Episode 37: Stadiums in Saudi Arabia, Serena in Vogue and Positive Sign Girl FTW!
This week Amira Rose Davis, Shireen Ahmed and Brenda Elsey talk about women sports fans in Saudi Arabia who headed to stadiums for the the first time recently and the grassroots movements that got them there. Then they discuss Serena’s candid Vogue spread and the way it amplifies important conversations about black maternal health.
Then Lindsay interviews ESPN women’s basketball analyst LaChina Robinson about how the game is covered, the keys to UConn’s greatness, intriguing storylines this season in women’s college basketball, and the future of activism in the WNBA.
As always, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, Bad Ass Woman of the Week, and what’s good in our worlds.
Intro (5:35) Women sports fan in Saudi Arabia (17:29) Serena’s interview in Vogue (31:35) Lindsay interviews LaChina Robinson (43:02) Burn Pile (52:54) Bad Ass Woman of the Week (55:04) What’s Good (1:00:26) Outro
For links and a transcript…
First Olympian from Saudi http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-3748257/Teenager-Alizadeh-wins-womens-medal-Iran.html
Serena and racism in the maternity ward https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/sports/tennis/serena-williams-baby-vogue.html
Amira: Hey, Flame Throwers, Amira here. Before we jump into our episode, I wanted to take this time to remind everybody about our Patreon campaign. What is that, you ask? Well, here’s how it works. You pledge a certain amount every month, as low as two dollars or as much as you want to become an official Patreon of the podcast. What does that mean, you ask? Well, in exchange for your monthly contribution you get access to special rewards such as an extra segment of the podcast, monthly newsletters, opportunities to nominate women for Bad Ass Woman of the Week, or pile on our Burn Pile. Things that are only available to our official Patreons and members of our Patreon community.
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Amira: Welcome to this week of Burn It All Down. It may not be the feminist sports podcast you want, but it’s the feminist sports podcast you need.
I’m Amira Rose Davis, Assistant Professor of History in Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at Penn State.
And, I’m joined today by two of my favorite ladies. Fellow historian and all around genius, Brenda Elsey from Hofstra University. And, our resident Canadian phenom, Shireen Ahmed.
Amira: This week, we’ll be talking women’s sports fans in Saudi Arabia. We’ll chat about Serena’s revealing, an important feature in Vogue, and Lindsay chats with LaChina Robinson about basketball. Of course, we’ll be talking about some badass women and burning some things.
But, before we jump into that, I have to ask. Guys, have you seen this Positive Sign Girl?
Brenda: I did.
Shireen: I love, love, Positive Sign Girl. I’m like, where was she through all my athletic career?
Amira: Right. So, for folks who didn’t see her, there’s this video trending, going viral, whatever we call it these days of a girl at … She was at a Capitals game?
Amira: With a sign that said, “You are all talented”, which quickly earned her the name of Positive Sign Girl because it was definitely a sign that we don’t usually see at sporting events.
Brenda: Yeah, her name is Reilly Evans. And, I read a quote from her where she was saying, “Trash talking is a big part of sports, but I felt like doing something different because everyone on the ice, opponent or not, is incredibly talented. Really.” And, it’s like, oh my God. Oh. Yeah. Of course.
Amira: You’re like, yeah, oh my goodness. We could be nice to each other.
Brenda: Yeah. Like, it doesn’t have to be this. And, I was just in the midst of reading about a thousand million Arsenal posts about Alexis Sanchez and how all the trash talking and they’re going after his dogs. Now, I know you guys will feel the pain of that. I mean, Alexis is really committed to Atom and Hummer, his dogs. He has a whole Instagram account for them.
So, there’s all these kinds of banners coming up that say, “F you and your shit dogs.”
Amira: Oh, my God.
Brenda: So, Positive Sign Girl was like, “Oh, no.” Alexis needs her.
Amira: I mean, clearly, have you guys ever brought signs to sporting events?
Shireen: I think the only sign I would ever carry is if I meet Tim Duncan. It would say, “Timmy, marry me.” And, I’m still open to that, but I haven’t. I would actually prefer to write it in the sky. I think that’s what I would do. [crosstalk 00:04:17]
Brenda: Only two times. In 1984, Tigers, I was super dedicated to Chet Lemon, a center fielder. And, no, like really. It’s bizarre. I can’t explain it. It’s for therapy. And, I had a sign then. And then, the Women’s World Cup in Montreal. I had, “I love you so much, Martha.”
Amira: Well, actually I have a Women’s World Cup sign story too. When I was, I have to say, at the end … So, it was when The 99ers were going to the World Cup. I was in like fifth grade and we … My whole Maple team took a field trip to Foxborough to watch them play. And, I remember getting sign out and drawing on it. I have terrible handwriting. It was just so time consuming. I applaud everybody who takes the time to do this. And, after all of that, I left my sign in the car.
Shireen: Wait a minute. You were in grade five when you watched The 99ers play?
Amira: Yes. [crosstalk 00:05:22]
Shireen: Oh, my God.
Amira: All right. Let’s jump right into our first topic. This week, we were flooded with pictures. Wonderful, wonderful pictures that I found so heart warming of women fans entering the stadiums in Saudi Arabia for the first time. Shireen, can you take us into this section?
Shireen: Sure. Thanks Amira. Her Story. So, for the first time in its nation’s history, women’s football supporters were permitted in the sports stadium in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They watched the Saudi Pro League match between Al Ahli and Al-Batin in Jeddah.
Now, women wore traditional soccer scarves supporting in which ever colors. And, cheered and clapped in what were called the family sections, which were specifically for children and women accompanied by their husbands, or brothers, or what not. Now, selfies, fan face paintings, chants, and all the usual excitement would now include women very, very publicly.
I think that it’s really important to understand that the changes were supported by King Salman, a king for 2015 and his son Mohammed bin Salman. Yes, the same folks were mercilessly bombing Yemen, but that’s for another segment or podcast. But, in addition to creating jobs for women, like ushers, food service, etc. It actually creates the visibility of women in public and family spaces, which was severely lacking before and still remains to be a huge challenge.
Now, we can talk about discussions on culture in terms of Gulf culture, Middle Eastern culture, where women not attending sporting events is actually not uncommon. I mean, now Iran, and I’ve written about this quite a bit, Iran actually has a formal legal stadium ban where women are not permitted. And so, what we see happening is that sometimes women dress up as men to actually attend these events, because don’t forget, these are football loving countries. And, women make up a huge amount of those populations.
So, we see situations where women dress up and disguise themselves as men. And, this is very much a throw back to one of my favorite movies called, Offside by Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi, where it follows the story of four young women who actually dress up as boys to get into a stadium, a world cup match in Bahrain at Azadi Stadium.
Now, the whole thing about … And, we’ve seen actually stories of women emerging who have done this in Saudi Arabia. Now, with this … I think there’s things that we have to keep in mind here, the classicisms involving this. ‘Cause it’s very expensive to attend these matches and it becomes a thing. But, I mean, I think we can have a discussion on about what the optics are from the outside. ‘Cause we’re outside looking in as well, right? And, what this means for sports in general.
Brenda: Hey, Shireen? Can I ask you a question?
Brenda: So, I follow Open Stadiums and some of the other accounts that are out there of women trying to do all sorts of organizing around this issue in the Middle East. Where else should we be looking for updates on this, for information? ‘Cause it’s really hard given the Islamophobia in the US to get to the right places.
Shireen: I think, in a way Open Stadiums is amazing first of all. And, I’ve worked with them and have collaborated with them when I’ve reported stories for Vice about them and the work that they’re doing. I mean, we talk about it and it’s not like a big, “Oh, this is about me and how great my writing is.” That’s not where I’m going with this. I’m just saying, to write about these things with nuance is very difficult that I’m finding that the stories that are coming out now, that the language being used is better than it was, let’s just say, five years ago.
The story that I’ve quoted, one of them was a New York Times story, and it wasn’t my favorite to be very honest with you. I didn’t like the language used. And, I’m happy to say that I didn’t like the language used because you’re right. In a place where there’s rampant Islamophobia it’s hard to write with a critical understanding of context that doesn’t minimize. And, also I need people to keep in mind that the campaigning for women’s right has been happening in Saudi forever.
Shireen: Like, there’s this assumption that, this white savior assumption, that it’s only Nick Kristof decides to write about it does it become relevant. And, yes, I’m totally showing shade. I can’t stand that guy.
Brenda: Yes, throw that shade.
Shireen: And, literally, I’m just like, oh. Even through my face veil I’m like throwing shade. I don’t wear a face veil, it was a metaphor. But, actually it’s minus 19 in Toronto. I’m gonna be wearing a face veil today.
Amira: Everybody’s wearing it.
Shireen: But the reality is that women there have been campaigning. I mean, one of the directors of women’s sports in Saudi, actually one of the princesses, I have mixed feelings about that. I might go tweet about them later. But, I think the thing is there is a lot of grassroots movement and that’s not what Open Stadiums is. It’s grassroots movement. And, there are such movement happening in Saudi Arabia. That’s why I mention the classism because not everybody will have access to these faces.
Amira: Right. Precisely. No, I think that this is such an important point and I just kind of want to pause on it for a second because I think that … And, I have a problem with some of the reporting that happens around this because it does take on this kind of [inaudible 00:10:52] and this way that’s like, “Oh, women are finally getting liberated.” That completely discounts internal and grassroots moment that are happening there. But, also really belies a complete lack of understanding about culture.
And, I think that that’s a really important point. Is it’s not enough to just kind of sit cozy in the United States and look over and there and be like, “Oh, look. They’re finally getting cultured and letting women in the stadiums.” It completely discounts what women on the ground in places like Saudi Arabia have been doing for years, exactly what you said.
And, I think that’s a really important point to over emphasize again and again.
Shireen: Yeah, I think that exactly what you said, but also I think in terms of … It also just infuriates me because like you said, there’s an erasure of the work that’s currently being done and in Iran the movement specifically comes from women and some very few allies. It comes from women and now the word is getting out like Open Stadiums and within the Gulf.
And, there’s something else I kind of wanted to mention. I wrote about this about four years ago, actually. About the shift in change in culture and fan culture in the Gulf region and in the Middle East. And, it was started very simply as like an Emirati team went to Bahrain to play in what’s called, The Gulf Cup. And, at the time, I had reported, I cited a New York Times story, not written by Kristof, about how Saudi Arabia was building stadiums back then. And, the stadium actually had to be completely reconfigured and rebuilt to accommodate family sections.
So, these spaces were actually built without any concept that women might be attending. So, that is changing slowly. And, there’s no shortage of money in these spaces so they build those fucking stadiums. But, I mean, the reality is that there were women there and the tide is shifting. And, like I said, you have to keep class in mind here because it’s only the upper [inaudible 00:12:48] that get to travel and get to do this.
But, a group of women traveled from the Emirates to Bahrain at that time to go support their team, their national team. And, there’s a really cool quote from a sociologist at University Sharjah. His name is Dr. Ahmad Alomosh. And, he says that it’s not just cultural inequality or traditional generals, it can be about national pride.
And, he says, sports makes everyone connect as it is a mutual language for everyone. And, a victory for a national team is bound to enhance national identity and unite people.
And, I think that’s really important to keep in mind and excluding women from those places is really problematic.
Amira: Yeah, I know. I think that’s a great quote. And, that’s a really, really great point. The other thing, I think Brenda kind of eluded to this, is about the rampant Islamophobia here. I think it also opens up an important conversation for folks who don’t understand the way ideas about gender equality can hold water in something like Islam, which is such a false understanding of what Islam is.
And, I’ve learned so much from one of my closes friends and fellow historians Sarah [inaudible 00:14:00] whose research in Algeria and in kind of French Empire has really done such a great job documenting all of the ways that a lot of grassroots movements in places like Algeria, and Morocco, and Indonesia were started by understanding the Islam that permitted a wider range of actions for women than perhaps the state.
And, I think that that’s such a necessary thing to combat, this idea that to be Muslim, to be a Muslim woman means you’re inherently oppressed. Or, that somehow the campaigns for women’s rights in Saudi are a reflection on Islam at large. And, I think that that’s something that we really need to just [inaudible 00:14:46] and push back very hard on.
Shireen: Well, I think this is why it’s so interesting about Saudi, these specific bans, or, not bans, the restrictions. In Iran, yes, it’s a ban. Because, those are the two countries that optically for people outside or in the west they are literally, they think Islam. People don’t think about Bosnia. People don’t think about Malaysia. People don’t think about Indonesia. People don’t think about other spaces within the Muslim majority world where women actually do attend things. [crosstalk 00:15:14]
I mean, there’s more Muslims in Indonesia than there are in Iran and Saudi Arabia. So, it’s very, like you said, it’s a misunderstanding. And, don’t get me wrong, there’s massive problems within those spaces, which I completely will give massive rewards for cultural patriarchy, and toxic patriarchy, and misogyny, absolutely, which happens all over the world.
And, I mean, I know that there’s some fan cultures in Russia where women don’t feel comfortable going to stadiums at all because-
Amira: I know. There’s fan cultures here where don’t feel comfortable going to stadiums. Brenda, do you have a last thought?
Brenda: I just thought it would be interesting too for us to link to the show notes the story of the first Saudi woman who competed in the Olympics in 2012. Wojdan Shaherkhani who was a Judo competitor in 2012. And, a lot of this, when you say this is older and this has a longer history, it’s really important because if you were raised at a history of the women themselves who have been their own advocates and who have been advocating for all of these years, then you delegitimize their agency in this.
And, I just think the more that we can sort of highlight Open Stadiums, people doing that work, it’s like, of course, we have to step back and say how wonderful she was, but also just recognizing that in the west we can’t really lead that charge. Right? We have to be the cheering section in the backseat a little bit.
Brenda: I don’t know. That’s the way I’m sort of feeling about. It’s like, this is great. I love the attention to it, but I do remember when Shaherkhani was competing in the Olympics. Everyone was like, “Oh, my God. The IOC produced this.” You know? “By making every team bring a woman they’ve created a revolution in Saudi Arabia.” And, it’s like, uh, not at all. And, those women are leading the charge. So, I don’t know. I guess that’s my one thought about I take it all with this huge grain of salt and also with all this admiration for the women who are just out there being badass.
Amira: Yeah, totally.
Now, I want to pivot the discussion to a piece that recently came out in Vogue with Serena Williams whose on the cover with her beautiful baby girl. I mean, the pictures in this are just phenomenal as well. We talk about viral pictures this week that made me feel all the good feelings.
But, it also had a lot of deeper things to say if you read the text of the piece. To start off this discussion, I want to throw it to Brenda.
Brenda: Yeah. I mean, there have been over the last few years a number of really good and important studies about how women of color are repeatedly not listened to, die at much higher rates, and Serena just seems to be, once again, is bringing up with her whole medical ordeals during mostly after her childbirth, is once again just bringing up a conversation that is absolute essential. Whether it’s equal pay or whether it’s racism in the stands, and now it’s maternal health.
And, it’s like, yup. Absolutely time to have this. Especially because our healthcare system is predicated on a classist, racist, sexist hierarchy that we know. And, I would just like to say, at the top we talked about African American women. I should also talk a little bit Latina and Latinx, I’ve always loved the “Latinequis”, but no one’s come on board with that yet.
But, just to say that the group that was most benefited by the Affordable Care Act were Latinos. And, basically the uninsured rate for working age Latinx adults fell from 43.2% in 2010 to 24.8% in 2016. So, it made a huge impact on that community. And, now that it’s slowly being whittled away, or I mean, not that slowly. The maternal health for Latinas, which falls somewhere in between, between African American and white women, depending class and language and when they got here, I expect to also get much, much worse.
Just that came to mind when I read Serena’s piece and just, once again, grateful that she’s just like throwing up these important issues with her awesomeness.
Amira: Right. And so, I just want to take a moment for people who may not have read the piece to kind of give some background context. In the Vogue piece, Serena is talking about motherhood, she’s talking about her marriage, she’s talking getting ready to return to tennis. And, in it she documents that she had a relatively easy pregnancy, but then she narrates a frightening ordeal that she underwent after giving birth. And, essentially she was feeling short of breath the next day in the hospital and she’s had a history of blood clots. So, she went and asked the nearest nurse that she wanted a CT-scan with contrast. She wanted an IV. She basically advocated for herself, said exactly what she needed.
But, the response was questioning her, saying maybe your pain medicine might be making you confused. But, she kept insisting that she knew what she was talking about and this is what she wanted. So, a doctor came and they brought a doppler and she said, “A doppler?” I quote. “I told you I need a CT-scan and a [inaudible 00:20:46].” And, the ultrasound revealed nothing so then they finally did what she asked and sure enough they found several small blood clots in her lungs.
And, I think that this has sparked, as Brenda has kind of alluded to, and gone dovetailed with an important conversation that we have seen led, I think ProPublica, has been doing tremendous reporting around this. The fact that about 700 to 900 women die every year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. And, what’s worse, it’s estimated that up to 60% of those complications are preventable.
And, in that number one of the things that we see is that black women are statistically three to four times more likely to die than white mothers, but often missing from the public discussions. And, I think that as Brenda said, Serena once again is lending her voice to a platform in a way that can really galvanize and heighten this conversation for some folks who haven’t been following along with it.
Shireen: Yeah, and just the statistics that you read off, they’re harrowing and they’re horrible about … And, there was some commentary and discussion. A peer of a friend of mine who actually said that in Canada, all the way at Universal Healthcare, the sort of dismissal of indigenous and black women is the worst within the medical healthcare system that you can’t ignore.
And, I think these conversations are really important because the needs of those women in marginalized communities, racialized communities, gets swept up in the discussion of overall women’s general health, which is honestly sort of fueled by the feminist bait that is largely run by white women and those … That looks very different. One thing I will kind of add into this is that when read this piece I got really scared because, first of all, Serena’s one of the most formidable athletes in the world ever, full stop. But, she also has money. And, I’m like, geez. If she has money and this is happening, what about the women who don’t?
And, this is Serena Williams. She’s pretty much the queen of the world. I got really scared. And, you know, she had to instruct these healthcare practitioners what to do to save her life. And, she didn’t have that in her, which we know she does have that confidence, but she was pushed. In this circumstance, she shouldn’t have had to do that.
Is there no place? Like, she just had a baby. Is there no place that this phenomenal black woman get rest and respite? Like, she pushed a human out of her body. Can you not give her some space to not be on guard?
Shireen: I’m getting … My physical reaction right now is to tense up. I really need to calm down. No, I don’t need to calm down. But, I think that was so hurtful to me too.
Amira: I know, precisely. There is a really painful, but necessary article in ProPublica.
Shireen: Yeah, I saw that.
Amira: Called, “Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying In Pregnancy and Childbirth.” And then, the tagline underneath is, the subheader is, “Not education, not income, not even being an expert on racial disparities in healthcare”. And, this was a story co-published with MPR that followed the story of Shalon Irving who was a person who researched this, who worked in this, and still didn’t get taken seriously when she was feeling alarmed after birth.
And, I think that that’s such a necessary and frightening thing to point out. That this is somebody who has access, who has money, who is formidable. And, still doesn’t get taken seriously. That’s what happens when you … This is a professional athlete who knows the ins and out of her body, right? This is somebody who for a living needs to take care and be intuitive of what her body is telling her and what her body is doing.
And so, to not take her voice seriously in that moment really demonstrates what an uphill battle it is for people without some of those privileges. And, I mean, I had some Samari when I was 19 and in two weeks it will be tens years. And, that was what I found at every turn that it was really hard to get taken seriously as a person who knows yourself. And, not taken seriously by doctors, not during pregnancy, not during childbirth, not after childbirth when something feels off.
And, that’s why this conversation is so important, but also so fear invoking truthfully because I can see at every juncture in my own three pregnancies how I’ve been ignored. It took until I got a black women medical professional that I felt like my words would be actually listened to in my own healthcare.
Shireen: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I too, the woman that I called, she had a hat trick, she delivered three of my children, was a South Asian doctor. And then, I had midwives to deliver my fourth and they were very holistic in their practice and really heard me. But, by the time I had my fourth kid, I was like, yeah, I can pretty much to this myself. I had, thank God almighty, had very uncomplicated pregnancies.
But, you know, I think that the reality is there is a huge power dynamic in these particularly when you have vulnerable people coming with illness or with sensitive situations. And, pregnancy is definitely one of them. I mean, it’s not just a physical condition, it’s a psycho emotional condition as well.
And, to be unheard at that time of your most … And, you’re protective because you’re carrying this and whatever circumstance it may be, in good, or bad, or whatnot, to not hear these women is a gross violation of every possible ethic, professional ethic there is known to the profession. And, in any sense. Nurses, doctors, whatnot. It’s just unacceptable.
Brenda: And, if this happens in pregnancy and childbirth we know it happens beyond that too, so it brings up this particularly [inaudible 00:27:02] moment for women that are undergoing this and women of color who experience this racism more acutely. But, let’s also think it happens to African American, Asian, Latinx women when it comes to breast cancer. When it comes to diabetes. It’s not like the healthcare system is all of a sudden like, “Hey, you know what? I get you. I feel you. I want to listen to you.” Uh-huh.
So, I feel like doing the maternal health thing is so important, but if we threw up the same statistics about how African American women are treated in other capacities of the healthcare system, I feel pretty confident they would mirror those numbers. They would show the same types of patterns that exist. It’s basically, in the US at least, our healthcare for a lot of people pretty much want to model it on Walmart. And, that means everything from Union busting to environmental degradation to just everything has a price tag.
And, it’s classist as well, but we know that the intersectionality means that women of color will be disproportionately affected. And, until … I just think fundamentally until we challenge the single … We accept the single [inaudible 00:28:17] system even that won’t solve it, of course. But, there’s no way to even deal with this consumer shopping mindset of healthcare, which is a human right.
Amira: And, you know, the thing that it made me think about is I think it was last year. Well, no. Now, it’s 2018, so in 2016 there was a report out of UVA that surveyed medical students and they found that medical students believed that black people feel less paid than whites. Now, this is-
Shireen: Oh, my God.
Amira: Out of a tradition. A long tradition of scientific racism, which is the idea that the, and I quote from their study, “A substantial number of white [inaudible 00:28:54] people and medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites and demonstrate that these beliefs predict racial bias and pain perception and treatment recommendation accuracy.” Which essentially has wide implications, especially if you think about athletic training and sport, right?
We think about concussion protocols. We think about shins splints. Anything that has to do with taking care of bodies in sport. And, we think about these racial biases in medical training, it has huge implications to how athletes can access care and how they are given training regimes. And, I think it’s a necessary conversation that’s one that’s less prominent.
I also think the other thing with this piece and Serena in Vogue is it also demonstrates the multiple ways that women athletes can bring awareness to all these different issues. So, we mentioned Serena talking about police brutality and pay quality and this is also a conversation that needs to be had. There’s many athletes who struggle to get back to being professional athletes after childbirth and/or push themselves through a lot of hoops to do it. And, I think that it’s something that we don’t talk about as much.
I researched a time where if you had a baby that was essentially the end of your career. A lot of people don’t know that Wilma Rudolph, a year and a half before winning her three goals in 1960 in Rome, actually had a baby that she was keeping secret and needed to keep secret because it would have meant losing her place at school and losing her work aid scholarship. And, a baby equaled retirement.
And so, we’ve definitely come a long ways over the years that there’s many athletes who are mothers and who are celebrated as mothers. I remember watching Love and Basketball and that ending scene where Sanaa Lathan has made it to the WNBA and Omar Epps is bouncing their baby girl on his knee and thinking we now have images of athletes as mothers. And, I think that that’s also a very necessary thing.
So, I round off this portion thinking about the overall Vogue piece and it is this really great celebration of Serena and Serena as a mother. And, at the same time it’s really interesting to watch her start shifting back to tennis. And, she has this great quote at the end that I kind of want to close with. People asked her if she’s ready to come back and she said, “Look. I’ve been playing tennis since before my memories started and at my age, I see the finish line. And, when you see the finish line you don’t slow down, you speed up.”
So, this week, Lindsay had the wonderful opportunity to chat with LaChina Robinson about women’s basketball. Check out the interview.
Lindsay: All right. Hello everyone. This is Lindsay Gibbs and I am here with the great LaChina Robinson. She was a star basketball player at Wake Forest University. For a few years, she worked at Georgia Tech in a basketball program there before transitioning to become the queen of women’s basketball broadcasting.
LaChina, I usually try and do a little bit of a recap of people’s bios, but you do too much for me to do that in one podcast episode. But, I know you’ve been with ESPN since 2009 and you worked with the Atlanta Dream as an analyst and I’ve seen you this year on the ACC Network and Fox Sports South and the Big East. And, my favorite is your Around the Rim W … Women’s basketball. Excuse me, women’s basketball podcast over at ESPN.
I mean, you are in the center of things when it comes to women’s basketball coverage. So, from that spot it’s easy for us from outside to talk about ways we want to see the sport covered maybe a little bit differently. From the inside, what steps do you think could be taken to take women’s basketball from a coverage perspective to the next level?
LaChina: Yeah. I think, first and foremost, just starting with those of us that do have the opportunity to cover women’s basketball, to cover it like you would any sport. So, there’s this perception that I can get into women’s basketball and then use that as my springboard to get into football, or to get into NBA or whatever it is when this is not a springboard. If you’re going to cover the game, if you get a job as an SID or as a beat writer, to contribute to women’s basketball really get into it, really learn the sport, learn the history of it, understand these athletes, these women, some of the challenges that are different from the sports that I named like WNBA, players going overseas in the off-season, just all of the different dynamics that make women’s basketball special, like know who Pat Summitt is.
Then the other part of it is, we’ve just got to dedicate more resources to it. I think whether it’s newspaper I know are kind of going away as we know it but if you’re writing for a website or no matter your role, what opportunities you have within your media entity to dedicate to women’s basketball, dedicate resources to it. It’s crazy and someone I was reading online the other day, there was a top twenty-five matchup and there was no national writing presence at this game and I was like, “This would never happen at a men’s basketball or NBA game.”
Sending a writer there is not hard, and there’s plenty of people that are interested, I mean via Twitter, gosh, I met so many people that at least on the surface say we’re interested in covering the sport but are we dedicating enough resources to it, are the networks dedicating enough resources to it. Whoever it is that has the capability to send a writer or to maybe do a marketing spot for an upcoming women’s basketball game, do that. Do that like you would any other sport but I love it, I think that’s easier for me to say, but I think if people just gave it a try, if you just went to a game, if you just, get past the fact that they’re women playing sports, honestly that’s half the battle, then we would be in a much better place in terms of the coverage.
Lindsay: Absolutely, we often say here it’s a chicken egg problem, they say, “Well, if more people were interested in it, we’d put more resources into it,” and you say, “We’ll how can people get interested if you don’t put any resources into it?”, you know?
Lindsay: Then it often seems like the media and fans and then executives are locked in this stalemate kind of where there’s nothing you can do.
LaChina: Yeah, and I think the most important part is for people to look at the trend. I tweeted something the other day that ratings for the WNBA Finals are up and ratings for the NCAA Women’s Championship are up. People are watching women’s basketball in record numbers, I mean look at what the WNBA did with Twitter viewership last year. We’re seeing that when you put the game on people are watching, so put it on and how about you build some programming around it too, so all of that helps.
Lindsay: How do you sum up Connecticut’s greatness, and what as someone who does pay attention to the sport so closely, can you put your finger on what it is that makes them so outstanding? Because I feel like that’s what we don’t talk about is, how in the world is this happening?
LaChina: Yeah, I think it all starts with Gino and Chris Daily, you know? I mean they started a program that wasn’t very good many years ago and to be honest, it’s hard to sum up into just one thing but I think it was their competitive drive honestly to grow the program, to get to a place of excellence but having been in practices, having been in shoot arounds, number one there’s an expectation, right? There’s a cultural expectation that you are going to meet the UCONN standard and if you don’t, you don’t play or you don’t even get recruited by Connecticut to begin with.
So there’s that culture and expectation that I think can even become sort of a pressure, right? We know that pressure makes diamonds and that it tends to bring out the best in these players but again, having been to practices and shoot arounds, there’s an attention to detail that I’ve seen very little during my time in basketball travels. I’ve been to a million practices, a million shoot arounds and when you go to Connecticut, into their shoot arounds, you know, into their practice environment, your foot needs to be on this line and there is not even, there’s no room for error, right?
Like that’s where it needs to be, not close to the line, not near the line, not behind the line, not in front of it but on it and everything they do, there’s a very high expectation to that degree. Chris Daily is one of the best I’ve ever seen when it comes to just the little things and the little things add up and equal greatness and whether it’s how you’re shooting the ball or what shot you take, we’ll that shot went in but don’t take that shot again because that doesn’t go with the flow of what we’re doing and that was a good shot but it wasn’t a great shot.
So it’s just that constant push for excellence but also never settling, I mean Gino, UCONN, they never settle. They could win by 40 and he’s still not happy because he’s coaching against himself, he wants the best version of his own team, he’s not coaching against you. I know what this team is capable of, I know what great basketball looks like and that’s what they’re striving to do every day.
Lindsay: This has been a really interesting season so far in women’s basketball. You’ve had the reemergence of Tennessee at the top of the game. Great stories like Shakyla Hill over at Grambling State with a quadruple double, you have Sabrina Ionescu who’s doing it over at Oregon. What story line so far in the non-conference season and here at the beginning of the conference season, has kind of excited or surprised you the most?
LaChina: Wow, yeah, I would definitely say Tennessee for sure, you know? Considering all that happened with Diamond DeShields and you Taya Cooper, they were losing some talent but they were getting the number one class in the nation and you never know how freshmen are going to perform. And, I’ve been pleasantly surprised, I know they were upset this week by Texas A&M, but at the same time it’s just you’re watching a Tennessee lady ball program that reminds you of the Tennessee of old.
There’s been some times in recent years where I’m watching games and I don’t know what they’re trying to do on offense. I’m not sure what’s happening here. And, I think everyone’s quick to criticize Holly Warlick, but if anything, this year’s team shows you that it has a lot to do with player personnel. To be honest with you, these players look like they are playing unselfish basketball, they’re dedicated to the defense of it, to rebounding, which are two things that have really been the foundation of this program going back to when Pat Summitt first started it. And, just the intensity level and the focus, it’s really a brand new day for Tennessee.
And, I love the group. Jamie Nard, and Mercedes Russell, and even the young kids like Avena Westbrook. They’re just, they’re different. And, it’s good to see Tennessee back to being Tennessee.
Lindsay: We talk a lot about athlete activists in here in Burn It All Down and women’s basketball players, particularly the black women in the WMBA have just been leading the charge. Do you think we’re gonna see that continue going forward and is there something particular about women’s basketball, do you think, that leads itself to this type of outspokenness?
LaChina: Well, you know, when you look at the women that make up the league these women are phenomenal. They’re educated, they’re the best athletes in the world, they’re business owners, they want to be doctors, they want to go to Duke and get their medical degree.
Lindsay: Like Elizabeth Williams.
LaChina: Yeah, you know. Right. Yeah. But, they’re so dynamic and smart. And so, we’re in a time where we’re seeing social activism, especially from athletes happening and it doesn’t surprise me at all that the WMBA in particular have been leaders in this place because these women are very socially aware. They are involved in politics, engaged in politics, and they know how important it is for women to have a voice, to be united, because the crazy part of what’s happening in our world today is this is nothing new to women and it’s definitely nothing new to black women.
So, when you look at 75% of the league being African American women and look at the history of what African American women have had to go through, and even still today when you look at the pay scale, just the inequality that exists when you’re a double minority, these women know that it means it’s more than just what’s happening on the basketball court. They have an opportunity and a chance to stand up for the black women that aren’t in the board room. Or, the black women who are at a socio economic disadvantage in our communities.
And, I’m just proud that they have taken advantage of that platform and feel the need to stand up for what’s happening in our country, whatever that is. Even if it’s police brutality. Again, I think as a double minority, as African American women, their experiences are so real in some of the issues that we’re facing. And, they just feel the need and responsibility to have a voice. And, I don’t see that changing.
Lindsay: I don’t either. Listen, we’re lucky to have you in basketball and thank you so much for joining us on the show. People can follow LaChina @LaChinaRobinson on Twitter and definitely download the Around the Rim podcast because it goes in depth into the women’s basketball world every week. And, it’s a must listen.
LaChina: Thank you.
Amira: All right. Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite segment. We like to call it the Burn Pile where we pile up all the things we’ve hated this week in sports and set them aflame. Brenda, you want to start?
Brenda: Sure. I am really pissed off this week at US soccer, which is probably like half of my burns. But, basically for a couple of reasons. Mostly the US soccer presidential campaign. We’ve talked about it in a couple of episodes before. No one has spoken at all really or addressed the issue of the quote, unquote what they call the Hispanic Latinx community. And, there’s two things going on at the same time that I want to burn this week.
First, there’s been a blaming of the venue back in September where US Men’s Team played Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey. And, they’ve blamed the Costa Rican fans that showed up. Yeah. For tilting the venue. That it made it more difficult for the US Men’s Team to win because of the rabid Costa Rican fans.
Brenda: So, there are people that are actually calling for just … I hope you’re all sitting down. There are people calling for those international games to be played in places that are more pro quote, unquote “US”.
Amira: I cannot. Oh, my God.
Brenda: Right? Which is just …
Amira: It’s appalling. The call.
Brenda: So, the 2000 Costa Rican fans who support their team and very likely have a relationship to the United States or they would not so easily be in that stadium are being the scape goats for US Men’s Team and nobody wants to say they totally sucked and they blew it and [inaudible 00:45:08] just called it wrong.
Which is actually the easy answer. Instead, they’ve invented this brown people problem. And, it’s totally awful. And, the segues into what happened this week where the US Team lost Johnathan Gonzales who could have played for the US or Mexico. And, the U20 Coach, Tab Ramos, said quote, “For me, playing for a national team is more a feeling than anything else. If we have players in this country who feel Mexican and want to play for Mexico, I think they should play for Mexico. If we have players here who feel American who want to fight for the US and represent America, they should play for us. It’s as simple as that.” End of quote.
Well, Tab Ramos, it is not at all as simple as that. And, if you had any understanding or sensitivity to the fact that the 37 million Mexican Americans who exist here and who are amazing soccer players have a little bit more of a complicated experience then fuck you. I hope they all go play for Mexico.
So, I want to burn the whole kind of lack of appreciation for the awesomeness of the Latino community, Latinx community in US soccer. And, I want to say Johnathan Gonazales buena suerte. I hope you have a wonderful experience with the Mexican national team.
Brenda: Yeah. Burn that down. Burn.
Amira: Shireen, what are you burning this week?
Shireen: Okay. I am going to do a couple deep breaths because this story just made me so angry. A friend of mine named Manisha Krishnan, she writes for Vice, she put forth this story and it was literally a hockey player pleaded guilty to soliciting nude photos from a 13 year old and using them to blackmail her. His jail sentence is being delayed so he doesn’t miss any school. But, one of the reasons that this particular absolute shit head of a person missed court dates was because he had hockey practice.
So, he’s a former junior hockey player, his name is Conner [inaudible 00:47:15] and what happened is the Canadian system as we know is one of those many systems, “justice systems” quote, unquote that actually does nothing for the victims. So, what ends up happening is that his jail sentence is being postponed so he doesn’t miss school. And so, what happened is he pleaded guilty to what’s called sexual interference of a 13 year old girl.
And, it’s just disgusting and he’s 21. And, it follows a long line of stories that we see in Canada of hockey players particularly because they’re revered in this country that assault sentences postponed so it wouldn’t hurt their career opportunities. It wouldn’t hurt potential internships. It wouldn’t hurt … So, we see this repeatedly and how what happens to the young women that are victimized and everything. What happens to them? Nothing because the thought always stays with the actual abusers.
“Oh, well he hasn’t been found guilty. He hasn’t done this, he hasn’t done that.”
We know that being found not guilty in the court of law doesn’t actually mean you didn’t do it. There’s a difference there. Just as a follow up on the story, another friend of mine Ishmael Daro for Buzzfeed wrote the latest on this case ’cause it was at the University of Calgary. Said, the School says it can’t expel Conner, who was convicted sex offender at this point, but if he tries to come to classes, he’ll be kicked out by campus security.
So, the thing is, there’s policies in place that obstruct what needs to actually happen. The guy needs to be expelled. Why can’t he be expelled? He’s convicted at this point. He’s a predator of a 13 year old. Why can he not just be … Really, University of Calgary, what the hell? You know what I’m saying?
So, I want to burn all of this. I want to burn those unjust policies at the University of Calgary. I want to burn that hockey practice is a legitimate excuse for missing a court date? I want to burn all of it.
Amira: Yes. Burn that too.
Amira: Well, this week I’m burning … I can’t even. I don’t want to give time to it, but it literally is burning my eyes after reading this trashy, trashy take by one Shelby Steel in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that, again, centers black protests specifically by the NFL players as this kind of whipping voice so he can go [inaudible 00:49:32] his garbage about just black … It’s just awful.
So, an article entitled, “Black Protest Has Lost Its Power”. And, by literally, I knew I was out on this article by the time you read the subtitle, which is “Have whites finally found the courage to judge African Americans fairly by universal standards?” It does not get better from there. It goes on to essentially say that for these NFL players protesting there was no real sacrificing, no risk, no achievement. And, that basically this was a watershed moment because white people ended up pushing back, which is wonderful because Black Americans are playing into victim culture and he says, unequivocally racism is over. He says, quote, “The impression of black people is over with. This is politically incorrect in the news, but it’s true nonetheless. We are a free people.”
Yeah, no. It’s not fun. But, out of the many things in this awful that I want to burn, one, this idea that there’s no risk, no sacrifice, and no achievement on the part of the NFL players is absolutely ridiculous. No risk? Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have a job. No risk? People lost endorsements. No risk? Try being a fringe players. This is your livelihood.
And, you have a watered down degree because your school has prioritized your exploits on the field over your learning in the classroom and you’re trying to feed a family. Talk about no risk? Like, literally, I just cannot deal with it. And, the other thing he does is something that many people do. And, given the weekend that we’re going into, I wanted to highlight it, which is that he invokes Martin Luther King in a way that makes me want to set something on literal fire.
I have to say this is Martin Luther King weekend, except if you’re in Virginia or Arkansas where it’s Lee Jackson King weekend because you know you have to share the holiday with Confederate folks. But, I have to say on this moment, take his name out of your mouth. Don’t join the chorus of people who bastardize his work, who misquote him, and who make him into a caricature of the man he was and the serious liberatory though that he had. You’ve watered him down in a way that is unrecognizable.
And, between that and the other terribleness in the article, I just … I was up a wall and I don’t … This is the last thing I’ll say about it. I’m not tweeting about it. I just … I don’t want to bring it any attention, but I had to burn it down.
Brenda: Oh, my God. Burn it. I’m so mad. Your burns made me so mad. Burn.
Shireen: What does politically correct mean anymore? Does anyone … It’s not 1991. Nobody uses that anymore.
Amira: No. It’s just a thing to say.
Shireen: People who criticize political correctness just want to be able to say racist, sexist bullshit.
Amira: Precisely. I mean, and that’s literally the editors at the Wall Street Journal that gave him this article is essentially like let’s have a black face say the things we want to say so everybody can pile on and use this as a way to point fingers. And, it’s an old trick in the book and it’s a disgusting one. It doesn’t get any better. I’m just over it.
Shireen: Yes, torch it.
Brenda: Burn. Burn it.
Shireen: Torch it. All of it.
Amira: All right. Well, after all of that burning, it’s time to celebrate some remarkable women in sport this week with our Badass Women of the Week segment. First, let me give a wonderful shout out to former Badass Woman of the Week and recent guest of the podcast, Clarissa Shields, for winning a unanimous 10 round decision over Tori Nelson to retain her WBCIBF super middle weight title. She is now [inaudible 00:53:22] in her professional career. And, congrats Clarissa. That is awesome.
Also, honorable mention to the Indian Women’s Hockey Team who collaborated with Hayley Wickenheiser, did I say that right Shireen?
Shireen: You nailed it.
Amira: Awesome. Who is a former captain of Canadian … This is not going well. The former captain of Canada’s Women’s Hockey Team and they led a diplomatic hockey mission to Ladock Village in the Himalayan Mountains in Northern India. The team will then travel to Calgary in November for [inaudible 00:53:54] World Female Hockey Festival, which sounds like an amazing thing. Road trip.
She’s going to train the young women of India’s first ice hockey team and she calls it the exchange opportunity. That is totally badass. Also, shout out, Jessica Platt who’s the first tran swoman in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with the Toronto Furies.And, we also wanted to give a very positive honorable mention to Positive Sign Girl.
You are very talented. And now, a drum roll please. Ooh, that’s a good drum roll. That’s like a real drum.
Shireen: Oh, I get to be on the table because I can’t do the baby otter’s sound.
Amira: Our badass woman of the week is Noura Al Shaibani, who’s an Egyptian woman in the current world champion in squash. So, just recently, they had the first Woman’s Masters Squash Tournament in Saudi Arabia. The PSA, which is the Professional Squash Association, which she won. And, she becomes the first female athlete to win a professional tournament in Saudi Arabia. So, congratulations, you are our badass woman of the week, Noura Al Shaibani.
All right. So, let’s end on a high note. What’s going on in your world that is good? Give me all the good things. One of you start. One of you give me the good things. Shireen?
Shireen: Okay, I got so much good things. So, imma start. First, some of the people who followed me on Twitter might notice my obsessive tweeting about Nadia Nadim who you all know I love. She’s actually playing right now. We’re recording Sunday morning and the [inaudible 00:55:29] women are playing. Or, Chelsea and [inaudible 00:55:32] who I also love is on Chelsea. But, Nadia is just, oh my goodness. So, I’ve created a hashtag. #shireenmeetsnadia2018 because I’m going to Manchester for a conference and I’m hopefully … Stalk is a very severe verb, but I’m hoping to really meet her at some point and I’m really hoping I can make it happen.
Thank you to everybody that emailed me with suggestions on how to make it happen. Also, I went to a comedy show last night in Toronto called, “Shade”. It was created by my friend Anna Simone George and it was hilarious. It’s a space within the comedy community for people of color, LGBTIQ, and women specifically. So, the cast was all female identifying … Actually, sorry, one gender non-conforming last night. But, it was phenomenal. I laughed by head off. It was so well put together and I’m still on a high.
Really quickly. The Raptors beat Cavs this week and I wasn’t expecting that so when it happened I’m like, no, that didn’t happen, but it happened. And, lost by two points to the Warriors last night. So, everyone’s like, who are these Raptors? Hello, DeMar DeRozan’s been here for a long time. We know who we are.
And, lastly, I just wanted to say that although I’m sad that [inaudible 00:56:41] has been traded back to the Turkish League on loan for not traded, sorry on loan from Barcelona, which means his time at Barca is done. Yerry Mina is a Colombian, an Afro Columbian player, and his introduction to the squad, it was done very formally. He had more than [inaudible 00:57:01], by the way. show up for his presentation, I’m just gonna throw that out there.
He walks onto the pitch barefoot as a sign of respect for the clubs that he goes to. And, I almost cried when I saw this because this is such an incredible thing. I did a little bit of Googling on him and there wasn’t a whole lot about his childhood that wasn’t in Spanish, but he learned to play barefoot. And, this was such a nod of respect that he was giving, you know [inaudible 00:57:28] and he was giving his history to walk onto the pitch, not in like 500 pound cleats or boots, he walked on with his feet. Just his feet. And, I was like, this is amazing. So, that’s been giving me life.
Sorry, I know I’m going on forever, but those things are [crosstalk 00:57:44]
Amira: No. I love all the good things. That makes my day. My good thing is really simple. I wrote. And, I wrote. And, I’m making progress on the book. And, I started going through some of the research I was doing in Hawaii. And, it was really nice to just have a super, super productive writing day yesterday. And, sometimes, it’s the little things that get you through. And, yesterday it was turning out a couple of pages and feeling like I can see the finish line for the manuscript. So, that is my very simple productive good thing.
Oh, actually no. I have another good thing. So, in my gender and sexuality and sport class, we looked at portrayals of women athletes in commercials over time. We started with Nike’s 1995 “If you let me play” ad and we went up to Serena’s sister in sweat Gatorade ad.
Shireen: Oh, wow.
Amira: That recently came out. And, I looked up from my little lectern when we were watching Serena’s commercials and I saw multiple tears in eyes.
Amira: And, it was just such a really powerful moment and I was like this is gonna be a good semester. I feel it. So, those are my something goods. Brenda, what’s up with you?
Brenda: Well, I’m not teaching. Which is good and bad. ‘Cause-
Amira: Oh, my God. [crosstalk 00:59:05]
Brenda: I know. I’m not teaching yet, I should say. Just start later because Argentine’s school year starts in March. So, what I’m doing is working on looking for photographs and covers for my book.
Brenda: Yeah. Football Later. So, it’s a go. And, we’ve got everything that we’re just in the revision space. But, this is what awesome about that. What’s good about that is I literally spent hours over the last few days just pouring over photographs of women athletes and girls. And, from 1890’s forward from all over Latin America. And, it’s just … It’s like a joy. I have to stop myself from getting stuck in a hole of just looking and looking and never making a decision on which photographs because it’s a University Press so it’s costly. So, we only get like 20. But, it’s just such a joy to look back and see all of this history there. So, that’s been like a really good thing.
I kind of feel like it’s an isolating thing writing a book sometimes. And, I feel like I’ve been with those women all week. You know? Like, they’re like my coworkers or something.
Amira: It’s amazing.
Brenda: So, yeah. That’s what’s good for me.
Amira: That’s awesome.
Well, that’s it for this week’s episode. Thank you all for joining us. Just a reminder, you can listen and subscribe to Burn It All Down. You can do so on Apple podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Google Play, Turn It In. Please rate the show at whichever place you listen to it. The ratings help us reach new listeners who really need this feminist sports podcast in their lives, but don’t yet know that it exists. We’re also on Facebook at Burn It All Down. Or, at Twitter at Burn It Down Pod.
For information about the show, links, transcriptions for each episode and links to our Patreon, you can check out our website, burnitalldownpod.com.
You can email us from the site to give us feedback as well. We’d love to hear from you. We’d like to thank Hofstra University for its continued support. And, that’s all from me, Amira Rose Davis. Shireen, Brenda, thank you. And, see you next week.