Episode 36: Olympic Diversity, Sports *are* Political, re: North Korea, and Boxer Claressa Shields
We’re back! Happy new year! This week, Shireen Ahmed, Amira Rose Davis, Lindsay Gibbs, and Jessica Luther talk about (the lack of) diversity in the Winter Olympics and athletes of color headed to Pyeongchang next month. Then they discuss how recent actions by North and South Korea around the Olympics reveal the lie that sports (and the Olympics, in particular) aren’t political.
Then Shireen interviews boxer and double gold medalist Claressa Shields about Shields’ upcoming fight, her activism around the water crisis in her hometown of Flint, Michigan, and, of course, karaoke.
As always, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, Bad Ass Woman of the Week, and what’s good in our worlds.
As mentioned by Amira at the top of the show, Samierra Jones’ GoFundMe to raise money to help purchase space heaters and outerwear for Baltimore students attending school with inadequate heat: https://www.gofundme.com/we-need-heat-in-our-public-schools
Intro (5:46) Diversity in the Olympics (18:50) Sports and politics, re: the Olympics (29:30) Shireen interviews Claressa Shields (37:59) Burn Pile (48:15) Bad Ass Woman of the Week (50:12) What’s Good (54:15) Outro
For links and a transcript…
“Maame Biney is first black woman to make Olympic speedskating team” https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2017/12/16/biney-is-1st-black-woman-to-make-olympic-speedskating-team/108664474/
“Erin Jackson becomes first African-American woman on U.S. Olympic speed skating team” http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/erin-jackson-becomes-first-african-american-woman-us-olympic-speed-skating-team
“Shani Davis qualifies for fifth straight Winter Olympics” https://theundefeated.com/whhw/shani-davis-qualifies-for-fifth-straight-winter-olympics/
Starr Jackson’s long program (scroll down to find her video): http://www.rockerskating.com/news/2018/1/5/2018-us-championships-play-by-playresults-ladies-free-skate
“Olympic dream in sight for an energetic Adam Rippon” http://www.latimes.com/sports/olympics/la-sp-us-figure-skating-elliott-20180104-story.html
“Team USA hockey player will break 98-year-old color barrier at the PyeongChang Olympics” https://thinkprogress.org/jordan-greenway-becomes-the-first-black-hockey-player-named-to-a-team-usa-olympic-roster-662d60ae9922/
“North Korea accepts Olympics talks offer, says South” http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42574870
“U.S. Skating Officials Brush Aside Talk of Boycotting Olympics” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/03/sports/olympics/north-korea-olympics.html
“Raiders’ pursuit of Gruden exposes fatal flaw in Rooney Rule” https://247sports.com/nfl/oakland-raiders/Bolt/Oakland-Raiders-expose-fatal-flaw-in-NFLs-Rooney-Rule-through-pursuit-of-Jon-Gruden-113179871
“Former Assistant Says Rich Rodriguez Grabbed His Penis In Front Of Her, Was Nicknamed “The Predator”” https://deadspin.com/former-assistant-says-rich-rodriguez-grabbed-his-penis-1821744625
“Ronaldinho and the Right-Winger” https://jacobinmag.com/2018/01/ronaldinho-jair-bolsonaro-brazil-lula
“The Woman Who Is Pushing for Gender Equality in the Guiding World” https://www.powder.com/stories/powder-profile/ski-mountaineer-sheldon-kerr-confronts-gender-bias-guiding-world/
“Meet Sarah Kustok, the NBA’s First Solo Female Analyst” http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2749476-meet-sarah-kustok-the-nbas-1st-full-time-female-color-commentator
“Shakyla Hill gets first quadruple-double in women’s D-I hoops in almost 25 years” https://theundefeated.com/whhw/shakyla-hill-gets-first-quadruple-double-in-womens-d-i-hoops-in-almost-25-years/
Shireen: Hello everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of Burn it All Down. The first episode of 2018. It may not be the feminist sports podcast you want, but it’s the feminist sport cast you need.
On this week’s panel, we’ve got Amira Rose Davis, associate professor of history at Penn State, and all around bad ass; Jessica Luther, independent writer, general slayer, and author of Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape; Lindsay Gibbs, the brilliant and indomitable sportswriter at Think Progress; and, I’m Shireen Ahmed, freelance sportswriter, and cat lover, freezing in Toronto, Canada.
Before we dive into our first recorded episode, I wanna take this time to remind our flame throwers about our new Patreon campaign. You pledge a certain amount monthly, and as low as two dollars and as high as you want, to become an official patron of the podcast. In exchange for your monthly contribution, you get access to special rewards. With only the price of coffee a month, you can get access to extra segments of the podcast, a monthly letter, and an opportunity to record at the burn pile. Only available to those in our Patreon community.
So far, we’ve been able to solidify funding for proper editing, and transcripts, but are really hoping to reach our dream of hiring a producer to help us with the show. Burn it All Down is a labor of love, and we all believe in this podcast. But, having a producer to help us as we grow would be amazing. As would be the opportunity for all of us to meet and go on the road for live Burn it All Down.
So, this week we’re gonna start the show with some commentary on the weather. [crosstalk 00:01:51]
Lindsay: My commentary is, this is bad.
Amira: It’s very cold.
Lindsay: I have a blanket wrapped around me, I have UGG boots on, and I have three shirts on, in case anybody is wondering how Lindsay is doing in Washington, D.C. right now.
Amira: And I wanna say, I grew up in New England it’s not like cold is a new thing, but it’s bone chilling. It’s the type of cold in Chicago that you get when you turn a corner and the wind hits you, and it gets into your bones, and you cannot get warm.
Lindsay: I don’t remember. I lived in New York for nine years, I’ve been in D.C. for three years right now. I know I’m a weak southerner, but I’ve lived in the north for awhile. I’ve lived in cold areas, but it’s been two straight weeks of below 20 degrees, and mostly in single digits. Like, that’s a lot.
Amira: Shireen, how is it in Canada?
Shireen: Well I mean, I’m born and raised here, so it’s not like we’re talking about living in the cold. It doesn’t matter, I’ve been fucking here for 40 years, and my face hurts. It doesn’t stop hurting when I go outside. And I think the reality is that, this is what I kind of insert this joke about people talking about face mail bans in Canada. I’m sorry, but at this point, everybody’s face is covered in this part of the world. Because, it’s so damn cold that like, you’re walking around, I was actually on the subway last night, and people were bumping into each other cuz their jackets are so tightened that their hoods are covering their faces. That’s absolutely excusable, and typical Canadian behavior. Sorry, sorry, sorry. You know, you go ahead. But you know, it’s just-
Lindsay: Jess, are you listening to this conversation? And just-
Shireen: Yeah, Jess I would like you to, please just don’t say anything. That would be great.
Jessica: Yeah, I’m just staying quiet right now. It’s been cold here, but it’s not right now. [crosstalk 00:03:52]
Lindsay: Shireen, one of my co-workers walked into the bank this week with one of those full face masks on. They had to come up to him, and were like, “Sir, can you take that off?” It’s not a good thing to walk into a bank with a black face mask on.
Amira: Well, I wouldn’t joke about the cold, but I do wanna draw attention though that, Aaron Maybin, former Penn State All-American, and former NFL player, has also highlighted this week that the cold effects, people who don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to handle it, he’s been raising and amplifying a campaign. He’s now a Baltimore school public schools teacher, and Baltimore schools do not have heat. These kids are going to school in, bundled up in coats. A video that he posted is a video that he took of his class. He asked the kids how they’re day was, and they said, “Very, very, very, very, very cold.” They should not be in the schools, and the schools should have heaters.
And so, one of the things he’s amplifying that I did want to amplify here, was a go fund me by Samara Jones, who’s a senior at Compton State University in Baltimore, but also a graduate of the Baltimore city public school systems. And, she’s been raising a go fund me account to basically get hats, gloves, socks, coats, etc. for students, to get heaters in the schools. And, they’ve been going past their goal, it’s amazing.
We’ll link this, and tweet this go fund me out, because it’s a great campaign, and it’s also really sad that Baltimore public schools need a campaign to get their students things that shouldn’t be barriers to learning. And, this is kind of what systemic inequality looks like. So, when I’m cold, and I think about that, and I complain about that, that is all completely accurate. And then, I also wanna take time to think about the marginalized folks who can’t handle the cold as well as I can.
Shireen: Which this is a perfect segue onto our first topic, the Winter Olympics, which many of the events are held outside.
Amira: Exactly. Do you get cold watching the Winter Olympics?
Jessica: Yes, yes.
Lindsay: Shall I get us going? Alright, I thought you were saying something else Shireen, sorry. We’re a little out of practice you guys. We’ve taken a couple weeks off, so we’ve forgotten how to do all this.
Lindsay: Typically, when we think of the Winter Olympics, diversity is not one of the first words that comes to mind. But, this past week there have been a few reasons to cheer signs that maybe these Olympic sports are starting to become slightly more inclusive. So a few examples of that, last month one of our bad ass women of the week was Maame Biney who became the first African-American woman to qualify for the US short track speed skating team. She is phenomenal.
And this week at long track speed skating trials, Erin Jackson, a bad ass roller derby and inline skater, who just began speed skating on ice four months ago, four months finished third and became the first African-American woman to make it onto the US Olympic long track team. So, those are two really groundbreaking performances in just one month.
You also have Shani Davis, who is of course a trail blazer in this regard. He is qualified for his fifth Olympics in long track speed skating. You had Jordan Greenway, became the first black hockey player to ever make a team USA Olympic hockey team. That is a 98 year of whiteness, and I believe there have been a native player who did make it before that.
A few other exciting things that made me happy this week was Star Andrews, who did not make the Olympic figure skating team, but this 16 year old black US skater established herself as the future of the sport when at US figure skating trial this week. When she skated, her short program was to Beyonce, and her free skate was to, get this, Whitney Houston’s One Moment in Time, and Star Andrews sang the song that she skated to.
Jessica: She covered it, is what you’re saying?
Lindsay: Yeah. Like she was covering. It was her vocals. It was ridiculous. She was so good. I mean, she nailed her program, it wasn’t technically high enough at this point in her career to get her on the team, but it was a chilling moment. You have to watch it. And, come to find out, she is, I don’t know if any of you remember in 2010 when this wonderful, or 2009 I believe it was, when this wonderful viral video of a nine year old black figure skater.
Amira: Yeah, yeah.
Lindsay: Skating to Whip Your Hair by Willow Smith. That’s Star Andrews [crosstalk 00:08:47]. Isn’t that amazing? So, I linked all that on the Burn it All Down Twitter account this week if you wanna go back and look at that. It was really exciting. It’s very exciting to see that there is a black figure skater up and coming in the sport.
And we also, there are two other in the US world, there are two other groundbreaking nominations that might happen. Now, I have to say that we are recording this on Sunday morning, we are an hour or two away from the men’s US figure skating team being named. And, there is a big controversy right now. Adam Rippon, who would be the first openly gay male, on any team USA Olympic team. Because, we’ve never had a gay male on, openly gay male on the Summer Olympics team either, and we’ve never had an openly gay Winter Olympian in team USA.
But, he was expected to make the team, but he did not have a great performance in his free skate last night, and finished fourth. Now, he has a very impressive international resume. So, the nominating committee could, and many people think should, still put him on the team. But, that’s not official yet, and we won’t know for a couple of hours unfortunately.
But, if he doesn’t make it, then Gus Kenworthy a freestyle skier who came out after the Sochi Olympics, is expected to make it onto the team this year. So, we are expected to have some openly LGBTQ athletes, which is also very exciting when it comes to diversity.
But anyways, I wanted to ask you guys, it’s been kind of a beacon for me to see these barriers getting broken, and to see these sports kind of progressively moving forward. But, of course we have to talk a little bit about why these barrier have historically been so tough to break, and whether we can see this trend going forward.
Amira, why don’t we start with you?
Lindsay: For no reason, no reason yeah.
Amira: There’s definitely a history, a long history, of kind of absence from winter games. Now, we’ve gotten this stereotype, and the joke, like black people just don’t do cold is often thrown about. And, it’s kind of joking, but also there is some geographical, is that the word? Geographic, there you go. You know stuff about this. More than half of black populations tend to live in the south, and a lot of the concentrations of these games are in kind of cold weather, northern, kind of Nordic places. But also, there’s huge barriers to access. A lot of winter sports fall into the category of needing a lot of time and money. I know now that I live in the middle of Pennsylvania, my daughter has this school program that will pick them up and take them snowboarding and skiing. But, my husband did not have that in the [inaudible 00:11:33] of Philadelphia.
But, I also think that it’s one of these things, it’s the same as some of the sports in the Summer Olympics that we see as a kind of bastion of whiteness, like swimming. And, when we see those barriers get broken, we see people get into it, it actually does start paving the path and leaving a foundation for folks to go and pursue these other fields and these other opportunities.
But, all week it just made me think back. I don’t know if you guys remember, in 2006 Bryant Gumbel talked about the Winter Olympics. And, he basically went on a thing on HBO Sports, and he was like, “Listen. Nobody is watching them. Nobody knows what’s happening. If there’s black people in them, then I’d watch, because it’s absolutely ridiculous to say these are the greatest athletes on Earth when it’s just like I look and I see a sea of whiteness.” And so, he just kind of went on a kind of funny rant on HBO about it. But, it got picked up and made into a big deal in part because he basically said that the Winter Olympics looks like a GOP convention. And, I’m kind of like, where’s the lie?
But, what that did is move that bright bard and a lot of kind of right wing media folks came after him and said, “Well, he’s the real racist, because he’s saying that there’s-” You know, it was a whole storm. So, I was thinking a lot about this this week about, the only thing that’s very exciting to see all these, the numbers increase, and increase in high profile ways. And, I think that’s really, really important.
But also, I think that we can kind of laugh at what Gumbel’s saying, but there is a kind of truth in that, that requires addressing some of these other barriers to participation. And, some of it is this kind of stereotype that if you have a black kid, you’re gonna push them into basketball, you push them into track, you push them into sports that have stereotypically been where people think, “Oh, black people are gonna excel.” And, I think that that goes a really long way in making other sports, and not just winter sports, but sports like swimming, lacrosse, sports that are still places where you don’t really get numbers of black people present, and other people of color.
Shireen: Yeah, I just wanted to say that too. I mean, we see an absence particularly of South Asian, the sub continent athletes in the spaces also. I think one of the things, I used to play ice hockey when I was really little, but also I think we really need to think about the socioeconomic factors. Like, hockey is really expensive, and rep hockey in Canada is really expensive.
Insofar that a really close friend of mine, her husband was an amazing ball hockey player, but because he grew up in government housing, he actually couldn’t afford to play ice hockey. Even if he had the equipment donated to him, he couldn’t afford the fees, which are in the thousands. So, he just resorted to playing ball hockey. And, the called him the Parthenon, because of how amazing he was in skill. But, at the time, different clubs didn’t offer scholarships, and stuff like that, to people who needed it. That story has always made me think, because he’s a huge fan of hockey now. His children play, and the first thing he did was make sure his children had access to hockey, and they all play now.
I just think about that a lot, because I see it, when you’ve got predominantly immigrant families coming as well, like I’m the daughter of immigrants. The priorities for that are survival, they’re education always, and they don’t always extend to sports, seriously. And, this is something that I’ve done my work, and my research, and my lived experience, I’ve seen it. There’s a certain class privilege that comes with sports. I just wanted to say that.
Lindsay, you wanted to add something? Or, you guys wanna rock, paper, scissors for the next one? [crosstalk 00:15:23]
Lindsay: Spoiler alert, spoiler alert. Before we go there, I wanted to quickly say that, building on what Amira was saying about how these aren’t the best athletes, we are seeing in sports like bobsled, there is a lot more recruiting to try and get the track and field athletes, who of course are predominantly black, to then switch over and be push athletes, and convert athletes that way. And, we have seen a lot of diversifying, and a lot of success, in bobsled.
And, I think that also Erin Jackson showing that you can, that these skills, and this athleticism does transfer. I think we’re gonna start seeing people looking outside of the box, and looking more towards recruiting the great athletes to these winter sports as well. Because, look it is a slightly less competitive space overall than the summer sports, and there’s a future.
Speaking of trying to get into the Winter Olympics, because it’s slightly less competitive, Amira go ahead.
Amira: Yeah so, basically I think he’s one more race, but Pita Taufatofua, I hope I got that right, who some may remember as the shirtless Tongan flag bearer. He was in TaeKwonDo for the Summer Olympics. He was very oily.
Lindsay: In Rio.
Shireen: Oh, I remember this guy. [crosstalk 00:16:49]
Amira: He is attempting to qualify in cross country skiing. Before 2016, so just two years ago, he had never competed in snow at all. But, he said he hopes to make history for Tonga, and he doesn’t fear it. And, he’s basically one race away from qualifying. It’s definitely within the realm of possibility.
And, it definitely adds to what we’re seeing. And, not just black people in the United States, and not just people of color in the United States, but really global. And, this is again the Nigerian bobsled team, as Lindsay was talking about, as well and we’ve profiled before. You’re definitely seeing some of this cross over from Summer Olympians, and trying their hand at different Winter Olympic sports, and it’s so fun to see. Although, I feel like if he qualifies for the game, he might not be the shirtless flag bearer this time in PyeongChang.
Lindsay: No, apparently he’s having to wear extra layers than all the other skiers, because he’s so cold. But, I have an exciting opportunity for all of us. He actually has a go fund me, because as we talked about, there’s a lot of socioeconomic factors here, and he’s already $30,000 in debt, because of this journey. So, he has a go fund me, and here’s exciting thing, for five dollars he will put your name on his jacket to be worn at all appropriate media interviews, and races. “We are in this together.” He says. So, I would like to think that Burn it All Down would like to become an official sponsor of [crosstalk 00:18:27].
Everyone, five dollars. Do you think we can do it? We can do it.
Jessica: Oh yes.
Lindsay: It’s all about diversity and inclusion friends. It’s all about that, nothing else.
Jessica: Yeah, so staying on topic of the Olympics, I was really struck this week by the story that’s come out of North Korea. If you ever want perfect proof that sports and politics are intimately linked, North Korea has actually provided it recently. So, in his New Year’s Day address, Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader offered to participate in talks with South Korea. Specifically over sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics. Then last week, North Korea restored a telephone hotline at their mutual border, and the two countries began to talk. They actually sit in little huts on either side of the border and call each other.
Now, North Korea has accepted an offer to attend high level talks with South Korea beginning on Tuesday January 9th. The point of the talks is to figure out how North Korean athletes can compete in the Winter Olympics. According to the BBC, these will be the first high level talks between the Koreas since December, 2015.
The idea that the Olympics, and sport more generally, are not baked in politics is bullshit. The International Olympic Committee, the IOC, loves to say that there are no politics in Olympics.
Lindsay: They are liars.
Jessica: But, this is because they are liars. Yeah, it’s because they’re liars. That actually worked really well. They want to protect their brand. It’s the same as when the NFL, or any college football coach, cough Nick Saban, says politics isn’t part of their sport. Politics often means division and disagreement, or at least that’s the fear. And, anyone in the game of making a profit doesn’t want to do anything that could put off a customer.
So, all these organizations use this narrative move, saying they aren’t political. Most often to squash protests of, and at, their sporting events, specifically coming from athletes. We’ve talked a lot about the kneeling right? They demand their athletes be apolitical along side them, a harsh denial of the humanity of the athletes who literally power their games. And, if you want to know more about this, there’s a wonderful book by Jules Boykoff called Power Games. It’s a political history of the Olympics, and he really goes into it.
But, back to North Korea. We can’t look at what North Korea is doing in regards to the Olympics without considering it’s ongoing tensions with the United States around nuclear weapons and big buttons. Trump has already said quote, I feel like I need a better voice for this, “If I were involved, they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics right now. They’d be doing no talking, or it would be much more serious.” That’s the president of the United States you guys.
I mean this is audio, but if only you could see our eye rolls right now. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, floated the idea in early December that US athletes might not attend the Olympics because of these tensions. [inaudible 00:21:20] it in this paternalistic idea that they were going to keep athletes home for their own safety.
Last week, senator Lindsey Graham, cue the eye roll, tweeted quote, “Allowing Kim Jong Un’s North Korea to participate in #WinterOlympics would give legitimacy to the most illegitimate regime on the planet. I’m confident South Korea will reject this absurd overture, and fully believe that if North Korea goes to the Olympics, we do not.”
The president of the US figure skating used the IOC’s favorite line about the apolitical nature of it’s event to shut Graham down. Quote, “I think they need to be careful saying things like that, because these athletes have worked so hard to get there. The Olympics should be above politics. They shouldn’t be playing politics with this.” The president of the US figure skating also said quote, “I don’t think our athletes would boycott if they’ve been working all their lives for this. Who knows what Trump will tweet out? But, if he were to say boycott it, unless there was a very clear reason why to do it, I don’t think our athletes would boycott it. They want to compete. But of course, choosing not to boycott after the president of your country calls for one, is in itself, a political action whether you want it to be or not.”
So, I can’t even imaging a boycott by Olympic athletes following Trump’s lead. I just don’t even know what that would look like. I do wonder in this particular climate, how much activism we’re actually going to see during the games. What do you all think? What are you thinking going into this?
Shireen: I was just gonna say that, because we just talked about this, the racialized make up of athletes in the games is far less I’m wondering, because we know that the work of this kind of stuff and so much activism does fall in the box of those from racialized communities, and they’re always the ones carrying that torch, pun intended. So, it would be really interesting for me to see, I’m waiting for that.
I mean, Lindsey Vonn actually came out a couple weeks ago. We talked about her on the show, I think she got a bad ass woman of the week or honorable mention for saying that if she did win gold, she wouldn’t actually go to the White House. And, she was hit with death threats and everything else. We’re already see it emerging, and I think that’s really interesting, because her words were really, really powerful. She talked about as an Olympian, as someone who believes in the sport, she’s really committed to justice. I’m paraphrasing what she said, but the push back was incredible, and she wasn’t expecting that. And, she also followed up explaining that she was horrified by the response she got. So, I’m anticipating some of that as well.
Amira: Yeah, there’s a really interesting article in the Journal of Sports and Social Issues called Staging the Winter Olympics, or Why Sports Matters to White Power by C. Richard King. And, it’s basically talking about the entanglements of white power in the Olympic games. And, it traces the centrality of [inaudible 00:24:03] and white supremacy to its invention.
In particular, what you get with the Winter Olympics, interpretations of that is that this is a time, and a similar argument that other scholars have made about extreme sports right. Is that, these are places can, a fresh interpretation, be a little more conservative, because it’s a place where you can reclaim sports as a white space. Away from the kind of historical quote unquote, infiltration of bodies of color, and black bodies in particular, to sports like basketball and football.
So, there’s really interesting scholarly work that interrogates what there is, how the culture of the Winter Olympics, and the extreme sports, cultivates these moments. And, I think that it reminds me of thinking about like PK Subban, and other black hockey players, and the burden that they already carry. And, the crazy racist things that they already endure. Thinking about what it is to be the one person in a sport, and what protest looks like when it takes on a great risk like that.
Lindsay: Yeah, and building on that, I think we are, because we are seeing more diversity, we think we are going to see slightly more outspokenness, and hopefully we will see it from allies as well, like Lindsey Vonn. I know Adam Rippon who, like I said, might not be on the Olympic team by the time you’ve heard this, or might be. But, he’s already said that he will not go to the White House if invited as part of the Olympics. So, we’re already seeing athletes step up, and make statements like that. I do hope it continues. I don’t think we’re going to see a whole whole lot of it.
But, one of the frustrating things to me about all of this, about the posturing and the political posturing that frustrates me, usually the politics in sports does not frustrate me as much, but this time the focus on North Korea and on Kim Jong Un, and the fear mongering that’s going along there, is I think distracting from the typical things we talk about going into the Olympics.
Which is, the fact that PyeongChang is double its budget. I think it’s like six or seven billion dollars over budget. The fact that they have these stadiums there that nobody knows who’s gonna be paying for the continued upkeep, or where they’re going to be, or who’s going to be using them after this. The fact that they completely destroyed sacred forest to build some of these sites.
So, these are typically the things that people, that the politically minded folks are talking about headed into Olympic games. And, I think because of the distraction of Trump and Kim Jong Un, and because of the fact that South Korea’s economy is so booming, so there’s not the kind of first world gazing down upon, and looking down upon like there was with Rio. You know the shaming that goes along there. That some really important subjects are being lost out.
I mean, South Korea in 1988 really used the Summer Olympics, the Seoul Summer Olympics, to establish itself as a world power. And, they’re known as one of the more successful Olympics. But, it needs to be said that that also it slowed their economic growth overall, and there were a litany of human rights abuses headed into the 1988 Summer games. Including the AP did a huge investigation back in 2016 about how all these human rights abuses have not been dealt with, nobody’s been held responsible, and there were thousands, and thousands, and thousands of people taken off the street. Poor people who were prisoned, and raped, and many killed, just to get them out of sight for the Olympics in 1988, and nobody’s been held responsible for this.
So, I wanted to challenge us all, and I know all Burn it All Down listeners are very, very intelligent, and very thoughtful. So, I want to just make sure that we don’t, the likelihood there will be some more fear mongering by North Korea and by Kim Jong Un. There will be more stupidity from the United States, from Trump. And, I don’t think all of that, I don’t want to say that’s a distraction, because obviously we’re dealing with nuclear weapons and that’s extremely dangerous. But, the likelihood of, Kim Jong Un is seeming to want to pick diplomacy. There’s thought that the North Korean skaters are gonna be allowed to skate. But, that doesn’t mean that there’s gonna be no political impact from these games. And, we need to look on the ground, in South Korea, and make sure we’re putting our attention to the actual impact these games are going to have on the ground.
Jessica: That’s so fascinating, because the 1988 Olympics are held up, when people criticize mega events and the damage they do, 1988 is held up as the example of when they’re good. Like, they are the shining examples. So, thank you for pointing out all of that.
Shireen: And, I’d just like to remind everyone that the 88 Olympics were in Calgary, Canada.
Lindsay: 88 had a Summer Olympics and a Winter Olympics in the same year.
Amira: 88 is the best year.
Lindsay: That does sound like a good year, yeah. [crosstalk 00:29:21]
Shireen: Next, I’m really excited about my interview with double gold medalist, and absolutely incredible boxer Claressa Shields. I had an opportunity to talk with her about her upcoming fight, her goals for the future, her activism around the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and about karaoke.
I’m so excited to have double gold medalist, the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal, and she’s done it twice. She’s also the current WBC, IBF world champion, which was accomplished only in the fourth professional fight of her career. Detroit native, 22 year old Claressa Shields.
Thank you so much for coming on Burn it All Down, Claressa.
Claressa: Thank you for having me.
Shireen: Claressa, how did you come to love, and excel at boxing? Was there a specific moment that you fell in love with the sport?
Claressa: I think the first day I went into the gym. The first day I went into the gym I was 11 years old, and there was some guys sparring inside of the ring. And, I just remember thinking to myself, I could do that. So, that’s kinda when I just was like, I wanted to box. I didn’t know everything else that came with it though. I just wanted to get in the ring and show that I could fight. But, the training, and the running, and stuff, I really didn’t know that that came with boxing until I started being coached. And, this is the stuff that he made us do.
Shireen: So, you were 11 years old. And, did you have any athletic role models, inspirations, supporters, that really really helped you along?
Claressa: At the age of 11, I really didn’t have any female role models. Not at the age of 11. I think I had my first female role model when I was 15, and that was Serena Williams.
Shireen: And, what exactly about her was it that fueled you?
Claressa: Just her dominance. The way that she wins, stays on top. I was just like, I wanna be like Serena Williams when I get older. I wanna have all the commercials, and the fame, and stuff like that.
Shireen: What about your family? Did your family support you in your journey?
Claressa: I can say that, my family wasn’t really like, I guess I could say that my immediate family accepted it quite well. My dad, my mom, my sister. My mom never questioned anything that I do. My mom was always like, “Whatever you decide to do, I’m 100% behind you.” My dad was, he thought I would sign up for boxing, then get beat up, and quit. But, he just signed me up so that I wouldn’t be able to say in the future, “Oh, I could’ve been a good boxer, but my dad never signed me up.” So, he was just doing it because I asked.
Shireen: Were there other sports that you played as well when you were young? Or, did you just focus on boxing?
Claressa: No, I played a lot of sports growing up. I played volleyball, I played football in elementary, flag football, I ran track, cross country, I played basketball.
Shireen: So, you’re pretty much an all around athlete as well?
Shireen: So, I wanted to kind of say congratulations on your success as a professional fighter. Was it an easy transition for you to go from an incredibly successful amateur record, which was like 77-1 to professional boxing?
Claressa: It wasn’t hard. I think that the hardest decision about all of it was, giving up my chance for a 2020 Olympic gold medal. That was the biggest decision that I had, because I feel like I go back to the Olympics, it would be easy for me to defend Olympic gold medal, that I would win. But, being in the pros, I just was like, I really want women’s boxing to be around forever. And, I felt like they wouldn’t have been given the opportunity unless I turned professional.
Shireen: Yeah, definitely. Speaking of the Olympics, I read an article that said that every punch that you threw in Rio, it was for Flint. And, you have talked about the water crisis in Flint, and you have advocated for your community. Are you still involved with campaigns to support people there?
Claressa: Of course. I’m always in Flint. I go around and talk at schools, churches. Let the kids watch my documentary. You [crosstalk 00:33:29] our city and where I’m from, and then they get to meet me in person. I speak about the water crisis, I speak about the murder rates. I’m just trying to keep people in the loop with Flint. Even though with all the bad stuff, you still have good people.
Shireen: Definitely. Is there a specific campaign that you want to shout our, or that we can add links to in the show notes, about any particular organization that works and helps people there?
Claressa: The Up to Us program. I’m an ambassador for their program. And then also, the recreational [inaudible 00:34:04] I started training there when I was 11, and I still train there now. They have all these different, they have basketball for the kids, they have dance classes, gymnastics, boxing, and tap dancing. So, that’s a place I want to give a shout out to. To the recreation center at Burston, Burston Field House.
Shireen: Definitely. And, I know that you’ve mentioned before that you’re actually a huge supporter of bottles for babies. Can you tell me a little bit about what they do too?
Claressa: Well, bottles for babies is the people that, as soon as the water crisis got started, they were the ones who were collecting the pallets of water, and taking it to the churches, and actually taking it to the families, before all the celebrities came, and started donating water and everything. Babies for bottles is a legit website where you can send water, and the water will get to Flint, and they’ll distribute it to Flint.
Shireen: Yeah, that’s awesome. We’ll definitely add that. So, your upcoming fight is January 12th, and what’s next for you in terms of goals?
Claressa: I just wanna stay undefeated. Fight for more money. Fight on TV, and just become internationally known at the end of my boxing career, probably at the age of 30, 31 to 35. Go down in history as the best woman to put on a pair of gloves. That’s the goal overall.
Shireen: Is there anything, any advice, that you would offer to young boxers out there? Young fighters that are willing. What’s the one advice that you might give them?
Claressa: I always tell all the fighters when they ask me what’s my advice to them, I say, “Don’t be afraid to be different.” Not everybody is gonna like what you’re doing, or even understand it. But, when God gives you a passion, and a drive for something, he doesn’t give you that for no reason.
Shireen: And, what about in terms of the, for anybody any families, if you had actually any advice for any families who are trying to dissuade their daughters from getting into fighting? What would you say to them?
Claressa: Like they don’t want their daughters to fight?
Shireen: Exactly, yeah.
Claressa: They have to look at boxing for the bigger picture. Yes, it’s boxing and it’s fighting, but also it builds a lot of character, a lot of self esteem, and it teaches you self defense. I don’t think anybody should be against their daughters knowing how to protect themselves, and defend themselves. In the world we live in now, you got so many perpetrators. You got sexual assaulters, people that’s raping people, and sexual harassment. I think it’s good for girls to have some kind of self defense to defend themselves. Not just knowing how to twist somebody’s arm, and get them off you, or something like that. I mean actually knowing how to fight. You know what I mean?
Shireen: Yes, definitely. And the last question I’m gonna ask you is that, what do you do for down time? How do you relax, and what’s your self care practice?
Claressa: You know, I have a few self care practices. I like to do massages. I do karaoke.
Shireen: Oh, now way. That’s awesome.
Claressa: Yeah, I do karaoke. I like to hang out with my friends, and I’m all over on social media. So, that’s what I do on my down time.
Shireen: What’s your favorite karaoke song?
Claressa: Favorite karaoke song? It used to be [inaudible 00:37:12] name of the song called. Let me find a song for you on my phone.
Shireen: We you sing some for me?
Claressa: Oh, see now that’s like, wait a minute. [inaudible 00:37:27] singing careers. It’s Eli Golding, Anything Can Happen. And then, I like Rihanna, Rock Star 101.
Shireen: Oh, wow. That’s amazing. I had no idea. So, I just really want to thank you for chatting with us, and talking to us. And, we are absolutely rooting for you on January 12th. We wish you the best of luck, and thanks again for coming on Burn it All Down.
Claressa: Thank you, I appreciate you guys having me.
Now, onto everyone’s favorite segment, including ours, The Burn Pile. Amira, would you like to go first?
Amira: Sure. Well, this past week we have yet another chapter in Rooney rule drama. Or rather, lack of Rooney rule drama. So, the Rooney rule for folks who need a refresher, is the NFL’s way of trying to increase diversity in the head coach and general manager ranks. In 2003 they instituted this rule mandating that openings for teams interviewing for openings for head coaches need to make sure they have minority candidates in their pool of applicants, and take serious looks at them.
In 2009, it was expanded to include GM searches and other front office positions. And every year, every other year, we go through this thing where it’s shown to be the sham that it is.
So, the Raiders have hired Jon Gruden, and everybody knew they wanted Jon Gruden, and then retro actively they brought in some other candidates, including candidates of color. So, they were fulfilling the Rooney rule requirements. And, that’s a sham. Just like the scrutiny on the Brown’s GM search that happened last year, we had this conversation then too, and we’re gonna continue to have it. But, there’s two particular parts of the conversation that I’m burning in particular this week.
First, the idea that the Raiders should be somehow exempt from criticism, because they have a history of hiring of people of color and women. Notably, Art Shell as head coach in 89, and Amy Trask as CEO in 97. But you know what, I’m sorry. No, they’re still actually making a mockery of the rule. When you are just bringing in somebody to interview so you’re in compliance, but you’re not actually seriously giving them consideration, then you’re wasting that person’s time, and you’re just going through the motions. That’s still a sham. It doesn’t matter that in the 90s, and in the 80s, Al Davis made these moves, and that you have a history of this. No, that should make you want to continue to exemplify that legacy. So, that’s the first part of the conversation that absolutely drove me up a wall this week.
And the second is again, this renewed anger at the rule itself. Like, why are you all mad at the rule itself? You should be mad at the systemic issue that leads to the rule. I don’t understand this. And so, this really irritates me, because last year there was a report that showed 80 out of the 85 league’s offensive coordinators, and unit coaches, were white. On defense, less than 10 people were coordinators of color. And, in a league where 95% of head coaching hires come from coordinators and existing head coaches, you see how that can lead to a very, very real diversity problem.
And, diversity in NFL management and coaching sucks ass, and it’s ridiculous. And, it’s never gonna be solved as long as we pretend that they Rooney rule is doing something when people treat it like the sham. It’s an old boys club, which is also by the way, the defense against having women coaches, is that you didn’t come up through these ranks. But, one of the things that happens, and there’s minority coaches on record doing this, is basically you don’t get promotions. So, you get maybe a bonus, or more money, to take over a unit, but you’re not getting promoted. So, what that creates is a sport that is majority black being governed and coached by people who are majority white.
And, what the Raiders did this week, and if the fits followed committed that oversees the enforcement of the rule, which they will find that they were in compliance, all they’re doing is reinforcing that the rule is a sham, and I’m burning it down.
Shireen: Burn. Linds?
Lindsay: Yeah hi, I would like to talk a little bit about now former Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez, who you might have heard, this week it came out, and I would like to say all the information that I’m saying in the next couple minutes is from Deadspin’s Lindsay Adler, and Diana Moscowitz, who are brilliant. So, Rodriguez serially harassed, allegedly, serially harassed his assistant, including grabbing his penis in front of her, trying to kiss her, telling her I love you in a text message, and making her cover for his extra marital affair. This is according to a claim that she filed last month in the state attorney general’s office, seeking 7.5 million dollars in damages against Rodriguez and his wife.
So, apparently after Rodriguez grabbed his penis in front of her, the woman and another employee nicknamed Rodriguez “The Predator”. And, when she tried to transfer to another department, she was told by a university official that Rodriguez wouldn’t allow that to happen.
So, one of the points in the claim is that the plaintiff felt comfortable working for Rodriguez for a couple of years, but then in 2013, according to her claim, he created something called quote “The Hideaway Book”, and that established what she says were a ghost set of procedures for coaches and a few members of the football operation staff that attempted to help Rodriguez conceal his infidelity from his wife. And, according to this former assistant, the document contained a line, deep breath everyone, title nine doesn’t exist in our office.
So, Rodriguez’s lawyer who it might be said is a major donor to Arizona State University, giving ten million dollars to the law school, he has said that this is all completely without merit, that he will fight until Rodriguez’s name is clear, and that Rodriguez’s will be able to then get other coaching jobs.
But, another note is that Rodriguez will receive a 6.3 million dollar buyout from the university after his firing. So, I’d like to torch all of that. Burn.
Shireen: Geez. Burn.
I’m gonna go next. And, this is actually a really sad one for me, but it needs to be done, needs to be burned. Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, who is otherwise known as our beloved Ronaldinho Gaúcho, the legendary Brazilian footballer, and actually one of the reasons I completely fell in love with Barca, is rumored to be endorsing [inaudible 00:44:09]. A racist, misogynist, and homophobic, former army captain, now politician, who revels in authoritarian regimes. He is a known supporter of torture use against resisters in Brazil political resisters. He’s an evangelical Christian, and not exactly what we think of in the history of those brilliant Brazilian footballers, and politics. Those who were invested in politics. One of whom was Socrates, who’s like unbelievable historically in the world of sports an politics.
Ronaldinho is being considered as a potential candidate as senator for this elitist, and dangerous man. And, it’s a serious blow, in my opinion, to the image of a player who has really brought so much joy to the pitch, the beautiful game. I mean, his grin is phenomenal. His videos of dribbling through players, and his keepy uppies are part of my self care regime.
Now, it shows how, possibly how, the politicking of power and money in the football world has actually emerged. And, this is something that, like I said, we don’t expect perfection from anyone, but we kind of expect them to be able to navigate through horrific people. And, especially when there is a history of leftward leaning politics from footballers in Brazil.
Especially when this particular person when Ronaldinho grew up super poor. His dad was actually a dock worker and died when he was eight. He worked two jobs, he grew up in poverty, and then to be supporting a man who is so blatantly from the upper echelon of elitism, and militarism in Brazil, it was really, really sad. Actually, to be honest, I was really sad when I read it. It seems misguided, and reckless, and almost uncaring. And Ronaldinho was a player of the people. We’re gonna link that Jacobin magazine article about [inaudible 00:46:07] and his connection with Ronaldinho. But, I just heavy heart, and I gotta burn it. Burn.
Jessica: Yeah, hi all. It’s me again. Here to complain, once again, about how fucking hard it is to watch women’s sports. Even when the teams are awesome, and even given all the access to women’s sports that we are told we should be thankful for these days. So, I know that I have specifically complained about this in the past, I know that Amira has as well, but it will never stop being infuriating.
So, on December 31st, I went to the University of Texas women’s basketball game against West Virginia. I didn’t want to miss it. And, UT was ranked number eight. West Virginia number nine. Happy New Year to me. So, my husband stayed home, but he wanted to watch the game, and I should say off the top, that we no longer have cable. We stream everything, but we do have Direct TV now, and we have access to a bunch of different ways to watch sports, because that’s clearly very important to me. And, I was at the game, and we’re maybe five minutes into it, and I start to get these mad text messages from my husband, because he can’t find the game anywhere.
These are two top 10 teams. He eventually did find it. He told me the entire saga when I got home. He had to stream it on the Fox Sports Go app. But, that was it’s own adventure. He had to download it, he had to sign up for it, get it to stream on the TV. The app itself wasn’t very good. And mind you, my husband is a software developer and programmer who understands computers and streaming better than I ever will.
Why is this so damn hard? I know that we know the answer to that, but it hurts my heart to see that two top 10 women’s basketball teams, that you basically have to be a tech savvy genius, with infinite patience, who’s willing to do cartwheels and back flips in order to watch the game. I will never not think of these moments when people say that women’s sports aren’t popular because people don’t want to watch them. Want to watch them? If only we could. Burn it.
So, after all that brilliant and necessary burning, we want to celebrate some of the amazing people. Honorable mentions go out to Sheldon Kerr, who is on her way to becoming one of 12 IFMGA certified female mountain guides in the USA. So, this is part of the outdoor sport culture, and there’s only one. So, that’s really brilliant.
Also, honorable mention to Sarah Kustok, NBA’s first solo female analyst and color commentator. And, I didn’t realize that she was the first solo one. I think, from what I understand, it comes in teams of people, but she is actually gearing to do that, and has become that.
Now, for the bad ass woman of the week, drum roll please. [crosstalk 00:49:11]
Lindsay: We’re not getting better at that, but it’s just so charming.
Jessica: We’re not. We’re not getting any better.
Shireen: Really excited about this one, Shakyla Hill. Now this Grambling State junior guard’s assist in the last seconds of the game against Alabama State, which gave them the win, made Hill fourth quadruple double in NCAA women’s basketball history, on Wednesday night. And, since 1993 it hasn’t been done. So, that was amazing. She was lauded all over social media, and props to the NBA players, and WNBA players, giving her props. I mean she has an incredible career ahead of her, and that was so exciting to see.
Jessica: Lebron James talked about her today, or he gave an interview all about her. He was like, “We were watching it in the coffee shop, we were so excited.” It was really cute.
Amira: And, it was great that this game also kind of amplified the long history of black women’s basketball at historically black colleges and universities.
Shireen: Now, onto what’s good. Jessica, you want to start?
Jessica: Yeah, I do. I’m so happy to be back here, and excited about Burn it All Down in 2018. That’s something that is good. But also, I got an instant pot for Christmas that I am so excited about this machine. I’ve been using it so much since that day. I’ve made hard boiled eggs in it, I used it as a rice cooker last night, I made chicken and dumplings, I’ve made tomato soups, [inaudible 00:50:38] oatmeal, chili, Swedish meatballs, not all at the same time. It is amazing. It is a really, really cool machine, and I have just been enjoying it so much.
Amira: Yeah, I’m currently in Washington, DC for the American Historical Association conference. And, the conference was fine, and I had some fun grad school reunions, and whatnot. But, my best reunions was the chance to see Brenda, and the chance to see Lindsay, and [crosstalk 00:51:09] anytime I get to see my co-hosts is a bright moment in my life.
And then my other thing that’s good, I’m not exactly excited that winter break is over, and that by 10 am tomorrow morning I will be teaching apparently they’re telling me. But, I am really excited that one of the classes I’m teaching this Spring is a gender and sexuality in sport class. And, they’re reading Jess’ book, and the reading articles by my co-hosts, and they’re listening to the podcast. We’re just gonna have a great, great, great time talking through issues of gender and sexuality in sport. So, I am looking forward to that, and ready to get it going this week.
Shireen: Awesome. Linds.
Lindsay: Yeah, well Amira stole mine. But, I do wanna say I did have that in the doc that I was excited to meet her. It was my first time meeting Brenda in person, which was amazing. Seeing her and Amira was just great, and a good way to save me from the cold for a few minutes.
And, I also have my cousin’s getting married next weekend. So, I’m gonna go back home for another long weekend, and I am so happy for him and his future wife, who has been around for awhile. And, they’re having a baby together too, so that’s really exciting. It’s just gonna be a really lovely, I think casual, but also special time. So, I can’t wait for that. It’ll be another good way to kick off the year.
Shireen: That’s awesome. Like everybody, I’m so excited to be back with Burn it All Down. Love it, it’s the highlight of my week [crosstalk 00:52:41]. Yesterday I was actually at the Nash conference. Nash 80, which is the student journalism conference in Canada, which is held in Toronto by the Eye Opener at Ryerson University, their paper. It was amazing to go. I had so many people talk about Burn it All Down, and that was really nice to hear that, and we appreciate all of our listeners, and just are so excited.
One more thing, I’ve been really excited by Jimmy Ma’s performance of Turn Down for What on the ice. So, I’ve been kind of looking into those, and that’s given me a lot of happiness.
The last thing I’ll say is, January is my birthday month, so I’m a little bit excited. I was supposed to go to the Shakira concert, I’ve been whining about this for awhile, and she is having vocal cord hemorrhaging and canceled her tour and delayed it until August actually. So, I need to find something else to get me through January and this cold. My birthday will have to be it.
Amira: What day is your birthday?
Shireen: January 22nd is my birthday.
Amira: Oh, my daughter’s is the 30th.
Shireen: My daughter’s is the 30th too.
Amira: Really? She’s turning 10 and I’m losing my mind.
Shireen: Mine’s turning 16, and has given me a list of what she expects, so we’ll have to see.
Lindsay: Sounds like your daughter Shireen, that sounds.
Shireen: So true.
Lindsay: I love you so much.
Shireen: I’m gonna send you all that Amazon link okay?
Lindsay: I’m awaiting your list, yes.
Amira: Too cute.
Shireen: Anyway, that’s it for this week in Burn it All Down. Burn it All Down lives on SoundCloud, but can be found at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and TuneIn. We appreciate all your reviews, feedback, subscriptions, so please subscribe and rate us, and 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. On Instagram at Burn it All Down Pod. And, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, check out our website www.burnitalldownpod where you will find previous episodes, transcripts, and a link to our Patreon. We would appreciate you subscribing, sharing, and rating our show, which helps us to do the work we love to do, and keep burning what needs to be burned.
On behalf of Jess, Lindsay, Amira, I’m Shireen, thank you for joining us.