Episode 20: In solidarity with Jemele Hill
Episode 20 of Burn It All Down is dedicated to former guest of the show and all-around badass in sports media, Jemele Hill. This week, Brenda Elsey, Shireen Ahmed, Julie DiCaro, Lindsay Gibbs, and Jessica Luther discuss the uproar over a series of tweets Hill wrote last week, the intersection of sports and politics, and what it really means when we say sports media is “liberal.”
And we welcome back Dr. Amira Rose Davis to talk about the history of sports, politics, and race.
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 the episode...
Hill’s statement: https://twitter.com/jemelehill/status/908173152370520064
Lindsay’s piece about exactly what happened to Jemele Hill and Michael Smith at ESPN on Wednesday: https://thinkprogress.org/exactly-what-happened-to-jemele-hill-and-michael-smith-at-espn-on-wednesday-03a5aa226620/
A quick guide to the political statements that have gotten ESPN employees in hot water: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2017/09/espn-politics-suspensions-history-jemele-hill-linda-cohn-curt-schilling-britt-mchenry-keith-law
The White House Is Wrong: Linda Cohn and Jemele Hill Are Not Totally Analogous: http://thebiglead.com/2017/09/15/the-white-house-is-wrong-linda-cohn-and-jemele-hill-are-not-totally-analogous/
The 2014 Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card: http://nebula.wsimg.com/038bb0ccc9436494ebee1430174c13a0?AccessKeyId=DAC3A56D8FB782449D2A&disposition=0&alloworigin=1
Shireen on the myth that Trump accelerated liberal sportswriting: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/02/no-trump-did-not-accelerate-liberal-sportswriting.html
Deep Six: Jemele Hill and the Fight for the Future of ESPN: https://www.theringer.com/2017/9/13/16299136/jemele-hill-espn-michael-smith-sportscenter-the-six
ESPN Hasn’t Learned Its Lesson With Jemele Hill: https://www.thedailybeast.com/espn-hasnt-learned-its-lesson-with-jemele-hill
ESPN public editor backtracks after blaming Trump’s ‘white supremacist’ image on the media: https://thinkprogress.org/espn-public-editor-jim-brady-trump-white-supremacist-ffb64873a5e7/
Get your copy of Best Canadian Sports Writing, which includes a piece by Shireen! https://www.amazon.ca/Canadian-Sports-Writing-Stacey-Fowles/dp/1770413723
Shireen Ahmed: Welcome to this week’s episode of Burn It All Down. It may not be the feminist sports podcast you want, but it’s the feminist sports podcast you need.
On this week’s panel we have Jessica Luther, independent writer, general slater, and author of Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape. She’ in Austin, Texas. Brenda Elsey, Associate Professor of History and undeniable genius at Hofstra University in New York State. The indomitable and award-winning Julie DiCaro, sportswriter and radio host in Chicago, Illinois. And our brilliant major scoop-serving Lindsay Gibbs, sportswriter at Think Progress in D.C. And I’m Shireen Ahmed, freelance sportswriter and cat lover in Toronto, Canada.
We start by reading aloud all of Jemele’s tweets from September 11, 2017, so her words and the truth continue to ring out in the universe.
Jessica Luther: Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists.
Brenda Elsey: The height of white privilege is being able to ignore his white supremacy because it’s of no threat to you. Well it’s a threat to me.
Julie DiCaro: Trump is the most ignorant, offensive President of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.
Lindsay Gibbs: He has surrounded himself with white supremacists. No, they are not alt-right and you want me to believe he isn’t a white supremacist?
Shireen: No, the media doesn’t make it a threat. It is a threat. He has empowered white supremacists. See Charlottesville.
Jessica: How is it a false narrative? Did he hire and court white supremacists? Answer: yes.
Brenda: You don’t want to believe it because it’s too unpleasant, but that doesn’t change the facts.
Julie: He’s unqualified and unfit to be President. He is not a leader and if he were not white he never would have been elected.
Lindsay: Donald Trump is a bigot. Glad you could live with voting for him. I couldn’t because I cared about more than just myself.
Shireen: I need a lot of things but not enough to jeopardize my fellow citizens with an unfit, bigoted, incompetent moron. But hey, that’s just me.
Jessica: And it’s funny how you cling to Benghazi, but I bet you didn’t give one thought to what Trump said about the Central Park Five.
Brenda: You yell about Benghazi, but I bet you didn’t care at all about him having to settle the largest racial housing discrimination case in New York City.
Julie: He is the worst.
Jessica: So what a week, guys. On Monday Hill wrote these tweets that we just read. Some assholes who we’ll get to made it a thing and by Tuesday ESPN put out a statement saying, “The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate.” Then on Wednesday for what most people believe to be the first time ever the President of the United States, via his press secretary, called for the firing of an employee of a private company.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in response to a reporter’s question about this … Why did anyone ask her? … said, “That is one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and is a fireable offense by ESPN.” Does anyone else feel the irony of the supposed non-white supremacist administration going after a black woman in this unprecedented way?
So that night Hill tweeted the following statement. “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remain unconditional.”
So ESPN is known for disciplining their employees for what they post on social media. Infamously, famously, former major league baseball pitcher Curt Schilling was fired in 2016 after repeatedly posting bigoted, racist, xenophobic, hateful things on social media. Keith Law, an ESPN baseball writer, was forced by ESPN to take some time off from social media in 2014 after he defended the concept of evolution … you heard me say that right … against Schilling’s claims on Twitter that it wasn’t real.
So the one example people keep talking about including Huckabee Sanders is Linda Cohn. In April, after Cohn made some comments on New York sports radio that she thought ESPN had lost some viewers due to their political slant, the Head of ESPN John Skipper asked her to voluntarily take a day off. That’s it.
On Friday Huckabee Sanders said, “I think the point is that ESPN has been hypocritical. They should hold anchors to a fair and consistent standard.” So the difference here was not politics, though, but rather Cohn speculating publicly about the business of ESPN. It just so happened she speculated about the politics.
And as our own Lindsay Gibbs reported at Think Progress this week, “ESPN had initially tried to keep Hill off the air on Wednesday for the 6 PM Eastern broadcast at SportsCenter.” Lindsay’s reporting on this, by the way, has been stellar this week.
On Saturday, ESPN’s public editor Jim Brady wrote, “So, yes, Hill is a U.S. citizen who clearly cannot stand the President of her country. She’s far from alone in that view. But she’s also the high-profile host of a high-profile show on a high-profile network that is going through high-profile business and cultural challenges, and none of what’s happened the past few days has accrued or will accrue to ESPN’s benefit. With the salary and prominence ESPN provides Hill comes some responsibility to play by the network’s rules, and, in this case, she crossed the line set by management just five months ago, when ESPN released revised guidelines about political discussions.”
So Brady in his piece, he calls Hill’s characterization of Trump as a white supremacist an opinion. But at what point do we get to call someone who was sued by the federal government for using a tactic of racialized housing discrimination, someone who still believe the Central Park Five which was five young men of color, mainly black men, who were coerced into confessing to a high-profile rape in the New York City park which they were later exonerated for, he still believes that they are guilty. Someone whose entire political career was started by trying to prove the first black president was a liar and illegitimate. Someone whose first campaign speech included calling Mexicans rapists. Someone who could not find it in himself to unequivocally condemn what happened in Charlottesville and called some of the Nazis and white supremacists who marched there very good people. At what point do we get to call someone like this a white supremacist and it be a fact?
So I know we all have lots of things to say. But what exactly did she do wrong and when will we let go of the lie that sports are not political and what is ESPN going to do going forward? Because this is not going to be the last time that something like this is going to happen.
Lindsay: Well I think the irony of the situation that every time someone does something and gets disciplined by their own employer, everyone starts screaming about the First Amendment. And I feel like I’m constantly on Twitter saying, “Look. The First Amendment is not implicated just because you get disciplined by your employer. They have the right to do that.” But here we have a case where the actual government is saying that someone should be fired for their job, and no one cares now about the implications of free speech and the First Amendment. It’s like we’re living in bizarro world and we’ve gone completely through the looking glass.
For the President of the United States to call for the firing of a journalist because they criticized him does actually implicate the First Amendment and goes contrary to everything this country and free speech stands for, and it is absolutely maddening that the people who are constantly screaming fee speech, free speech when it comes to Curt Schilling when there’s no First Amendment issue are now ignoring that when we actually have a First Amendment crisis.
Shireen: I almost died from all the non-surprise this week involving hypocrisy and the right conservatives on Twitter. But just wanted to clarify this, this is coming up constantly. Jemele didn’t actually say these live on air. She used her personal Twitter to share her own beliefs and her opinions, which I strongly believe are fact. But she didn’t do that. So people are calling for her firing and I’m like, “Do you understand that it wasn’t done on air? It wasn’t done from that particular platform.” And people are like, “Oh well she can’t separate herself from her comments.” Well can we use that same argument on the President and can he be fired, please? Julie?
Julie: Yeah. And you know the crazy thing about it is that I’ve seen so many people say, “Well when you really get down to it, what is the problem with what she said other than the fact that you don’t like it?” They would say, “Well, she’s impartial.” But that’s not her beat. She doesn’t cover the White House. She doesn’t cover politics. So she can say whatever she wants just like I can, too.
That’s not my beat and I tweet about Trump all the time. Thank God I have an employer who believes that Twitter is separate from what I say on the air. If I was on the air saying Trump’s a white supremacist on a sports show then absolutely my employer can say, “You’ve gone beyond the bounds of what we deem acceptable for this show.” Even though I still don’t think my employer would do that. But the fact that you as a sports person … and I think this is unique to sportswriters. You’re reduced to being only a sportswriter. And if you comment on anything else in the world people are going to find a way to say that it’s beyond the bounds of what you’re supposed to do, as if we’re all not citizens that have to live in this country too.
Shireen: Yeah. Bren?
Brenda: Yeah. And we’ve talked on this show about how President Donald Trump has directly influenced sports, including the Women’s U.S. Open in golf. So this isn’t a president that has decided that sports is apolitical. This is a president who has decided to hand out golf memberships to golfers that he feels are supportive of him, and then invites them to speak at conventions.
So in a sense we’ve already had him cross the line. And I just want to say about Jemele Hill, her position as a black woman, she’s not only an African American and a woman, but she comes from a city that has been gutted by corporate greed and corruption at the expense of poor, mostly black people. And what she’s seen, what she and her mother have been through, she can’t be expected to ignore that. If ESPN wants diverse voices, to have diverse, i.e. not sugarcoated experiences, that’s what you’re going to get.
Shireen: Yeah. Linds?
Lindsay: Yeah. So I think, as you guys have mentioned, I’ve spent a lot of this week reporting on this story and talking to sources all throughout ESPN, a lot of current and former employees. And the response that I’ve gotten, a lot of them do feel like maybe even though this is true she knows what the spotlight’s like, maybe these weren’t the best, most advised tweets she could have sent.
But everyone brings up the amount of scrutiny and pressure she is on for a day-in, day-out basis is unlike anything any of us can imagine. Because not only is she a woman giving news, she’s a black woman giving news on the most scrutinized program that ESPN has. The SportsCenter 6 is the platform on regular ESPN, not ESPN 2.
The thing that really gets me about all this is Jemele has worked for ESPN for a really really long time. They know who she is. She and Michael Smith, when they got the SC6 job, they said it was going to be like their previous show, His & Hers. And that show did not shy away from the fact that it had a black woman and a black male as its host, and it entailed their viewpoint and their experiences.
So ESPN knew what it was doing when it gave these two its biggest platform. And now what it’s saying is, “Well we like the energy you guys bring, we like your talent, we like the way you’re handling everything, we like the pop culture references and the connections you have to your audience and to the athletic community. We love all of this stuff and we want to exploit all of this stuff for our own good. But when it comes down to your very identities, which has been part of your success …” They didn’t rise to prominence forgetting, like I said, their race and gender, which you do see a lot of black people on television do. You see a lot of women in television doing this, period. Not wanting to acknowledge the truth of their … wanting to make everyone super comfortable by pretending like their gender or their race is not an issue.
Jemele and Michael have never played that game. So for ESPN to not know how to have the backs of these two people, especially Jemele, in a situation like this is appalling. They’ve never once spoken out against the many people who are in Jemele’s mentions on a daily basis calling her the n-word. They’ve never once really stood up for these two people. Like I said, they want it both ways. And this is a sentiment I’ve gotten from many many employees there, that it’s just so frustrating that it feels like they’ve just left them out to dry.
And none of this should be a surprise. None of this is incoherent or … I can’t think of this right word because I’m just having a moment. But all of this fits into her and who she is and who she’s always been. And so you can’t get the benefit from that without also supporting it unconditionally.
Shireen: That’s so powerful. Thank you, Lindsay. Moving on to our next segment, Brenda and I had the honor and the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Amira Rose Davis on black history, sports media, and her giving us a little bit of historical context.
Brenda: We are thrilled today to have back on the show Dr. Amira Rose Davis, Assistant Professor of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University, and author of the forthcoming book, Can’t Eat A Medal: The Lives and Labors of Black Women Athletes in the Age of Jim Crow. Amira, thanks for joining us today.
Amira Davis: Thank you for having me back. So happy to be here.
Brenda: So this episode is dedicated to the brave and besieged Jemele Hill.
Amira: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brenda: And we wanted to ask you, as a scholar of race and sport and history, what was your reaction when you heard the White House calling for her firing?
Amira: Yeah. Pretty much my reaction to so much today is I just wanted to put my head through a wall. It’s unfortunate and somehow not at all surprising to me to find Jemele who is amazing and really on the front lines of so much great sports journalism these days, to be the epicenter of a kind of war between the White House and ESPN on political correctness and the labeling of white supremacy. And I say that because Jemele, by her very presence, makes people wildly uncomfortable. You can just do a quick survey through her mentions on a Tuesday, on a random Tuesday out of any month in the year, and find a level of hate and vitriol that is just absolutely disgusting.
And I think one of the things that was very clear to me in this and even how it even got to the White House is because there’s people who pay attention to everything she says, just waiting to bite. It’s like a pack of vultures circling above their prey. And I think that this has everything to do with the fact that she is a black woman in an industry that has been largely and historically dominated by white voices, by male voices. And she is completely, unequivocally strong in asserting not only her expertise, but that her presence there is not supposed to be anomaly, that it’s not by accident.
And what results is this kind of feverish hate towards her as the stand-in and symbol of everybody else’s projections. So Jemele represents … it’s not about Jemele, it’s about political correctness gone awry. Jemele becomes a stand-in for everything that … folks want a diagnosis … the wrong parts of sports or this is why we need to stick to sports. And she has to carry that burden. So the fact that people are constantly looking at her mentions is what even got the attention. I don’t even like to mention Clay Travis’ name because I think that he just wants more attention, that that’s his ammo. But it’s him amplifying her tweets and always monitoring them that got it picked up on a national level in the first place.
Shireen: Yeah, I’m really glad you said the part about her making people uncomfortable because for me that’s so much of what it is. When the [inaudible 00:18:01] voice is one of rising up and resisting against these systems of white supremacy she’s called out. There’s a lot of things that make me uncomfortable. Julie Stewart-Binks …
Shireen: … was recently hired at Barstool. She called them geniuses, the people at Barstool. I’m like, “What? For their incredible developments in misogyny and racism?”
Shireen: What exactly … And that makes me uncomfortable. But it also … who are we prioritizing? And whose discomfort is more valued than others? And I think in this situation Jemele speaking out … And again, for me who’ve seen black women on the front lines all the time trying to press social change. When you see this and you see the criticism that she’s receiving beyond criticism that others would get … There was a piece actually out there about historically … we’ll link it to the show notes, historically which people … Curt Schilling said a whole bunch of stuff but he doesn’t endure the layers of misogynoir that she has to deal with.
So when you see this and you look at it, is this just you expect it at this point? Or is it part of the routine that happens this cycle?
Amira: I think that in a sad way I think it’s par for the course and I think that that has a lot to do with how we have constructed sports as this kind of masculine escapism enterprise. And one of the things, and I don’t have to tell you guys this, but one of the things that commonly happens as a woman in sports media is a constant assertion that you just have a right to be there. Your mere bodily presence is offensive because you’re impinging on a masculine space where men are going to escape their wives or girlfriends who whatever. And I think that that’s compounded by the fact that she is a black woman because then you get exactly this misogynoir read onto that where it’s not just that they’re saying, “Get out of the kitchen. Get off the SportsCenter and go back to the kitchen.” But they’re also saying, “Go back to Africa.”
Brenda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Amira: And I think that, again, I’m not surprised by it because historically we have seen the way that sports journalism and sporting spaces have tried and worked very hard at to keep them as old boys clubs. And I say purposefully worked very hard at because I think there’s a way in which we can point to low numbers of black women sports journalists or black male newscasters and whatnot and say, “Oh there’s just not an interest. The reason why we don’t have more Jessica Mendozas calling MLB games is because there’s just not a lot of women who are into sports like that.”
And that’s really a circular logic because what we know is that there’s all these apparatuses that have historically been in play to keep women and other marginalized co-populations out of various levels of sporting spaces, especially journalism, especially when ESPN blew up to be the epicenter of sports media. And so I think about the black women I study who played baseball and there’s only three who played in the Negro League but there was literally a gal file filled with letters from black women around the country who were asking to play.
So if you just look at it and say, “Oh only three women played baseball so there wasn’t an interest,” you’re missing the fact that there is actual barriers put in place to keep the numbers that low. And I think that because of that it isn’t surprising that Jemele makes people so uncomfortable. It’s really historically accurate.
Brenda: Well speaking of history, I wanted to ask you … One of the things is that Jemele is entering into a mainstream white sports media apparatus. What’s happened historically with the African-American sporting press? It feels like there’s not the same kinds of vibrancy in those areas right now, or are they just being so pushed aside?
Amira: Precisely. I think that you’re right on the nose here. The black sporting press played such a vital role in so many of the mid-20th century. If you look to sportswriters like Wendell Smith and Sam Lacy, people who were on the forefront of getting Jackie Robinson into Major League Baseball or having debates about if they should. I think that it’s important to remember somebody like Effa Manley who was one of the owners of the Newark Eagles who was writing columns saying, “We shouldn’t be happy about all this integration into major leagues because the major leagues are not honoring our contracts and are robbing us of our talent.”
And so I think that there was a vibrancy there where these discussions were had where the sports columns on the pages of the Afro-American or the Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Defender, were some of the most well-circulated and read places in black newspapers. And one of the things that has happened as black newspapers in the ’70s and the ’80s really started to decline is you also have the decline of a vibrant black sports media. Now you do have the resurgence of with online forums like BlackSportsOnline who do I think try to position themselves as a curation of the world of black sports looking at not only players but sports journalists and whatnot.
But I think that you’re right, there’s not a centralized, national, vibrant sports orientation just for the black community. I think you just find it in pockets. So you find pockets of Black Twitter who discuss sports. Or you find the National Association of Black Journalists, their sports wing is kind of vibrant. And a network that we saw this week really coming to the defense of Jemele, checking on her, standing by her, refusing to fill in for her, for other people who worked for ESPN. And I think that those connections in that community is still vitally important, especially when we think about access and continued access in all fields of sports so not just on the field but in management, in journalism, in the broadcast booth.
But the actual long history of black sportswriters, which include women and include women dating back to the early 1900s where there’s women in sports columns in the black press written by black women athletes and geared really towards both women as fans and a broad audience … So within that tradition you do have a long tradition of black women as sports journalists. Again, because they’re black and they’re women, you still have them in that space pushing for inclusion on the basis of their gender. But she comes from a long tradition of that and I think that in different ways we can see how that is maintained through these smaller connections but there’s not one central area now.
Shireen: I’ve been really happy to see the amount of solidarity. People are changing their display photos, their avatars on Twitter …
Shireen: … to her. People are wearing t-shirts. I want one of those t-shirts.
Amira: Oh, me too.
Shireen: Do you have a Jemele t-shirt and let’s see if we can get …
Brenda: Can you send us some?
Amira: Listen, I want one. I just saw … Who just put the picture of … I literally just saw it this morning when I first opened my eyes.
Shireen: Yeah. The Burn It All Down Twitter …
Amira: Yes, this is it. New message.
Shireen: … actually just tweeted before we started recording. It was Layshia Clarendon who’s actually [crosstalk 00:25:56]
Amira: Yes yes yes, that’s right. And she was at the Battle of the Sexes Screening, right?
Amira: Precisely. I want one. Hook me up.
Shireen: Yeah. We got one, you got one. [inaudible 00:26:08]. But thank you so much for talking to us about this and your insight and your expertise is always always appreciated and so [crosstalk 00:26:16].
Amira: It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. I wish that we didn’t have to do a special episode on Jemele and how amazing she is and how ridiculous the fact that we’re at a place where being labeled a racist or a white supremacist is somehow akin to … somehow discriminatory, somehow the worst thing you can call somebody, that necessitates all this outrage over her talking factually with evidence on her private Twitter feed. And it’s infuriating that those are the circumstances but I always love talking to you guys.
So I will take them in this case and I hope that the solidarity continues because she is definitely going to remain in the crosshair. She’s such a lightning rod. And part of the thing that I take away from all of this that really pissed me off the way ESPN handled it is it’s just emboldening the people who sit in her mentions all day and hurl hate at her. And if they’re not going to back up their employee, if they’re not going to protect her, it takes all of this kind of solidarity to say, “Listen. She’s a gem, she’s brilliant, she does her job and does it well. She is a torchbearer for black women in this industry and we stand by her.” And I stand with Jemele.
Shireen: Yeah, absolutely. We stand with Jemele. Thank you so much for joining us today, again. We love you and we’re honored to have you on the show.
Lindsay: All right. So one of the things that has been happening this week around this Jemele Hill controversy … faux controversy, I’d like to say. I’d like to say the controversy because ESPN and the White House made it a controversy … has been Clay Travis of Fox Sports taking what I would say is a victory lap. Saying that all of this just emphasizes to him, his thesis, that ESPN is this liberal network. It’s liberal news, it’s the liberal spin, that all of ESPN is liberal. You might have seen him actually go on CNN on Friday and make what I would like to say is a complete ass of himself by saying the only two things he cares about are the First Amendment and boobs, and then he repeated that when the female host asked him multiple times, “Excuse me? Am I maybe mishearing you?” And she did not.
But anyways, I would just like to say that in my opinion what this whole week shows us is that ESPN is not at all liberal, that ESPN has many conservatives behind the scenes and always had had many conservatives behind the scenes that are calling the shots and that are very uncomfortable with the criticism that Fox News and people like Clay Travis lobbying at them. Because these are the networks and these are the people that they are the most in touch with and they don’t know what to do when they receive a lot of criticism from this side. They are so sensitive to that line of questioning.
And to me it just fits in with the whole thing. We hear that sports media is liberal a lot. And what I hear from that is that sports media is getting more diverse, i.e. there’s more people of color and more women who are not afraid to shy around from being what all that entails and from bringing that perspective to the plate. But people just don’t like that and there’s a big segment of people, and by this I mainly mean white men who just, that makes them uncomfortable, that makes them think about things.
But what we’re really seeing with the success that Clay Travis has been having lately, and I would then put the success of the Barstool Sports which is just getting bigger, there’s more corporate partnerships growing by the minute. The “Saturday Is for the Boys”, that’s going everywhere. That’s now just a common catchphrase that we’re not supposed to be offended or appalled or grossed out by. These are getting bigger. These organizations, these conservative places in sports media that are explicitly and unabashedly appealing just to white men, those voices are getting stronger and more powerful and they’ve always been strong and powerful and it’s terrifying. And … I don’t know, what do you guys think? Shireen?
Shireen: Well I was just going to throw it to Jess, but just really quickly I appreciate you saying that the numbers are increasing but we’re still really really low. If we look at … you quoted Women’s Media Studies. The amount of women in color in any type of editorial position or decision-making position is ridiculous. It’s literally … the stats on women of color in sports media weren’t even collected because there were so few in those privileged positions. So yes, we’re on the rise and hopefully people will start speaking out, and social media is also a help and a vehicle for change that way. But it’s still so low. The industry is undoubtedly white,, male, able-bodied, straight. There’s no question. Jess?
Jessica: Yeah, and I was just going to piggyback right off what Lindsay said. The idea that ESPN is more liberal now, Jim Brady the public editor said something like this in the piece he wrote. One of the things that’s interesting about ESPN, and I feel like we’ve probably talked about this on the podcast before, is that they skew all the data on diversity in sports media because they hire more people of color and women and women of color than most sports organizations. And then they put a lot of them on television. And so visually it looks more diverse than you will see in almost any other market. And so it makes it look like sports media is more diverse.
And I really do think that when people say it’s liberal that it’s the MSESPN which Clay Travis thinks is the most clever shit he’s ever come up with, which it probably is. That probably is the cleverest thing he’s ever come up with. But when people say that, they literally just mean that they have to look at more people of color, women of color, women in general when they turn on the television. When anyone who’s not a white man shows up in sports media space, just by existing there they are “liberal” because of our ideas of what conservative is, which is so white and male. I don’t have anything more brilliant than that, but I think that’s exactly what’s happening when we talk about the death of objectivity and everything’s liberal now. It’s just that women and people of color are finally having any piece of the pie.
Julie: Yeah. I just wanted to comment on the ESPN public editor’s rant on Twitter. I don’t think it was supposed to be a rant. I think he thought he was saying stuff that was really enlightening and like he was going to explain this all to the rest of us. But it came from such a standpoint of white male privilege. Because it’s so easy to be objective. Like Jemele said, if this stuff doesn’t affect you, unfortunately, if you’re a woman or if you’re black or if you’re a person of color or an immigrant of Hispanic or any one of the people that gets shit on by society on a daily basis, it does affect you. If there’s an example of how tone deaf ESPN has been through this entire thing, go read his series of tweets because it is just … it did more harm than good. They just keep digging a hole for themselves here.
And I for the life of me cannot figure out why everyone is so enamored of the rednecks. Do you know what I mean? I don’t mean rednecks in the sense of people who are decent human beings and call themselves rednecks because they like to drive trucks and stuff like that. But I mean the legitimate people who want the world to stay the way they perceived it to have always been in the 1950s and want everything to be white and male and keep the status quo. And then that’s certainly not limited to people in the south. But I don’t know what the urge is to get these people on your side or why everyone is courting this group of people. Certainly the group of people who elected Hillary Clinton is bigger. And look at Trump’s approval ratings. So I just don’t understand the coveting, this demographic of uneducated white men sports bro culture guys. I just don’t get it.
Shireen: Just to jump in here too, a lot of them are very educated. I think we all made this …
Julie: Well that’s probably true, too.
Shireen: … assumption. White supremacy isn’t just for poor white folks. That’s absolutely not what it is. We’ve seen it exist in boardrooms. We know it exists in top organizations and in top executive position’s decision makers. And this is a part of the system. It rides very quietly and it stays there, it festers, it doesn’t actually go away. The ones we see on Vice documentaries are people in the hills of Virginia who are having … they’re burning crosses, but that’s not what white supremacy is limited to. It is an actual system that is integrated so carefully into society that it’s hard to pinpoint. Sorry to jump in. Linds?
Lindsay: Yeah. I wanted to give a shout out to Sue Hovey who is a former … I want to make sure I get her title right. She was a former, one of the vice presidents and the executive editors for ESPN the Magazine. I talked with her this week among the dozens of people I would say I talked with. I really liked her quote. I’m probably going to use it in the piece I write this week, but I wanted to shout it out here. She said people are using … She brought up of course a point that Jess was talking about earlier, about how what is happening is there are more people of color and women on the air. They are the public facing group more now. And so that’s what people are complaining about and that’s what people … They haven’t really become more liberal, they’ve just become slightly more diverse and that’s what you’re seeing the push back to.
And it’s also worth noting and she said to me the people are using the word politics to describe discussions about social issues. But if you look at Jemele’s feed or a number of folks from the network, they’re not talking about politics. They’re talking about social issues. They’re speaking out against hate and violence and bigotry and sexism, and that’s not politics, that’s just basic human decency. And so there are these folks who are complaining that they want an escape. Those are the white guys. And it’s worth noting that Jemele Hill doesn’t get an escape, right? She doesn’t get an escape from this. And all she’s doing is being honest about that fact and not hiding away from that fact.
And so I think that these are all really good points and I actually wrote a piece earlier this year called “The Myth of Liberal ESPN”. And I actually quoted Jemele and Michael in a conversation they had with Richard Deitsch on the Sports Illustrated podcast. I love … Jemele I think was saying during that interview that they’re not up there debating the Affordable Care Act. They’re not breaking down policy decisions. And I love Michael’s quote. He said, “Don’t hit women isn’t politics.” But we’ve come to a point where that is politics. And that’s much more … If you think that those things are politics, if you think that speaking up for athletes who aren’t getting paid, who are putting their bodies on the line or speaking out against sexual assault and domestic violence or acknowledging that systematic oppression and racism exist … If you think that those are politics, that says a lot about who you are.
Shireen: Yeah. Just to add on to that, I think I’ve been, as a woman of color and a visibly Muslim one … the idea that something is political is basically a way of whitewashing it to intimidating people to step away from the discussion. There’s that old adage that we don’t talk about politics and religion. But those two pieces are hugely part of my identity. I can’t step away from them exactly. So the idea that I can work and my life experience doesn’t influence what I write about is ridiculous, particularly when I’m coming from the lens of critical analysis.
And I wrote something last year for Paste and it was something along the lines … It was refuting a ringer piece, and it was just talking about how the idea that Trump’s existence accelerated liberal sportswriting. And I’m like, “No. We’ve actually been here all along.” The idea of that is super frustrating to me, that just in the last year have sportswriters that are in the margins, whether it’s LGBTIQ, whether it’s persons with disabilities, whether it’s people of color or biracial folks, that they’re starting to get more prominent because of this, which I also find infuriating. That’s not true. So I always struggle with that idea. The idea of “sports is become liberal.” I think it’s ridiculous because it infers that no other experience except the white male experience is valued. And that’s bullshit. Bren, do you want to wrap it up?
Brenda: Yeah. I was reading the guidelines of ESPN, these new guidelines, and I know you guys have done a lot of reporting on this so correct me if I’m wrong. But as far as I read them, it said that political commentary at ESPN must “be related to a current issue impacting sports.” So it seems to me, it strikes me, when the vast majority of players in these sports that they tend to cover are working class and black and Latino, how is white supremacy not a current issue impacting sports? So it seems to me that I didn’t even understand the violation there in a certain sense if you just look at the very demographic and experience of the people whose bodies and labor are providing your interest, your joy, your fantasy.
Jessica: Your business.
Brenda: And your business. Absolutely.
Shireen: Moving on to our favorite segment every week is the Burn Pile. Julie, would you like to begin?
Julie: I would. So Monday night Beth Mowins smashed through arguably the biggest glass ceiling in sports when she did play by play for Monday Night Football. She was saddled with an absolutely horrible analyst in Rex Ryan who was completely terrible. She was deprived of a sideline reporter because Sergio Dipp was just … I don’t even know what he was talking about, but he became a meme and went viral because he was just so confused down there and so they never went back to her sideline reporter. I thought she did an amazing job. She had to carry the entire broadcast by herself.
And she is a veteran. She’s been calling college games forever. It’s the first time a woman’s done an NFL game on Monday night. But predictably you go into Twitter and immediately you see a million guys complaining about the sound of her voice, which drives me absolutely crazy. This country has had a string of … forever we’ve had broadcasters with terrible voices in there that people have grown to love and have raised up to iconic status in this industry. So the whole “I can’t stand the sound of her voice” thing is just a stand-in for the fact that she sounds like a woman and there’s football words coming out of a woman’s mouth. And I just want to burn it. It drives me absolutely bananas. Burn it.
Lindsay: All right. Four years ago, Ma’lik Richmond was a 16-year-old and he was one of two Steubenville High School football players found guilty of rape in a juvenile court. The case received a lot of national attention. He served less than 10 months in a year-long sentence in juvenile detention. He got out, he went to play football for his senior year at Steubenville High School. Then he bounced around between a few colleges before last fall ending up at Youngstown State University in Ohio, which is about 70 miles north of Steubenville.
Last month word got out that he had joined the Youngstown State football team as a walk-on in January and he was supposed to start playing for them this fall. But that news sparked a lot of backlash. There was a petition that went around started by a female student at Youngstown saying this convicted rapist should not have the right to play on our football team. He can attend school here, that’s fine. But football and sports should be a privilege.
So the decision was made after that that he would actually have to sit out this year and lose a year of NCAA eligibility and remain on the practice squad. Well, Richmond decided to sue Youngstown State, saying the school took biased, improper, and damaging action blocking him from the team. And it points to a section of the school student athlete handbook that labels sports as an integral part of our campus educational program, and that denying him a spot on the football team is denying him a right to an education. And the wildest part for me says that Youngstown State is being infected by anti-male bias that has swept across America’s universities and colleges.
Well, guess what? Richmond was actually granted the temporary restraining order that came with that suit, and he actually played football on Saturday in Youngstown State’s 59-9 win over Central Connecticut State. There will be a hearing on September 28th to see if this will be permanent, if he will be permanently allowed. So anti-male bias is now a thing that you can win court cases over. So that’s great. Burn.
Shireen: Burn it. Jesus. Jessica?
Jessica: So I know we’ve talked repeatedly on this podcast about the problems with the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, in corruption. But I’m going to do it once more and I’m sure this won’t be the last time. So this week I watched Icarus. It’s a Netflix documentary that came out early last month. It’s about the systemic, statewide, decades old conspiracy in Russia to get around the World Anti-Doping Agency’s doping rules and tests. It’s a wild film. And part of the reason it’s wild is that the filmmaker Bryan Fogel, he was actually in position to chronicle the former head of Russia’s anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, as Rodchenkov first was under investigation and then when Rodchenkov turned into a whistleblower.
So you get the firsthand account of all of this happening. And I honestly don’t know what the film is saying about the ethics of doping, which is interesting. But the fact that some of the anti-doping people in this documentary were so shocked by all of this, that made me angry. And then I couldn’t tell if their ignorance or at least the performance of their ignorance to this kind of deep corruption was worse than the anti-doping people who said point blank some version of, “Of course it was like this.” Or, “Of course you can cheat the system.”
And I kept asking myself, “Why is there this system? Why do we care so much and so deeply about the purity of sport and in particular doping that people build these entire systems like this?” And I came away with an utter disgust at the intense nationalism of the Olympics that makes it worth it to anyone to do this kind of clandestine underhanded rule-breaking all to win medals. And in the case of Putin, for his approval rating to skyrocket through the roof. I guess the point is to prove your country is the best, and what does all that mean?
So this week I just want to burn all of the stuff that comes up in this documentary. I know it’s a lot, but I’m stewing over all of it. I recommend Icarus but it will make you mad. So burn.
Brenda: As long as we’re burning down racism on this episode I want to add Guilherme Clezar’s behavior this week. He is a Brazilian tennis player and this week he was competing in the Davis Cup in Japan. And when the ref, who is Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, in Osaka made a call he disagreed with, Clezar made an offensive gesture in reference to the judge’s eye shape. So he pulled at the skin around his eyes. Brazil has a huge … Yeah, I can’t even finish without you wanting to burn it, it’s so bad. Brazil has a huge Japanese community, the largest diaspora in the world. I can only imagine how they felt watching Clezar representing their country in a country from which their families had come from. And so it feels to me doubly significant. And then the International Tennis Federation fined him 1,100 pounds. 1,100 pounds.
Now I don’t care about the money. How can he keep playing? How does he not have a suspension for something like that? It seems to me so ridiculous to say you could just show yourself to be this blatant racist and then you’re just going to have to pay a little fine. So I want to throw that on the Burn Pile, all of that. Clezar, his actions, the International Tennis Federation, and the Brazilian team too for seemingly supporting him. Yuck. Just throw it on the Burn Pile.
Shireen: Burn it, that is yuck. I have one that’s sort of close to my heart. I am a huge Denmark women’s football fan, obviously. And I’m the proud owner of two jerseys that say Nadia Nadim. Thank you, Hummel Sports. But I am actually really furious because Team Denmark has actually had to withdraw from some of their pre-World Cup qualifying matches due to pay disputes with DBU which is the Denmark Football Association, the Federation. And this we’ve seen constantly. We’ve seen this happen in Ireland where the women have had to recycle tracksuits.
At this point I was just reading through and there was a wonderful article on Women’s Soccer Zone by Kieran Theivam and it’s very detailed and it speaks to why … and the name of the actual article is “Why Are Players Having to Risk their International Careers to Save Them?” So basically the women are deciding as a unit to not play, to not qualify. Possibly, hopefully it doesn’t go there, but they actually are missing their match against the Netherlands which was a sold out crowd, and they were runners up in the Euros. So this is basically a rematch of the Final, which was sold out in the Netherlands only a couple months ago.
And it’s so frustrating and heartbreaking to see what these women have to go through just to be able to expect a living wage. Currently, the women receive about 300 pounds for being selected for the World Cup. That’s almost … I don’t want to say it’s nothing because I don’t want to be classist in that way, but it’s not enough for them to consider a living wage. And the training and everything like this, it’s not good enough for the second best team in all of Europe. It’s certainly not good enough. And I’m so frustrated on their behalf and it’s a constant situation where we see women not getting the financial support. It’s one thing for the country to say, “Oh look at our women. They’re so fantastic.” But then put your money where your mouth is. If you support women’s soccer and women’s soccer development, support these women. Support them and their playing and their development and their wanting to make this better.
So I just wanted to burn down pay inequality and I’m so frustrated with it and I really hope it gets resolved because I would love to see these women on the pitch soon.
This week, by unanimous decision, our badass woman of the week is Jemele Hill for bravery. And honorable mention goes to Sylvia Fowles who won the WNBA MVP Award this week.
So what’s good? Let me know what’s making you happy, friends. Jessica?
Jessica: Yeah. So I’m about to go to Berlin, Germany for the first time. Aaron, my husband, is running the marathon there next weekend. It’s probably something like his 30th marathon.
Shireen: Oh my God.
Jessica: I don’t know. We stopped counting. It’s his thing and I’m excited because this time I’m actually going to go along. And I’m going to take time off, I’m going to read books, I’m going to drink beer, I’m going to cheer him on, visit museums. I’m super excited about this, though I will miss you all.
Shireen: We’ll miss you, too. Brenda?
Brenda: I’m excited about teaching. I’m exhausted but it’s the second week so it’s sort of like the honeymoon phase. Students are good, I’m good, no grades have been given out, we’re all excited to learn, I haven’t gotten any really ridiculous emails yet. It holds all the possibilities. So I keep getting jazzed by being around young people and their newfangled ideas these weeks.
Julie: The Cubs are playing great baseball. There’s baseball in September, which is the best baseball when your team is playing well. So after my entire life of once in a while the Cubs would get into the postseason and they’d immediately shut the bat and be done in the first series they played, this is hopefully, knock on wood, the third straight season the Cubs will be in the postseason and it actually turns out it’s a lot of fun when your team wins instead of losing all the time. I’m excited about baseball.
Lindsay: Okay, so there’s not much I like about college football as we’ve discussed many times on the show. But I really want to give a shout out to the Iowa Hawkeyes who have this new tradition that just started this year that after the first quarter of every game everybody in the stands and all the players turn to the children’s hospital that’s right next to the stadium and everybody waves to the children in the children’s hospital. And they’re all these big … I know! You guys have to look at the videos. We will of course tweet them out. There’s a video of what the kids in the hospital see when everyone does this and it’s so sweet and heartwarming. I think this is an idea that started on a fan forum. They were just like, “Look, there’s this children’s hospital right here. Wouldn’t it be cool if we all did this?” And it happened. So good job, Iowa. That is awesome.
Shireen: I’m happy about a couple things this week. First I get to see my friend Courtney Szto. She’s a PhD student who is actually studying really cool stuff at Simon Fraser. As well she talks about hockey in the South Asian diaspora. So she’s really neat. And she’s one of the very few women of color who’s in sports academia, so I’m a big fan.
Two other things. The Toronto Argonauts are my new love, the CFL team, and my friend Matt Black who I did a little library thing with, and our friend Stacey May Fowls, last week. He had a huge game yesterday, and the Argos beat the Edmonton Eskimos. I hate that name so much, it needs to go. So they beat them 34-26 and Matt had a huge game.
Lastly, a piece that I wrote was selected for Best Canadian Sports Writing and that anthology comes out in two days. I’m edited by a friend of the show, Stacey May Fowls, and Pasha Malla and I’m really excited because it is by far probably the most diverse collaboration of stories and essays and pieces that I’ve ever seen in the sports world and I’m really really proud of that. So that’s coming out on September 15th. We will tweet out a link to buy the book. You can pre-order it. It comes out in two days but we’re … I’m really honored to be part of that project.
So that’s it for this weekend Burn It All Down. Burn It All Down lives on SoundCloud but can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and TuneIn. We appreciate your reviews and feedback, so please subscribe and rate us to let us know what we did well and how we can improve. You can find us on Facebook at Burn It All Down, on Twitter at Burn It All Down pod, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out our website www.burnitalldownpod.com, and you can also find a link to our GoFundMe campaign and we would appreciate any consideration for a contribution so we can keep doing the work we love to do and keep burning what needs to be burned. We also have a new Instagram account @burnitalldownpod, so check out our photos, our memes that are beautifully made by Jessica Luther, and keep liking and supporting our work.
On behalf of Jessica, Brenda, Julie, Lindsay, and myself, thank you so much for joining us and we’ll see you next week.