Jessica: All right, and now on to the show.
So we're going to jump right in where we left off last week with our breakdowns of the groups in the upcoming Women's World Cup. We are so close to the tournament and it's very exciting. We'll have a huge preview show next week, we're going to finish up the groups this week. I'm up first, I have Group D. And so in this group, we're going to have England, Scotland, Argentina and Japan.
Let's start with England who is number three in the FIFA rankings and we have talked about how you can take that with whatever grain of salt you would like to. Brenda has explained why those rankings don't mean a whole lot, and we actually have talked about England's women's team on this show before, issues they've had with racism and their coach Phil Neville's sexism. You'll actually be hearing more about England from Shireen in the Burn Pile this week, so that's hint hint.
They did make a big deal run to the semi finals in 2015 at the World Cup when they had that heartbreaking own goal in minute 90 that sent Japan to the final instead of them. There were a lot of tears on the field that day, but they then beat Germany in the third place game. In the recent SheBelieves Cup they beat Brazil 2-1, they beat Japan 3-0 and they tied the US with two goals apiece, they won that tournament.
They have star players that include Jodie Taylor, who scored a hat trick in the Euro 2017 in England's opening round match against Scotland that year; Lucy Bronze who just hoisted the Champions League Trophy as a member of Lyon, she was shortlisted last year for the Ballon d’Or, alongside her teammate Fran Kirby; Steph Houghton, who has over 100 caps with the team is the captain, and she's a staunch defender for team England.
England certainly is expected, I think we can say, to move into the knockout stage. It'll be interesting. They've been playing really well. Their ‘rival’ as people like to think of them is Scotland to the north, ranked 20th in the FIFA rankings. This is actually going to be their debut. They are coached by a former player, Shelley Kerr, who in 2013 and 2014 coached Arsenal to two FA women's cup titles, so she's got pedigree for her coaching career. They also have a lot of talent in Kim Little who plays for Arsenal and who won the NWSL MVP and Golden Boot awards in 2014, and the BBC Women's Footballer of the Year three years ago. They also have Rachel Corsie, who plays for the NWSL's Utah Royals. She's been on the team for Scotland for a decade and has racked up over 100 caps.
I think Scotland probably has an outside chance to advance the knockout stage, but it'll be a tall order because it's not just England, but also Japan. And so Japan have been a really important team internationally for…ever. They're currently ranked seventh and they won the Asian Football Confederation Cup in 2018. They were also, of course, the winners of the 2011 Women's World Cup and runners up last time. They're coached by Asako Takakura, a former player on the team, who was on the Japanese World Cup squad in '91 and '95. They're going to be powered by midfielder Rumi Utsugi, who also plays for the Reign FC. She's played for Japan in the last three World Cups including the championship run in 2011.
Kumi Yokoyama scored four goals in the 2018 Asian Cup, including two in the semi final and one in the final, and they also have Saki Kumagai who plays for Lyon and was on the 2011 World Cup squad, though she has yet to score a goal and a FIFA tournament. It would just be, it's like you can't discount Japan, right? It really does on paper look like it'll be Japan and England that go through. But of course we have a fourth team and it feels weird to be the one doing this I have to say, instead of Brenda, but here we go.
Argentina is making their first appearance at a World Cup since 2007, which is really saying something considering how much Argentina loves soccer, so they say. Here's how Brenda describes Argentina's history since 2007 in this recent very good piece that she wrote for The Equalizer. "Beyond brief moments of support, the Argentine Football Association showed no interest in having a women's program in 2015. The Argentines had been relegated to inactive by FIFA, meaning the Federation had not responded to invitations to play or convene the team. In 2016 one might say the team hit rock bottom, without a coach and having played no official FIFA matches the team was ranked number 128."
If you want to hear more about what the team has been through, please go back and listen to Brenda's interview in Episode 46 with goalkeeper Gabby Garton. The shortest version is that the team had to go on strike to get even meager resources from the Federation, but they are in the World Cup this year. They beat Panama and a two-legged playoff to make it, behind stars like Sole Jaimes who plays at Lyon and Estefanía Banini who plays for the NWSL's Washington Spirit.
Argentina will be an underdog. In the recent Cup of Nations they were scoreless in all three of their games, losing to South Korea, New Zealand and Australia. They will though have the immense support of one Ms. Brenda Elsey, and you cannot underestimate that.
Do any of you guys have thoughts on these four teams and who's going to get through to the knockout stage, Shireen?
Shireen: I love Nadeshiko. I think that the Japanese women's team are phenomenal. England is going to toil. I know England are like low key, but Japan are just ... this is one of the most exciting groups in my opinion, is definitely, definitely. This one is just phenomenal. I'm really excited to see, and actually Japan and Argentina is one match that I will be attending, fingers crossed. With someone very special named Jessica Luther! Really looking forward to that and to see them in person would be ... to see Nadeshiko play in person is actually a dream of mine, so this is a big deal.
Jessica: Do you think Japan can make a deep run? Do you think we'll see them in the semis and finals?
Shireen: I do. I think Scotland's going to be impassioned, and they're going to give it their all and leave everything on the pitch. But I think in practical terms if we're going to say two are out, I would say Japan and England are going to go forward. I don't like speaking in those terms, because you never know. Argentina could blow everybody out of the water. Gabby Garton who we love and has been on the show, could have a clean sheet all throughout. But if you talk about positioning and history, England and Japan will go forward.
Jessica: Yeah. Yeah, it really looks like that on paper, so it'll be interesting to see what Scotland and Argentina are able to bring to the pitch once they get to France. Argentina has a special place in our heart because Ms. Brenda Elsey does. Shireen, will you tell us about group E?
Shireen: With pleasure, thank you so much. Group E will have New Zealand, Cameroon, the Netherlands and Canada. Canada is ranked fifth and I'll start with them. They are coached by Kenneth Heiner-Møller and their captain is Christine Sinclair. You might have heard of her. Christine-
Jessica: The Prime Minister, I heard.
Shireen: The co-Prime Minister, yes. Christine Sinclair has 181 International goals, and she is actually just three away from tying Abby Wambach and then four from beating her for the amount of all time goals scored of an international player. This particular Canadian squad was only named yesterday, so we're just sort of hanging on to see what's what was happening for the longest time. It also features Kadeisha Buchanan who just won the Dames Ligue with Olympique Lyonnais last week, and she was named a youth player of the tournament in 2015.
The vets are featured are Allysha Chapman, Desiree Scott, again, Christine Sinclair. Diana Matheson and Erin McLeod both are actually out with injury, so the team is very, very young. As a matter of fact, like Deanne Rose is only 17 or turning 18. You've got Jesse Fleming, and young doesn't mean they don't have international experience, because Jesse Fleming has been on the scene and she's only 20, she plays at UCLA. She is actually incredibly young. Jordyn Huitema just signed with Paris Saint-Germain, so she's leaving ... she's 17, turning 18, and she will be leaving. She's skipping the college program to go straight to play professionally in France, where she will join her teammate, Ashley Lawrence, who is there. Ashley is amazing, and I really, really want to get her on the podcast, and I will hold up a sign if I need to do that.
In my humble opinion. Canada needs to actually finish in terms of shots. This is just a little bit of my critique of this team is that they haven't lost a match this year in terms of pre-tournament friendlies, but their scoring hasn't been high. The highest was Mexico 3-0 last weekend, but that's not enough. You can't be winning 0-0 and then 1-0 of Scotland, who this is their first berth. 0-0 Sweden, 1-0 England, which was very promising considering England beat the United States at SheBelieves, but the numbers need to be higher in terms of finishing. That's Canada.
Now, we're going to get into some juicy stuff because I was doing some investigative little bit of journalism to give you all some wrap up of these teams. Netherlands is a team that actually really, really, really excites me. They're coached by Sarina Wiegman, who if you don't know was a former Tar Heels player, she played for UNC. The story is Anson Dorrance saw her play at the World Cup and he basically was like, "I want you to come over and play for me," so she did. She played with Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Carla Overbeck and they won the NCAA championship in 1989. That's a little bit of fun history on their coach.
They feature such tremendous players as Lieke Martens who plays for Barcelona, Vivianne Miedema who plays for Arsenal, and the one and only Shanice van de Sanden who is with Olympique Lyonnais and just hoisted the trophy. They are the current Euro champs, they beat out Denmark and also they beat out Denmark for their qualification to the World Cup meaning that even though Denmark came second at the Euros will they will not be at the Women's World Cup this year, which is very sad because, you know, I stan Nadia Nadim.
So Netherlands toil toil toil, hustle, legit hustle and more legit hustle. They are not a tactical team in the way that Japan might be considered. But their strategy they are from the land of Johan Cruyff. They understand football and their game IQ is extremely high. Their want and need to anticipate where the ball is going three plays ahead of what's happening. Their set pieces are beautifully mapped out. They're an incredibly, incredibly strong team, and I really look forward to seeing where they go, their energy is infectious. They have really great fans as well, and they play in orange, which I can't imagine looking great on anyone, but it looks great on them. I look terrible in orange because my face gets orange when I work out. But anyways, it's not about me.
Lindsay: Is it though?
Shireen: They are ... no it's about it ... they're actually a very fun team, they're jolly. If you follow them on Instagram they're a lot of fun.
Jessica: They're jolly. I love you.
Shireen: They're jolly. They're just a fun, their energy is really, really good. It's a very small nation, the Netherlands and the Dutch ones are ... they're just, they're great. And they add a lot of culture and history, really interesting history and taste to this.
Moving on to Cameroon. This is just really lovely, this group I love. One of my favorites is 26-year-old Gaëlle Enganamouit, who was the 2015 African Player of the Year, Women's Player of the Year. Their squad was just named on Friday. This is Cameroon's second appearance at the Women's World Cup. They did something really spectacular in their first appearance, they beat Ecuador six nothing in 2015 and Gaëlle Enganamouit had a hat trick in her first match at the World Cup. She recently parted ways with FC Malaga, because she played in the Women's League in Spain, and she is not signed at the moment.
Enganamouit is one of many who in that beautiful West African country is very dedicated to the young girls, and she set up the Rails Foot Academy. The first female Soccer Academy in all of West Africa, was just set up this January. So when you think about the implications of development and youth players and what that means, think about that there is no youth academy for girls in West Africa. And this team is up and running and going.
Their coach is Alain Djeumfa, and just incredibly positive, very, very positive. They also often play against the Super Falcons of Nigeria who dominate in that continent, and they're so super positive. Again, their goal celebrations are some of my favorite, and I think that's what we like to see. They bring a lot of joy and passion and a different tactical style of play to the game, and I'm really looking forward to seeing them because they're, other than Enganamouit they have two other players that play in Europe as well, in Sweden and then in France. It's it's going to be just really exciting to see them.
Our last one is New Zealand. Now, the Football Ferns of New Zealand are actually a really fascinating team. They're coached by Tom Sermanni, and you're like, "Tom Sermanni, formerly of the Orlando Pride?" Yes, that Tom Sermanni who has also coached Australia. He's coached the USA, but was fired in 2014. He coached Canada as a technical consultant then went to Orlando and is now in New Zealand. You're like, "Wow, this guy gets around." Yeah, he does. Now, their captain is Ali Riley, who is US born and now plays for Chelsea. The New Zealand Football Ferns are the current Oceania Football Conference title holders, so they're in there, they dominate in that region.
This is their fourth appearance at the Women's World Cup, and there was a lot of drama with this team and I'll let you know in terms of coach, coaching drama in 2018. New Zealand had signed what was now considered a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, which was really interesting and I know we mentioned it on the show in terms of Badass Women of the Week. It was because of unrest in the ranks, and then with obviously, not being paid fairly. But what happened was the revolt against Andreas Heraf, who was an Austrian born and was their coach at the time. Due to his tactical approaches, his excessive emphasis on defensive play, and his coaching methods. Then he went into a presser to explain the reason and he said, "There's a big difference in quality," between New Zealand and Japan, and that's why they would never win against a team like Japan.
If you're the coach of a team, and you're saying this about a team, I don't know, not the most appropriate thing to say. Anyways, he resigned after that, after he was suspended, but put on special leave with full pay, because of course he was, he's a white man. This was followed by allegations of him bullying the players. What ended up happening and what's happening now is the coaching staff with Tom Sermanni has realigned. Erin Nayler plays for Bordeaux, she's their goalkeeper, she's an outspoken, outspoken member of the team.
What I really love about New Zealand is that you'll see that the professional athletes give each other a lot of support, and New Zealand is unlike any other team I've seen. The All Blacks, the most famous rugby team in the world, and the Black Ferns, the women's side of rugby, vocally support. All their players will be out rooting for, and not just at the World Cup. They root for them all the time, consistently. I think that's something when we're looking at social media and stuff, the influence that they have on encouraging young New Zealanders like young Kiwis to support their women's teams, this is really important.
This is a pretty exciting group, my predictions in terms of anyone going forward, I would say, Canada then Netherlands. In terms of rankings, which we've already established in Burn It All Down that they're super arbitrary, I just wanted to point them out Canada is ranked fifth currently, New Zealand is 19th, Cameroon is 46th and the Netherlands are at eight. Just to give you an idea in terms of world positioning a little bit, it doesn't necessarily say for sure, like say this is absolute, but just to give you an idea what the sort of range of those placements are. And again, looking forward to it.
Jessica: Lindsay, how about rounding this out for us, Group F.
Lindsay: All right. So look, let's start from the top. Group F is Team USA's group. I know Brenda rails against it, and I understand why. Do I get a little psycho about my patriotism during the Women's World Cup? Yes, yes I do. Brenda's here to keep me in check and remind me about colonialism and everything that I need to remember that is bad, and yet I will be wearing my red, white and blue. So there's a balance here and I I just have to say that I just need to put that out there, I will be rooting for Team USA during the Women's World Cup. If everyone has a problem with that then, well, Megan Rapinoe. That's all I have to say! Talk to Megan Rapinoe.
But anyways, so this is Team USA's group obviously. They are the favorites to make it out. Not a lot of surprises on Team USA's World Cup roster except Ali Krieger making it on after kind of being forgotten by the national team for a while that a lot of people work in-
Amira: Penn State alum.
Lindsay: Heyyy! And also engaged to Ashlyn Harris, one of her one of her teammates. I love that we have an engaged couple on the World Cup roster, that just makes me happy. Other than that, the recent drama that I've been hearing is Carli Lloyd is still coming off of the bench and Carli Lloyd is not happy about this. Carli Lloyd thinks that she's playing the best soccer of her career, and she was talking to reporters in New Jersey, her home state, and she was very blunt about it. She said, "No, I haven't talked to Jill Ellis about this. We haven't had a deep conversation about this. I'm not happy coming off the bench." But it seems like, I don't know that that's going to really impact, that that's going to make for a lot of drama, but it's certainly something to look out for, and Carli Lloyd is playing really great soccer right now, so we'll see.
We all remember what she did last World Cup, but also this position of coming in as a super sub, as they call it, has been working out pretty well. So, there's ... I don't begrudge any athlete for being unhappy in a supporting role. Athletes have egos, athletes are supposed to have egos. They work really hard, and I think as long as they're not literally blowing things up from the inside, then that stuff, those comments like Lloyd's, don't bother me. But I understand that some people feel differently. So, we can hash it out there.
Anyways, let's talk about Thailand. Thailand is also in this group. This is Thailand's second World Cup, they qualified first in 2015. They won one game in the 2015 tournament, where they just barely beat the Ivory Coast. That was the worst team in the tournament, but it was still a very historic win for Thailand, and really, I think, set them up to have a good next four years. They have only faced Thailand once, which was back in September 2016, USA beat them 9-0. There's reasons to think that this won't be that lopsided. They finished fourth in the Asian Cup this year, which was their best finish since 1986. And they even earned a shock draw in the semi finals to Australia, which was, I mean, that's really great. They end up losing on penalties. But that match that game against Australia really showed the talent that they have. It's expected that they're probably going to finish towards the bottom of group F. But I'm really looking forward to seeing what I think is improvement since their 2015 squad.
You also have Sweden who, of course, patriots like myself remember from the 2016 Olympics when they beat the USA and knocked them out of the Olympics on penalty kicks. But it seems like people aren't incredibly worried about that happening again, though Sweden definitely has the best shot in this group of upsetting Team USA.
I am most probably excited in this group to watch Chile play. Thanks to Brenda, I have learned a lot about Chile in the past and their talents on and off the field. This is the first time they've qualified for the World Cup, for the Women's World Cup, and they are really motivated. There's literally headlines, which I love, which are like, ‘they will not be content just qualifying.’ They are here to win and to fight for a spot in the knockout rounds, which I just love.
A big part of their story is that they made a surprise move when they formed a player's union in 2016, which actually integrated with the men's union, and it gained enough momentum to kind of reorganize their team after it was neglected for so many years. That union convinced the Chilean Federation to host the Copa America, which was a big tournament, and that's where they ended up being able to qualify for the Women's World Cup, and of course our Brenda was on the ground covering all of this. So it's really incredible to kind of see how they have fought for resources for their team and fought for credibility. And then they got this great gift by ... not gift, they earned it. But they earned their way to the World Cup. They showed how much investment matters, and now I think they can win. I think they can be fighting Sweden for a spot. It's a long shot, but I would say for that second spot in the qualification it's between Sweden and Chile.
Jessica: Thank you, Lindsay. Shireen, you have any thoughts on group F?
Shireen: I just agree with Lindsay. I think Chile have nothing to lose, and when you get in there with that tenacity, and that passion you never know. Sweden doesn't have Lotta Schelin anymore, and I can't say that I'm super familiar. They do have a very, very solid women's league in Sweden, so the development is there. I think that I love what you said about Thailand, Lindsay, and I'm excited to ... I've never seen them play. I saw them like their under 20 team at the Women's World Cup like the under 20 World Cup. But I'm excited to see that I think it's going to be a really interesting, interesting group to watch in terms of fun and in terms of seeing where they go moving forward.
Amira: And the US side has been ... not inconsistent, but inconsistent. A lot of their formations still aren't set, so it's going to be very interesting to see what they do. Also want to shout out the Black women on the team, there are more women of color. This is a year in which our squad is a little bit more diverse, and this is ... I'm saying “more diverse” in the way that we said this during the Winter Olympics, where it was still like 93% white, right? So relative, but I do want to give them a hearty shout out and because I think you can't be what you can't see. So every little girl, little Black girl who's watching this squad will see a few people that they can look up to and I think that that's important.
Jessica: And next week we will have our big Women's World Cup preview, so I'm looking forward to that.
Up next, Amira talks to professional softball player AJ Andrews.
Amira: It's my pleasure to interview AJ Andrews. AJ, of course, is a softball phenom standout at LSU, current professional player. But AJ is also just a dynamic person. You might have caught her hosting ESPN and The Undefeated's special on Black women athletes this past February. You see her stuff in The Players' Tribune. Of course, she had that infamous body issue for ESPN The Magazine, and she just graduated with her Master's in Broadcast Journalism from LSU. And so, me and AJ did a hot take, check out our hot take where she breaks down all the teams and players to watch for the postseason. But we also wanted to have a longer conversation about the state of softball in general, and some of the things that AJ is working on and thinking about in terms of the game. So AJ, welcome to the pod.
AJ: Thanks for having me.
Amira: So college softball, is one of the fastest growing if not the fastest growing collegiate sport. When we think of revenue sports, we tend to think of men's basketball, we think of college football, of course, but college softball is now a revenue sport. College softball programs have reportedly brought in over 450 million dollars in the past years. Their college world series are on ESPN, which now airs every game of the postseason, millions of people watch, they beat out the College Baseball World Series, and also just beat out other sports programming when they air. So it's definitely kind of burst and exploded onto the scene. In many ways, college softball seems to be booming right now. Is that your perception as well? Do you feel that on the ground, close to the game?
AJ: Oh, 100%. I definitely think that it is a sport that is extremely entertaining. This is good that people are finally catching on to just how interesting it is. But again, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it is now on TV a lot more. People have been able to have their eyes on the sport and they can really see it. It's on ESPN, it's on prime time. I think I just ... we could talk about how exciting softball is, but it's been that exciting. It just hasn't been seen for people to realize.
I think that goes back to just how women's sports are marketed. If you put it in front of people, people will latch onto it and will see how amazing it is how exciting it is, and will want to watch it more. I think that the notion of women's sports are just not to the caliber of the male athletics is completely false, and I'm really excited that softball is now showing that. I mean, the past couple years women's college world series has had more viewership than the boys, and even knocking off some of the MLB games on TV.
AJ: Yeah, yeah, you have a lot of celebrities or even just higher ups, the top tier athletes like LeBron James. A lot of different Major League Baseball players now commenting on that, giving just that much more attention not only to the sport, but also to the players that are really doing well. I mean, I think, I'm excited to have it now. It's been a long time coming, and I think that's only going to continue to propel the sport forward.
Amira: So these women who are playing now at the collegiate level, who are now in this fast growing revenue sport on ESPN, what are their professional outlooks if they're seniors? What is the state of professional softball, particularly in the United States?
AJ: It's really saddening, with the way that the professional softball is kind of set up right now, because there's only five teams when it comes to you think of what's called the NPF, the National Pro Fastpitch. There's only five teams in that, therefore only about 24 girls can be drafted. 24 girls is how much one team holds on a team, 24 players. So you think of all the talented athletes there are that play collegiate softball, you're literally looking at maybe 24 superstars, which is really ... it's unfair, because when you look at any other sport, of course, a lot of the superstars are drafted, but some people that may be kind of flew under the radar then become superstars. I think those are the stories we hear about more often than we hear about the superstars continuing on with their stardom on to the next level.
But a lot of players don't get the opportunity in college softball, because so few actually get drafted. And then you have some teams like the team I play on right now that is an independent team with Houston and basically they only drafted four girls, because it's one team. And so it's just, it's unfortunate, because there's so much talent, and so many people have to get left behind. You don't see that with really any other sport, and so when you have ... we talked earlier about how much the sport of softball is growing on the collegiate level, there needs to be a way to figure out how to make that happen past that for professionals because it's clear people want to watch softball, it's clear people enjoy it.
Basically, when you go on to pros, because not a lot of girls are going to be able to get drafted, it's basically going to be the All Stars from College that play professionally, which I would think would be even more exciting. So it's very, it's far and few between that a lot of girls get drafted, and I would love to change that. I would love for there to be some situation, Paul Rabil who plays lacrosse, he's just now starting his own lacrosse league because it's kind of the same situation. With professional softball, we don't get paid well, at all. Majority of it is going to be below 10,000, and so a lot of the girls have second jobs. Paul Rabil said the situation is very similar with lacrosse, so he started his own league.
That's something that I hope can be something that gets done. I really, I think that league that's good right now is the NPF. It needs to be out there more people need to talk about it more, and there needs to be a way for people to realize that it exists in order for it to gain traction, just the way that softball did, college softball. People got put on ESPN, people realized how exciting it is. The same thing can happen with professional softball if it gets the recognition and the marketing that the college softball has.
Amira: Certainly and it falls into this, like you mentioned lacrosse, but it happens a lot with women's sports, right? Because Title IX has caused such a growth and development of talent at the youth in high school and the collegiate level, there's such a wealth of talent, and it just kind of exponentially drops off at the professional level because there's no mandate there. Even when there are leagues and teams for women, there's a lack of funding of benefits of resource allocation, and the fight is different there, and the reason why I asked it, it was on my mind, because I'm looking at all these women…You gave us amazing profile of players to watch when we did our hot take, but I'm looking at them, the seniors, and for most of them, then this is it. This is the culmination of their entire lifetime of playing softball right? This is sort of the last hurrah.
AJ: Yeah. No, that's it. When you come to that realization that this is literally my last time in a uniform, playing the sport that I love. The sport that I've playing probably since I was six, seven, eight years old, and this is the last day I can call myself a softball player. Definitely extremely disheartening, and it's the kind of situation where it sounds like an out-of-body experience. You kind of have to have some self reflection, and it just comes so fast because even if you perform, even if you're an amazing athlete, even if you really did your job. If you weren't on a team that made it to the World Series, if you weren't on a team that was always highlighted or in the spotlight, you may not get noticed. You could have hit 400 on the year, but just didn't do it on a team that did well, and you would have been overlooked.
That never happens with other sports, that doesn't happen with male sports. If you're good people pay attention, people recognize, because there are so many that can have the opportunity to play professionally. With college softball it's so sad that this is literally it, and you even talk to young girls, when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up. They're going to say, "Well, I want to play college softball."
And I even talk to some, "What about professional softball?"
Like, "I don't think that's something I could do."
And I'm always like, "Well, why not?"
They say, "I just don't see it on TV." I just don't know if it's something that even happens.
Then you go and you ask a little boy the same question. "I want to be a professional baseball player. I want to be a professional baseball coach." They have this mindset that they can do this, it's not far fetched because they see it. But because you don't see professional softball, people, their dreams end at college for young girls, and it shouldn't have to. It really shouldn't, especially if you perform. And so, yeah, for a lot of these girls that have played this for their whole life, it's going to be some ... I don't know, you really have to look inward and kind of, it's almost like an identity crisis a little bit like, "My whole life I've been an athlete and now now what am I?" It's hard. It's really hard, and it's kind of something that women are asked of a lot more than men.
Amira: Yeah, it's really hard to be what you can't see. Sort of along those lines, I'm wondering, particularly within the sport of softball, how is it for you as a Black woman to be not only a representative ambassador of the sport and the possibilities of professional softball, but to show Black girls, girls of color that there's a place for them within the sport, within softball itself?
AJ: That's one of my main goals, honestly. I think that just as we talk about representation, it's the leaders in what people believe they can do, believe they can achieve. If you don't see it, you don't even ... some people don't even know professional softball exists. Girls that play softball don't even know professional softball exists, because they don't see it. The same thing happens with little Black girls that play softball, they don't know they can really excel, because they don't often see people that look like them excelling.
And so, it's really become my mission to let them know that, "No, this sport is for you. Don't let anyone ... just like there's going to be stigmas with swimming or whatever, softball, ballet, right? Just because you don't see these people all day long, or they're not highlighted the way that other races are, doesn't mean you can't come and you can't shake things up and be the best in this sport." That is my goal to really make young Black women, especially young Black girls, see themselves. When they look at me see themselves in me and see themselves as, "Wow, I could be like AJ Andrews."
So that they don't think that their goals have to stop at college. They could say, "I'm going to play professional softball. I know not a lot of people get drafted, but I'm going to do it." You say, "I'm going to win a Golden Glove just like AJ." I really believe representation is extremely important in that matter. When I was even playing, one time while playing the game and one woman came up to me, young Black woman and her daughter, and it was their first time coming to a softball game and like, "You my daughter's favorite player now."
I was like, "Oh, really?" I'm pretty sure I went like, 0 for three that game. "I don't know how I'm her favorite, but thank you."
She just came up to me to she said, "Wow. There's a girl on the team that looks like me." That just really stuck with me. I was her favorite because she found someone on the field that looked like her. It didn't matter what I did, it didn't matter my performance. All it matters is that she saw herself in me. That's why I think it's extremely important to not only represent for your sport, just to get softball out there and make it a mainstream sport in general, but to really bring along those people, young African American women. Young people of color in general that feel like they may not belong in a certain sport, because there's not a lot of them, and let them know that they do belong, and they need to shake things up. Let's add some more to the table. I'm going to pull up a chair for you so that you can pull up a chair for someone else, so that we can keep bringing people in, so that people no longer believe that softball isn't a sport that Black women play, and start recognizing that some of the most talented women that play softball are African American women.
Amira: So once again, the postseason is upon us. Again, if you want to hear AJ breaking down teams and players to watch check out our hot take where she does that brilliantly. And ESPN, as I mentioned before, is airing every single game of the postseason, so there's lots of opportunities for you to watch college softball. And AJ thinks that you're such a great ambassador for the game and you speak with it with such passion. You remind everybody, I think you should remind everybody when they're watching that softball is a sport in its own right. It's not just the girl’s alternate to baseball. And so just as the great ambassador, you are just last question, What does softball mean to you? And what are people missing if they don't tune in and watch?
AJ: I would say you are missing trendsetters, you're missing trailblazers, you are missing a hell of a lot of excitement if you're not watching college softball. There are so many young girls that are truly transcending this sport, and making it extremely exciting. Sam Show, a player that I mentioned before has really brought back bat flipping. It's controversial, some people don't like it, but you need players like that to make the game fun. She bat flips every time she gets a home run, and it's exciting! It's exciting, and it comes down to the fact that some people are upset because it's ‘disrespectful’ or X, Y, Z, but the men do it.
I think we're now breaking down these barriers, breaking down the stereotypes of what the girls can do versus what the guys can do, and really are just kind of making this sport one of the most exciting sports to watch. Whether it's college football, college, baseball, basketball, you can now start mentioning softball in those categories. And I think that if you aren't watching college softball, especially postseason college softball, if you don't like it, you just don't like sports. Honestly, I don't really know what tell you.
That's how I feel about it. I feel like this sport is growing. I feel like right now is the time for women. And if you aren't supporting women, if you aren't someone that's getting behind women you're just going to get knocked over, because I think we're coming I think we're coming with guns blazing. We're just we're ready for a fight. We're ready to make everyone realize just how exciting and important softball is as a sport, and I don't think we're looking for any handouts. We want to show you why you should feel like you're missing the best sport on TV right now, and I think that’s what softball is.
Amira: Well, AJ, thank you so much again, for coming on Burn It All Down. You're always welcome here to break down softball with us. You are a flame thrower now.
AJ: Yay! Thank you for having me.
Jessica: All right. Amira, you want to get us started on talking about Nike and pregnancy and reproductive rights?
Amira: Yeah, so in the past week, we've had three women come forward, Olympians, Nike athletes for elite running, that have talked about their maternity policies or lack thereof. We've talked a lot about this. Me and Shireen talked about athletic moms in sport for our Mother's Day hot take, and we've also had a similar conversation around the WTA. We talked about Serena, we talked about these organizations that don't have robust maternity policies and how that affects professional women athletes.
And I think particularly with Nike, one of the things that compelled these women to come forward were also to talk about the hypocrisy. While they're putting out these commercials “Dream Crazy,” and we all know Nike is so compelling at telling commercials and images and things like that, that really are inspirational and pull at your heartstrings. I discussed this when we talked about the Mexico City commercial that they had shot around sexism, at the same time their company had terrible, terrible sexism within their actual corporation. So there is this kind of duality with Nike.
This compelled former Olympian 800m runner Alysia Montaño, who you might remember ran back in 2014 while she was eight months pregnant. It compelled her along with a team of reporters from the New York Times to release an opinion piece called "Nike told me to dream crazy until I wanted a baby". One of the things that Alysia talked about was, how her support from Nike, her compensation goes away. Basically, there was nothing in place to continue for her to have any guarantee or any money during her pregnancy. And she talks about what that meant to have to basically go into the unknown if you're having a baby.
One of the things that, that ... one of the reasons why is because Nike contracts much like the WTA, when you're returning from maternity leave, they're using “injuries,” not pregnancy, as their metric. So their contracts given to athletes, give them a six-month grace period, if you can temporarily not compete, and during that period of time Nike can reduce their pay, but they can't terminate their sponsorship. But of course, pregnancy goes beyond six months, and so basically, Nike is hedging their bets and saying, "Well, if you can't compete, we're not going to pay you. And we're also determining that your value is less because we don't know what level you're going to come back and compete at."
Alysia negated her non-disclosure in order to make this report. She was joined by other women who also wanted to violate their non-disclosure and speak out about this. And so first, Kara Goucher, who is a fellow Olympian added her voice to it and said, yeah, Nike told her that she they would stop paying her if she wasn't competing. So in fear of losing that sponsorship, she rushed back to race a half marathon, just three months after giving birth. Later, she went on to say that because of that she's suffering a chronic hip injury. And she said, "It took such a toll on me mentally and physically, for myself and for my child. Returning to competition so quickly was a bad choice to me, and looking back and knowing that I wasn't the kind of mother that I want to be, it's gut wrenching."
And then Allyson Felix, who is one of their most high profile athletes, also penned a op-ed. I don't know if you know about Allyson's story. Allyson was pregnant with her first child, and she got severe preeclampsia, and had to have an emergency cesarean at 32 weeks, her daughter was in the NICU for months, and apparently at the same time that she's dealing with a health scare that threatened not only her child's life, but her life with a child in the premie NICU, in the NICU unit, and this whole time this is happening she's also engaged in conversations and negotiations with Nike, because Nike made her a post pregnancy offer that included a 70% pay cut.
Despite that monstrous pay cut, Allyson was ready to accept it as long as it also came with stability because she was recovering from emergency surgery. Nike refused to budge an inch on both the longevity of the contract or the pay. So Allison said, "What I'm not willing to accept is the enduring status quo around maternity. I asked Nike to contractually guarantee I wouldn't be punished if I didn't perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth. I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike's most widely marketed athletes, could not secure these protections, who could? Nike declined, and we've been at a standstill ever since."
I think one of the things that all three women are specifically calling out is the hypocrisy of patting yourself on the back with your Dream Crazy commercials, with your your wonderful commercials, say, about Caster. There are people that, everybody's applauding Nike for their supposed social consciousness, while at the same time handling women athletes, who are parenting and pregnant in this capacity. And I think one of the things to remember is that their value goes beyond their performance. So Nike tries to say, "Well, you know, we don't know if you're going to return to form."
But the thing of the matter is, Serena's still wearing Nike. If Serena hung up her cleats tomorrow, she would still have added brand value to them, and that's a lot of the arguments that these women are making is that a lot of them during pregnancy, they’re still doing sponsored appearances. So they're still working, but they're not getting compensated in the same way based off this kind of idea about performances. And if you add this to the fact that athletes like Alysia, like Kara, also are facing a loss of health insurance and benefits from the USOC and from other places, it paints a really bleak picture for the ability to be a professional athlete as well as expand your family, and I think that that's what it comes down to.
The last thing I'll say about that is really leave you with some of Allyson's words, where she said she decided to sign with Nike because they had core principles that she really believed in, and she walked away from more money elsewhere. But she says this is one of the reasons why this has been so heartbreaking, and she said, "My disappointment is not just with Nike, but how sports apparel industry at large treats female athletes. This isn't just about pregnancy, we may stand behind the brands we endorse, but we also need to hold them accountable when they're marketing us to appeal to the next generation." So what do you guys think about these Nike contracts and pregnancy?
Lindsay: Yeah, I'm so glad that this conversation is happening, and the fact that these women are coming forward and telling me stories is just so important, because it's true. Nike really, obviously, wants to be promoting itself and making money off of these feminist values, and yet behind the scenes, they aren't so much practicing what they preach, which, I know we shouldn't be surprised, but we can continue to be frustrated, I think.
Last year I wrote a piece for ThinkProgress about maternity rights in pro sports, because I was frustrated. Serena Williams had come back from being pregnant, and she was unseated at the French Open last year. I don't know if anyone remembers this. And everyone was appalled, they were absolutely appalled, and there was this huge outrage and other tournaments ended up changing their seeding system just based off of this. And everyone was kind of like, "Okay. Well, that's solved." But I was frustrated because this conversation is like, if you're talking about problems in pregnancy, for women coming back, the seeding of the French Open is like the bottom of the list, especially for someone like Serena.
Not that it shouldn't be addressed, of course, but you know, there's no childcare at WTA tournaments, even though there is at ATP tournaments, because they're so used to the men bringing their families and their kids around, but not used to it with the women. In pro contracts in NWSL, even in the WNBA, childcare is not required to be provided by these teams, even though we know there are a lot of moms on these squads. The WNBA has some deals where if you're under contract, and you get pregnant, you still get insurance and maybe like 50% of your contract. However, if you're a free agent, or if your contract expires, you're kind of shit out of luck, so that's no good.
I think there are a lot of things that need to be addressed systematically among leagues. And of course, the sponsorship part of this equation is not at all an insignificant one, especially when you're talking about individual athletes, like track athletes, or tennis players or even golfers. So there was a really big deal last year. I know we don't talk about golf as much on this podcast. And I do think we mentioned this last year, but I think it's worth bringing up again. So last year, Stacy Lewis, who was a two-time major champion on the LPGA said that one of her main sponsors, KPMG, was going to pay Lewis the full value of her contract while she was off the LPGA Tour on maternity leave. This was the first time that that happened in LPGA history.
She said, "I think a lot of people were shocked to learn that that had never happened before. Players that were, players that are moms and have kids, they thought it was the greatest thing ever, because they had been in my position before, and they know what it feels like." So I think that the ways to move forward on this is, is to have guaranteed contracts during pregnancy. If that means that like you need to put in a few more appearances, or make it worth it, we’ll do that. That's fine. None of these women are saying, "We won't work at all. We won't do anything." They're okay with getting creative about ways to keep the full deal with their sponsorship. But I think also we need to keep forcing the WTA, and the NWSL, and the WNBA, and all of these women's sports organizations to have better policies in place for female athletes.
Jessica: Thanks Linds. Amira.
Amira: Yeah, I was just going to echo the point Lindsay made about the league specific responses and guaranteed contracts, which also means strong unions for these women. And then when we think about the individual athletes, one of their disadvantages is that lack of collective bargaining. But in addition to that, it reminds us the importance of sponsorship, it cannot be disentangled by looking at pay equity within women's sports because sponsorship is so important, because that is revenue streams for so many and the primary one for a lot of these athletes. And because the pay is still low from their federations and within their leagues. So it's really important to have the conversations about maternity contracts within the larger bubbles of unionization of collective bargaining of league pay and all of those things because they're all bound together. They're all wrapped together.
Jessica: Yeah. Thank you Amira, great point. Shireen.
Shireen: Yeah, just Amira, thank you for clarifying that because sponsorship is not something that all athletes have access to or have the privilege of getting. So it's really important to make sure that we don't conflate pay equity like you said. I just wanted to say that it's not like all sports companies have not supported athletes. I know some are lesser forms of evil, but what I do like is that holding Nike to keep up with what they're trying to present their image as. They are the ones, and we saw this with Allyson Felix's video, and her op-ed about how they present themselves.
For me, the optics of that are really important, because one of the things that we find in intersectional feminism, and the growth of that as a movement, and anyone understanding those intersections in sport, is that you have this heavy heart. We want to love those commercials that feature Serena, we know about the difficulties she's had as a Black woman, in the medical field, and what she suffered through maternity, and how Indigenous and Black women have a higher rate of mortality in birth and it's like 2019. But we also want to believe in those happy stories, but at the same time, we're being restricted.
These are issues that I feel, you know, that conundrum that we have, we want to buy into it, literally because capitalism. Brenda's not here, so I'll say it, capitalism sucks, but we do want this to move forward. What I'm trying to say is I like that Nike is having to check itself. It was reported yesterday in the New York Times that they will change all their policies, but I want to see it in writing. I haven't seen it yet, and they're going to move forward towards that.
But I don't want this to be the end, I want this conversation to continue. I want to make sure that like you both have mentioned, it goes across the board to different sports. In some sports, we haven't even seen that discussion about motherhood. I mean, we're still talking about paying hockey players, we're not even at mat leave benefits. So I would like to see this continuing, and I'm happy that these women, as usual, are on the front lines of change, because nobody else will do it for us.
Jessica: Yeah, that's so true, and I just wanted ... I mean, you all said all the smart things that I would want to say about this. But I wanted to finish by just noting that on the other end of the reproductive rights spectrum here, a lot of female athletes have been speaking out this week about the abortion bans that are going into law in multiple states in this country. Always important to note they're not yet law, and they will be challenged in the court system.
But yesterday, the WNBA season is back up and running, and I was watching the Seattle Phoenix game, and I saw Breanna Stewart, who's injured and will not be playing. I saw her walking around, and I was like, "Does her shirt say abortion?" Because she had a jacket on, and I was like, "No, I don't ... I doubt that her shirt says abortion." No, it said "abortion" because she had on her shirt "abortion is a human right" ad that ran in the New York Times, and she is just unapologetically out here for reproductive choice for women. That comes after Lindsay wrote this amazing piece this week for ThinkProgress where she talked to multiple WNBA players about the abortion bans in different states here, and they all had these amazing things to say about how important choice is for women. And I just wanted to highlight one of them, you should go read the piece just to get the full spectrum.
But Layshia Clarendon who's been on the program multiple times, flame thrower, we love her. She had this heart wrenching quote that she gave about how, "It's just a punch then punch then punch again. These are people's lives. This impacts a lot of poor people across races, and especially Black women. It's heartbreaking and disgusting, and as a Christian myself, I'm ashamed that there are people who even proclaim to be Christians and do this and use Jesus as a cover." And I just think it's amazing what these women are doing for each other, and I just ... the fact that this is something that female athletes have to take on, in addition to being athletes will always bother me, but I'm also so inspired and impressed by them, and I am so glad that they are using their voices in this way.
Now it's time for everyone's favorite segment that we like to call the Burn Pile where we pile all the things up we've hated this week in sports and set them aflame. I'm going to go first this week, mine is short. Earlier this week loudmouth NBA reporter Chris Broussard, who works at Fox Sports was in the news because he was on TV talking about Kevin Durant and said something about all the many text message conversations that he's had with Durant. To which Durant responded by tweeting, "You don't have my number mannnnn." There were literally five Ns on the end of that ‘man.’ Broussard then got in his car, literally in his car and propped up his phone on the dashboard, and then yelled at the ... he yelled at the camera to defend his credibility, splitting hairs about how Instagram DMs are the same thing as text messages or something. Who cares!
What I want to burn is the fact that Broussard still has a career at all, has any kind of credibility, that I still have to read or hear or even think about him anymore. Back in 2013 when Jason Collins, the former NBA center, he was still playing at the time, revealed publicly that he is gay, Chris Broussard was scheduled to be on Outside The Lines that day, they kept him on. He was onscreen talking about this with LZ Granderson, who is also gay, and I don't know how else to say this, but Chris Broussard went full bigot on national TV. He actually said the following on ESPN only six years ago, "Personally, I don't believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you're openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says, you know them by their fruit. It says that's a sin, if you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be, I believe that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I do not think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian."
That's important, specifically at the time because one of the things Jason Collins talked about in the Sports Illustrated piece was his own Christian religion and how important religion was to him. That man I mean, he said this while talking on national TV to a fellow employee who is himself gay. I just, what…and nothing happened to Broussard. Like nothing, he got to say that on TV and that was it! And it's just a wonder why we still see so few or really no players out in men's professional sports, but yet we still see and hear Broussard. Like it is wild to me that he still has a role in this media in any way, and he will continue to have one despite all of these things. So I want to burn that this week. Burn.
Lindsay, what are you burning?
Lindsay: Hey Jess, I am burning Art Briles, our old Burn Pile regular, I would say. So this week, I was about to say friend because that was the ... then I was like no, I can't even say a Burn Pile friend. So this week on a Friday evening news dump for the ages, the Mount Vernon Independent School District announced that it had hired Art Briles to lead this Texas High School's football team. That's right, Art Briles is now the head coach of a high school football team in Texas.
This whole thing is just sickening, and the optics of it were to say the least suspect. First of all Briles is in Italy where he's currently serving as a coach to a Florence Italian football league team…naturally. So he had to Skype in to this announcement ceremony. He was projected up on the whiteboard from Italy, and everything in the press release to the quotes that the superintendent were giving, all talk about how Briles was going to help students succeed, "Both on the field and in life." And Briles in this speech said, that he was giving via Skype, the floating head, to this high school group said, "You'll make no bigger impact on this world than when you shape the lives of young people."
Of course, nobody mentioned the fact that the reason that Art Briles is available to be hired as the head coach for a high school football team is because he was the head coach during one of the worst sexual assault scandals in US sports history at Baylor University. We're just going to link Baylor, Jess's phenomenal piece, How Baylor Happened over at Deadspin, in the show notes. If you want to go back and read through everything. How Baylor Happened was a really big part because of Briles and his lack of leadership and his desire to only care about on the field results, to not care about off the field results at all. And in this piece Jess also reported that when he was a high school football coach on the way up the coaching ranks, actually there was a rapist on his team, and he enabled this too.
This is something that has followed Briles throughout his career, there is absolutely no reason to think it won't follow him to this new high school. And I just think this to me is the worst case scenario. I figured he would continue maybe to be a head coach in Europe, maybe get a small assistant job in the XFL or something like this, but to have him as the leader of high school boys is ... a burn pile isn't even big enough, burn.
Jessica: Burn. Amira. What do you want a torch?
Amira: This is ridiculous, I can't even ... so last week in Spain, there was a squash tournament the Asturias Squash Championship. So the men's side played, they won, they got their trophies, they went on their fun way. The women played squash, were handed their trophies, and a little gift from the squash club that they were playing at. Olaya Fernandez Lence, Marina Arraiza Mier, Cristina Fernandez finished second, third and fourth, and in addition to their trophies, they got electric foot files and hair removal wax kits.
But not to be outdone, Elisabet Sadó who won the championship, received a trophy and a vibrator. Yes. You heard me right. A vibrator. I just cannot deal. Now, giving somebody a vibrator consensually-
Shireen: I just ... oh my God.
Amira: It's not a terrible gift. Vibrators are fucking great. More power to vibrators. That's fine. Giving women athletes sex toys and wax kits and things to make their feet more delicate when they're winning championships is not the same as just giving a sex toy because you want people to be pleasured. This is clearly…it’s just so ridiculous. The athletes wrote a letter to the Royal Spanish Federation, as well as returning their guests demanding answers and saying this is sexist. You didn't give the men fucking Viagra like Shireen said she would send. You didn't give them a cock ring. You didn't give them anything. Why are you giving it to us?
So they've launched an investigation. Sadó said we were very surprised. We were very shocked. It's very sexist. We want to explain it to everybody because we think there's a lot of discrimination against women in sports and things have to change. And it's just ridiculous. So the squash club, one person has resigned, you know, they were like, "Oh, we're sorry that we ... we thought it would be funny." It's not funny. It's stupid, and women athletes are athletes, and your attempts to say well, wax, or do your feet, or get off. It's just strange. It's just strange. So, please, consensually, give sex toys to people that you like and admire, perhaps want to have pleasure in your life. If you're running the squash tournament or any other professional sporting tournament, please do not include foot files, waxes or vibrators as prizes. Money and trophies are just fine. I want to burn it down. Burn.
Jessica: Oh man, I giggled through that whole thing. Okay, Shireen, what are you burning?
Shireen: Thanks so much Jess, I will actually be burning something that has to do with the England Lionesses. Now I'm very hyped for this team. The amount of support that they're getting in England is excellent considering the last time when they returned from the World Cup, the FA tweeted out something ridiculous like, "Now you can go back to being teachers and wives." It was just ... what I'm trying to say is I'm happy that the support for this team has come a long way in four years, it has. Where I don't want it to go is the recognition of imperialist military forces, which is where it went.
This past week, the England Lionesses actually trained with the Marines. Now, Georgia Stanway gave an interview, and she was talking about how they went through drills that included setting up camping, retrieval of bodies as bags from a simulated crash site, and she said something like, this is her I'm quoting from this BBC article, "It took us aback," she adds, "We're just playing football, whereas theirs is life and death. They're not even getting credit for protecting our country, whereas we're just going out and playing a game of football," and stop.
Now, the thing is, Georgia Stanway might not realize that in a lot of other places in the global south, or places that have been affected by brutal colonial violence, playing football for women is also about life and death, it's also about perseverance and development and survival. She might not realize that. Also, there's two things here. If this exercise, orchestrated by Phil Neville their coach, was done to say, "We want to toughen those young girls up. Let's take them to go train with the lads." He doesn't talk like that. That's a terrible impersonation, but what I'm trying to say is if that's-
Lindsay: I think it's perfect.
Shireen: If that's what's happening here, that's also misogynist under any pretext that, "Let's go take them to the army boys to toughen up our girls." The Lionesses don't need toughening like that. They also don't need exposure and apologia for this type of military brutality, because I'm sorry, this is absolutely a military led by Blair that invaded places that destroyed infrastructure for women's sports for youth sports that decimated national teams in, whether it was the Middle East, whether it was Kuwait, whether it was Iraq and threats to other places, I'm sorry, you don't get cookies for this. I do not want to see women's sports, and the game of football elevated by associating with the Western world powers that destroy.
This idea of you're protecting your country, I don't ever think of the British military as protecting Britain as opposed to invading and torturing and destroying other societies. I'm sorry, like this made me so physically upset. I just wanted to add that I linked it with this BBC article that we can put in the show notes, and then my friend Suzy Wrack who writes for The Guardian replied to me because of my criticism, and she says, "I agree it makes it uncomfortable, and I think that take was this, and I'm sorry that I went with that perspective."
So even the fact if you call it out friends, don't settle for this. Let's not take scraps for what we want this game to be and accept it because I will never accept this. I want to throw it on the burn pile. Burn.
Jessica: After all that burning, it's time to celebrate some remarkable women in sports this week with our Badass Woman of the Week segment. First up, honorable mentions. Diamilette Quiles became the first woman to play in the Superior Double A League in Puerto Rico, the top League in the Puerto Rico Baseball Federation. 35-year-old Onome Ebi of the Nigerian women's football team is the first African player, man or woman, to go to five World Cups. Abby Wambach the US forward and all-time leading scorer in Women's International soccer has been voted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2019.
Our own Brenda Elsey again Badass Woman of the Week honorable mention, whose new book that she co-authored with Josh Nadel titled Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America came out this week.
Allyson Felix, Alysia Montaño, Kara Goucher and other athletes for starting the Dream Maternity campaign to draw attention to the lack of support for pregnant athletes. Canadian hockey prophet ... Shireen wrote that one….Canadian hockey prophet Hayley Wickenheiser will be inducted into the World Hockey Hall of Fame. Dana Glowacka held a plank for four hours and 20 minutes. The Guinness Book of World Records confirmed her achievement. I just ... yo, I did a minute-
Amira: I held a plank for a minute just the other day and I'm still recovering.
Jessica: A minute, and I can't breathe when I do a minute.
Okay. Can I get a drum roll please?
Our Badass Women of the Week are Furdiki Sherpa and Nima Doma Sherpa, both of them widows of two Sherpas who died on Mount Everest. They have successfully summited Mount Everest themselves. These two Nepalese women were on a mission to break taboos about widows in Nepali society. "We are going to climb the mountain to close our pain and to honor our husbands by reaching the peak they could not," the two said in a statement. Congratulations.
Okay, what's good with y'all? Shireen, what's good with you?
Shireen: Well, Ramadan, I have to say that, obviously, we're heading into the last 10 days, and it's like really, really powerful, so powerful in that as well. The Raptors, obviously. I’m heading off to France, and I'm very excited about that. I's the first time in my life that I will be distracted by the NBA Finals while I'm focusing on a World Cup, so that's a bit weird for me because I'll be in France during game five.
I also wanted to just say that I'm researching subscription boxes for like makeup stuff, so if anyone has any good suggestions, please holler at me on Twitter or message me, but they have to be Canada friendly. I'm not paying $30 for delivery from the United States, so y'all please keep that in mind. If you have any Canadian ones, that would be great. That would be better. But just please let me know I'm really interested in the subscription boxes because why not send yourself a present, and I was inspired by Amira's upcoming birthday. I'm not Gemini, but I will celebrate myself and honor Amira.
Lindsay: Yeah. So, it is a three-day weekend here, and I am enjoying that very much. My cousin and his wife are in town. So that gives me an excuse to eat and drink a lot, and to not work for like a day and a half, which is great. But overall, I'm trying, I'm a little bit overwhelmed with work right now. But I have to keep reminding myself that I'm doing so many things that I love, and I am. Between the Women's World Cup the WNBA season starting, the French Open which is underway right now, I am in ... it is a very good time for my work and for my love of women's sports. And I am just blessed to have this life that in this crazy weird career that I've lucked into, and so I'm just really trying to be grateful, and I am grateful.
Jessica: That's amazing. Amira.
Amira: Yeah, so my what's good are the four Bs. One, Booksmart. It's a new movie. Olivia Wilde's directorial debut. It is kind of the genre of like the Superbad teenage whatever, but it's centered on women, it's queer, it's hilarious. It came out on Friday. I've already seen it twice, and I've watched it extra time on bootleg online. Go see it, it's hilarious. And yes, so my second B is the Bruins. They kick off the Stanley Cup tomorrow, Monday with the St. Louis Blues. I'm super excited because they've been off for a week and a half, waiting for the Western Finals to finish up, so I've been in a hockey void and so I'm very excited for that.
Third B is Bermuda. I'm off to Bermuda on Wednesday. It's a work trip, so it's not all fun and games, but it's still Bermuda and there's beaches and drinks, and I will be on a beach drinking and reading a book when I'm not working. And lastly my birthday. We are fully into Gemini season now because I will miss recording next week because I'll be in Bermuda it means the next time I'm back on the pod I will be 31, and my birthday will have passed, but I am starting to look forward to it. I'm getting birthday hair because I get back from Bermuda it's only two days before my birthday. So those are my four Bs, it's what's good in my life right now.
Jessica: Wow, that all sounds amazing.
Amira: Ugh, I totally missed the opportunity to say, "My what's good today is brought to you by the letter B, and the number four." What am I thinking? Sesame Street reference, come on! It would have been brilliant. I'm sorry. I'm sorry flamethrowers, I've let you down.
Jessica: Oh man. So my what's good this week, I got to see poet and author Hanif Abdurraqib read in person this week. He has a book that came out earlier this year on A Tribe Called Quest, and his fandom around A Tribe Called Quest called Go Ahead in the Rain. He is a stunning writer and performer and I just really enjoyed listening to him.
What also is good in my life is that my kid is out of school. When he was younger I used to find summer very time-consuming, and it's always expensive. But he's older now, and so it's mainly just a relief that I don't have to get up at 6:00 am most days. I'm excited about the French Open, I had it on this morning when I first got up and then the WNBA is back and that is just so exciting. I've already watched a couple games, and I'm just so thrilled.
That's it for this week's episode. Thank you all for joining us. You can find Burn It All Down on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you want to subscribe to Burn It All Down you can do so on Apple Podcast, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play and TuneIn. For information about the show and links and transcripts for each episode check out our website burnitalldownpod.com. You can also email us from the site to give us feedback, we love hearing from you.
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