Episode 125: Sports institutions and sexual violence, Rugby World Cup, and WNBA finals
This week Brenda and Lindsay discuss the ways in which institutions enable and protect perpetrators of sexual assault, specifically in regard to new developments with Antonio Brown and the Patriots and the Michigan State football program [5:22]. Then, Jessica interviews two people associated with the new documentary about girls’ and women’s baseball, Hardball: The Girls of Summer -- producer Jewel Greenberg and veteran US Women’s National Team player, Malaika Underwood [26:46].
Then, the dynamic duo discuss sports captivating them this week - Brenda gets pumped for the Rugby World Cup’s New Zealand squad and worries about the apparent threat of a beer shortage in Japan and Lindsay muses on WNBA playoffs which are too good to be moved around venues. [41:51]
Of course, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, [51:15] our Bad Ass Woman of the Week [56:25] and what is good in our worlds.
Rugby World Cup: All Blacks cover up tattoos in Japan to tackle yakuza link: https://www.msn.com/en-nz/sport/rugby-union/rugby-world-cup-all-blacks-cover-up-tattoos-in-japan-to-tackle-yakuza-link/ar-AAHug8Y
For These Black Women in Texas, Rodeo Is a Way of Life: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/20/arts/for-these-black-women-in-texas-rodeo-is-a-way-of-life.html
Antonio Brown Accuser Says He Sent Her ‘Intimidating’ Text Messages After SI’s Story: https://www.si.com/nfl/2019/09/19/antonio-brown-accuser-text-messages
There’s More History to Antonio Brown’s History: https://www.si.com/nfl/2019/09/16/antonio-brown-new-england-patriots-lawsuits-accusations-sexual-midconduct-assault
Domestic violence red flags are easy to find in coaches’ pasts, but did NFL teams spot them? https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2019/09/18/nfl-domestic-violence-coach-hiring-red-flags/2215153001/
MSU's Mark Dantonio warned about Auston Robertson before sex assault charge, ex-staffer says: https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/2019/09/19/auston-robertson-mark-dantonio-warned-about-ex-msu-football-player-curtis-blackwell-said/2379189001/
Mississippi State hit with NCAA sanctions, probation, vacated wins for academic misconduct: https://www.al.com/sports/2019/08/mississippi-state-hit-with-ncaa-sanctions-probation-vacated-wins-for-academic-misconduct.html
MLS Coach Sues Former Club For Firing Him Over Homophobic Tirade: https://deadspin.com/mls-coach-sues-former-club-for-firing-him-over-homophob-1838230199
Esteban Granados también acusa a árbitro de decir insultos racistas a Keysher Fuller: https://www.nacion.com/puro-deporte/futbol-nacional/esteban-granados-tambien-acusa-a-arbitro-de-decir/2NGJD4LUXNBS5FIPM5GH5DGTAQ/story/
Another Dead Horse At Santa Anita: https://deadspin.com/another-dead-horse-at-santa-anita-1838222840
Elena Delle Donne freed her mind, and a historic season followed: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/wnba/elena-delle-donne-2019-wnba-mvp/2019/09/18/f6c81ec2-da53-11e9-ac63-3016711543fe_story.html
One Day After Announcing Her Pregnancy, Elana Meyers Taylor Wins Push Championship: https://www.teamusa.org/News/2019/September/19/One-Day-After-Announcing-Her-Pregnancy-Elana-Meyers-Taylor-Wins-Push-Championship
Adeline Gray breaks U.S. record with fifth world wrestling title: https://olympics.nbcsports.com/2019/09/19/adeline-gray-wrestling/
Para-swimming World Championships: GB end Para-swimming Worlds with 19 golds: https://www.bbc.com/sport/disability-sport/49710101
Brenda: Welcome to this week's episode of Burn It All Down. It's the feminist sports podcast you need. I'm Brenda Elsey, Associate Professor of History at Hofstra University in New York. And this week, I am joined by the one and only, thank goodness she has so much to say about sports smarty pants, Lindsay Gibbs, a freelance sports reporter in DC. Hi, Linds. How you doing?
Lindsay: Hi, Bren, I'm happy to be here with you today.
Brenda: I'm happy to be here with you too, though. Though we'll miss our co-hosts. I feel like we have plenty to talk about.
Lindsay: I hope they don't regret leaving us alone to steer this ship. But whatever!
Brenda: I know we're going to run amok. Listen, this week we're going to talk about recent revelations in football including very troubling cases at Michigan State and within the NFL, specifically Antonio Brown. Also Jessica interviews two people associated with the new documentary about girls and women's baseball titled Hardball: The Girls of Summer. She'll talk with Jewel Greenberg, a producer of the film and veteran US Women's National Team player featured in the documentary, Malaika Underwood. Then we'll talk about sports stories that basically Lindsay and I are into this week, but we don't think enough of you are, maybe. We're going to burn some things that are garbage in sport and celebrate women's badassery. But before all that, I do want to ask you, Lindsay, because I've noticed you're just a little bit busy with the WNBA playoffs. How you feeling?
Lindsay: It is so much fun. We are recording this on Sunday morning. Game threes will be later today. By the time you all listen, we will know the outcome of those. I'm not going to get much into analysis right now though. Connecticut and Washington, the top two seeds are looking really good. They're both up two-nothing over the Las Vegas Aces. Washington's up 2-0 over the Las Vegas Aces. Connecticut is up 2-0 over Los Angeles Sparks. And now both of those series are moving from the east coast to the west coast. Tonight Vegas will host their first game and Los Angeles will host its first game. I'm really excited. There have been some really close games so far. But also we've seen the favorites win. And I would like to see some of these series, get a little bit more competitive. I do think that the best of five when the home team wins the first two, it's a long way back for the road team.
But I think there's just been so much good stuff. And I think no matter what, we're going to have a really, really intriguing final. And look, I'm here in DC, so I've been at both of the games this week. And they've been so good. I got to be there when Elena Delle Donne won her MVP award, which I can talk about a little bit later. But yeah, it's been a great week. I am thrilled for the action and stay tuned for another…I think we might do some sort of finals preview for our Patreon subscribers. It might be our Patreon only episode this week. Just stay tuned to our feeds for all of that.
Brenda: I saw the letter that Bill Laimbeer the coach of the Aces sent to the Las Vegas community about women's basketball?
Lindsay: Yes. We're going to talk about that a little bit later in this program Brenda, so thank you for teaser.
Brenda: I'm sorry Linds. I can just never get enough of talking about Bill Laimbeer who I find a weird, weird presence in my life. Being from Detroit and growing up with him during the Bad Boys era-
Lindsay: Did you read the oral history thing I did? I had to do a self plug.
Brenda: Did I read it? I loved it. If anybody hasn't seen it, the best brawl in WNBA history! Bill Laimbeer has literally, ruined the peaceful nature of basketball if there ever was such a thing in both men's and women's basketball…
Lindsay: He's right at the center of it all. So sorry, I'm doing a little self plug here. But I wrote a piece for Deadspin, that was the oral history of the 2008 Shock/Sparks brawl. And Brenda has been... I've honestly been working on this for a year because I'm slow and miss deadlines. But Brenda has been begging to read this because it's got Bill Laimbeer quotes. Is it the only thing that she cares about!
Brenda: The one thing that I didn't love about that article, and I love everything about that article is that you don't actually say if there was a winner.
Lindsay: In the fight?
Brenda: Yes! I kinda felt like you should just come down on one side or another like who actually-
Lindsay: It was just a brawl!
Brenda: I know.
Lindsay: I don't if there are winners in a brawl.
Brenda: There are definitely winners in a brawl.
Lindsay: I think the WNBA was the winner honestly. You know who's the winner? Nancy Lieberman!
Brenda: All right, moving on. For our next segment, unfortunately, we have to revisit a very familiar topic here and Burn It All Down, which is the ways in which sporting institutions protect and…
Brenda: How would we say it? Protect perpetrators, enable perpetrators of sexual violence. This week, we're going to start with Antonio Brown’s case. Lindsay.
Lindsay: Yeah, so there's so much here. I feel like I should be transparent.
Brenda: It's a lot.
Lindsay: I feel like I should be transparent and say this is take two of these because so much more news came out after we recorded this morning that we're doing this again, because there's just a lot here. I do want to give, I know all of our listeners don't follow the NFL. So a very brief kind of background on who Antonio Brown is because I do feel like it's important context. He's a very good wide receiver in the NFL, seven time Pro Bowl wide receiver. He was with the Pittsburgh Steelers his entire career. Had a lot of drama over the last year with the Steelers, requested a trade during the off-season and ended up getting traded to the Oakland Raiders. He was with the Oakland Raiders for this summer and was filled with a lot of controversy as well. We're talking…his feet were frostbitten, because he didn't wear proper footwear during a cryotherapy session. There was a helmet issue where he didn't want to switch helmets to one of the ones that the NFL approved to be safer than other helmets, which, that's a whole other conversation.
In their altercations with the coaches he ended up being released from the Raiders. And that very same day, he was picked up by the Patriots. This was all September 7th, so just a few weeks ago Brown agreed to a one year contract with the New England Patriots, some people assume that he actually forced his way out. That this was a little bit of him getting control of his career, because he probably wouldn't have been able to be traded to the Patriots by being released from the Raiders he was able to sign where he wanted. But anyway, so this was September 7th. And on September 10th, a civil lawsuit was filed by Brittney Taylor, who was his former athletic trainer. She followed a civil lawsuit claiming that he had raped her three times. Brown and his legal team have denied this, Taylor’s is just a civil suit, not a criminal suit, and she's cooperating with the NFL.
Well, on September 16th, he played last weekend for the Patriots, he stayed on board, and Patriots really didn't want to talk about it, which I know I think that's the first thing we're going to go to. But then on September 16th, reporting by Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated, who has just done a phenomenal job on the story. He reported that there was a second woman who had accused Brown of sexual misconduct. She was an artist who said that Brown had commissioned her to paint something in his home. And while she was painting-
Brenda: A portrait of himself. I just want to throw-
Lindsay: Thank you, that is really important. Thank you.
Brenda: It really is. It's clutch in this story.
Lindsay: And so as she was doing this, he stood behind her fully naked, holding nothing but a small towel over his, you know where. This is obviously really disturbing. And essentially, what happened is that was released about Monday of last week. And then a couple days later, it was released that Brown had been sending harassing text messages to the artist who had accused him of sexual misconduct. These included there was a group text message that he included her on, and he was encouraging people to look up how broke she was, and he was including pictures of her children in these text messages! These became public, Klemko got them, the NFL got them. And eventually on Friday, two days later, the Patriots released him. He did not play for the Patriots on Sunday, which is the day we're recording this, but he did make some news.
He sent out some text messages this afternoon, or this morning, and they were essentially announcing that he was done with the NFL. They were pointing out some of the NFL hypocrisy and past incidences of sexual assault, pointing out that Shannon Sharpe, who is a big analyst for the NFL, and a former NFL star, he was accused of sexual harassment, but received a very light suspension. He of course pointed out that Ben Roethlisberger, his former quarterback, had been accused of rape. And he also brought up Robert Kraft and the soliciting of sex work that Robert Kraft was involved in earlier this year. All of this was kind of part of his I guess, saying everybody is hypocritical. I don't know we can talk about what exactly his point is with this. But to me, the most disturbing thing he did was he sent out a tweet from the daily beast that was about the harassment that Robert Klemko the Sports Illustrated writer was getting.
Then the tweet was a headline from the Daily Beast saying, Sports Illustrated writer getting attacked by Patriots fans and getting death threats by Patriots fans over Antonio Brown reporting. And Brown quote, tweeted that and said, the system is working how it's designed.
Brenda: Whatever does that mean? Yes, it is. It's designed to protect men in power. But what does he...
Lindsay: I don't know.
Brenda: I know, I know…
Lindsay: Okay, can we first, we're trying to break this down to the enabling part.
Lindsay: Let's go back. I know that we had talked offline a little bit about the way Bill Belichick and the Patriots handled this from the get go. I know, we're both, people don't think this, but we're all on the side of making informed decisions about all this stuff. Not rushing to judgment. But what frustrated me about the Patriots having Antonio Brown on the roster for what, like 10 days, or whatever it was, was how annoyed they seemed whenever anyone asked about him. And how it seemed like they were acting like it was nobody's business, which is just infuriating.
Brenda: It's really infuriating. I was one of the people that was really interested in Antonio Brown. Wanting to get into a fight with Ben Roethlisberger is something I kind of want to do, too. He has done some really awful things off of the field, regardless of what he's convicted of, we know that. But then to throw all that out there as some sort of defense is really awful and terrifying. And I can't imagine it for victims. And then for Belichick just to act…and I don't know how much he knew but I do have to question. The Patriots are not a poor organization. They're not an organization that can't look into these things. I don't know that they did. But in any case, it's not crazy to think that they have some sort of vetting that's happening that pick up things and that there's clearly issues going on.
And if a reporter asked about it, the fact that Bill Belichick thinks that he doesn't need to answer something, that it's not serious enough, isn't it serious enough? Aren't those women? His trainer, saying that he raped her three times?
Lindsay: Here's the thing. If you think the guy's talent is big enough to put up with this, you still have to put up with it, right? This is part of putting up with it. Is standing there and answering the questions. If you're not willing to do that, then you don't get to benefit from his talent. That's just how I feel, know what I mean? The literal least you can do Bill Belichick is stand up there and answer questions. If this is the way your organization, if this is a decision your organization wants to make.
Brenda: Or at the very least talk about it plaguing sports. At the very least feel like we know this is a problem, we know this has happened. We're very aware, we're very concerned at least look like you give a fuck. Just to pretend that you're above it is... it's one thing to protect him. And then I just felt like it was on top of it, extra arrogance and extra added violence to these women coming forward. That he was just like, "Yeah, whatever. I don't have to answer that." It just looked to me like classic... sort of, just men knowing that they don't have to, that no one's going to... He's totally not accountable. Bill Belichick will never be held accountable for this stuff. Or any men in that position, not just him. Whoever holds that position.
Lindsay: No, and look, all the Patriots today, the players…I feel bad for the other players in this situation. But there were a lot who were talking just a week ago about how much they liked Antonio Brown as a person, right, and supported him as a teammate. And now, after everything that happened today, nobody would talk about Antonio Brown in the locker room. They just looped him in as a distraction. That's just frustrating. I'm just very frustrated by that. And I think the system, the most frustrating is Antonio Brown is actually right about so many things.
Brenda: Yeah of course.
Lindsay: The system is completely broken!
Lindsay: These people are hypocritical! That's the word.
Lindsay: These people are complete hypocrites. Absolutely, it's ridiculous that Ben Roethlisberger, and Shannon Sharpe and all these players have gotten away with this stuff, and that it's just looped into this big crowd of distractions. Do you know what I mean? Or things to overcome. But what Antonio Brown is somehow not realizing is that he's benefiting from that system too, right? And then if he had just been quiet, basically if he had not sent those threatening text messages, he probably could have gotten away with continuing to benefit from that system.
Brenda: Yeah. Speaking of institutions, one thing to think about too, is that professional football…that sort of culture starts much earlier. And we see it in college football. This leads us to another case of institutions protecting this culture of violence against women. And it starts at the college level. This week, we have another case involving Michigan State because we know it's not just one aspect of a program and an institution. It has poisoned the entire place. Can you give us a recap of what happened?
Lindsay: I would love to. Talking of Michigan State is my favorite thing. Michigan State football head coach Mark Dantonio has been in the news over the past few days, not just for winning his 110th football match at Michigan State. But because this week, it came out in a court filing, in a deposition during a case that's been brought by former Michigan State staffer Curtis Blackwell. So Blackwell has said under oath that three football team staffers warned Dantonio about serious potential issues with a four star recruit Austin Robertson before the program signed him in 2016. To the point where one of the other coaches, one of the other football team staffers told Dantonio, "I have a daughter on campus and I wouldn't feel comfortable with Austin Robertson being on campus with my daughter." Saying this because, Robertson had already been in the news for sexual assault and abusing women.
But Dantonio signed him anyways, gave him a scholarship. And then in 2017, Robertson was charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct after a woman said he sexually assaulted her. He pled guilty, and he's currently serving a sentence in a state prison. This is really reminiscent from a lot of the stuff that we saw happen at Baylor, although in Baylor we don't know if the football staffers gave warnings. But we saw Art Briles brings in troubled athletes from other programs. And then they would come to Baylor and commit crimes and commit rapes on campus. Men who they were already warning signs against. So yeah, Brenda, as an alum, how do you feel about this news?
Brenda: As you know disgusted and ashamed. But I have for quite some time. After Nassar, it's really…and John Engler. And oh, man, it's hard. I grew up with, all of the Michigan State trimmings. It's a big part of, I think, a certain working class identity in Michigan, it's where a lot of auto workers’ kids like myself and other families went. Versus you have then which was kind of identified as a little bit more well heeled, it's in Ann Arbor, a lot of out of state kids. I felt really strongly growing up about going to Michigan State. There's scarves…like my mom license plate still has it on. I have to tell you, when I see it, I feel grossed out, since Nasser and this just, it's one thing after another. Whether it's Izzo apologizing for the conduct of Michigan State in the sense that he just thought it wasn't that big of a deal or whether they're asking to raise money but not for Nassar victims.
Or in whatever way they're indicating that they don't care. It is disgusting. And did we also mentioned Dantonio possibly firing his assistant for telling, as a sort of fall guy about Robertson?
Lindsay: Yeah, you tell that part of the story because that's important.
Brenda: The other part of the story that's still developing, is that there is an assistant I can't remember his first name, Blackwell?
Lindsay: Curtis Blackwell. So that's the person who's... That's the case. This is that case that I was just saying.
Brenda: This is the case?
Brenda: Okay. I'm sorry. There's so much I'm processing.
Lindsay: This information about them telling this story that he knew-
Brenda: Yeah, came from Blackwell.
Lindsay: ...that he was told came by his staffers. This came out during depositions for Curtis Blackwell's case.
Brenda: Then it seemed as though they tried to blame Blackwell, and they fired him, as the sort of show. Now Blackwell is suing for unrightfully being fired or whatever, whatever you call that, right?
Lindsay: Unlawful termination I think, yes.
Brenda: That one. Okay. Exactly. We should mention, though, that Dantonio has a very long history of players with violent pasts. Robertson was not the only one, four of his players including Roberson were dismissed in 2017, because of two separate sexual assault cases. And then, if you remember, in 2009, his players assaulted members of the hockey team in a dormitory after their banquet, so much so that a member of the hockey team had a fractured skull and none of his players were charged with assault. Two of them were thrown off the team, and then one was reinstated.
I looked this up because I was having trouble remembering it. Because 2009 is like, hey, that's a decade ago, but hey, this is the same guy, same program. The hockey player who had a fractured skull, said at the time that he had reinstated the players, quote: "In my opinion, the immediate reinstatement of Glenn Winston to the football team reflects very poorly on Michigan State athletics. This decision has established a weak precedent for future athletes involved in violent crimes, while victims of his actions still recover from what he did. Winston's obligations have been deemed fulfilled by the football program, and the athletic department." End of quote.
So like, wow, reason, reason! The person who had been beaten was like, "Look, this is going to happen again.” It's going to happen again, because you're showing that you don't take it seriously and you don't care. In this case it was an assault against another man. We know that men can be victims of things, but it is a toxic masculinity culture, and I can't really watch Michigan State athletics, and I can't really watch Michigan college football, to be honest.
Lindsay: Yeah. I think it's important one can say like, this is all happening under the guise of... at the same time that we are having case after case come out still against Nassar, we're having the trustee shut down the investigation still into Nassar, one of my last pieces at ThinkProgress was called it's not just Larry Nassar, Michigan State University has a problem with rape culture. It was looking at just three big incidents within the past two weeks is like the last two weeks of August that were all just horrifying. And of course, that doesn't include any of Dantonio's stuff, right? I didn't even get to that.
Basically, I don't even know what to say anymore. It's just so frustrating. Look, we have to bring up race in all of this, right? Because at the end of the day Curtis Blackwell is black. A lot of these players are black. Dantonio was more... I keep getting his name and the Houston GM, I keep merging their names, but they're very similar in my defense. Dantonio is white and he seemed more than willing to throw this young black man under the bus for the enabling that he himself did and for the danger that he himself put women in campus in. And that too, is infuriating.
I'm reminded, especially when we're talking about race, and we're talking about the way that individuals who, outside of the system are very marginalized, once they're dwarfed into this system of high powered athletics. Because of the way the system works, they benefit from that power structure in ways that make this all really hard to talk about. I think about that with Antonio Brown, a lot too, right? You can't overlook the fact that this is an outspoken black man in a world where white men just want to control these younger black men and make them conform and be quiet.
Brenda: That was central, I think, to his choice of people to tweet out as hypocrites, because there's a lot. I mean, that's the thing that's so awful about it is what he did seem so absolutely inexcusable, at the same time, point taken, that men of color are dehumanized and exploited in this system.
Lindsay: Yeah. That's exactly right. I think like you have to be able to have both of them and it can become a tough conversation, then to end by quoting Diana Moskovitz, who I thought did a good job kind of wrestling with a lot of these conflicts in a story she wrote on Deadspin called Antonio Brown and the conversation nobody wants to have. One is her, kind of talking about this power. She said, "It can be difficult to talk about athletes within a framework of power because they are in America an exploited workforce, they aren't paid in high school, they aren't paid in college, and even as professionals, except for a handful of superstars, their careers are short, their bodies left battered and their job security is tenuous at best. But when a person accuses a player of violence, it is the player who suddenly has the power because the billionaire team owners and multimillionaires executives will back them, then filter their support to chosen reporters. All hordes of fans do the same out of team loyalty."
So that made me think a lot of the abuse that Robert Klemko is receiving right now. Right, and it's all from Patriots fans. The Lansing State Journal reporters who've been covering the Michigan State stuff, they are just pounded by Michigan State fans. and the way that fandom and media work also, as ways to uphold these systems of power can be really disturbing. You see already like agents tweeting out, or you would see like last Sunday on the football field when Antonio Brown was playing, you would have reporters tweeting out his every move, every cheer that was happening and just like really centering him in the narrative in this uncomfortable way.
Finally, I just want to quote Diana and this will be the end of this, but I think this really sums up Burn It All Down to, she says, "One of the problems here is that American athletics is set up to tell the stories of men. The Sunday pregame panels are dominated by men, the game announcers are dominated by men. The post game analysis is mostly done by men. The leagues are mostly run by men. The team owners are almost all men. These are men telling stories about men for other men." Yeah, that's where we are.
Brenda: Next, Jessica interviews two people from the new documentary about girls and women's baseball titled Hardball: The Girls of Summer. Joining us is Jewel Greenberg, and Malaika Underwood.
Jessica: Listeners to this podcast probably know that over the last two years I've covered girls and women's baseball including going to the Women's Baseball World Cup last year when it was hosted in Florida. Today I'm very excited to welcome Jewel Greenberg and Malaika Underwood to Burn It All Down. Jewel Greenberg is the producer of a new documentary called Hardball: The Girls of Summer, which follows five women of the US Women's National Baseball team as they battled for recognition and a gold medal in the Women's Baseball World Cup in South Korea in 2016. One of those players was Malaika Underwood, who has won two gold medals with Team USA at the 2006 Women's Baseball World Cup and the 2015 Pan Am Games. She has played on the national team nine times, which is a record in USA baseball. Thank you both for being here today!
Malaika: Thank you.
Jessica: Jewel, let's start with you. Can you just give our listeners your elevator pitch of the documentary?
Jewel: Sure, sure. Hardball: The Girls of Summer takes us inside the world of contemporary women's baseball. We look at the development of programming for girls and women mainly within the US. But we also look at some international programs as well.
Jessica: Jewel, how did you get involved with this project?
Jewel: Sure. So the director Matthew Temple and I have a mutual friend. She knew he was looking for a producer for this baseball project that he'd been toying with for a little bit and put us in touch and we hit it off. What was really interesting is that Matthews’s original seed of this film came out of his role as a father to girls that played baseball. I think all of his daughters played baseball. As they were getting older, and starting to age out of Little League, he didn't understand why they were so few girls playing baseball, and he started to look into it.
As a filmmaker had the idea that this is a story he wanted to tell to support girls playing the sport. When our friend put Matthew and I in touch, part of the reason we hit it off is that my stepdaughter is also a baseball player and she was still in Little League at that time. She's now 14, so she's out of Little League. But as a parent, he and I both have seen a little bit of that struggle that girls go through and wanted to do what we could to support them.
Jessica: Yeah, I find it such a compelling and interesting story. That's why I've been drawn to it. Malaika how did you first get into playing baseball?
Malaika: Well, just like Matthew's daughters and Jewel's stepdaughter, I started in Little League, I grew up in Southern California. That's just what everybody did. I was drawn to the sport at a very young age, enjoyed playing it. At the tee ball level, there were plenty of other girls playing on the field. But over time, there were fewer and fewer. I just decided to stick with it. I played through Little League, and then I also played high school baseball. But as you can see in the film, there not a lot of opportunities beyond that. Ultimately, I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to play volleyball at the University of North Carolina and get a scholarship to do that. But I missed baseball. And then eventually, I started looking around and stumbled on the fact that the USA Baseball Women's National Team was hosting open tryouts in 2006. And I jumped on it and haven't looked back since.
Jessica: That was going to be one of my questions is how you went from volleyball back to baseball, because a lot of players in my understanding is that they end up playing softball on the collegiate level, because that's where scholarships are. But you did volleyball and then you found baseball. You literally just stumbled back on it?
Malaika: Well, there was some pressure to switch to softball in high school. But because I was playing other sports, volleyball and basketball as well. And I was doing well in both of those sports and started to get interest from colleges. That pressure was alleviated a bit. I was fortunate in that sense, because it allowed me to have the freedom to play baseball. Then when I was in college, I missed the game, even when I was playing volleyball. I found ways to stay close to it. I coached the Little League team while I was in Chapel Hill and really enjoyed doing that.
But ultimately, when my playing career on the volleyball court was over, I started to look for opportunities and I googled it and it popped up and I found my way down. I think it was in Fort Myers, Florida at the time, the regional tryout that was closest to me. I went down there and kept making the cuts. Like I said, I haven't looked back since it's been a great ride on the Women's National Team.
Jessica: Yeah, you've had a really long career with them. I wanted to ask you one of the things that you all talked about in the documentary that they cover in the documentary, is different kinds of difficulties of certainly being the only girl on a team and sort of isolation and stuff. There's also and I found this when I interviewed girls who play baseball, they get hit by the ball more often. What kind of difficulties did you find being the only girl or only woman on a baseball team, Malaika?
Malaika: There's certainly some isolation to it. But at the same time, I think you'll find for a lot of girls, there is support, right? There's family, there's friends, there's supportive coaches and teammates. That doesn't mean that there aren't challenges and getting hit by a pitch or having the dugout of the opposing team yell things that they shouldn't be yelling at you, that kind of stuff happens. But I think that in general, at least my experience, and I know it's different for everyone. There are supportive people out there who will back you and support you through the journey of playing baseball and sort of carving out your own path.
Jessica: Did you have a sense when you were younger that there was a history of women playing baseball, that you were part of a longer trajectory than just you on this team?
Malaika: That's a really interesting question. I was fortunate to be in high school in the '90s. There were the Silver Bullets who were an all women's team who were barnstorming and playing other minor league teams. I got to see them live and actually ended up playing with some of them in the early years of the USA Baseball Women's National Team. Then also Ila Borders at the time was doing her thing in the minor leagues. I had role models to look up to. I don't think I fully appreciated the history of women in baseball until much later. But certainly having those role models was an important thing for me. It kept me motivated and focused and open to the idea that I could still play the game, even if there were only a few of us playing.
Jessica: Yeah. Wow. That's good to know. Ila Borders, she has a memoir. It's very good. Jewel, one of the things you do really well, I think in the documentary is tracing this history, even the visual of the actual timeline. I found know that really useful. I wanted to ask you guys, and I know on some level, I think this is a simple answer. But there's such an intense gender segregation in the sport. And you guys obviously cover this in the history, but I feel like I even hear more about girls playing tackle football than I do about them playing baseball, why do you think we are so resistant as a culture or society to girls playing baseball?
Jewel: It's such a good question, Jessica. It's really something we've talked about with a lot of people and nobody really has an answer, there is this idea that Little League begins to funnel girls to softball, and that over time that's really become sort of a cultural form of pressure in a lot of ways, not because Little League is putting the pressure on people because people have this idea now that softball is for girls and baseball's for boys. I think it just going to take individuals deciding to support the girls in their life. We talked to Matt Weagle, who's one of the pitching coaches for the women's national team and was in Rio shooting in 2016. He has a daughter. It's going to take these father-daughter relationships like also that that we see with them, Kelsie Whitmore and her dad Scott, in the film. where dad supports that kid and says, "Yeah, we can go play catch in the backyard, you want to play baseball, I'm going to go to bat for you with this team that you want to play with and stand up for you." I think it takes that kind of support.
Malaika: You know, what's interesting is that this idea that baseball is masculine, really goes back a long time. Now there are points along the historical timeline, and the creation of Little League Softball, right at the same time when Little League Baseball was being forced to let girls play, legally let girls play is one of those points. But even before that, even before for the League of Their Own, the All-American Girls Baseball League that happened in the 40s and 50s. There were people who are saying that women shouldn't play baseball. I think there are really deep roots to that idea. I think it's going to take time and a lot of awareness. I do think the father-daughter relationship, baseball player dads, being open to the idea of their daughters playing is going to be a big piece of that. But we have to face the fact that it is really deep rooted, that idea.
Jessica: Yeah, I probably talked about it on the podcast before. But Jennifer Ring has a really great book called Stolen Bases, blew my mind reading it. She's the talking head in the documentary and she's great. I guess that leads perfectly into my big question at the end, which is, how do we change this moving forward? Before the Baseball World Cup last year, I wrote a piece on why Japan is so good. And they've been so dominant in women's baseball, and they have a very different infrastructure. That's true in Australia, you guys talked about that in the documentary as well. Canada now has like an entire infrastructure that the US just does not have. What do you guys think is really... How do we change this moving forward? What do you think Malaika? What's going to really change this?
Malaika: It's a tough question to answer. I know that there are a lot of different opinions. But if I try to boil it down, I think of it sort of in three prongs. One is we've got to continue to create opportunities for girls to play, sometimes that's going to be with boys. Sometimes that's going to be on all girls or all women teams. Then we also have to provide the same level of resource and training for girls as they progress through their baseball career. Because you find a lot of times that at a certain level, the opportunities for boys to get better or men to get better far exceeds what's available to women.
Then the last thing is awareness. I mean, we really struggle, even at the pinnacle of our sport, which is the USA Baseball Women's National Team, we struggle to get attention when we play in the World Cup, and when we're competing, or to draw fans when we hosted it last summer. Awareness, not only so that we can change perception about girls and women playing, but also so we can be that role model for girls who want to play the same way the Silver Bullets and Ila Borders were role models for me.
Jessica: Yeah, this idea that there's something to play towards. Right. You remember there's a goal beyond just even making it through high school. Jewel, do you have anything to add?
Jewel: Yeah. I always feel that individuals eventually create systemic change, and that it's so important that the individual choices that we make, whether that's as a parent, or a journalist or filmmaker or a ballplayer, eventually will create change. It needs to come both ways, seeing both individuals as well as systems changing, but if we can support the girls around us, if we can inform the other athletes, the boys around us, the peers of those girls, the coaches of those girls that are playing, and help build that support for them. I think that's also going to help spreading the word is huge. That's something that we came up against a lot when we were speaking with different coaches and ballplayers while we were filming is the lack of media coverage.
It was shocking to us that when the US was winning gold in the Pan Am Games, two Pan Am Games ago, not these past ones from August, there was no media coverage. The only footage that we could find was an iPhone video from I think Scott Whitmore, who was one of the baseball dads.
Jessica: Yeah. Malaika you were there in August? Yeah?
Malaika: Yes, I was.
Jessica: How was the media coverage this year?
Malaika: It was about the same as it has been in the past, though, they did stream the games, which is something in the last few tournaments that started to happen, because it's so easy to stream nowadays, which is a good start. It's at least a way for our family and friends and with a little bit of social media promotion, we've been able to generate some views. So that's exciting. But I think we're still a long way away from where we should be.
Jewel: Yeah. I think now we're getting the access to some of those games through streaming. But it's still being able to inform people. I think Malaika is right on with social media, that again is individuals, is up to people interested in women's baseball to share those posts or share those links and support the people around us in supporting those athletes.
Jessica: Great. Well, thank you both for your time. Jewel can you tell us more about where people can find Hardball so they can watch it?
Jewel: Yes. We are going to be releasing digitally September 24th. If you head to our social media will be making some big announcements. We are @Hardballfilm on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Then we're going to then be premiering September 28 in San Francisco at the Women's Sports Film Festival we're the closing night film. Yeah, we're so excited. You can get tickets at their website now. Yeah, then we have our European premiere, actually in Milan, at the FICTS festival at the end of October. We have a couple big dates coming up. But the digital release is going to be really exciting. It would be really great for people to keep an eye on that, because that helps us on the distribution level.
Jessica: Great. If you are interested in this topic, the documentary is such a wonderful introduction to not only girls and women and baseball, but these specific players and what they've done for the sport and to draw attention to it and to represent the USA. It's a really lovely film. Thank you both for being here today.
Malaika: Thank you.
Jewel: Thanks so much Jessica!
Brenda: Well, Linds. I did want to have an upbeat segment, because I know that we deal with a lot of really hard issues on this show. And I wanted to ask you if there's a kind of like under-sung story happening in sports right now that you're into?
Lindsay: I think there is but I didn't realize it had to be happy.
Brenda: Of course, of course, please burn it all down. It's okay, if it's crappy, go for it.
Lindsay: I just thought it was underrated.
Brenda: Fair enough.
Lindsay: That doesn't seem happy to me.
Brenda: It's totally fair enough.
Lindsay: I didn't follow instructions. But when has that ever stopped me before. I'll just like to talk briefly about... and I guess this could have been the burn pile, but something else was in the burn pile this week. Also this is a more nuanced discussion. And it gives me a chance to talk with the WNBA playoffs again, which obviously I love. But you brought up earlier that Bill Laimbeer had written this letter to Vegas pleading for them to support women's basketball and the reason he had to do that was because for that playoff game last weekend, which was oh my god, Dearica Hamby. Oh my god, that shot she hit. Sorry, this was a second round game between the Chicago Sky and the Las Vegas Aces. It was phenomenal.
But for that game, the Aces could not play in the arena where they've been playing all year, the Mandalay Bay Event Center, because there was a concert of some sort going on. They had to move about, I think it was about 30 minutes away. From the strip in Vegas to I think more of the suburbs in Vegas to a much bigger arena than they usually play in. This is for the biggest game of their season up until that point. They're not alone in this, the Los Angeles Sparks will host their semi final game, possibly games, against the Connecticut Sun today. And because of the Emmys, they can't play in the Staple Center. They are having to move homes, to I believe Long Beach it is. It's just-
Brenda: Silly Emmys.
Lindsay: Silly Emmys. But I just think it's just so first of all, the Vegas crowd did show up. And that was phenomenal. So yay, Vegas. But I think that it just shows that kind of, even for the top women's sports, even in their top moments, they're still being treated as these kind of charity cases. It's just so infuriating! I don't 100% know what the solution is, except for just like... I don't know, taking these teams more seriously and taking the potential to make the playoffs more seriously and all that but I want to give kudos. I guess my kudos is to these players and these teams for being adaptable under really ridiculous circumstances.
I want to give kudos to the fans who still show up in these ridiculous circumstances. Just to everyone who kind of keeps continuing to fight for this not to be the case forever. I have seen so many more people on my timeline who are tweeting about the WNBA these days. I think it's because I live in DC and obviously, the Mystics are doing so well and I follow so many DC political reporters. But I'm saying, I'm seeing a lot of people who don't usually tweet about the WNBA like not my WNBA not the WNBA that I follow but, in general. And it really does feel like there's this buzz, there's this momentum brewing. And there are good things that are happening. And I just want to see it all be a tipping point.
I guess another thing I should shout out is that last week, the new WNBA Commissioner Kathy Engelbert commissioned charter flights for the two second round winners to get to Connecticut and Washington respectively, which is a WNBA first. Another sign that there are things moving in the right direction. And I think it's so frustrating for me to see these arenas moves, because it feels like it's counter to everything else that's happening in the league at large. I just want to draw a little bit of attention to that. And really, I just wanted to talk about the WNBA playoffs some more.
Brenda: And the players are doing so much to connect with fans. I saw this whole thing about their dance moves.
Lindsay: Oh my god, they're all-
Brenda: They're wow.
Lindsay: If you go to WNBA game, you will have fun.
Brenda: Yes. It just looks amazing. I was just watching all the clips of their dance moves, whether they're on the bench or in training. I don't know who put that together, what genius put that together. But it was a sight to be seen. All right, so for me, I'm usually a soccer person. And it takes me a little while to get into other sports even when there's really big stuff happening. But I am determined to understand rugby. It has been a really hard road between rugby and I! It's never been an easy relationship. And I know soccer and football comes from rugby. I know it's kind of like the mothership. And I should care. And I know the Women's World Cup blew past me last year. I'm prepping for the Women's Rugby World Cup in 2021 by understanding it through the men's game. This is taking place in Japan. It started just this week, September 20th. And it goes through November 2nd.
There's all this heartwarming stuff going on. Particularly I know Shireen loves the New Zealand team, the All Blacks, and I've been watching them too. And in Japan, there's a lot of interesting things that the rugby players are responding to. And for Japan, evidently, this is a very big deal because they're hoping it's the first time they move past knockout rounds, they can use their home team advantage. And they're being coached by former New Zealand player Jamie Joseph. There's a connection in between these two teams. And one of the interesting things is the issues of tattoos. I didn't realize how taboo tattoos are in a lot of Japan. Remember, my left arm is completely covered, right? And so I realized that tattoos can't be exposed in swimming pools. Or like the collective communal baths, or gyms. What I do in gyms? That's like my main place to look cool with tattoos, man! I'm kidding, I don’t look cool at all. But I had no idea.
And it's because they are associated with the criminal mafia Yakuza group. They've become a really like no, no. It's really interesting because the big surprise for a lot of sports journalist evidently that really follow rugby has been that the players have self policed. No fines, no threats. New Zealand team is, "You know what? We totally get it, cultural difference and we're just going to cover them."
Brenda: What a concept. They're like, "No, we really respect our host." The same with the Samoan players. When they're on the field, that's a big part of their game. It's a big part of their identity and they can exhibit them but the rest of the... they're wearing skivvies, those long sleeve, nylon things. I thought that was really touching and maybe because the US isn't in it. It's just like a less chauvinistic place about stuff like that. The other thing is they had a haka, it already happened, the New Zealand team. It's beautiful so you can check it out. But then there was like a little debate because South African supporters were singing ole, ole, ole during it. There's enough like kind of rivalries. Argentina got in some brawl with France. But my other issue is that they're evidently, rugby fans drink six times more. I'm getting this from The Asian Review, a real place. six times more than soccer fans! Why are we not at the Rugby World Cup? Like this has to be amazing to watch! How can you-
Lindsay: I can't even really... when you said it, it didn't even click, because that's just ridiculous.
Brenda: There's a fear that Japan is going to have a beer shortage and the World Cup- yes! Listen to this. The World Cup's director held “special information sessions” for restaurant chairs and hoteliers, whatever that word is, in four of the 12 host cities which were considered possible potential danger zones of a beer shortage.
Lindsay: That is remarkable.
Brenda: I know I couldn't believe it. Anyway, just throwing it out there that the Rugby World Cup really seems like a cool thing. So far I watched the New Zealand, South African game after, not live because it was at 6am. Shireen, our lovely co-host did wake up at 6:00 to watch it so she knew what happened before I did. New Zealand won, they're heavy favorites in the tournament. And yeah, it's pretty cool
Lindsay: That’s amazing.
Brenda: Now it's everybody's favorite segment where we throw something we've hated about sports on the burn pile this week and set it aflame. Lindsay.
Lindsay: Yeah, so this will be quick for me, I promise. There was an article in The Athletic this week about a quarterback Joe Burrow, an LSU quarterback. And the lede of the piece, the intro to the piece is talking about how Burrow was motivated to revamp his growing arm, his throwing style. The origin story of this moving tale is Urban Meyer yelling things at Joe Burrow, such as, "Not enough velocity, Joe, you're a division three quarterback and you throw like a girl." First of all, the most obvious burn here is that you throw like a girl is not an insult. And the fact that in this day and age, the leaders of men, as they like to call themselves are still perpetuating it as such, is absolutely disgusting. And my second part of this burn, though, is media who repeat that without countering it, without just as is, it's like that's a perfectly reasonable thing to be using as a motivational tactic. And, you know, the whole story is, "Well, hey, that worked."
So look, I don't want to really, throw this writer under the bus because I think he wrote a good story. And I'm sure he just didn't think about it this much. But I think we all need to think about it more. And I think the media has a responsibility to put things like that in context. It's frustrating that it's still not happening. Look, if you're not willing to put stuff like that in context, then leave stuff like that out of your pieces. Do you know what I mean? This writer could have just included the, "Not enough velocity Joe, you're a division three quarterback." Right? Because his whole point was that his throwing arm wasn't cutting and he needed to revamp. I understand why he wouldn't want to take an aside in his piece to counter sexism. But I think it's this type of casual sexism, and it's the allowing it to just sit in work as is, that just continues to perpetuate women as less and female athletes as less and it's dangerous, and I'd like to burn it.
Brenda: Okay, this week, I'm actually going to…oh it's so weird. It's like a mix. It's like a burn, but also like a celebratory burn, which is weird. It's a good bad mix. There's a lot in global football right now that I hate. And I was going to just throw all the racism and fascism that's happening, which you can just Google, onto the burn pile. But instead, there is breaking news out of Mexico this week on Friday the 20th. Basically what happened is the 19 Mexican professional clubs of the First Division got together and passed a very strong set of steps to get rid of the p-chant, which is equivalent to the f-word in English, the homophobic chant, and this chant has spread throughout the Americas from Mexico starting with the 2014 World Cup. So yay.So yay. That's awesome. That's amazing. Thank goodness, you're going to stop normalizing homophobic language, which we know has perpetuated violence against LGBTQ people. So yay, yay, yay. But boo, boo, boo, that none of them will admit it's homophobic.
Brenda: The only reason that they're doing it is literally outlined, we won't get fined by FIFA. And so they're looking towards 2022 qualifiers. And the Fare Network with whom I work has advised FIFA on this three step process. It was implemented in July. And the hilarious thing is that all the Mexican clubs have done essentially, and the national team, is pretended that they came up with a policy that actually already exists in FIFA and they have to comply with. And they refuse to acknowledge in any sensitive way that this is homophobic and they care about vulnerable populations in their community. No, no.
Lindsay: No. Couldn’t be that.
Brenda: Look, Mexican Federation, it's hard to make FIFA look good. It's real hard and you're doing it right now. I want to put that omission on the burn pile, burn.
Brenda: Okay, so after all that burning of just Linds and I, which still feels really fiery…
Lindsay: Real super fiery!
Brenda: Yeah, we get to celebrate some women's badassery. Women who have accomplished amazing things this week. So honorable mentions go to Elena Delle Donne the WNBA 2019 MVP, who averaged 19.5 points per game, 8.3 rebounds. She is the first WNBA player ever in the 50-40-90 club and to win the MVP twice. Is that right Linds?
Lindsay: To win the MVP twice with two different teams.
Brenda: With two different teams. Right. That is excellent. So congratulations to her. Napheesa Collier of the Minnesota Lynx won-
Brenda: ... Rookie of the Year. CollieR.
Lindsay: Just Collier. Yeah.
Brenda: It's not my fault she doesn't pronounce it French, right?
Lindsay: I know. You're right.
Brenda: The Minnesota Lynx won Rookie of the Year in the WNBA (just kidding, Collier.) A shout out to Dearica Hamby of the Las Vegas Aces for her steel and last second three pointer just passed the half court line to beat the Chicago sky in the WNBA quarterfinals. Friend of the show, Elana Myers Taylor, the US Bobsledder who announced earlier this week that she is pregnant and will take next season off. Then the very next day competed in the women's drivers division at the USA Bobsled Push Championships. Many congratulations. Six weeks after surgery on her right hand, Adeline Gray won her fifth World Wrestling championships setting a US record. Alice Tai a swimmer from Great Britain won seven gold medals at the Paris Swimming World Championships. Cheers to Team Europe for win in the golf championship, the Solheim Cup. Norwegian Suzann Pettersen won it for them on the 18th hole with a birdie and then immediately retired from the sport, way to go out. Cheers to the Hijabi Ballers, a Muslim women's basketball group in Toronto, who inspired the Toronto Raptors Senior Director for marketing to create a Raptor-branded hijab.
The first of its kind in the NBA, the Hijabi Ballers appear in the team's promotional video for the hijabs and our own Shireen Ahmed is on the group's advisory board. And can I get a very powerful from you Linds, drum roll! Badass woman of the week goes to Sarah Thomas, a recent cancer survivor who became the first person ever to swim the English Channel four times consecutively! Officially swimming 84 miles, with currents swam more than like 130. It took her more than 54 hours to do it! Sarah Thomas, you are an inspiration. I am tired after driving 84 miles, and many, many, many well wishes on her continued good health. Yay!
Brenda: Okay, Linds, what's getting your week?
Lindsay: This week? I am going to a Lizzo Concert.
Brenda: Again! This is not your first Lizzo Concert!
Lindsay: This is not my first but this will be the first time in a couple years so it's at a bigger place. And I need this night out. That is what's good.
Brenda: Yay. What's good for me is, I'm getting to strategize with Shireen about how to not miss anything in the Champions League and still get my kids from the bus. Yeah, that's always fun. This happens on a yearly basis. It's just where it lands and the time difference. My students are pretty good this week. We're still in that romantic period where they haven't started missing too much class and I haven't gotten to grade them too harshly. We're still having fun. Yeah. And apple picking, lots of apple picking. Yeah, upstate New York. It's about time.
Lindsay: Except it's 90 degrees this week.
Brenda: See that's perfect for me. That's cool. All the good things about fall, and the temperature of summer is like Brenda's happy place.
Lindsay: You know what I need though? If it's 85 degrees or higher, all pools must be open. I don't care what time of the year. That should be the rule.
Brenda: Fair enough.
That's it for this week in Burn It All Down. Though we're done for now. You can always burn day and night with our fabulous array of merchandise. Before we leave the show, we want to give an extra, extra thanks to our patrons, our wonderful flamethrowers who let us do the work that we want to do every single week with their support. Burn It All Down lives on SoundCloud, but can be found on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play and TuneIn. We do appreciate all your reviews and feedback on whatever platform. You can find us on Facebook and Instagram at Burn It All Down Pod and a twitter @BurnItDownPod. You can email us at email@example.com. And check out our website www.burnitalldownpod.com where you'll find previous episodes, transcripts and links to that Patreon. I'm Brenda, on behalf of Lindsay and myself, burning on but not out.