Episode 17: College football is back
On Episode 17 of Burn It All Down, Brenda Elsey, Lindsay Gibbs and Jessica Luther talk about college football head coaches: the money they pull down, the power they wield, the choices they make. Then we hone in on one particular issue: sexual violence.
And Lindsay interviews Ava Wallace, a beat writer for the Washington Post who used to cover UVA football and has recently written about black athletes in Charlottesville.
As always, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, Bad Ass Woman of the Week, and What’s Good in our worlds.
For links and a transcript of this episode…
Nick Saban to be paid $11.125 million this season after Alabama contract extension https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/sec/2017/05/02/nick-saban-alabama-contract-extension/101191514/
Michigan football roster is now the subject of a public records squabble https://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2017/8/18/16166738/michigan-football-roster-2017
Report: Hugh Freeze Called A Dozen Escort Services From His Ole Miss Phone http://deadspin.com/report-hugh-freeze-called-a-dozen-escort-services-from-1798331117
Myth: College Sports Are a Cash Cow http://www.acenet.edu/the-presidency/columns-and-features/Pages/Myth-College-Sports-Are-a-Cash-Cow.aspx
College Football Teams Are Risky and Expensive—and Schools Keep Adding Them https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-01-06/college-football-teams-are-risky-and-expensive-and-schools-keep-adding-them
College Football’s Top Teams Are Built on Crippling Debt https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-01-04/college-football-s-top-teams-are-built-on-crippling-debt
New Title IX lawsuit against Baylor alleges failures after implementation of new policies http://www.wacotrib.com/news/courts_and_trials/new-title-ix-lawsuit-against-baylor-alleges-failures-after-implementation/article_2d2dea4d-56d8-5489-ac16-34f022945c45.html
The powerful story behind the NCAA’s new sexual violence policy https://thinkprogress.org/ncaa-sexual-violence-brenda-tracy-fb7283b94a11/
New IU policy bans athletes with history of sexual or domestic violence http://www.indystar.com/story/sports/college/indiana/2017/04/19/indiana-hoosiers-sexual-violence-athlete-ban-fred-glass/100660758/
Art Briles informally helps son Kendal, Lane Kiffin with FAU’s offense http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/fau-owls/fl-sp-fau-owls-news-mon-20170821-story.html
maybe we should stop assuming or anticipating that football coaches know anything about sexual violence https://medium.com/@scATX/maybe-we-should-stop-assuming-or-anticipating-that-football-coaches-know-anything-about-sexual-bfd66e1501e6
Charlottesville violence prompts black U-Va. athletes to reflect on their experience https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/charlottesville-violence-prompts-black-u-va-athletes-to-reflect-on-their-experience/2017/08/19/16282f18-842b-11e7-ab27-1a21a8e006ab_story.html?utm_term=.23362e0926a7
Denver Cheerleading Coach Under Investigation Was Also Fired from Previous Job for Forcing Splits http://people.com/human-interest/denver-cheerleading-coach-under-investigation-was-also-fired-previous-job-forcing-splits/
LeBron James rants about fans burning Isaiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward jerseys http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/20444527/lebron-james-rants-boston-celtics-fans-burning-isaiah-thomas-jerseys-trade
San Francisco 49ers hire first openly LGBTQ coach in NFL history https://thinkprogress.org/nfl-openly-lgbtq-female-coach-bce646615884/
Aly Raisman criticizes USA Gymnastics, USOC for response to sex abuse scandal https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2017/08/19/aly-raisman-criticizes-usa-gymnastics-usoc-response-sex-abuse-scandal/583695001/
Shane Thomas on women’s Rugby Union tournament https://twitter.com/tokenbg/status/901545566584360961
Part of LA Sparks video: https://twitter.com/AstasiaWill/status/900874601940623361
[0:00:14.9] JL: Welcome to Burn It All Down. The feminist sports podcast you need. We’re so happy you’re here.
This week, our panel includes Lindsay Gibbs in Washington DC, Brenda Elsey in New York, and me, I’m Jessica Luther, in the middle of hurricane, well, I guess now it’s Tropical Storm Harvey, here in Austin Texas.
We have a great show for you this week. College football started this past weekend. Charlie Strong, former head football coach at the University of Texas got his first win at his new gig, when the University of South Florida beat San Jose State. But the big games are coming up this weekend. Number one, Alabama, will play number three Florida State in Atlanta. Florida will meet Michigan in Arlington, Texas. BYU will go up against LSU, Texas A&M against UCLA, and Ohio State will take on Indiana. College football is back.
This week, we will talk about college football head coaches. The money they pull down, the power they wield, the choices they make. Then we’ll talk about one specific aspect – sexual violence. Lindsay interviews Ava Wallace, a beat writer for the Washington Post who used to cover UVA football and has recently written about black athletes in Charlottesville.
Let’s get in to it.
[0:01:31.8] JL: Lindsay, want to start us off with head football coaches?
[0:01:34.0] LG: I would love to, you know how much I love this topic, Jess. You know, college football season means it’s time to look back at the USA Today database of college football salaries, which USA Today does a great job of keeping. Our newest highest paid coach in the college football is Nick Saban who earns about 11.125 million dollars this season after a contract extension. Then you’ve got Jim Harbaugh over in Michigan, who has got nine million dollars a year coming and the list just goes on from there.
Of course, with money comes power and with power and money comes corruption. This week alone in the news, we’ve had Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss and we’ve had records showing that he called at least a dozen escort services from his Ole Miss phone. We have other controversies such as Jim Harbaugh in Michigan just refusing to release the Michigan football roster to the point that journalists are FOIA-ing.
That means, Freedom of Information Act, which means they’re literally like having to go through the legal system to request the roster, which is just ridiculous. We also have tons of coaches who were once again as always, doing insane, stupid and insensitive and just think plain wrong things when it comes to violence against women. We’ll get more into that in the next segment.
But I want to just start off with all of this money and all of this power that these coaches wield. Brenda? You’re an activist. I know you have some thoughts on this so take it away.
[0:03:13.4] BE: Some very sad and angry thoughts mostly. Look, university administrations justify these expenses, these really high salaries and it’s not just the coaches, it’s also the athletic directors and a whole team of people that go with them.
They justify them by saying that these programs make money, whether through student recruitment, contracts, ticket sales, whatever it may be. That college football programs in particular are profitable is an un-truth and it’s told to justify an enormous burden.
I’d like to just from the very outset, argue with the very premise that these make money. This isn’t – it’s not like something I’m coming up with, I mean, there’s plenty of evidence on this. Basically, what they do is the vast majority of college football programs, not even to mention the athletic programs, don’t make any money and are subsidized by student fees.
These students rarely understand, sometimes they do, that the increase in university tuition which has been astronomical since the early 2000’s is in some significant part because of athletics.
Only eight athletic programs make enough to cover their own expenses. By the way, that does not include University of Alabama. Bloomberg, this finite, yes, I know, right? Yeah, I’m sorry for all of that information because it hurts me even to report it. But Bloomberg has even said, “Look, don’t even look at the college football coaches’ salaries, look at the burden that they’re carrying in terms of debt.”
Now, let’s just stick on University of Alabama here. Their athletics program owes 225 million dollars over the next 28 years.
[0:05:00.1] JL: What?
[0:05:00.8] BE: Yup. It’s not only students taking out loans to pay for athletic programs; it’s athletic programs taking out loans to pay for athletic programs. Salaries like savings are incredible to me and they must be put really honestly in the general context of over the last 20 years and attack on university professors salary, benefits and tenor.
Let me just give you an idea because a lot of people don’t know what university professors might make or what that’s like. If you’re lucky enough to land a full time job at University of Alabama, which means, you’re a really – you’ve done a lot of work and you’ve had a lot of just good fortune, you make $80,000 a year. That means you could hire 138 professors full time to replace Saban.
Can you just tell me that he’s good enough of a coach that he does a better job than 138 PhD’s? I just like throwing it out there, that’s ridiculous, the president of the University of Alabama doesn’t even clear $800,000. Just one last thing and I promise, I’ll give it up after this.
Most schools with the highest alumni giving. You’ll make this argument and administrators all look at you besides thinking you’re super lame and important and you hate football which is also not true. Is that, they’ll say, “Look, the alumni giving is so high but you know what? The highest rates of alumni giving happened at Universities without college football programs.” So.
[0:06:31.4] JL: Wow, my gosh. I don’t even know what to do with all of that. I mean – All of that is so ridiculous and I think about Saban and even Harbaugh. But Nick Saban, he’s in Alabama – they’ve had huge cuts in the state budget to education generally within the state and he is now – and I think it’s just important that we keep saying this. He is the highest paid public employee in this country.
As far as head coaches, you have to go to Europe and find soccer managers to find people who are paid more than Nick Saban is to coach an athletic team. He is supposed to be an educator. Nick Saban was not hired by a football team; Nick Saban was hired by a university. The entire thing, I mean, and then, put that in context with what Brenda just told us about the actual money and debt and I don’t even understand. How this is justified?
I’m at a loss for words, you guys. It just bothers me to know when we really parse it out.
[0:07:39.7] LG: Yeah, speaking of parsing it out, I just want to go down this USA Today database just a little bit more, okay? You’ve got seven coaches this season making five million dollars or more, 20, making four million dollars or more, 36 making three million dollars or more, 58 making two million dollars or more and 72 making one million dollars or more.
This goes down and if you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, that must be a lot of championship winning football programs.”
[0:07:39.7] BE: So many bowls.
[0:08:18.7] LG: Then I have some news for you. Later you’ll hear my interview with Ava Wallace about the UVA football program and we were talking about how last year they had a 2-and-10 season. I was curious to see what the head coach of UVA who steered that wonderful 2-and-10 season that must have given the alumni such pride.
He made 3.275 million dollars last year, Bronco Mendenhall. Yeah.
[0:08:42.7] JG: Wow, it’s not just the head coaches, it’s assistant coaches who are making way more money than they used to make, athletic directors are making way more money than they used to make. All of the coaching salaries in the athletic salaries are just going up and up.
I don’t know, I feel like I’m just going to repeat myself. I just don’t understand how we’re justifying this as a university and educational expense that makes any kind of sense.
[0:09:07.7] BE: I mean, just to throw it out there. I’m not even sure this is even setting aside in bracketing a lot of issues that college football has that we’ll get to. But is it not antithetical to the mission of the university to promote a sport that we know hurts minds?
In itself, I mean, there’s even an ethical question about that and then much less I have these resources just being swallowed up.
[0:09:32.7] JL: Yeah, and then you get these weird power dynamics on campus right? As Brenda said, at Alabama, Saban is making way more money than the university president. You know, the official hierarchy isn’t actually the money hierarchy and so you get like coaches doing all kinds of weird stuff and getting away with it all the time, right?
There’s no one really paying attention to what they’re doing, they’re purposely not paying attention to what they’re doing. Lindsay, can you tell us a little bit about Hugh Freeze. I don’t feel like I understand completely what has gone on there. Do you have any more on that?
[0:10:09.3] LG: You know, it’s just a mess. I mean, look, it’s full of – the Ole Miss scandal, they’re just looking in to all these recruiting violations. Some of which are violations such as you know, giving a star player $800 so his mom can pay electricity bill which heaven forbid, you know, the horror.
[0:10:27.8] JL: Right.
[0:10:28.6] LG: Of course there is a lot of stuff with – I mean, the typical stuff, right? Unfortunately. The calling escorts, the manipulation of finances, the going behind player’s backs to you know, get them loot and you know, fancier things than utility bills. But I don’t know, I mean, Ole Miss has given themselves a one-year bowl post-season ban.
Hoping that that will soften the blow here for the NCAA but of course, more information is coming out and I think, it’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. Basically it seems that Ole Miss is going to be the next school that’s going to be made an example of.
You know, right or wrong, I don’t know. Part of me feels like they’re just doing what everyone else is doing and some of the stuff isn’t stuff that should be punished for. But of course, I don’t like the idea of calling escort services for your recruits either.
You know, it’s a little bit of both but basically because of Laremy Tunsil who I don’t know if you guys remember the bong mask?
[0:11:35.8] BE: During the draft?
[0:11:36.2] LG: That came out during the draft. That photos were leaked of him in a bong mask during the draft and then there were texts leaked about Ole Miss giving him money. So that being on such a big stage, that scandal for Ole Miss happening on such a big stage has basically made the NCAA determined to get them.
[0:12:03.6] JL: Man, to get in to the fun stuff then. Brenda, do you want to sort of give us an idea of where we are right now with I guess stories around sexual violence and college football? I feel like this is the never-ending topic but that might be my own bubble that I live in.
[0:12:20.2] BE: A bad bubble. A persistent theme in college football then. I say this with a lot of distress is the subject of sexual assault. We’ve talked a lot about it on this show; we have two people with me today that write a lot about it.
Since the beginning of last school year, we have seen what seems to be some positive developments. The NCAA’s adoption of a sexual assault policy and Indiana University enacting a ban on athletes who have been convicted of felony, domestic violence or sexual assault.
At the same time, Baylor’s first day of school coincided with another Title IX lawsuit and new cases, which we’ve already mentioned in brief, have occurred in college football programs. Jessica, it’s been a year since your book on Sportsmanlike Conduct, College Football and the Politics of Rape came out. Have things changed?
[0:13:14.4] JL: This is a good question and I’m actually asked this a lot. You know, I don’t know. Yes and no? I feel in the last year, we had two head football coaches of winning programs fired for issues around sexual violence, right? We had Art Briles very famously and then Tracy Claeys at Minnesota was fired last December before, was he fired after the bowl game? I think he was.
It was his team that boycotted after the University of Minnesota had done an internal investigation and found that 10 of the players had been involved in a sexual assault. Suspended those players before the bowl game, the rest of the team decided to boycott the bowl game, had a whole press conference. It was a big thing. Then someone leaked the report, the actual investigation the university had done and then those players walked it back pretty quickly because the report is really difficult to read.
Claeys was kind of absent during all of that and then tweeted in support of the boycott, it was handled very badly. We’ve had two coaches fired of winning programs, I think that’s significant –we’ve seen teams. I don’t think Indiana’s the only athletic department, I feel like there’s another one, I can’t remember off the top of my head.
Indiana’s you know, mirroring what some conferences are doing as far as transfer players. Indiana’s policy is a little bit deeper because it also involves freshmen that are incoming whereas the SEC and the Big 12 and theirs is just transfer players that come in.
These things seem significant, the NCAA policy doesn’t really have teeth to it so I’m not really – it’s good, it’s a symbolic good but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything on the ground. Then just going to bring it up, you know, like most of the athletic staff or the football staff from Baylor and new places, they’ve done the thing that coaches always do, they just transfer in somewhere else. So the Defensive Coordinator, he’s at Arizona State this year. And then sort of famously, the Offensive Coordinator, Brile’s son Kendal is now at FAU coaching for Lane Kiffin, there was this whole brouhaha this week that you know, Kendal went on the record saying that his dad Art Briles has been helping unofficially and then Kiffin said “No, that’s not happening” but I don’t know who would hire Kendal Briles and think he’s not going to call his dad for help.
Of course, that’s happened. I mean, it’s just really hard for me to imagine that’s not happening. I don’t know, how do you guys feel about this? Lindsay, I know you’ve done a lot of work on this too. Very currently, have done work on this. How are you feeling about it?
[0:15:45.3] LG: Optimistic is the wrong word to use but it’s not pessimistic. I would say, if that makes sense. It’s skeptical but somewhat hopeful I think we’re seeing some signs that like you said these two coaches being fired is probably something that would not have happened a few years go.
This stuff is getting more attention and that’s going to help, not everything and not immediately but it is going to help. One of the things you mentioned Jess is this new NCAA sexual violence policy. I did a piece for Thinkprogress on Brenda Tracy who is an activist and survivor who just has done so much great work, going to schools and talking to these players and coaches about sexual violence and about what needs to be done.
You know, she does this pledge and a lot of people say, “Well, it’s just a pledge, what good can that do,” and I say, well, you know what? It’s better than no pledge you know? It’s better than nobody coming and talking to these players, right? I mean, she’s very open about her story, about being getting raped by football players a few decades ago.
She’s very open about that, she talks very frankly about it. The fact that these players have to look at her and hear her story and put a face to it, I think that’s very important you know? It’s not a guarantee but it’s important and she’s very brave for doing that work.
It was actually her son who kind of spurred this whole sexual violence policy into action. He saw how upset his mother was getting during the Baylor, when all the news about Baylor was coming up and he wrote a very powerful letter to the NCAA and to the board of governors.
Within a year, they have enacted this policy. Now, Brenda herself says that she knows this doesn’t have a lot of teeth but once again, is it better than nothing? I think so, I think it is. It basically says a leader is on each campus, the school president, the athletics director and the title line coordinator must attest annually that coaches, athletic administrators and the student athletes were educated in sexual violence prevention.
Essentially this is really getting on the books that this education is happening, there are now more resources available for this education to happen and it’s going to be open in public which schools are doing this education that’s going to be presented.
Whenever these scandals come up, you see a lot of passing of the buck, right? “Well I didn’t know. Well they told this person.” This helps in a small way, get accountability for these programs. This is not a final step, nobody should think the work is done but I do think it’s positive.
[0:18:32.3] BE: Yeah. I mean, I’m so interested and I loved your article on Brenda Tracy and the new policy. I guess what comes to my mind when I see this policy is the Title IX coordinators on campus are hopefully empowered by it. Hopefully they can use the policy to demand some accountability on the part of administrators for doing the educational work that they need to be doing with the student athletes and with the coaches and with the staff, the athletic staff.
I hope – my ideal dream, if I was put on my rose collared glasses and was the last optimist in the north – would be that the attention that athletics gets actually helps universities with their sexual assault policies and procedures at large.
Because they’re not good either. You know, college athletics is a particular place where there’s a problem, a huge problem, a crisis with sexual assault. But honestly, this is further and deeper even within universities and so in my happiest optimistic moment, it would be that somehow this attention and these steps that are being taken could help colleges rid large, with accountability.
Part of what’s tricky here though is that I don’t understand what the NCAA can do if somebody doesn’t check these boxes of an online survey that they’ve educated their staff and administration on sexual assault?
[0:20:01.8] JL: Yeah, I’m not sure they can do anything at this point. I do think it’s more of a public accountability, right? I think it’s more that if this makes it to the media, we will have someone had the university will have said that they did this work whether or not they actually did it, right?
It’s someone publicly attesting to it but I don’t – Lindsay, do you know? I don’t think the NCAA can do anything at this point.
[0:20:24.6] LG: No, right now, the punishment part of this is still in the works pretty much. What Brenda told me multiple times was “Look, getting this passed in a year is lightning fast for the NCAA.” The next step is to get bylaws and she eventually wants something like the Indiana policy.
Although even more expansive than the Indiana policy would be the NCAA bylaw about kind of banning sexually violent athletes. Banning athletes with the history of violence against women.
That’s her end goal but for right now, this policy is in place and like I said, I think it’s going to make it a lot harder for when these big investigations come down, when the next scandal happens, right? When these investigators are looking into it or heaven forbid, any legal people are looking into it, it’s going to be a lot harder for them to say, “We didn’t know.”
And to say we didn’t know, if they’ve signed a public pledge that says they did know, right? That says they were educated, that they did tell everyone. Maybe in that way, it can be useful but the hope is that this is only the beginning and Brenda said very clearly, I really like this quote she gave me.
She said – she’s heard all the criticism and she understands completely that people are worried that this isn’t going to – that this doesn’t have any teeth, that there’s no punishment, there aren’t any sanctions with this but her quote was, “I always tell people, you have to get in the car before you can drive. Maybe this policy is just getting in the car and that’s okay. The point is, it’s a step.”
[0:22:01.0] JL: Yeah, which is, I think that’s also what she’s doing with the pledge, right? going into these places and getting them to talk about it and actually sign their name to something is a real symbolism to that.
Then I think, what Bren said is really important. If you get athletes involved in an issue on college campus especially if you can get a D1 team, or a player from that team, involved in an issue. That’s huge, right?
When athletes speak out, these things matter. It’s small tiny steps, this is kind of how this is going to work, I think that’s always one of the things that I talk about is that you know, we want to fix this now, we need to mitigate harm immediately.
We know that violence is happening and then being the reports of it are being squashed or ignored. But these fixes, we’re talking about cultural issues, they’re going to be slow. One thing I just want to leave us with, I talked about this before and when we were talking about head coaches.
These athletic officials at this universities are educators, that is what they’re hired to do. Their job is to take care of the student body, not just the players that are directly underneath them. We should keep holding them accountable to that. It’s really important that as fans and as media that that’s the work that we’re doing and we constantly tell ourselves that that is what these people’s jobs actually are.
[0:23:30.8] JL: Lindsay, this week you got the opportunity to interview the Washington Post’s Ava Wallace, what did you all talk about?
[0:23:35.5] LG: Yeah, well Ava Wallace she’s a very talented young sports reporter at the Washington Post. A couple of weeks ago when the violent white supremacist rally was unfolding in Charlottesville right at the University of Virginia campus, Ava and I were actually both covering a Washington Mystics game at the time. I remember her looking at me and just being like, “I should be there on campus” because she had covered the UVA football team the prior season.
She was thinking about these athletes, who’s predominantly black athletes and wondering how they were responding to this horrific violence and this horrific racism on their campus. So she wrote a great piece for the Washington Post where she talked to some of the current and former UVA athletes and so I just called her up to talk about it.
LG: Okay, I am here with Ava Wallace. Ava is a sports reporter at the Washington Post. I know Ava pretty well from her tennis coverage which you might hear, she is currently at the US Open at the USTA Center so that’s the background noise you are hearing. I also know her from Washington Mystics but she’s covered the University of Virginia football team, which is why I am talking to her this week. She wrote a really important piece called “Charlottesville prompts black UVA athletes” to reflect on their experience.
And of course by Charlottesville, she is referring to the violent white supremacist rally that happened. Gosh it seems like a month ago now but it was just a little over a week ago in downtown Charlottesville where you had Nazis marching. You had one woman and then two police officers die. Ava talked to some former and current UVA athletes about their experience. So Ava I just wanted to start with when you reached out to these former UVA players, were they surprised that this was something that could happen on their campus?
[0:25:21.4] AW: Everybody I talked to is certainly shocked just because of the events that had gone on were shocking. I mean it’s weird on a college campus to see that type of violence happen to guests and members of your community. But when I actually started talking to people and getting past the initial I guess shock and awe of it, people weren’t totally surprised. A little bit of it was no one was surprised because of the kind of tenure of the country right now and what’s happening.
But a lot of players on their own brought up – I mean there is a reason these white supremacists and Klansmen and Nazis chose Charlottesville. Some people were saying that they are targeting us as a progressive community but a lot of people were saying you know there’s history here. There’s a reason that they chose this specific place which is certainly in the south but also has a mixed history and a mixed tone about it. It’s this supposedly really progressive university in this very complicated town situated in the south.
[0:26:17.9] LG: Yeah, I know Thomas Jones was one of the more successful football players to come out of UVA, which is not a football school but also isn’t a football powerhouse I would say. I think is safe to say. But tell me a little bit about his story because you opened up your piece with him and he graduated what, I think 10 years ago now? It’s been a while since he’s been on campus maybe longer but he graduated in three years and there was a reason for that.
[0:26:45.3] AW: Yeah, I started with his story because he just had a powerful story to tell and he wanted to let me know about it. It wasn’t something I necessarily had to ask him when I was on the phone initially just to talk to Thomas Jones about what his thoughts were and his reactions. It was something that he brought up on his own which honestly in talking to athletes it is something that definitely makes people speak up and take notice.
But he wanted to graduate from the University of Virginia in three years because of Thomas Jefferson really and Thomas Jefferson obviously is the founder and pretty much the architect of the University of Virginia. He is still so revered on campus. I remember in 2016 I was there on his birthday and I was in downtown Charlottesville right around campus. Bars had 25-cent shots all night in celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. It is still very much a big thing there and it is meaningful to the school.
And in a college way, you know something that was once serious is just part of the culture and maybe not necessarily something that’s students really realize what they were celebrating. But Thomas Jones is saying that, “That was someone in the back of my mind every day, a slave owner who built the University of Virginia with slave labor. I wanted to prove a point to him.” He is saying, “It might not have made sense to me but in my mind everyday,” he was sticking it to Thomas Jefferson.
And saying, “Look at what I did in three years. I can graduate just like any white student and I can do it faster.”
[0:28:05.1] LG: Wow, that’s pretty incredible. I just can’t believe this, I can’t let this go. They’re having 25-cent shots on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday? That is so inappropriate.
[0:28:15.1] AW: It was pretty wild to me too. That was the first time I realized like, “Oh this is definitely like a thing here” but it was a beautiful day and everything that is always said about Charlottesville being a gorgeous place and a gorgeous campus is so true. It’s this beautiful sunny day and all the students are out and clearly it was the beginning of a big night where all these bars were having deals and restaurants were having deals for Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. Yeah it was crazy.
[0:28:39.9] LG: Did that bother you? I mean you are a black woman and walking around these streets, trying to do your job and here they are revering in this catty way. I just can’t imagine how that would make you feel?
[0:28:51.7] AW: It was one of those things, it was another thing honestly that I checked off. Obviously as a reporter, I always try to taper or at least what I thought is pretty successful in tapering my own feelings about Charlottesville and Virginia and the school itself. I am from Maryland. So I was raised with a little bit of, “You are not supposed to like Virginia on the other side of the state line there.” But I always thought Charlottesville would have been a fascinating place to anthropologically study.
Even though it is a hundred miles from DC, it is southern culture down there. So it was another thing that I checked off and I was like, “Oh this was something that I noticed.” Something that maybe might not have seemed super normal to me. It was just something that stood out.
[0:29:36.5] LG: I was looking at the demographics of UVA and there are only 408 African-American men in undergraduate last year. You’ve got to think, a large portion of that are in athletics and in particular in the football team, you know? What was it like covering – was race something that was in your mind when you were covering the team last year and there were racial dynamics at play? Because of course, it’s not like last year that country was in a really great place either.
[0:30:03.3] AW: Right, yeah. I am actually so glad that you asked that question. So the whole reason, I guess the first time I became aware of those racial implications on campus was last year right after Colin Kaepernick first did his national anthem protest where he was kneeling. A little bit after that the Virginia basketball team actually posted a photo where everybody on the team was kneeling on a practice quarter on Virginia, which had the Virginia logo on it.
They were all kneeling and their arms were linked in solidary and they put this online saying, “We see this protest and we know what is going on.” They didn’t necessarily say, didn’t come right out and say, “This is in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick.” I mean they are current students. I know they had thoughts on it but they’ve got the NCAA hanging over their heads but it was something that they wanted to put out and say, “We are aware of what is going on in the world.”
“We might be on this college campus bubble and these athletes but we are paying attention” basically is what they were saying. Then having conversations with a lot of the team leaders after that, who are African-American, they were saying, “We felt it was important for us as black men on this campus to speak up and use our platform and say, “We’re watching.” Nobody came out and said, “This is something that we are saying.”
You know as I said, standing in solidarity with Kaepernick or saying we’re being treated unfairly. It was nothing like that but it was definitely they made it clear to me that race and being in Virginia and being a black athlete at Virginia and being black men with voices at Virginia, was something that they thought about. I was talking to a couple of basketball players and saying, “You know a lot of the athletes I have talked to have gone to Virginia and said that they are really high graduation rate is African-American is something that attracted to the school and made them proud to go to UVA.”
But wrapped up in all of those conversations starting around I guess, about a year ago last year. I was like, “Oh yeah, these kids think about this a lot,” this is something worth looking into.
[0:31:59.0] LG: Yeah, Coach Mendenhall is the football coach and last year was his first year with the team and they didn’t have necessarily have a super successful season. I think just two wins if I am correct. How do you feel like, I know you are not on the beat this year, but just from that one year, what are your thoughts on how much of a handle he has on this topic and maybe how the team will handle it going forward? Do you think we are going to see any messages sent during their first game, which is against William and Mary next Saturday? Do you think there are going to be any signs of solidarity?
[0:32:32.8] AW: I would be really surprised if we saw anything during a game that would be potentially seen as players being distracted from the game at hand and everything like that. Colleges are really aware of and most college coaches certainly, Mendenall included, is something that is really careful to say. “No, we are totally locked in on this game, on this particular week.” But I think he does have a pretty good handle on it.
I would assume so just because coming in as a new coach last year, he really took the time to listen to a lot of his players. Micah Kiser in particular is one player on the defense, who is a total complete team leader and is a black man and I know for a fact has stood up in front of the team after what happened in Charlottesville and said, “You know we are thinking about this. This is something on our minds, you have to listen to what we want to say.”
I know that he stood up in a team meeting in front of Mendenhall and said that and from that, after that what I have been reading is something that really interested me was the quarterback, Kurt Benkert, who is white and was saying, “Yeah, I think about it and it’s awful but what we are worried about first is how our African-American and black teammates are feeling. We are feeling a certain way and we know this affects those people in a completely separate way.”
And with that I was really happy to see that kind of level of awareness about how this can play out in different people’s minds.
[0:33:54.9] LG: Yeah, that is really good to hear. Listen thank you so much for joining us today, it was really good to hear your insight on this topic. I am so glad that you’ve been covering it and I’m so jealous that you are in New York for the US Open so we’ll have to have you back on, thank you.
[0:34:08.9] AW: Thank you so much Lindsay, anytime.
[0:34:18.3] JL: Now, it’s time for everyone’s favorite segment, The Burn Pile. Where we pile up all the things we have hated this week in sports and we set them aflame. Brenda, do you want to get it started?
[0:34:28.4] BE: Sure. A brief admission, I was a cheerleader and so there. I know, I know.
[0:34:35.9] JL: Brenda!
[0:34:36.5] BE: I know, let’s keep it between us and our listeners okay?
[0:34:40.3] JL: Like thrown into the air, tossed into the air, caught kind of cheerleading or like just on the ground move your arms kind of cheerleading?
[0:34:48.7] BE: A little bit of both with a lot of yelling. So just as a segue to explain my sympathy with the girls who were subjected to Denver coach Ozell Williams’s abuse over this past season. In which this high school coach from Denver is getting a lot of press, forced girls into the splits, threatened them and physically pressured them to continue even after they were begging him to stop and so I want to throw Williams’s resume onto the burn pile.
Williams actions especially because he is already been fired for the exact same thing at another school district. So yeah, that’s where I’m at. I would like to throw all of that abuse of children by a cheerleading coach onto the burn pile.
[0:35:44.7] JL: Burn, wow. Lindsay what’s on your burn pile this week?
[0:35:50.9] LG: Well something that is equally as serious which is the US Open schedulers or excuse me, the US Open draw. Sorry I don’t make light of this horrible thing, I just didn’t really know how to transition there. But anyways, look the US Open, it’s US Open time. I love women’s tennis, I love tennis period. Two of my favorite players are Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep, Serena Williams fans I can love Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova before I hear from you.
I can love them both and it’s okay. Anyway, Sharapova is coming back from an 18 month drug ban from meldonium and Simona Halep is the number two player in the world and has a great chance at being number one at the end of this US Open. They have a great rivalry. They played a fantastic French Open match. Maria Sharapova has dominated but I love the way their games match up. But they got drawn together to play the first round and I am so mad because these are two players I really want to see go deep at this tournament.
I am just really sad that it worked out that we are going to have to lose one of them before the tournament even begins. By the time you guys hear this, we will know who the winner is. They are playing Monday night on Arthur Ash. I hope you all have watched and our morning with me for whoever the loser is and throw those draws on the burn pile.
[0:37:13.5] JL: Burn, oh that’s a bummer and I didn’t know about that.
Alright, so on Tuesday last week the Boston Celtics traded point guard Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers. I read this morning that maybe that’s a little up in the air whether or not the trade is going to happen. Thomas has been with the Celtics since February 2015 and played so well for them that he made the NBA all-star game in the last two years.
In 2017, he led the Celtics to the first seat in the Eastern Conference. During the first round of playoffs, his sister, Chyna Thomas, was tragically killed in a car accident. Isaiah laced up the next day to play for the Celtics and they defeated the Chicago Bulls of that series. In game two of the second round of the playoffs, he put up 53 points, the second highest total in Celtics playoff history. They won that series too and then unsuccessfully played for the Eastern Conference finals.
During which Thomas was hurt with a hip injury. This was all to say Isaiah Thomas did a lot for the Celtics then management decided to trade them to the Cavaliers because basketball is a business after all and then Celtic fans burned Thomas’s jersey.
In the words of basketball god and no stranger to jersey burning, LeBron James, who took to Twitter on Thursday quote: “The burning of the jersey thing is getting ridiculous now. The man was traded, what did you not understand? And played in a game after his sister’s tragic death.”
That’s right LeBron, I am yes, burning the jersey burning. So burn.
[0:38:39.6] BE: Double burn.
[0:38:40.7] LG: Burn.
[0:38:50.3] JL: So after all that burning, it’s time to celebrate some remarkable women in sports this week with our Badass Woman of the Week segment. This week our badass honorable mentions go out to San Francisco 49ers, assistant coach Katie Sowers, who is not only just a second fulltime female assistant coach in NFL history but also the first openly LGBTQ coach in the league. Aly Raisman, gold medal gymnast who spoke out strongly against the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse cover up this week.
And from listener, Shane Thomas, the women of the final of the Rugby Union World Cup between England and New Zealand. Thomas says, “This was the best Women’s Rugby Union World Cup final in the tourneys history,” going to New Zealand who beat England 41 to 32. A
And now Brenda, please tell us who this week’s badass women are.
[0:39:39.4] BE: It is my pleasure to announce that the WNBA team, the LA Sparks are our badass women of the week because of their amazing video. And it’s a video that since has been taken down but it was in response to a barrage of internet trolling. They released a two part music video on their Instagram account and basically it features Sparks players and a couple of ESPNW writers dancing to Beyoncé’s “Sorry.” By which they mean they’re anything but sorry for being talented, strong and confident athletes.
These terribly sexists Tweets appear as the camera pans on them. So you get this dialogue happening and really what’s wonderful is there’s no sexist snag here. There is no effort to fit each player into a marketable mode to femme them up for male consumption which is something we’ve seen time and time again. Instead it’s classy, it’s funny and it’s feminist all at once and at Burn It All Down, it just lifted us up this week. So badass women of the week award goes to the LA Sparks.
[0:39:39.4] JL: Alright and to round out this episode, let’s talk about what’s good in our worlds this week. Lindsay, tell us what’s good with you.
[0:41:01.7] LG: Well, I have done a lot of sleeping this weekend so that’s good. But I mean the obvious answer is it’s US Open time but I am going to save that. I am just going to say I’ve been really excited about these rallies for Colin Kaepernick that have been happening this week. We saw one a couple at NFL Headquarters and there was one in Atlanta where hundreds of supporters showed up with signs offering their support to him.
You also had an NYPD Kaepernick rally last weekend and that was really powerful about a 100 NYPD officers, mostly minority officers speaking up in support of Colin Kaepernick and it just makes me happy to see his supporters mobilizing as much as his haters. I think we talked on this show before about how it might seem pointless, it might seem like it is not doing anything but it does matter to speak up, to call these owners, to make your voices heard if you want him back in the NFL. I am not saying that it’s not going to work but it’s certainly worth the shot.
[0:41:59.5] JL: Yes, I love it too. Brenda, what’s good with you?
[0:42:03.2] BE: Well there’s no secret I love Barcelona. I may be the only person happy about their two big transfers this year. So Ousmane Dembélé and Paulino and a lot of people started to social media as soon as these came into place, sort of whining about how they were the wrong choices and it’s going to move Messi to center and he won’t be able to plan the left, blah-bidi-blah-bidi-blah. These are so exciting trades in my opinion.
So I am really excited to see them integrate these week. There is something special about Luis Suarez having to work it out with a player of color for me as well because of his history. So I am really looking forward to seeing both of these guys integrate. I think they are really exciting players.
[0:42:52.1] JL: I learn so much from Brenda. So like Lindsay, I am also looking forward to the US Open and now, I am looking forward to the Sharapova-Halep on Monday night. I just love the tennis tournament that is in our time zone. Well, close enough to me and it’s fun to be able to watch that tennis right before you go back to bed. I’ve also recently started in the last season of the clone drama, Orphan Black, starting the amazing Tatiana Maslany. And I am also watching the first season of the comedy, The Good Place, which stars the amazing Kristen Bell and these two shows has just been lovely in the midst of all of the stuff going on in the world.
[0:43:34.4] BE: It’s definitely the last season, Jess, of Orphan Black can I ask you that?
[0:43:38.8] JL: Oh yeah, the series finale has happened and so I worked very hard not to be spoiled but I’ve heard it’s perfect so I am really excited to get there.
We hope in the midst of all the bullshit in the world right now, you too are finding the good in your world.
[0:43:56.7] LG: And all over Texas, listeners stay safe.
[0:44:02.1] JL: That’s it for this week’s episode. Thank you for joining us. You can find Burn It All Down on Facebook and Twitter. If you want to subscribe to Burn It All Down, you can do so on Apple Podcast a.k.a. iTunes, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Google Play and Tune In. Important announcement, Burn It All Down now has transcripts for our episodes. You can now find them in links for each episode on our website, burnitalldownpod.com.
You can also contact us at the site to give us feedback, we’d love to hear from you and if you enjoyed this week’s show, we’d love if you’d share this episode with friends on social media. Please, rate the show at whichever place you listen to it. The rating helps us reach new listeners who need this feminist sports podcast but don’t yet know it exists. Please take some time to check out our Go Fund Me page and consider making a small donation.
We really want to improve this podcast and make it a sustainable endeavor. We’re really grateful to everyone who has contributed so far. That’s it for Burn It All Down. For Brenda Elsey and Lindsay Gibbs, I am Jessica Luther. Until next week.