Episode 118: Conrad Mainwaring + Abuse in Track (TW), Sports Mascots and Meg Linehan on the NWSL/USWNT
On this week's show Amira, Brenda, and Lindsay discuss the decades of abuse allegations against former UCLA Track Coach Conrad Mainwaring [3:00]. Shireen interviews women's soccer expert, Meg Linehan who provides updates and insights on the NWSL and USWNT [18:55]. Then the crew indulges Amira's curiosity about sports mascots and talk about the funny, the scary, the offensive and the truly strange ones [39:12].
Of course, you'll hear our Burn Pile [51:30] our BAWOTW [57:35] and tell you what's good in our worlds [59:50]
Outside the Lines investigation of the Conrad Mainwaring story: http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story?_slug_=44-years-41-allegations-how-caught-former-olympian&id=27244072&redirected=true
Track Coach Conrad Mainwaring Accused of Abusing 41 Athletes Over Four Decades: https://www.si.com/olympics/2019/08/01/conrad-mainwaring-sexual-abuse-allegations-track-coach-investigation
Phillies file lawsuit to keep Phanatic as mascot: https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/27311348/phillies-file-lawsuit-keep-phanatic-mascot
Why do schools have mascots?: https://news.psu.edu/story/141272/2010/01/26/research/probing-question-why-do-schools-have-mascots
Female official to ref UEFA men's match for first time: https://www.espn.com/soccer/uefa-super-cup/story/3910875/female-official-to-ref-top-mens-match-for-first-time
Dalilah Muhammad breaks world record in hurdles: https://queenseagle.com/all/rochdale-native-dalilah-muhammad-breaks-world-record-in-hurdles
Simone Manuel wins 2nd straight world title in women’s 100 free: https://apnews.com/e2672a589bf2403f90ae05cbaeeb904a
18-year-old female Muslim jockey Khadijah Mellah wins at Goodwood: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/racing/2019/08/01/khadijah-mellah-wins-goodwood-history-made-18-year-old-muslim/
Amira: Welcome to this week's episode of Burn It All Down. I'm Amira Rose Davis, Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies at Penn State. This week, I'm joined by my illustrious co-hosts, Brenda Elsey, Associate Professor of History at Hofstra University in New York, and Lindsay Gibbs, sports reporter at ThinkProgress in Washington, D.C.
This week on the show, we're going to be talking about Conrad Mainwaring, and the mounting cases against him, and the allegations of abuse mounting against him as a track and field coach at UCLA, as well as before that. Shireen is also going to chat with soccer expert extraordinaire, Meg Linehan. Then also my co-hosts are going to indulge me in my curiosity about sports mascots.
But before we get in to all of that, Lindsay, you are back from Vegas where you were at All-Star.
Lindsay: Am I? Am I really back?
Amira: It looked like you had a phenomenal time, and you were on hand for what looked to be a fairly good All-Star Weekend. What was it like?
Lindsay: Yeah, it was incredible. Vegas just did such a good job of really showing out. One of my favorite things was the marketing. We talk a lot about the show, the marketing of female athletes. From the second you landed in Vegas, everywhere you looked there were posters, and billboards, and signs about All-Star.
One of my favorite things, and I wrote about this for ThinkProgress this week was there were no motivational sayings or like, "support women," like things.
Amira: Right, inspiration porn.
Lindsay: They weren't pink. It was literally just, "Hi, the best women in the world are playing. Come watch." Do you know what I mean? It was like how you would sell a men's sport. There was something really refreshing about that, and it worked.
It was really fun. To me, the best story of the weekend was Erica Wheeler, who was an undrafted player, who went on to make the All-Star team, and then won All-Star MVP. I was lucky enough, I was actually there doing a feature for The Ringer anyways. This was before she won MVP. That went up this week as well. Just going to keep self-promoting all my stories. But really, her story is remarkable. Hope to have her on the podcast soon.
Yeah, I am working on getting a big WNBA Hot Take up. It will come sometime soon. Schedules are hard. But yeah, this WNBA season, I'm so excited for the second half.
Amira: Next we want to talk about a case that is developing, or coming to light, dealing with sexual abuse allegations in track and field. I hadn't heard about this. The more I started to read about it, I was like, "Why haven't I heard about this?" We're going to talk a little bit about it.
Yeah, so Brenda, what can you tell us about this case?
Brenda: Trigger warning for sexual assault discussion here, and particularly of minors before we start. This week, there were shocking and revolting revelations that come out of an 18-month investigation about track and field coach, and former athlete, Conrad Mainwaring. There's two articles in particular we can link to the show notes, one from ESPN and one from Sports Illustrated. I'm sure there's going to be many more.
Mainwaring is accused of abusing at least 41 athletes over 40 years. It's absolutely devastating. He did so by preying on young men's dreams of Olympic appearances, of getting to the Olympics, of becoming an Olympic champion. There's a couple of athletes who haven't spoken out quite yet, who he did coach that were Olympic successes actually.
He competed for Antigua and Barbuda, he is a former hurdler, and he appeared once at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal in the men's 110 meter hurdles. But he grew up in England, and the first allegation stretched back to that time. He also worked as a camp counselor, a university administrator, mainly for some really big places like Caltech, UCLA, Syracuse.
So one of the things to talk about are these institutions that have failed these young men. He was allowed to have these training sessions in some of these places without being a former employee, like UCLA for example. We can talk about that.
He was arrested on June 19th, so a couple of months ago in LA on the charge that he sexually molested one of his athletes in 2016. Many of these have passed the statute of limitations, so it's going with the most recent cases. He pled not guilty and remains in custody with bail at $100,000. Since then, he has been accused by dozens of athletes as I said, including some of the summer boys' athletic camps. In Massachusetts, there are many young men who have come forward.
Just to wrap it up here then, the stories are really heartbreaking. We can talk about that. He basically convinced these young men that the molestation was part of training them, toughening them up and things like that. He really was preying on these dreams, and setting them up for this in a very particular way that repeated over and over.
I just want to turn the discussion a little bit to the institutions too, that have failed them because this is about media and institutions as well. That's my intro to this really painful topic.
Amira: It is. It immediately brings me right back to Nassar. I'm thinking about the preying on ...
Brenda: And Ohio State.
Amira: Right. Particularly the relationship, the trust, the admiration that aspiring athletes have for their coaches, and their coaches representing the possibility for these Olympic dreams or just elite dreams and that particular space. Linds.
Lindsay: Yeah. I think that there's a lot of things that really stuck out to me that remind me of similar cases. Number one, a lot of this was done under the guise of physiotherapy, or medical treatment, or massages. Points to how vulnerable, especially younger people are in these situations, and just how education needs to be better around that.
There was a quote in there that thought that he preyed on heterosexual men and boys because they would be too ashamed to come forward about the homosexual nature— of course there was nothing sexual about it, it was abuse.
I think that those two things really, really stuck out to me because it's just so manipulative, it's so coercive and he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew he had a problem, he knew it was wrong, and he knew how to manipulate everyone in his realm in order to stay silent. It seems like he preyed on men who lacked father figures, men who were overly ambitious.
One of the more recent ones was someone who was practicing at the track at UCLA, but wasn't a UCLA track athlete, but was from another country and trying to make it to the Olympic track team in his country. These people almost operating outside these institutions while using the clout of the Olympics, while using the clout of the few Olympians that he coached to prey on dreams and vulnerability.
Towards the end of the article, when he is confronted with it by some of these men later in their life, he admits it. He talks about how troubled he is. Then he goes on and continues to abuse. Even that, even his confessions have been manipulative, and that was staggering.
The part I will, I think always remember from reading this story, which just kudos to Outside the Lines, this is just phenomenal reporting. I don't even know if I can say this. It's that he was abusing one of these young men while they were watching coverage of the Jerry Sandusky trial. That just to me, god that stuck with me.
Yeah, so those are all my thoughts. They're jumbled. I think there is more. We need to talk about the institutions. You're right, Brenda. I think for me, it's interesting though how he operated outside of these, but still connected. He was still on the UCLA track, so he still had that clout. It just shows how poor the oversight is of these things, and how easily these Olympic dreams can be manipulated.
Amira: Right. Certainly. Like you said, while he's operating at the margin of the institution, part of what he's using is the clout of the institutions themselves.
Yeah. No, the Sandusky part really, it gobsmacked me, but it also made me think. I think we talked a lot with Michigan, with Nassar, and we said, why at first early on, why isn't there coverage relative to what we saw at Penn State with Sandusky? This great point that I've heard Jess make, I've heard Lindsay make, that it's been really poignant point, which is it's not ever about the victims. It's not about the victims. The coverage of Penn State didn't care, didn't focus on the male victims of Sandusky. A lot of it was framed around what it did to this storied program, and this storied coach, and etc., etc.
I couldn't help but think that again when hearing this case, because like Lindsay said, kudos to Outside the Lines. This is tremendous reporting. I saw it picked up by SI, but generally I haven't heard about it. It really makes me think about well what is the narrative that would be crafted around this? It doesn't have the same bait as getting a JoePa, getting Penn State.
It makes me really think about all of the other cases of abuse that have flown under the radar. Like Lindsay has done such tremendous reporting, bringing some of them up, connecting how USA Gymnastics is operating with speed skating, with cases that we've seen in judo. But it just is scary. It's just scary. It's just, yeah. Bren, or Linds?
Lindsay: Yeah, I just wanted to really quick ... To me it puts into perspective how angry and frustrated I got during the Nassar hearings when a point was brought up all the time that these were women, which was why nothing was done. You know what I mean? It was this weird thing where people were all of a sudden like, "Well, we made such a big deal about the Jerry Sandusky thing because they were young boys. But these were young girls, so ... "
Sexism was wielded in this very strange way that never felt right to me. I think Jess talking about how the reason that we cared about Joe Paterno's legacy was because ... That was why the media harped onto the Sandusky. The media eventually harped onto Nassar, primarily because it was Aly Raisman and these Olympic gymnasts. If they hadn't had those names, I don't think that story would have got nearly the coverage it got.
Amira: Right, and if they hadn't had the video where it was just girl after girl testifying.
Lindsay: Once again, I don't even think that video would have gotten that much attention if you hadn't had McKayla, these Olympic champions as part of it.
Then also though we hear so much about where does the sexual abuse of boys and men fit into the Me Too conversation, and there are a lot of people who like to try and ... We know that it's not talked about enough, and we know that it's even harder for male survivors to come forward than it is for female survivors. But there is this weird divide that often comes up. For me, something that got me was a lot of these men started talking about this, and started joining together after the Me Too movement, after seeing the Nassar survivors come forward.
It reminded me more that there is a much more kinship among survivors, no matter the gender, than a lot of these memes and tweets that go along, that are often carried out, this narrative that tries to divide survivors, as opposed to thinking about how much strength that everyone can gain from each other.
Brenda: Yeah, I think that is such an important conversation to have, and we talked about it at the time on the show when we were doing Ohio State stuff. We were thinking about, and lot of the Ohio State male wrestlers had said they were inspired by the Nassar case and the women coming forward. I don't know that it's harder for men than women to come forward. I actually don't. I don't agree with that as a generalization. You know what I mean?
Because I think there's a tendency to believe young men actually, in a way that there is not young women. It doesn't mean they're treated well, but I think there's an imperative where people are like, "Well a young man would never make that up. He would never want to admit that."
I think there's different nuances there that are interesting to tease out, but I think that the idea that there’s more kinship there, and the way they tried to divide the two is super important. Linds, when you say how this was wielded to divide the two sets of victims, I just think that's so important and it's not getting nearly enough attention as it deserves.
I just wanted to make one other point about the institutions, which is that universities regulate the hell out of professors. We have to report how many hours we spend with students. Our office doors have to be open. I'm saying that's all fine. I'm not complaining. I'm saying why aren't athletics subject to the same scrutiny?
I find that to be so key in these particular cases. I'm not saying that sexual abuse doesn't happen in other departments, or other units of the university, but not on the scale that we've seen with athletics. They would never get away with it. Never.
Amira: Also, I feel like a lot of that, Bren, goes to this way we think of noble dreams. Like what counts as a noble dream? What price are you will to pay? I feel like there's this thing about sports, and athletics in particular where we open up so much access, and to young athletes who are aspiring, coaches are indebted with all this trust from parents, if they can be seen as a vehicle to take their kids somewhere.
There's all this trust, and hope and stuff like that that makes it really ripe for mentorship, for coaching. For great coaching, but also for it to go badly, especially because it's about physicality. There's a lot of coaches especially at the youth level who get very close to, especially in track. Very close to the high school students that are training, and are constantly thinking about their body or touching ...
I just feel like it opens up a space that's really ripe in a way that some other spaces don't have that. I'm not sitting here with my students and talking about what they're consuming, or how they're looking. But I feel like I remember my best friend who was an elite track runner. Even from middle school, I was like the access and the personal connection she has with her coaches, because it's believed that they are going to help her get to this level, was unlike any other adult relationship that I had in my life.
Just thinking about abuse in sports specifically, we know that abuse, we see it in the Catholic church, we see it in spaces. It's not just in sports by any means, but I think it's really fruitful to think through these institutions around sports, that govern sport, thinking what are the possibilities, what creates these particular cases within athletics? I think a lot of that requires unpacking the way that we think about and revere sports in the first place. Linds.
Lindsay: This bullshit that we revere these football coaches, and everyone around discipline, and the ways that they wield self-discipline is a tool of abuse almost. One of the things that this abuser would say to his victims was, "You must abstain from sex with women in order to achieve maximum athletic performance." Then that of course left him much more vulnerable to his abuse.
Not saying that every coach that has rules like that is abusive, but the way we mythologize, and hold up this stuff, to me it's a little bit part of the same conversation because if they had never heard any of that bullshit lifted up on SportsCenter or anything like that, then they might not have bought into it when this other guy was telling them.
Amira: Well we will certainly be keeping our eye on this case as it continues.
Next up, Shireen interviews women's soccer expert, Meg Linehan.
Shireen: Hello, flamethrowers. I am so excited about our interview today with the amazing and brilliant Meg Linehan, who is the U.S. Women's National Team/NWSL/women's soccer staff writer at The Athletic. Meg is the Yoda of all things women's soccer, and we are so happy she can be on the show today. Hello, Meg.
Meg: Hello. How are you?
Shireen: I am so happy to be talking to you because I have a bunch of questions for you.
Shireen: Let's start with Jill Ellis leaving, because that's literally burning up, pun intended, everyone's list of questions to talk about. What's going on there?
Meg: Yeah, I think ... You know in France, she danced around this. There were actually a couple questions during media availabilities at one of the press conferences. She just winked out at the group of us and was like, "You guys know more about that than I do right now."
Obviously they had an option for her to extend her contract through the 2020 Olympics, but just in terms of what she said as the news came down that she is stepping away after the victory tour, she looks at the Olympics as instead of the second part of this major cycle that when we talk about women's soccer cycles, it's always World Cup followed by Olympics. That's your primary four-year cycle. Instead, she's trying to say, "If I step away now, and whoever they get in takes over my role, they get a major tournament before the 2023 World Cup to actually get some major tournament experience, get a chance with this team."
Actually, the roster I think is going to look very different between the 2020 Olympics and the 2023 World Cup. This gives this person a chance not just to have some time with the veterans that may or may not be making it through that 2023 tournament, but also seeing young talent, like someone like Mal Pugh, Rose Lavelle, those players in a major tournament before you're actually heading into prep for the next World Cup.
I don't think a lot of us were necessarily surprised. She's won back to back World Cups. She even said, "This is not a job that you stay in for 10 years." Ultimately, you need someone to step in and take this team to the next evolution of what it's going to look like in order to compete on a world stage, because I think the next World Cup is going to be a very different tournament. I think this was the last one where the U.S. had any sort of left in advantage, in terms of just momentum from the history of the team, and having that edge in investment. 2023 is going to be a completely different thing, and I think it does make sense to have someone new step in and say, "Okay, how do we evolve this team to compete against Europe long-term?"
Shireen: Oh, for sure. I think that's really important that she understands that happens, because you were saying, it's not a role that we have forever, or 10 years. You saw what happened in Spain and their federation. Know what I mean? But that's exactly it, there's a stagnation and a lack of development, which she's talking about.
Just as a question that was occurring to me, do you think ... Because there was a lot of, not criticism, but there was a lot of feelings during the World Cup about her rosters, and this, and people were really questioning her judgment. What's your take on that? Because I actually said that I thought she was this quiet genius who did her homework. It was an unpopular opinion, for sure, but what were your thoughts about that? Did Jill Ellis get criticism? I understand everyone's anxiety and tension before matches. I get that. But what were your thoughts about that?
Meg: Yeah, I think a lot of us were questioning some of the substitution and starting 11 decisions. Lindsey Horan not being in that starting 11 was definitely ... That's your reigning NWSL Player of the Year. But at the same time, we also know NWSL form never really mattered to Jill Ellis. That was never any ...
If you look at top five things that seem to influence her decisions in terms of rosters, in terms of who's in form and who's not, NWSL play was never at the top of that list over the entire span. Yes, Jess McDonald made that roster in part because Jill Ellis saw her in the NWSL postseason in person and said, "Okay, I get it. That's someone I need to have on this team."
There were times where NWSL did influence, but on the whole, I don't think that her roster decisions were like... Ali Krieger making this roster, I don't think had a huge amount to do with NWSL play. I think it was just because Ellis knew who Krieger was as a player, and what she could bring.
Putting that aside ...
Shireen:Which is interesting because the whole roster plays for the NWSL.
Meg: Yes. Yeah. Right. But I think it's always ...
Part of the difficulty in covering this team is you're trying to look at what Ellis is doing, and you're only seeing maybe 10% of what goes on for this team. You're looking at friendlies, which don't always tell you a lot about the team, you're looking at her roster decisions, and then yes, you have all this NWSL data to try to help you figure out what's going on, but you're not seeing the practices, you're not having the conversations that Jill Ellis is having with those players, you're not in the locker room. You're trying to analyze stuff, and you're only getting such a small piece of that picture.
Then I think the other thing that was really important that only came out after the World Cup is I don't know if you saw the story that was in, I think it was The Guardian about Dawn Scott, who is their fitness coach, and the fact that they actually tracked periods for this team. That actually influenced roster and starting 11 decisions, in terms of trying to make sure that players were at peak physical condition.
If someone was about to start their period and had ... Scientifically, it affects your joints, it affects all these things. If they felt that player was at risk, that player didn't play.
Shireen: Wow. I did see that, and I thought about how interesting it was, that it made its way into ...
Meg: No other team is doing that at this point. It's only U.S. National Team and it sounds like that's going to filter into other people's decision making, but that was a factor and again, there was no visibility to that at the time, during the World Cup.
We're just sitting at games, and it's a heat wave in France, we’re just sitting there and god, that Spain game like, "There's no sub, there's no sub. There's no sub." She's in the press conference. Ellis is saying, "Well I thought they grew into the game," and everybody's like, "Are we at the same game?"
But in the big picture though, I think Jill Ellis out-coached pretty much everyone at that tournament that she went up against.
Shireen: I will totally agree with you there.
Meg: Spain was really the only game where you could argue maybe ... Spain came with a game plan to play against the United States, and they absolutely got that right. But in the end, obviously you have Megan Rapinoe doing Megan Rapinoe things.
Shireen: Being Pinoe.
Meg: But I do think that Jill, she out-coached Phil Neville, 100%.
Shireen: Oh god, yes. Oh god, yes.
Meg: I think there were challenges in that final, but I think ultimately she was the better coach. I think there was really only one game that you could have a question about Jill Ellis, but for that Spain game, they still won. I don't think that that result was ever going to be really in question in this edition of the tournament. I think in 2023, that might be a different result, but at this point, Ellis out coached pretty much everyone in that tournament that she went up against.
Yeah, I think ultimately, yes there have been ... You look at the entire history of this national team, but the one failure that Jill Ellis encountered, which was the 2016 Olympics, she not only took it in as feedback and said, "Okay, I've got to change everything." She basically blew up the fundamentals of that team in order to compensate for being beaten at the Olympics and then made it happen by the 2019 World Cup.
Shireen: Absolutely. I wasn't concerned because my priority was never the Women's U.S. National Team, personally speaking. You know this. But She Believes didn't go well for the United States. At that point I'm like, "Okay, she ... "
Between January/February and June, she was working really hard because I also think that strategically, she had checked out competition, and understood. She has this very quiet confidence about her that I appreciated. She just was like, it's almost, "I'm going to give no fucks," kind of attitude, but in a very quiet way. She just ran her hustle. The proof is in the pudding because we know that you can have a very strong team, but if you don't have someone coaching in synchronicity with you, like i.e., England, it's not going to manifest in the way you want it to. No, I appreciate your thoughts on that.
I wanted to ask, but what's next for the USSF? What's going on there now? Including your letter.
Meg: Yeah. First they have to hire a general manager for this program. In theory, it does sound like it's going to be Kate Markgraf, who obviously was on this team, and has continued to pay attention to them simply because she covers the team for ESPN. It sounds like that is eminent, and Kate Markgraf's name is the only name that has ever been linked to this position, so it seems pretty much like a lock in at this point.
Then Kate Markgraf is going to be the one who leads the hiring search for the next head coach. Thanks to her time with ESPN, she's already revealed her preferred short list for the next head coaching of the U.S. National Team, and she's got four people, at least. I'm sure they're going to look wider than the short list, but in terms of what she's thinking, she's already revealed it.
It's three NWSL coaches, one college coach. That college coach is Mark Krikorian from FSU, who has a great track record in terms of finding international talent to bring to FSU. Good scouting system, likes developing young talent, all that kind of stuff. From the NWSL side, there are three names. It's Paul Riley, Head Coach of North Carolina Courage; Vlatko Andonovski, Head Coach of Reign FC; and Laura Harvey, Head Coach of Utah Royals FC.
Shireen: Interesting. Laura Harvey I just think is a very fascinating person, and is very vocal as well.
Meg: Yes. I talked to her after that Sky Blue game when Utah Royals were out in town, and she just basically talked to me about NWSL for 15 minutes and did not hold back.
She's definitely one of the people who ... I have covered her since day one in NWSL. She is absolutely one of my favorite people to talk to in the world of women's soccer. I think she's definitely qualified. I think the question for her is, she doesn't always like the draft from an NWSL point of view, she likes trade, she likes acquiring older players. For U.S. National Team, I think you got to be tuned in a little bit with the youth system, with the college game, that sort of thing. That's not to say that she couldn't do it, but historically we have not necessarily seen that from her.
Shireen: I think it's also something to do with her own background. She's British.
Shireen: So the system of completely different. They don't have this draft idea to work from. They rely heavily on development leagues, and youth development programs, which is not what happens here.
We actually quoted you last week on our discussion because the piece you wrote, and about Laura Harvey talking about, and I would love for you to get into this a little bit, about not picking up enough momentum post World Cup, like NWSL. I love that Laura Harvey is out there doing her job. Her job is to amplify that, and that's what she's doing. That was super cool.
When you spoke with her about that, like you said, she didn't let anything slide. She went off.
Meg: She's not capable of letting anything slide. She only wants ... She's been around this league since day one, and we're just standing on a field at Yurcak, at Rutgers University outside of ... It's so impossible to really get to these games from New York City.
The first game back from the World Cup, the attendance for Sky Blue was good. Obviously they got better attendance following, once all the U.S. players returned. They have been selling out games now. But I think that there is this frustration within the league of everybody knows there's going to be a bump. Everybody knows. What is the actual plan from the league level? That's the conversation that she had is that there haven't been calls from this league point of view to say, "Okay, this team is doing this. This tea is doing this. But what are we doing from a national point of view to actually grow?"
Megan Rapinoe is on television talking about it. Alex Morgan is talking about at the ESPYs. We have this platform, and there is no way for us to actually take advantage of it. I think that's a frustration that I've seen from a lot of different places, just in terms of ...
I think the parade was such a perfect example of it because you have this float at the very start of the parade that's an NWSL float, and there's nothing on it that says NWSL. It's Amanda Duffy, who does not have ... Amanda's the president of the league, but I think if you put her in a lineup for most NWSL fans, they would not know who she is. The people in this parade route largely are not NWSL fans.
Shireen: Exactly. It could be though.
Meg: Right, exactly. I think that's why it was really reassuring to see that Budweiser had put some money into it to have all these posters along the parade route. Everything that I've seen from Budweiser, and I had another article last week too, it was about sponsorships. I talked to Monica Rustgi who is the VP of Marketing from Budweiser.
I was on the phone with her for probably half an hour, and everything she said about how they're going to work to promote this league was so encouraging just because it's worth it. The league doesn't seem to be doing itself, so to actually have some external money coming in, and someone who says, "Okay, we've done this before. We do this for NHL, for MLB, for all these other teams," they don't have to reinvent the wheel.
Shireen: No. Totally true.
Speaking of fans and people that could be fans, can you give us a bit of insight into what people should be paying attention to for the rest of the regular season? Not only the Thorns that you know I stan. If people want to go ahead and just be Portland Thorns fans, that's totally fine with me.
Meg: I'm actually heading out to Portland next week, so I'm very excited about that.
Shireen: I love that place so much, and even just seeing return of the players. They had a celebration for Adrianna French, for Horan, and for Tobin Heath and Emily Sonnett. Tobin Heath's smile when she's on the pitch at Providence Park is what I want to aspire to in life goals, just for happiness. They just look like they're having so much fun and they're so damn good. That's my spiel on Thorns.
What should our listeners look out for? People that might not have been NWSL fans previously, but want to get into it.
Meg: Yeah, so I think this is actually a really great season to come into this league, and to actually watch it because right at the moment, the top of the table is extremely tight. Top four teams make the playoffs. We've got about nine weeks of the season left. Portland is actually at the top of the table right now. They have a one point lead over North Carolina Courage, who won the Shield and championship last year.
Then Chicago Red Stars are in the mix. Washington Spirit are in the mix. They were not a great team last year. They've been super successful this year. Reign FC are in the mix, Houston is still in the mix, Utah is still in the mix. There are so many teams that could potentially still make the playoffs. It's been very tight in that middle of the pack. But now, North Carolina was not looking super great at the start of the season, and they went on this five game unbeaten streak.
I think the plot lines for the back half of this year where everybody is really fighting to make a playoff spot and we've had some crazy results. Orlando, who has not really been great, Marta came back from the World Cup and then basically was like, "I'm going to go to Portland, and I'm going to do everything humanly possible to make sure we don't lose in Portland."
I actually just talked to her out in Orlando, and she was like, "I love playing in Portland because that crowd just gives me some ... I feed off of that crowd. I want to play my best in front of a crowd like that." It turned into this absolutely bonkers back and forth, like a ton of goals and stoppage time. In the end, with basically the last play of the game, Portland won that game. I think that's the best possible advertisement for the league right now, is just these games that have been, especially on national television through this new ESPN deal, they've all been crazy.
Shireen: Yeah, it's been ... That match was incredible. It was just ... Wow.
Meg: I think the nice thing about NWSL, and I've always said this, is it's one of the easiest ... It's the most accessible women's professional soccer league in the world. I feel pretty confident in saying that. The games are free to stream. If you're international, they're on the league website and the league app. If you're in the U.S., yes there's the ESPN deal. Everything else is on Yahoo! Sports for free. All the highlights are immediately on Twitter. Both in-game and the actually highlight package are immediately online. All the players are on social media. It's very easy to follow.
I've been trying to actually enable people. People have been tweeting me to be like, "Hey, I'm going to go a game for the first time ever. What should I know?" Can't do that with everyone, but I do think that if you have a team that is relatively close to you, A) it's not expensive to get to an NWSL game. You look at the ticket prices for that, even compared to MLS. We have all these European men's teams coming out for all their preseasons stuff, like ICC. It's still cheaper to go to an NWSL game. The level of play, especially now with all the players back from the World Cup, is so high.
It's so easy to follow it or watch it. All of these numbers are so important for this league that if you do get into it, and you start going more consistently, it's a win-win for everyone, I think.
Shireen: For sure. Thank you so much for being on with us, Meg. Where can our listeners find your work?
Meg: I'm at The Athletic. In theory, I am still currently the only full-time women's soccer writer in the U.S., who only works on women's soccer. There are plenty of full-time soccer writers, but I think I'm still the only one that is only focused on women's soccer, 100%, full-time, with benefits and all the joys of full-time employment.
I write for The Athletic, so that's at The Athletic Soccer. It's just theathletic.com. You can follow my work either via my profile, or you can also follow the NWSL as a league, the U.S. National Team as a team. Then I'm on Twitter @itsmeglinehan. Yeah.
Meg: I'm actually, I'm heading to a Reign FC-Portland Thorns grudge match next week, and then going down to Portland for Portland-North Carolina grudge match. That's two games that are going to heavily influence the standings.
Shireen: For sure, because Portland were the runners up too last year. They lost to the Courage. Yeah.
Meg: Yeah. Right. North Carolina is going to host the championship this year on October 27th, and they obviously want to be in it. That team could be in their fourth championship essentially because before they were in North Carolina, they were the Western New York Flash, and they won in their final season, the championship. They just have continuously gone to the championship every year. They're just crazy good.
Shireen: Anyways, thanks again for being on the show. We're just so happy to have you here. You're welcome any time. Thank you for all this awesome information.
Meg: Thank you for having me.
Amira: All right, y'all. I saw an interesting note the other day that the Phillies are locked in a court battle to retain ownership of their mascot, the Phillie Phanatic. Now it caught my eye because I have a particularly scarring incident that happened with the Phanatic one Puerto Rican Day Parade, my first summer in Philly that has made me perpetually weary of the Phanatic. Anytime I see it in the news, I'm like, "Who? What happened now?" But when I click this, it was not that the Phanatic was running crazy around the streets of Philadelphia smothering people in that greenness, but that they were actually fighting to retain control.
In the lawsuit, basically it goes back to a dispute from the late '70s when the mascot costume was created. In the lawsuit, the Phillies say that in 1984, they paid $215,000 for the rights to the Phanatic costume "forever". But the New York based ...
Lindsay: I'm sorry. (Laughing)
Amira: No I know. But the New York based company that owns this has basically tried to terminate agreement saying that they copyrighted the character, and that it expired, and they might renegotiate if the Phillies start paying them money.
Right now, they are locked in this battle. I thought, "This is so absurd." Then I thought, "Why do we have mascots anyways?" I want to have a conversation about mascots in sport. Where'd they come from? Certainly I think about them in terms of some of the ones that are just definitely racist, like Chief Wahoo. I think about the gendering of mascots, like I think about when Alexis was playing at Baylor and it was Baylor Bears. Then the women's team was the Lady Bears, and the mascot just put a pink bow on its head. It's like, "But bears aren’t women. Bears could ... Bears aren't... That's not ... Okay."
Certainly I'm scarred, not only by the Phanatic, but I was absolutely scarred by mascots like the Minutemen growing up, and The Explorer at La Salle. Basically white men in mascot suits. That as a mascot was particularly a lot for me. Then there's some funny mascots out here like University of California Santa Cruz whose mascot is Sammy the Banana Slug.
There's just a lot. There is just a lot with mascots, and they're always there in the sport, and at the periphery of it, or doing halftime dunk contests or whatever. I just wanted to maybe think about why? Why? Why are mascots a thing? Bren.
Brenda: I think there's actually ... I think mascots are really emerging at the moment when sports are becoming national and professionalized, and they tend to reflect a regional connection. If it's like the Pistons, you know about Detroit. It's supposed to at least theoretically stake a claim to where the team is from, and reflect that.
Amira: And convey a certain value, right?
Brenda: Definitely. Others convey a certain value, especially Native American mascotry. The idea that somehow it's a throwback to a spiritual warrior, something that is totally anachronistic.
Amira: Or the qualities are tough, and that's why we also get a lot of animals, tigers, bears, lions.
Brenda: Exactly. It's a masculinizing thing.
I do want to talk about my most hated mascot, which is the Texas Rangers for a minute, and mention we're recording this the morning after a deadly shooting in El Paso, Texas perpetrated by a white supremacist who aims to rid Texas of Mexican influences. That pretty much describes the Texas Rangers. They killed thousands of people, most notably they were about border control in the 1820s because if most people don't know, the Mexican-U.S. border actually wasn't established until 1920, which has to do with prohibition, right.
These are vigilante groups that were formed in the 1820s to fight Cherokee and Comanche indigenous peoples, and then to move onto attacking people they identified as either Mexican, African American, Afro-Mexican or indigenous. These are basically terrorists. Texas is just like, "Yeah, that's cool. That represents us." You with Texans, I know that you're not all like that, you know what I mean. It really just sucks. In my opinion that's connected with baseball and sports. I just want to mention that I would burn every day and twice on Sunday the Texas Rangers.
Amira: Yeah. No, that's actually such a good point. I think it connects to my unease about the Minutemen. Minutemen, okay, the American Revolution. But the La Salle Explorers? I'm like, what you call exploring could also be called ... You know, you're a bit colonial. You're a colonizer.
Brenda: Occupying and pillaging…
Amira: Exactly. When you get into the mascot suit, and it's literally just an old time white dude with a little pony tail. I'm just like yo, this is really trippy and terrifying.
Lindsay: First of all, I just want to say, I love having this conversation professors, because you are all much more academic about this than I am. I'm like, "They're creepy and weird, and I don't like them." That's my thoughts on mascots. But no.
Look, first of all, I just never been a big mascot person. Never thought it would be fun to have my picture taken with one. I don't really like it when they come up to me at games. Even when they're just a panther or something like, "I don't want to. Go away."
I think for me, a moment of realizing, "Whoa, this is all a lot," was I was covering the first two rounds of the women's NCAA tournament a couple of years ago. It was in Maryland because the teams host the first two rounds, and they were playing the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Next to me was just this mascot carrying a rifle, and doing all this stuff with the rifle. They just have a prop rifle. I was sitting at the very edge of the media seats, so it was literally right next to this rifle, and these cheerleaders. I was just like, this is distracting. Honestly, I'm a little distracted by the fucking rifle. I know it's not load, but we're just ...
You Google it. It's like, "What is a mountaineer? A person in a buck skin and coon skin cap carrying a rifle." Why? Why?
Amira: Like I'm good, I'm good.
Lindsay: Even could we just put down the rifle? It's very weird to have on one side you have the terrapin turtle, which is just a turtle. Then on the other side you have a rifle. These are supposed to ... I don't ... That was weird and I will never stop thinking about that.
Amira: Yeah, no. Totally. Then when you start digging into why some of these places got ... I think about this with Penn State all the time, because I moved here, and it was Nittany Lion. I was like, "What is a Nittany Lion?"
Do you know what it is? We have a mountain here called Mount Nittany. Back in the beginning of the 20th century, I think it was 1904, '05, or whatever, 1910, Penn State was going to play Princeton, and Princeton had the fierce Princeton Tiger. Somebody on this team said to ...
Lindsay: Instant tears.
Brenda: All right.
Amira: Yeah. Then they said, "Well we have the Nittany Lions, who have never been beaten in a fight, and they're so strong, and they're not like regular lions." He just used Nittany from the damn mountain.
A Nittany Lion is just a lion from Mount Nittany. I literally spent a year and a half of my life living here in State College, in the shadow of Mount Nittany thinking a Nittany Lion was a whole ass other type of lion. Like it had special qualities because they made me think that.
Now you can come and visit me, and go to the lion shrine. My neighbors across the street have a mini lion shrine in their front yard, and it's a Nittany Lion. Despite the fact that it's just a lion.
You know the women's basketball team here are the Lady Lions, despite the fact that lions are already ladies.
Lindsay: Oh my god.
Amira: It's weird, man. Brenda.
Brenda: Oh, wow. I just want to say that there are occasionally some amazing twists of fate when it comes to mascots because years and years ago, Hofstra took on the Pride, which were two lions, from no particular place. Nor is Long Island known for having any lions whatsoever, but whatever.
They have a name too, like Kate and Willy, or something. There's the male and a female.
Lindsay: Like the royal couple?
Brenda: Right. Right. Exactly. But the one thing that's cool is that The Pride Network at Hofstra, for LGBT community has used that, and now the whole school has very much embraced that. It's like a cool mascot that's turned into now a slogan, you know what I mean? That's cool. That's the only instance in which I'm like, "I can get onboard with that."
Lindsay: I went to NYU and we were the Fighting Violets. That was ...
Amira: Oh my gosh.
Amira: Well I have one more to top that. My favorite random mascot belongs to University of North Carolina School of Arts.
Lindsay: Oh, NCSA. That's where I'm from.
Amira: Do you know what the mascot is?
Lindsay: I have absolutely no idea. I'm terrified.
Amira: Their mascot is the legendary Fighting Pickle.
Lindsay: I'm dead. I'm sorry. I am now speaking from the grave.
Brenda: It just reminds me like you ate a bad pickle.
Amira: The Fighting Pickle. The funniest part bout it is that they don't actually have any athletics anymore.
Lindsay: No, they don't. Why do we have a mascot?
Amira: Well ...
Brenda: Painting competition?
Amira: I don't know. Yeah, Painter the Fighting Pickle.
Lindsay: Oh my god.
Amira: I will have to link a picture to it because it is terrifying. I'm not just saying that as somebody who abhors pickles, but just generally. It's a pickle who is also an artist, and he has a goatee, and a little French hat on his head, and a tutu made of piano keys. It's just, yeah.
Brenda: I'm crying. I'm crying.
Lindsay: Is there it ... Now, here's my question. Is there a lady pickle? Sorry.
Amira: Right. See we should look at it because it wouldn't surprise me, Lindsay. It wouldn't surprise me at all. Because we all know things are fundamentally male.
Lindsay: Especially pickles, so you know. Sorry. Please move on from here. Please move on.
Amira: All right. It is time for everyone's favorite subject, the Burn Pile. Brenda, what are you burning this week?
Brenda: This was such a fruitful week, in terms of burns. I feel like the whole world is on fire. But what I decided to pick was University of Iowa's pay increases for its football coaches. I do this every year sometime in August, which is to complain about the salaries in the athletics department. What Iowa is paying its 10 on-field assistant coaches, is $5,490,000. Yeah, that means strength coaches are making $800,000.
I just want to tell that an assistant ... I looked up, from the University of Iowa, their own data, and the last data is 2015. An assistant professor with a PhD in hand, average salary, $61,000. I do it every year. I'm not going to stop burning it. This is bullshit. Can you not tell me that an assistant professor, someone who has spent 12 years studying one particular important piece of whatever, that you need that many of them could not do what a strength coach could do? I don't mean to disrespect their profession, but it's disrespectful to my profession that that's the pay differential between a strength coach and what we do.
Of course, the athletes are making zero. There's nothing worse than that. At least the assistant professors get $61,000.
Lindsay: Which is why these coaches are getting so much money, because the money has to go somewhere, so they can say they don't have enough money to play players.
Brenda: No, it's totally ... You get it. People can get in on this burn. It's just unbelievable.
Amira: No, I will throw that in because it reminds me of ... I don't know if everybody have seen the new pictures of LSU's souped up locker room. Their individual lockers look like the first class little cabins on Qatar Airlines, where you have your TV, and your lounge, your seat that fully reclines. It's wild. It's absolutely wild.
Meanwhile, their library is flooded. Their library literally has water on it going for manuscripts, and no money for refurbishment of that. I'll link the pictures because when you see them side by side, you're just like, "Yo. It just ... It's ... " Yeah, so Brenda, burn it.
Brenda: Yeah, I just want to burn the exorbitant salaries in the face of austerity when it comes to actual education, and paying the players nothing, and paying professors of that institution not very much either. Don't make it about a university. Most of those fans didn't go there, most of those fans don't understand the workings of that institution. Just make it a professional sport or make it a real thing. Burn.
Amira: Linds, what are you burning?
Lindsay: Okay, so I mentioned on the top of the show, Las Vegas did a really great job hosting the WNBA All-Star game. The athletes were all treated really well. They did a lot of recruiting to get a lot of other WNBA stars to come. It was remarkable.
One thing, however, that the WNBA turned down, it turns out, Las Vegas Aces coach Bill Laimbeer came out this week, and noted that he tried to get the WNBA All-Stars, the 22 best female basketball players in the world, first class flights to the All-Star game. He had budgeted $20,000 in their budget for this.
The WNBA turned this down saying it would be a competitive advantage.
Brenda: Oh my god.
Amira: What? Burn.
Lindsay: These is just for the All-Stars. This wasn't saying for Las Vegas Aces players all year round. This is just for these All-Stars, for this flight to and flight from Vegas for this one thing, and it just really reeks of “we're in CBA negotiations.” I think it was Devereaux Peters, former WNBA player who said, "This reeks of we are in contract negotiations and we do not want these players to get too comfortable."
Look, I don't usually get bent out of people being in first class or not, but this just seems so petty, and so stupid, and just so ridiculous. Just throw it on the Burn Pile.
Amira: This week after a suspending decision in June in a Swiss court that would have allowed Caster Semenya to compete and defend her title in the 800 meters at Worlds in September, this week the Swiss judge reversed the earlier ruling, and ruled that Caster could not compete without taking testosterone-reducing medication. A major blow to her aspirations to keep running, and to the legal case, and basically upholding the IAAF's policy that we've talked about before, the meanness of it, the targeting of it, the ludicrous way that they talk about Caster.
They, unsurprisingly, steaming pile of shit, and hailed this decision as a victory for "parity and clarity". It was heartbreaking because Caster took to Twitter to say, "this closes one chapter of my life. Onto the second chapter." While her and her legal team did also release a statement saying she was disappointed from not being able to defend her title, but she will continue to fight for the human rights of all female athletes concerned.
But it feels like we're getting towards the end of legal recourse, that her and her legal team have. I'm fired up to burn it, but really I'm just heartbroken. I hate that. I hate what they're doing to her and I want to burn it down.
Brenda: Sad. Sad. Sad. Burn.
Amira: After all that burning, it's time to shout out some remarkable women this week. Honorable mentions, Stéphanie Frappart, who on August 14th will become the first female referee in major UEFA men's showcase. In the UEFA Super Cup, Liverpool and Chelsea are playing on August 14th, and that's where Stéphanie will make her appearance and break that particular glass ceiling. Congrats to you, Stéphanie.
Also, a super special shout out to Team USA gold medalist, Dalilah Muhammad, who last weekend broke the 400 meter hurdles record at the USTA Track and Field Championships with the time of 52.2 seconds. Despite it being raining, she outpaced the previous record that was held! Sixteen year old record, in the rain, she broke it with a time of 52.34 seconds. Absolutely phenomenal. Congrats to you.
Simone Manuel became the first American woman to win a second straight world title in the 100 meter freestyles at World Championships. She also set a new American record. Serving up a dose of black girl magic for you. Congrats, Simone.
Miranda Ransome is the first female president of Ice Hockey Australia.
We want to send a very special honorable mention to Ashley Wagner. The U.S. Olympic figure skater came forward this week about being sexually abused by John Coughlin when she was just 17 years old. Coughlin, if you remember, was a U.S. pairs skater who was popular and powerful in figure skating community. He committed suicide in January after the news broke that he was suspended from the sport while SafeSport investigated these allegations of sexual abuse. Thank you for your bravery, Ashley, and for coming forward this week with your story.
Now, a drum roll please.
Our Badass Woman of the Week goes to Khadijah Mellah, the 18 year old who won the Magnolia Cup. She is the first hijab wearing woman to ride in a competitive British horse race. Congrats to you, Khadijah. We see you out there shining, and you are our Badass Woman of the Week.
What is good in your life? Lindsay.
Lindsay: What is good for me is I've been at the Citi Open all week. It's been an exhausting week. I came straight from Vegas, and feature writing, and too many deadlines this week, which has been the Citi Open, which is tennis. But I've gone straight from work to tennis, and been away from my apartment for 18 hours a day, every day this week because I never get to see live tennis anymore. I have honestly loved every second of it.
Yeah, it's been fun week, but I am also now excited to get back to somewhat of a routine, and also if I owe you a phone call, I'm sorry. Especially you, mom, even though I know you don't listen to this.
Amira: Bren, what's good?
Brenda: Well first, I think Lindsay's mom, we love you anyway, but please do listen to this.
Lindsay: She doesn't know what podcasts are. I've tried. I've tried so many times.
Brenda: What's good is that I am in Nashville, Tennessee. I was in Memphis yesterday. Highly recommend Civil Rights Museum over Graceland, if I have to just throw that out there.
Amira: Hands down.
Brenda: That was a ... Graceland is a tough trip through narcissism, but also fascinating.
I am here with my siblings celebrating my brother's 29th birthday, and my sister's pregnancy. So I love my siblings, and I am very happy to be scouting out Nashville for Burn It All Down, who will be doing a live performance here next month.
Lindsay: Woot woot.
Brenda: That is very, very good.
Amira: That's awesome. My What's Good is short and sweet. My girl is back from camp. I got two letters in two weeks, which must be record because she never writes home that much. Although, one letter is just like, "I was so sick." That was not really helpful.
But she got home at 1:00 in the morning, and immediately started talking a mile a minute about camp, and people I have no idea how they are, and showing me her thing she's weaving, and her fake camp tattoos, and the shirt that she cut into a crop top because I guess that's where we are now.
Lindsay: Oh man, Amira.
Amira: It's a lot. Immediately within five minutes I was like, "Oh yeah, I remember now. Preteen hormones, and sass, and all of this stuff."
But there was five glorious minutes where I was just so happy to have my baby girl back. She hugged me, and we were like ... It was just like I miss her when she's gone. Watching the dog and her brothers greet her also the cutest thing in the world, and I didn't videotape it. I'm failing as a millennial parent. But trust me, it was freaking adorable. That's my What's Good.
That's it for this week's episode of Burn It All Down. Thank you all for tuning in. You can listen and subscribe to Burn It All Down on Apple Podcast, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play, wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate the show, recommend it wherever you listen. We also are on Facebook and Instagram, @burnitalldownpod. We're on Twitter, @burnitdownpod.
You also can check out our website for information about the show, links, transcripts for each episode. It's burnitalldownpod.com. From the website, you can email us directly. If you want to be in touch, we'd love to hear from you. We always enjoy listener mail.
Also, a special shout out to our patrons. You guys have given us so much support and we adore you, we love you. Thank you so much for that continued support. Go check out that Patreon page. You will see the first ever Behind the Burn vlog series, plus enter for a chance to win our monthly giveaway.
Just as a reminder, from now until Labor Day weekend, treat yourself to some BIAD merchandise. Using the code burn15, get 15% off all of your flame throwing gear.
Again, from me Amira, Brenda and Lindsay, burn on, not out flamethrowers, and we'll see you next week.