Episode 21: The NFL and #TakeAKnee
On this weeks show Julie DiCaro, Lindsay Gibbs, Shireen Ahmed and Brenda Elsey talk about NFL protests, #TakeAKnee and the importance of solidarity. Shireen talks to Essence Carson of the LA Sparks about her The Players Tribune piece, athlete activism, music and the WNBA finals. The BIAD team discusses the latest news from Aaron Hernandez’ family, CTE and more.
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 show…
Steph Curry: It’s ‘beneath’ Trump’s position to target me: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/352096-steph-curry-its-beneath-trumps-position-to-target-me
The Racial Demagoguery of Trump’s Assaults on Colin Kaepernick and Steph Curry: https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-racial-demagoguery-of-trumps-assaults-on-colin-kaepernick-and-steph-curry
“Write Your Story, Babygirl” by Essence Carson: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/essence-carson-music-wnba-sparks/
Aaron Hernandez Had Severe C.T.E. When He Died at Age 27: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/21/sports/aaron-hernandez-cte-brain.html
The “CTE Drove Aaron Hernandez” Narrative Is Too Convenient, And Dangerous: https://deadspin.com/the-cte-drove-aaron-hernandez-narrative-is-too-conven-1818821203
Emails: Ex-Baylor President Says NPR Helped Him Understand Women Who “Make Themselves Victims”: https://deadspin.com/emails-ex-baylor-president-says-npr-helped-him-underst-1818675939
Former basketball player says university denied her a job for no longer identifying as gay: https://thinkprogress.org/camille-lenoir-ex-gay-318a614ff3ac/
“This is a translation of letter from Argentine women’s fútbol team declaring a strike. They haven’t been paid, they have poor facilities ETC”: https://twitter.com/Politicultura/status/910981001962299393
Eni Aluko: ‘The minute you are brave enough to talk about race you are in a difficult situation’: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/aug/21/eni-aluko-interview-race-difficult-situation
Mark Sampson sacked as England manager after fresh allegations of inappropriate conduct: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/sep/20/mark-sampson-leave-england-womens-manager?CMP=share_btn_tw
How a Ballet Dancer Reinvented UCLA Gymnastics, Survived Cancer, and Inspired a Community: http://www.lamag.com/longform/miss-val-ucla-gymnastics/
Matildas win hearts of nation with heady mix of fight, grit, heart, skill and passion: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/sep/21/matildas-win-hearts-of-nation-with-heady-mix-of-fight-grit-heart-skill-and-passion
I’m a brain scientist and I let my son play football:
Billie Jean King, Portrait of A Pioneer
Julie DiCaro: Welcome this week of Burn It All Down. It may be the feminist sports podcast you want, but it’s the feminist sports podcast you need. This week while Jessica Luther enjoys some down time, our panel includes sports writer Shireen Ahmed, Lindsey Gibbs, Brenda Elsey, and I’m Julie DiCaro. It has been another week of horrifying things being said all around when it comes to the President. Colin Kaepernick, the NFL, and now the Golden State Warriors are involved. Brenda do you want to introduce us to topic number one?
0:51 Brenda Elsey: This week we saw a new level of rancor from the White House directed at sports. After White House Press Secretary Sara Sanders called for the firing of sports journalist Jemele Hill which we talked about on last week’s pod, this week at a speech in Alabama, President Trump spoke to a crowd of supporters in reference to NFL players taking a knee during the anthem in protest of police violence. I just want to read the quote because I think it’s worth considering, and it’s a little bit … Not in its entirety, but a chunk of it.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired.” You know some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, “That guy disrespects our flag. He’s fired.” That owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them, they don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in the country.”
It really makes sense that he refers to NFL owners as his friends. David Remnick recounted in the New Yorker just recently in a good article that we’ll post on the show notes that at least six NFL owners each contributed at least $1 million to Trump’s inauguration fund including Woody Johnson of the Jets, Robert Craft of the Patriots, and Daniel Snyder of the team that shall not be named. The Patriot’s owner claimed to be deeply disappointed by the tone of the President’s comments, and I don’t believe that for a minute. That’s a wink, wink here’s a Super Bowl ring Mr. President statement.
Then Robert Woodall weighed in with some pretty tepid remarks about this being divisive which he probably drafted about Michael Bennett and then used for the President. I sincerely think that. I sincerely think that. Then after the fact, the same week that the NFL players had sent a memo to Goodell asking for his support for a racial equality campaign.
Then just to recount this whole weeks in politics and sport, I came to a first grade birthday party dispute. Seriously. The President uninvited Warriors point guard Steph Curry to the White House after Steph had expressed his doubt about attending. You saw this press conference with Steph, you had to feel kind of bad for the guy. He’s pulling at his beard, he’s searching for the right words, he’s so uncomfortable, and he says, and I thought this was a good quote, he says, “It’s kind of beneath the leader of our country to go that route. It’s not what leaders do.”
So the vindictive behavior of this behavior who has repeatedly called for the firing and harassment of individual citizens who have exercised their rights in protest of a racist and sexist system is a terrible abuse of power. It seems to be pretty illegal according to Title XVIII, but Julie you might have more to say about that.
Instead of distancing himself from racists, he’s just decided to go after those objecting to them. I’m just going to finish my tirade here by saying athletes aren’t in the most powerful position in the world despite the fact that they may make a decent amount of money. They’re not making political decisions. They’re making moral choices. To think that Donald Trump could use this position of power to go after these individuals who just can’t be comparable in terms of power, to me, is really scary. What do you guys think?
4:26 Julie: Yeah I could not agree with you more Brenda. I thought it was really telling that every NFL owner that issued a statement, of all of them, the only one that even mentioned Trump’s name was the Buffalo Bills statement. Every single one of them just sort of made vague references to statements like this, but they didn’t say who was speaking, what was said, and what was objectionable about it. It was really disappointing to see. I did a show last night with a former NFL player who really made the point when did the flag start standing for the police and the military instead of equality and the American Dream and a decent life for everyone in America. I thought that was a great point to make. Shireen?
Shireen: This is all really important in the realm of protest and today in the NFL there’s a lot of players or hopefully there’s a social media campaign of #takeaknee. I’m actually really excited to see what happens because there’s been the NFL boycott, there’s been that social media campaign as well to distract and boycott away from watching the games to make an impact as viewers, but the movement within the athletes is something that really interests me and how this is affecting. Regardless I also saw a really interesting Twitter thread that I’ll repost on the Burn It All Down Twitter feed which is how Trump is trying to center himself and distract from the real issue when the real issue is really about police brutality and systemic violence against black people. He’s trying to make himself, as usual, more important than he actually is and do that which I think is really telling of his character.
I also think he’s ridiculous in so many ways and just keeps getting further-
Brenda: Less evergreen , Shireen.
Shireen: Yes, but I ways also really happy to see last night Bruce Maxwell took a knee. First MLB player to do so, and I’d love to see this being done in hockey too. I’d love to see it spread across. We’ve seen it in women’s soccer with Meghan Rapinoe, now we’re seeing it in baseball, hopefully we’ll see it in other sports.
6:27 Lindsay: Yeah I mean this today, like Shireen said, we’re reporting this Sunday morning but today has the chance to be kind of a game changer day in the realm of athlete activism. I want to make sure that we just keep going back to Colin Kaepernick and how he started this. He’s not on a team right now, but the protest and the legacy that he started has lived on. What we’re seeing is nothing bothers Trump more than a powerful black person that does not seem grateful and deferential at all points. That’s what he keeps responding to. The language that he’s using when he’s talking about these people, he’s saying it’s a privilege for them to be on the field and you should yank that privilege away if they’re not being respectful enough. He’s talking about these people like they don’t even deserve to be out there, like they haven’t worked incredibly hard to put their bodies and minds, literally, we’ll talk about that later, on the line for sport, for entertainment.
It just ties into so much. I mean obviously the white supremacy. End goal. I mean all of these owners except for one are white and most of the coaches are white and most of the players are black. You also have the fact that Trump has always had a vendetta against the NFL because he’s never been invited into their club. If you go back years, there’s tons of Tweets where there were years where Trump would just retweet person after person telling him that he should be the NFL commissioner, that he should be the one in charge of everything. He at one point was trying to own the Buffalo Bills, but that didn’t really work out. He got outbid there. So look this just coalesces so many different things about Trump’s personality and about the world at large.
But, that being said, what this has the potential to be for athlete activism at this point is groundbreaking. We have, like you said, it’s spread already to baseball. I hope that’s not the last baseball protest you see. There are talks that there are going to be hundreds of players today joining in. We will have to see to what extent that it, but it’s been really thrilling to see the way that athletes have responded in the last 24 hours. They have been direct, they have been forceful, and they have been outspoken in a way that they have to be. None better than Lebron James, the best tweet of all time, which was calling President Trump a bum and saying, “It used to be an honor to be in the White House until you showed up.”
9:22 Julie: Yeah I’m curious to see what we’re going to see today. I really hope it’s not this link arms thing. I want to see some white players down on their knees. I said last night it’s been embarrassing as a white person to see how black athletes have had to sort of bear this protest with the exception of a couple guys like Chris Long who I think is amazing, but it’s time for white athletes, and white fans frankly, to join in on this. I can tell you as a white person, as a public defender, if you think you know the criminal justice system and you have not been a part of it, you don’t. You need to go down there and you need to work in the system and see the way that black men and Hispanic men and Indian men and Muslim men are treated by the police, and you will have a completely different view on America, and you might understand a little bit better what people are protesting. Brenda we’ll give you the last word.
Brenda: Wow that is so true. Just Meghan Rapinoe is one of the only white athletes that have gone and taken a knee. Am I-
Lindsay: There have been some WNBA players.
Brenda: Some WNBA okay.
Lindsay: Last year. Last year.
10:28 Brenda: Okay good to know. Good to know. I just thought it was striking to read about a year ago President Obama, then President Obama, was asked about Kaepernick and the NFL, and I thought the two statements were just so different. He basically urged people to understand the pain of losing one in combat and what that flag meant for people who had lost loved ones in combat, but also urged people to understand the pain of having lost a loved one to police brutality. He said, “The test of our fidelity to our Constitution, the freedom of speech, to our Bill of Rights, is not when it is easy, but when it is hard.”
I thought that was a real challenge, and basically Trump is urging people to run away from that challenge. I think those statements are really telling in themselves.
Julie: Yeah let’s end on that note Brenda because I think that’s a great point for everyone to sit with for awhile and consider.
This week Shireen scored a pretty great interview. Shireen, do you want to tell us about it?
11:41 Shireen: Thanks so much Julie. I had the honor and the pleasure of talking to Essence Carson. She is a small forward/guard with the LA Sparks who are actually the reigning WNBA champions. She is a music producer, she is a writer, she is a poet. She was formidable, and she wrote an incredibly harrowing piece for the Player’s Tribune. We spoke a little bit about that, we spoke about athlete activism, we spoke about being music nerds. I played the cello and I told her a little bit about that. She was amazing, humble, sincere, and just absolutely articulate beyond belief. I really enjoyed this interview. Here it is.
I am so excited to have on the show with me today from the LA Sparks Essence Carson. Now if all of you amazing listeners haven’t read her piece in the Player’s Tribune, I really, really strongly suggest you should. Essence is not only a former D1 player at Rutgers and a former WNBA All Star, she is a current player and finalist in the WNBA finals this year. She is also a musician. She is also someone who I consider a digital master wizard because she just helped me through like 50 minutes of total Shireen-ism technology problems. Essence it is so amazing to have you on the show finally after all these technological issues that you just beautifully navigated through. Thank you so much for being on the show today.
Essence Carson: Oh no. Thank you for having me.
Shireen: So I mentioned a little bit about your Player’s Tribune piece which I thought was absolutely compelling and powerful. I didn’t know that you were a musician as well. I didn’t know. Just reading a little bit because you wrote about your childhood and how those two things were equally as important to you. There’s one thing I got to ask you. You must be a brilliant time management person if you can go through band and you can go through all those practices and be as good as you are, be an all state Volleyball player, be a track champion. 400 meter you were finalist weren’t you?
Essence: Yeah I was the state championship for 400 meter. I won. I ran.
Shireen: And you were good at school. You refer to yourself as a “cool nerd.” I just think you’re cool period. I want to you to tell me about how did you manage all this when you were little because the demands of being an athlete and being a musician and practicing the saxophone and the piano. How did you keep up with that?
Essence: I couldn’t even tell you how I kept up with that as a kid. It kind of just happened. Since I both loved basketball and music at the time, I didn’t know I loved it. I just felt like I liked it. Since I liked both of them, I made time for both. When you’re making time for both of those things, you’ve got to cut out some other stuff. So I didn’t watch a ton of TV. I watched some. Now I barely watch any TV at all, but you just kind of sacrifice some other things and just make time for the things you actually want in life.
Shireen: It was really refreshing as well to read about you spoke about your experiences playing ball with your friends and how you used to create your own baskets. You used to use whatever you could. You were creative. There was ingenuity involved and you made it work. It wasn’t a big deal. You didn’t have to have Jordans, you didn’t have to have this fancy net when I was little only the rich people could afford, we used to walk to the park. Just going back, do you have a lot of teammates or friends and colleagues that can relate to that experience as well?
15:25 Essence: I have a few that can relate to that. I mean going to Rutgers, a lot of the players that were there when I was there were kids from the inner city. I know Matee Ajavon, she was from Essex County, the next county right on over pretty much same scenario. So there are a few people that can definitely relate, but I know there are thousands of kids out there now that definitely can relate.
Shireen: Totally. Talking a little bit about your music, again, do you consider yourself, well now you’re a writer as well, but do you consider yourself a poet in the way your lyrics are really, really powerful, and you shared in the Tribune piece the TPTP piece, you shared a little bit about a verse that was talking a little bit about your mom and your dad, and do you consider that poetry as well too or do you consider that-
Essence: Well I started out as a poet honestly. I started out writing poems. I wrote my first rap and my first poem at 12. I still have it, but it’s back in New York in storage. I have the first few poems and raps that I ever wrote back home. Yeah so I started out as a poet, but then it was just something about putting those words to a beat, to an instrument too that actually moves me. In some instances, just writing a poem, that’s definitely refreshing for me, just being able to express myself with words written down, but there’s just something else about music that adds that missing element fro me. Maybe not for everyone, but for me. So I mean in some cases I can I guess consider myself a poet, but I just like to speak about true feelings, things that I feel, and most of the times you feel. Even though we are all individuals, there’s someone else that can definitely relate to it because life is definitely a cycle for everyone and everyone is closely related in that sense.
Shireen: Has your journey in basketball, because you were drafted eighth overall, sorry seventh overall in 2008, has your journey in basketball influenced the music that you write? Last year you won the WNBA championships, and this year you’re going against Mystics so does that affect at all what you might write or what you might put into your music in terms of the emotion you get there?
Essence: Yeah. Everything I go through in life, good, bad, happy, sad, everything in between, all that good stuff and bad stuff, it affects everything that I write because like I said I like to write about things that I feel, how I feel at that moment, so if I write a song that’s kind of melancholy, kind of makes you feel a certain way, then that’s probably how I felt at that moment. If I write a track that’s kind of upbeat, feels kind of like a party vibe, then that’s probably how I felt at that moment. I mean basketball is definitely going to influence my writing. Basketball I mean whether it’s the love life, whether it’s just my daily experiences with people that I mean randomly, they all affect my writing.
Shireen: Definitely. An obvious question to ask you as a musician and a producer, sorry I should’ve qualified that, is what do you listen to before games, and do you set up everyone’s playlist on the team?
Essence: One I do not set up everyone’s playlists because everyone has a different vibe to them. Everyone has a different button that they need pressed in order to get them going. The things I listen to, they vary daily. One day I can be listening to some slow jams and before the game, another game I could be listening to some type or Trap music or something like that. It definitely varies for me. Like I said, my days is just determined by how I wake up and how I feel. That’s just how it works for me. Some people need to be in the same exact mindset each and every time, but that’s not really me. As long as I have my Chipotle and some good tunes, I’m straight.
Shireen: The other thing I was going to ask you is the last couple of years we’ve seen, well we’ve always seen black athletes as the form of political activism, what people of color don’t necessarily consider political because it’s so intertwined with our lives, but we’ve seen women come out, players come out, and be at the forefront of Black Lives Matter or pushing back against Trump’s travel ban, the Muslim ban, we’ve seen that. How is that energy and that sense from the women that we know are usually always on the frontline of any type of movement, has that changed sort of the atmosphere of the WNBA at all or is it just the same thing it’s always been happening now just people are paying attention?
20:38 Essence: I believe people are paying attention across the board since the beginning of civil rights and the whole activism thing. Women have been on the front lines. Whether they receive the notoriety that they need or should have gotten, that’s neither here nor there because they’re fighting for something bigger than them. In the case where we want a lot of women now standing up for what’s right, I applaud that. Some people may disagree. That could be amongst our peers, but I feel like overall that we’re on the same page. You might even have some fans that feel like athletes should remain athletes, whatever that means, but I feel like they fail to realize that even as an athlete, just because you look at us as entertainment doesn’t mean that we’re not human. The things that are happening around the country and around the world right now are inhumane. This is not how you treat humans. If you didn’t even want to touch the topic of skin color, it’s just not how you treat humans. Some people come to terms with that, some people can’t. At this point, I don’t care. This is what I feel needs to be said because if it goes unsaid, it goes unheard, and then it’s like it doesn’t exist. Now we’re in a social media era where everything is filmed or everything is tweeted, Facebook, Instagram, it’s the time to make it, I guess back in the day they used to say make it televised, the revolution will be televised. Well it is now, and if you want to be a part of it, join. If not, hey you’re part of the problem.
22:37 Shireen: That’s very true. Do you feel like some of the activists that are male, or sorry the NBA players in the NBA, the male players, they might get a little bit more attention when they do something like this when it’s really been consistently for the last three or four years women who are doing this. Does that matter even?
Essence: Well when you look at it, even outside of activism, I mean they’re receiving more attention. That’s how it is right now. Of course, we’re trying to close that gap in as many ways as possible and as quick as possible, but we must say and we must admit that that’s just how it is right now. Even if they weren’t talking socially about what’s going on here and in the world, there’s still going to be millions of more viewers tuned in just because they enjoy watching them.
We’re making strides to improve in that area, but when they get more credit for the things they say about the movement that’s going on right now, I can’t be upset with that because at the end of the day it’s getting the word out there, it’s showing that you stand for something, and I will continue to encourage my sisters, my female counterparts, to continue to stand up and fight. It’s what do you want to bring to the table? What do you want to give back to this world, the next generation, the generation after that? You want to give them a chance. Give them a chance to live, live equally, live right, live without fear. If you think that some type of jealousy because your male counterpart might get more attention when he’s speaking about the same thing is going to stop that, then you’re wrong. We’re here for something a cause that is much bigger.
24:25 Shireen: It’s real. It’s so true. Just another question, and I’m kind of jumping all over here just because of the time constraint, but you’re a couple days away from finals. Just wondering when you sort of go towards that, this is really the culmination of everything, it’s the championship and you’ve had that before, you’ve achieved that, is this championship different for you after you’ve won one? Are you a little more chilled out about it or no it’s driven, you want that, you want that title?
Essence: Well let me start by saying I’m just chilled out regardless. Regardless. I’ve always been that way. I don’t even know why. Maybe it’s because the influence of my grandparents, I guess the older soul, but as far as winning another championship, man I would love to do that. As an athlete, as a competitor, as a true competitor, you want to be the best and at all times. It could be something small like who gets to the door first, some small shit like that, we’re always competing over the dumbest stuff, but I guess we’re just born with that competitive gene. So winning another title, just because I won one last year doesn’t mean that I don’t want it as bad or even more this year. I guess you look at it and you want to prove it wasn’t a fluke. You want to prove that you’re on one of the greatest teams to play this game of basketball so we’re focused. Not only me, but the entire team is focused, and we’re doing what we have to do to prepare to make this a great series that hopefully end in leaning our way.
26:11 Shireen: Definitely and I absolutely wish you all the best. I’m a huge fan. I would love to be able to hear you … You just released … Was No Subs the most recent record you put out?
Essence: That’s the most recent mix tape I put out last year. Yeah that was last year. I have a whole bunch of new material that I have that I’m waiting to put out so hopefully that can be out by the end of the year or top of ’18, but it’s dope. It’s a different feel. You move out to Cali, you get different vibes. I like to infuse different things into my music. Still just talking about real shit, of course.
Shireen: That’s awesome. There’s a lot of real shit to talk about. It was an absolute honor to talk to you. Like I said, thank you so much. We’re huge fans of you on the show and just mad respect, so much love, and I hope you get to the door first and I hope you get that championship.
Essence: Thank you, man. All the way, all day. I’m a East coast kid.
Shireen: Thanks again for being on this show.
Essence: Thank you for having me.
27:22 Julie: Alright we had another issue with a football player this week that we need to discuss. This one is not Colin Kaepernick but Aaron Hernandez. All kinds of stuff is happening in this case. You recall Aaron Hernandez was convicted of one murder, he was originally charged with two, and eventually wound up committed suicide in prison. Lindsay, you want to tell us about this one?
Lindsay: Yeah so this week it was announced that Hernandez who was 27 when he committed suicide earlier this year had advanced CTE. Dr. Anne McKee who is the director of the CTE center at Boston University said that he had stage three out of four, and his attorney said, “We’re told it was the most severe case they had ever seen for someone of Aaron’s age.”
Of course, as a reminder, CTE is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. It is a brain disorder believed to be caused my repetitive hits to the head, and it can cause violent mood swings, depression, and has been linked to suicide and other cognitive disorders.
There is now a lawsuit that has been filed against the US District Court on behalf of his daughter claiming that the league and the New England Patriots failed to protect the player safety which ended up leading to the disease. The quote from the lawsuit is, “Defendants were fully aware of the dangers of exposing NFL players such as Aaron to repeated, traumatic head impacts, yet defendants concealed and misrepresented the risk of repeated traumatic head impacts.”
So obviously this brings in a lot of questions. Divided like not counting like let’s take the murders out of the equation, which is hard to do I know, but the fact that he was 23 when he stopped playing football so this was a young person who did not have decades and decades of experience in the NFL. There’s also the fact that he did commit these murders, and of course a lot of people are wondering did the CTE cause him to or lead him to a mental state where he was actually killing people. It’s a terrifying conversation to have, and I’m really curious as to what you guys think about this and what link CTE might have to the person Hernandez was.
Julie: You know there was a great piece, and I wish I could remember where I read it, it might have been ESPN the magazine on Aaron Hernandez, and it basically went back into his childhood and tried to find reasons for all of these actions based on the way he grew up. There’s a lot there that I think probably cannot be attribute to CTE. The attorney in this case is Jose Bias who was also Casey Anthony’s attorney. While I am all about defending defense attorneys from public wrath, I sort of take everything he says with a grain of salt. I’d want to see more information on what they’ve discovered. The fact that they found him to have advanced CTE is horrifying, and when you talk about Lindsay him not having decades of experience in the NFL you’re absolutely right, but if he started playing when he was a kid, he could have 15 years of football playing under his belt by the time he gets to the age 23 which is something that’s been really concerning for me having had a football player as a child.
I think it’s going to be almost impossible for them to prove that the football programs knew that he had CTE or that he could develop CTE and that worse that it led to his actions. I don’t know that that’s anything that anyone can predict, but we heard this when suddenly the documentary came up about OJ Simpson on 30 for 30 people started speculating about CTE and if that’s why he did all this stuff. I guess my concern is that the general public is going to start excusing players who are violent off the field by saying, “Oh they have CTE,” and I think it already started with OJ Simpson. So I worry that there’s going to be a lack of accountability for players who are violent off the field as much as I worry that these guys are out there sustaining traumatic head injuries that are going to affect the rest of their lives.
Brenda: I just had a question. If someone is on trial right now with CTE, and it’s known like if we would’ve known that Aaron Hernandez had advanced CTE, how would that have affected do you think his trial?
Julie: Well I think it’s an affirmative defense. I think you can probably make an argument, something along the lines of diminished capacity like you would with someone who is mentally ill and they don’t have any control over their actions. Obviously, you have to prove intent in order to convict someone of murder, and it seems like you could make a definite argument that he is not in control of what he’s doing.
Lindsay: It is important to know that right now CTE can only be diagnosed after death. It has to be diagnosed through an autopsy, but hopefully that will change, and I know there are a lot of scientists working to be able to change that so it is an interesting question. It was actually interesting because Hernandez’s lawyer said that he regretted … Hernandez was basically he was arguing that he was completely innocent of these murders so they didn’t use CTE or the possibility of him having CTE in his defense, and his lawyer said he regretted that.
Brenda: Yeah I mean if a certain percentage of players, as a historical record, is accumulating and accumulating and accumulating, then at a certain point, one has to assume the likelihood of a person having CTE even if we can’t do a post-mortem, right?
Lindsay: Yes, definitely.
Julie: I think there is a test out there that they can claim that they can diagnose it now by MRI, but it hasn’t been vetted by peers and peer reviews and all those kinds of things, but it feels like we’re pretty close to getting a test or at least something that would maybe be an indicator for guys that are playing right now.
It’s funny I got yet another email this week about this special foam that they’re going to put in helmets that’s going to help reduce head impacts. The talkings that I’ve had with neurologists and guess who work on the brain is that there’s nothing that you can put on your outside of your head that’s going to stop this from happening. It’s what happens inside your head. One guy gave the example to me of people in car crashes that don’t even hit their heads that wind up with concussions just because you jerk forward so dramatically that your brain shifts in your head. Basically people are still making money off this idea that you can put something on the outside of your head that’s going to stop you. It’s going to be special helmets or heads up tackling that’s going to stop you from getting head trauma and it’s just not the case. There’s really nothing that can so this so I guess the question here is what’s the end game here for what we want for football. I love the NFL. I hate watching it now knowing that guys are suffering head injuries, but what is the end game here? Is it like informed consent or do we want to seriously find a way to not have head trauma at all?
Lindsay: I don’t know. I mean obviously I would like to have no head trauma, but how do you have a contact sport like football without it? It keeps getting lost in the shuffle, and I understand why because a lot of the same people are studying concussions and CTE, and they’re obviously linked, they’re both brain injuries, but the fact is CTE it’s the sub-concussive hit. You could get CTE without ever having to have a concussion, and I think that’s to me the most terrifying thing.
I looked at last year I did a big feature on a helmet-less football league which it was like seven on seven, they’re leagues, there’s a lot on the East Coast, and the interesting thing about this is you think oh you don’t have a helmet, that makes football so much more dangerous, but their theory essentially is you are a lot more cautious with your head when it’s not protected by this weapon of a helmet so you control a lot more how you land, how you are tackling people, how you are just going about the contact on the field, and that to me has been a really interesting theory. Of course, even that doesn’t guarantee that you’re not going to have a concussion.
Julie: Yeah Lindsay it’s interesting that you bring that up because I was just thinking about Rugby last night and Australian rules football and how we don’t see this in Rugby or at least we haven’t heard about it. Shireen?
Shireen: Well just to jump in on the rugby thing because I’m a former rugby player, the hits in rugby have to be waist down. That’s part of the rules of the game. So it’s a little bit different whereas baseball you’re literally getting head-crunching-
Shireen: Sorry football exactly. I think that there’s a little bit of difference there and also the way that you land and even the rules of the scrum walking over and how it’s supposed to go. You basically avoid hitting above the shoulders. It’s an automatic ejection actually if you actually tackle someone by the neck, depending on the league.
But for me it’s very interesting because we know that any contact sports there’s a risk of concussions. We know this. We know this with youth, we know this across the board, but thus far major league football is the only one that we’ve seen CTE emerge in this way, and it would be really interesting because I believe was it Brandi Chastain that donated her brain to CTE research was it her?
Julie: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shireen: We don’t even know yet because like Lindsay said it has to be done post-mortem so the diagnosis we don’t even know at this point any other sports where it’s a possibility so I’d be really interesting. Yes Lindsay you were saying, and you can clarify because I’m not sure on this, whether you don’t have to get CTE through concussions because if that was the case then we’d see it in a lot of other sports. We’d see it in soccer, girl’s soccer there’s a lot of concussions, we see it in other sports like baseball. I had a friend who’s daughter got a concussion playing softball so we don’t know yet is what I’m saying.
Julie: Yeah I think that’s exactly right Shireen. It’s interesting because there was a dad who wrote a thing about why he let his kid play youth football and he had a PHD in neurology or something like that. He was going through this whole thing and he kept talking about concussions, concussions, concussions, and I was like if you really study this as much as you purported to, I think this was on Yahoo, you would know that it’s not concussions that you worry about. Kids can get concussions. I mean there’s post-concussion syndrome obviously, but kids who get concussions get taken off the field and get care. It’s the kids that get hit in the head over and over and over without concussions, left out on the field to keep hitting their heads with other kids, that’s really the problem.
The thing with soccer is you can not head balls of goal kicks. You can take the concussion risk pretty much out of soccer, but with football, I don’t know how you continue to have a sport if you could ban things that could get people hit in the head. So I guess for me I want to see guys just have a clear idea of what they’re going into and what the risks are, and for doctors to be really honest with them so they can make informed decisions.
Lindsay do you want to have the last word?
Lindsay: Yeah I mean I think it is just important to remember how little we know still, how much research that still has to be done, and it’s so important for these athletes to be donating their brains, and we need athletes who think they don’t have CTE to donate their brains, we need athletes from other sports to donate their brains, we need more women to donate their brains because what you’re seeing is right now, and this is what the critics are saying, the people who are saying whoa let’s not get carried away with this, stop sounding all the alarms, there’s a faction of people who are vocally saying that, and I think that what their arguments are is that all the brains that have been studied so far in the CTE brain bank have been donated by people who already suspected that their loved ones or that they had CTE. So there’s definitely a bias there. It’s not just 100 random NFL players and this is the outcome.
So I think that, and we don’t know exactly how CTE could manifest itself from other sports and from other types of, from different types of concussions. We just know that it’s those sub-concussive hits. So I just hope that we all keep asking questions, and I hope that athletes keep getting more informed, and then I hope that the scientific research just keeps pushing forward because that’s where change is going to come.
Julie: Alright here here. Let’s move on. It’s not time for everyone’s favorite segment. We call it the burn pile where we pile up the things we’ve hated this week in sports and set them aflame. Brenda you want to kick us off this week?
40:46 Brenda: Sure. I’m throwing the Argentine Football Association, AFA, on the burn pile. Their women’s team announced a general strike in response to not being paid this week, and what they’re paid is about $8.50 per practice for which they have to travel long distances and miss work. They’re not given any decent resources. They don’t get grass fields, they’re not getting enough balls, I can’t believe I even say that, physical trainers are absent, they face complete disorder. Recently they played a friendly with Uruguay. It included traveling by third class bus from 4:00 AM to 11:00 before the match.
Julie: Oh my god.
Brenda: They issued a letter, which Burn It All Down has on our Twitter so you can take a look on the Spanish and English, it’s gone unanswered by AFA. AFA’s response so far as been to tweet a Google Doc with the proposed schedule for the year.
It is important to note that as teams … I know.
Lindsay: Sorry. A Google doc?
Brenda: Unreal. A Google Doc like somebody finally at AFA figured out how to use Google. It turns out it’s not a great tool for embezzling so it took them awhile.
It is important to note that if teams are inactive, it doesn’t stop FIFA or the Confederation CONMEBOL from sending the development money for women’s soccer. So in some ways, AFA, which is notoriously corrupt, stands to gain financially by not developing women’s soccer because they still get the funds, they don’t need to report how they’re spent, and I just have to say that Argentine Women’s Soccer, their players are so damn talented. I mean come on. It’s misogynist highway robbery, and I want to burn it.
Julie: That’s trash. Burn it.
Brenda: Burn it.
42:38 Shireen: I’m going to join Brenda and throw the FA and the England’s Women Football management administration in the burn pile with their handling of Mark Sampson beginning with his hiring as we know and are discovering now rather that he was totally unqualified and inappropriate as a selection generally.
For those that don’t know, Mark Sampson has been the manager of the England women’s national soccer team otherwise known as the Lionesses. It emerged I think five or six months Eni Aluko who was last year one of the highest scoring on the team, she came out with allegations and inappropriate, inappropriate in the sense, and I’m going to use that word because it’s what the British media uses, with comments and remarks like something to the effect of when she told him that her family would be coming to watch, he said, “Make sure they don’t bring over Ebola.” It’s disgusting. He’s disgusting.
So he refuted these claims, the FA, this is lovely, this is where it gets great, did their own investigation on themselves and their employee and found themselves to be innocent. This is excellent here. I love this. It’s reminiscent of FIFA and their bullshit.
They ended up firing Mark Sampson, but not because of anything Eni had said or another teammate came out to say. What ended up happening is they investigated the report again, they revisited the report that came out, and he was fired because of his actions while a manager at Bristol previously and his conduct with young players. This could be anything from texting, it could be anything from … I don’t know the details. They haven’t emerged yet of how bad it was, but it was bad enough for two Chief Executives of the FA to come out of a EUFA meeting conference and come back and deal with this, and as we know the FA is pretty sub-standard in how they govern everything like most men in the football governing world.
So just torching that and I hope … I’m also seriously unimpressed with the Lionesses generally and how they handled Eni’s case. After they scored, they beat Russia 6-0, but they went and all hugged him after a goal which Eni publicly stated and we retweeted on the Burn It All Down account was unfair particularly because she had been chosen as a liaison between management and the team before and it was like a slap in the face to her. It’s fine and good until you actually call the family out on racism. You can be part of the family until you talk about racism and systemic discrimination. So torching it, torching all of it.
Julie: Lindsay, what do you got to burn this week?
45:31 Lindsay: I have this fun lawsuit where this former basketball player said that the university denied her a job because of her sexuality. Well that sounds like a bad thing. We would like her to win that case, right?
Well let’s dig a little deeper. This is Camille LeNoir who is a former University of Southern California point guard. She actually says that she was denied an assisting coaching job at New Mexico State University because she no longer identifies as gay. Let’s take this a step further. Essentially LeNoir was offered this job through text. It was actually her former coach at USC was he’s now actually back at USC it’s confusing, but he was at the time at New Mexico State. He kind of offered her this job through text, and then what happens is one of his … It was an informal offer. Do you know what I mean? It was a we still have to do all the paperwork and all the vetting officially. Well an assistant on his team who was a lesbian told him, “Hey you might want to watch this video that is online that she made a few years ago.”
In this video, LeNoir discusses being delivered from the lifestyle of being gay. She says, “If you are in a same sex relationship, it is not worth losing your soul. Being in such a relationship will be the death of you, but you can overcome and defeat sin.” Her testimony is being used by anti-LGBTQ sites all to promote this ex-gay narrative and to promote the narrative that women’s sports are basically just a vehicle for homosexuality. She herself says she only was gay for a few years because of women’s basketball and that she eventually got delivered from this.
She goes on to describe sports themselves as evil, and that competition is against God. There’s a lot of bad things in this video, and what’s really stark is that essentially what is happening is she’s getting to go forward with her case because this judge issued that she actually does have a case that maybe because she’s no longer gay, maybe that’s why they were discriminating against her, but it’s very clear that it was actually this hateful rhetoric that she’s spewing that she stands by, and that why would you want anyone who believes that that is that vocal about their beliefs to coach young women and to work in an environment that is supposed to be inclusive.
So I’d just like to burn that whole lawsuit, and I hope that it doesn’t get to go forward enough to set a really dangerous precedent that the right is going to really cling on to because you’re already seeing them use her lawsuit and her experience as proof that sports are evil and that straight people are being discriminated against. So let’s burn.
48:36 Julie: Alright as for me I’d like the burn the entire rape culture surrounding Baylor University. I feel like they’re on here as much as FIFA and the Olympic Committee.
David Garland past president, interim president at Baylor sent an email to colleagues, and this is what he says, “As I drove back yesterday from the big 12 meetings, I listened to ESPN rake the President over the coals in my view justifiably for his blatantly obvious self serving attempt to protect himself and his reputation.” He says, “I then listened to Fresh Air on NPR and the interview with the author of the confessional blackout which added another perspective for me of what is going on in the heads of some women who may seen willingly make themselves victims.” He’s talking about rape here of course.
Lindsay: Oh my god.
Shireen: Oh my god.
Julie: He then goes on to quote the Bible at length about sin and all kinds of stuff. I don’t know where Baylor manages to find all of these people. You put out like a job listing like we need people with no understanding of gender issues or rape culture at all, come work for Baylor. It’s really just I don’t know what to say about it at this point. I just want to burn it all and the school and frankly the fact that they continue to play football is disgusting to me. If there was ever a case for the death penalty in college football, it should’ve gone to Penn State and to Baylor. The fact that neither of these schools got the death penalty lends me to believe that we’ve just hit the point of no return when it comes to this stuff so burn it.
Brenda: Burn it.
50:11 Julie: Alright after all that burning, it’s time to talk about some women that made us feel good this week and celebrate some remarkable badass women of the week.
Our honorable mention goes out to the Australian Women’s Football team, the Matildas, they beat Brazil twice in September. They’ve gotten all kinds of accolades from their home country, and they’re getting all kinds of love from fans. The Guardian says this about them, “They’re role models for young girls, but their attributes have also appealed to young boys, made converts of skeptical men, and made women all over proud.” So hats off to the Matildas, Australia’s women’s football team.
Julie: Our baddest woman of the week though, yeah, is UCLA gymnastics coach Valerie Condos Fields. She has been largely credited with bringing a lot of the style to UCLA’S infamous floor routines. She was a ballerina and a dancer before she got involved in gymnastics. She’s fighting breast cancer right now, and this week she let her gymnasts feel her breasts to feel like a malignant breast tumor feels like so that they would know what it feels like if they find one on themselves.
I think imagine if you had a cancerous tumor. I can imagine just wanting to get it out, and not even wanting to acknowledge that it’s on your body, but she basically invited her gymnasts to come up and feel and feel what you’re looking for when you’re giving yourself breast exams so I thought that was incredibly brave. So this week she is our badass woman of the week.
Now it’s the time when we talk about what’s good, what we’re looking forward to, what we’re enjoying so we can end this podcast on a positive note. Shireen you want to start?
51:51 Shireen: Yeah thank you. I am actually really excited. I am just coming off of a little bit of a mom high. My daughter went back to basketball. She stepped aside for over a year just to focus on soccer and so a little bit of a humble brag and I’m really proud of her she scored an N1 in 45 seconds left in a tie game to put them over and they won by one. She also sunk her free throw. Yes she gets it all from her mom. No absolutely not true. Totally not true. So I’m really excited about that because I learned to love basketball over the years and it just made me feel really happy because it’s a really fun environment and love the parents. I wore my cap jersey yesterday to the tournament, and that made me feel good too. I’m also really looking forward to the WNBA finals that start this week. That’s it for me.
Brenda: Yeah I’m going to Mexico so I’m super excited. I’m going to Monterrey Tech, Tec de Monterey which is in Queretaro, that sector of the university. I’m really excited. Ahead is a really difficult month, but I’m going there to give some talks about the history of women’s sports in Latin America and really excited to get feedback from the students in Latin America and colleagues there as well. So I will miss you guys next week, but I will be thinking of you from the South.
Julie: Wow, that sounds awesome. Lindsay?
Lindsay: Yeah so like Shireen I’m so excited for the WNBA finals. It’s pretty much all I’ve been looking forward to. It’s the light in this dark world, but I’m also going to be gone next weekend because one of my best friends is getting married in New Orleans so I’m going to take a couple days off of work and go down and spend some time with some college friends. I think there’s going to be a second line after her wedding to the reception so I’m just so excited. It’s going to be great, and check my Instagram for lots of photos that will hopefully make you jealous.
Julie: Alright as for me there is a great documentary that is running in heavy rotation right now called Billy Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer. It’s Frank Deford my absolute all time favorite sports writer interviewing her and basically narrating the documentary about her life. I was fascinated. Obviously we all the story of Billy Jean King and being such a great force in women’s tennis, but I think her talking about what was going on with her emotionally while the battle of the sexes was going on, why she was basically being outed by a former lover as being gay, all kinds of issues, she’s really, really honest in it and it’s absolutely fantastic. Run to your DVR’s and set it and try to find this documentary if you can because it is really, really worth your time.
54:48 Julie: Alright that’s it for this week’s episode of Burn It All Down. Burn It All Down is edited by We Edit Podcast and lives on SoundCloud, but you can also hear it on Apple Podcast, Stitcher Tune In, and Google Play. We always appreciate your reviews and feedback so feel free to subscribe and rate and tell us what you like or didn’t like about the show. We hope you’ll follow us on Twitter at Burnitdownpod and on Facebook at Burn It All Down. We also have a website that you can check out at burnitalldownpod.com. That’s where you’ll find all our show notes and links to all the topics we discuss. Of course, you can email us at email@example.com. Please take some time to check out our Go Fund Me page and consider making a small donation. We really want to improve the podcast and make it sustainable so we really hope that everyone will consider making a donation, and we’re really grateful to everyone who has contributed so far.
For Lindsay Gibbs, Brenda Elsey, and Shireen Ahmed, I’m Julie DiCaro and we’ll see you next week.