Episode 39: The fallout from the Nassar case, WTF is the English FA doing, and the Super Bowl
This week, Shireen Ahmed, Brenda Elsey, Lindsay Gibbs, and Jessica Luther talk about the ongoing fallout from the Larry Nassar case, including how Michigan State, USA Gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee, and the NCAA have (or have not) responded. Then they discuss the English Football Association’s hiring of Phil Neville and do a general WTF about these kind of coaching decisions in women’s soccer.
Then Jessica interviews the Boston Globe’s Nora Princiotti and the Washington Post’s Kimberley Martin (who is the NFC pool reporter this week in Minneapolis) about the Super Bowl. Nora tells us all about the Patriots and Kimberley fills us in on the Eagles before they each make their predictions for the big game.
As always, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, Bad Ass Woman of the Week, and what’s good in our worlds.
Intro (3:38) Update on the Nassar case (19:38) Whatever in the hell is going on with the English FA and their hiring of Phil Neville (27:15) Jessica interviews the Washington Post’s Kimberley Martin and the Boston Globe’s Nora Princiotti about the Super Bowl (39:59) Burn Pile (48:33) Bad Ass Woman of the Week (51:39) What’s Good (54:41) Outro
For links and a transcript…
“Justin Timberlake: I have ‘absolutely’ made peace with Janet Jackson after Super Bowl incident” https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2018/01/17/justin-timberlake-janet-jackson-super-bowl-halftime/1042434001/
“Everything you forgot about Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s 2004 Super Bowl controversy” https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2017/10/23/559490511/justin-timberlake-will-return-to-the-super-bowl-halftime-stage-as-a-headliner
“Justin Timberlake Will Return To The Super Bowl Halftime Stage As A Headliner” https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2017/10/23/559490511/justin-timberlake-will-return-to-the-super-bowl-halftime-stage-as-a-headliner
“It Began With Rachael Denhollander And It Ends With Her” https://deadspin.com/it-began-with-rachael-denhollander-and-it-ends-with-her-1822388448
“MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon resigns” http://statenews.com/article/2018/01/simon-has-resigned
“Michigan State secrets extend far beyond Larry Nassar case” http://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/22214566/pattern-denial-inaction-information-suppression-michigan-state-goes-larry-nassar-case-espn
“Gymnastics Coach John Geddert, Accused Of Abusing Gymnasts, Suddenly Announces His Retirement” https://deadspin.com/gymnastics-coach-john-geddert-accused-of-abusing-gymna-1822352467
“Michigan State Trustee: Our President Is A Great Fundraiser, So We’re Not Going To Fire Her” https://deadspin.com/michigan-state-trustee-our-president-is-a-great-fundra-1822348401
“USA Gymnastics board of directors to resign” https://www.sbnation.com/2018/1/26/16938966/usa-gymnastics-board-directors-resign-usoc-nassar
“Four takeaways from the NCAA investigation letter” http://statenews.com/article/2018/01/things-about-ncaa-letter
“U.S. senator calls for congressional probe into USOC, USA Gymnastics over handling of Larry Nassar” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2018/01/24/u-s-senator-calls-for-congressional-probe-into-usoc-usa-gymnastics-over-handling-of-larry-nassar/?utm_term=.6d0757ce2056
“Fox Sports Has Completely Ignored The Larry Nassar Sex Abuse Story” https://deadspin.com/fox-sports-has-completely-ignored-the-larry-nassar-sex-1822415652
“Never managed and didn’t apply: how the FA made Phil Neville its No 1” https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2018/jan/17/phil-neville-fa-england-womens-football
“Phil Neville as Lionesses manager is the FA’s dumbest appointment since their last one” http://www.whatahowler.com/england-what-are-you-doing-hiring-phil-neville/
“Phil Neville: New England women’s boss will not face FA charge over sexist tweets” http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/42802840
“Repudiaron las palabras “machistas” de Carlos Tevez” https://www.rionegro.com.ar/deportes-podio/repudiaron-las-palabras-machistas-de-carlos-tevez-FB4267502
“Serena Williams Calls On Tennys Sandgren To Apologize” https://deadspin.com/tag/tennys-sandgren
“Colorado Rapids hire Ena Patel, who becomes the highest-ranking female executive in a technical role in MLS” https://www.denverpost.com/2018/01/23/ena-patel-colorado-rapids-highest-ranking-female-executive-mls/
“Anatomy of a Student-Athlete” https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/morgan-reid-duke-soccer-nwsl
“Liang makes history for Chinese Taipei, wins girls’ Aussie Open” http://www.wtatennis.com/news/liang-makes-history-chinese-taipei-wins-girls-aussie-open
“Caroline Wozniacki wins Aussie Open for first Grand Slam title” http://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/22231171/caroline-wozniacki-defeats-simona-halep-australian-open-final-earn-first-career-grand-slam-title
Jessica: Welcome to Burn it all Down, the feminist sports podcast you need. We are so happy you’re here. On today’s show we have the excellent and righteously angry Shireen Ahmed, a writer, public speaker, and sports activist in Toronto, the brilliant and hilarious Brenda Elsey, a professor of history at Hofstra University in New York, the tenacious and intelligent Lindsay Gibbs, a reporter at ThinkProgress, and me, I’m Jessica Luther, freelance journalist and author in Austin, Texas. First we want to give a shout-out to all our patrons who are supporting this podcast through our ongoing Patreon campaign. You make this podcast possible, and we are forever and always grateful.
If you would like to become a patron, it’s easy. Go to Patreon.com/BurnItAllDown. You can pledge as little as $1 per month, but if you donate more, you can access exclusives like an extra Patreon-only podcast segment each month or our monthly newsletter or even do your own Burn Pile. Speaking of Burn Pile, I thought we’d kick off the show by talking about the upcoming halftime show for the Super Bowl this weekend. You guys, Justin Timberlake is back. Does anyone remember his last appearance on the Super Bowl stage?
Lindsay: Yes. I do, Jess. Yes.
Jessica: You do? It was 2004. He says that they’ve made peace. He’s made peace with Janet Jackson, everybody.
Lindsay: I don’t give a crap. He …
Jessica: Wait, are you saying cry me a river, Justin Timberlake?
Brenda: What goes around comes around.
Lindsay: Oh my God. I would be almost interested because I hear that Justin Timberlake has rebranded himself as a white guy, so I guess we’ll see what happens. Look, I would like to say that that halftime show beyond the fact that Justin Timberlake is a horrible human being, that controversy overshadowed what was a fantastic Super Bowl where Jake Delhomme actually outplayed Tom Brady, and I would like everyone to remember that, that Jake Delhomme had a higher quarterback rating than Tom Brady. We’re not going to talk about the last minute of the game. For Panthers fans, that did not exist, but once again, [Amira 00:02:19], I hope you’re listening that Jake Delhomme had a higher pass rate than Tom Brady, and that should have been the takeaway from the game. Instead, it was not.
Brenda: Not to defend JT or anything, but he did say he thought that the treatment of Janet Jackson was really unfair, and that he got off very easy. [crosstalk 00:02:41] I think the bigger picture is that the fact that we’re offended by a nipple, that literally nurtures humanity while people bashing their brains against one another is termed family entertainment, it is why we can’t have nice things. It’s like, what’s wrong with us?
Jessica: This is true, #JusticeForJanet, #ForSunday. All right. Now, onto more somber but infinitely more important topics. Get those blowtorches out because this week on Burn It All Down, we’re going to update you all on the deserved fallout from the Larry Nasser case, and then talk about whatever in the hell is going on with the English Football Association.
In an interview to reports, Nora Princiotti of the Boston Globe and Kimberley Martin of the Washington Post about the Patriots and Eagles in preparation for the Super Bowl this Sunday. We’ll cap it off with burning things that deserved to be burned, doing shout-outs to women who deserve shout-outs, and telling you what is good in our worlds. Let’s get into it.
It’s been quite a week since our last episode. I feel like that’s the understatement of the year. The effects of the Nasser case came rolling down this week. Brenda, do you want to get us started?
Brenda: Yeah. We learned this week a few distressing further facts about the case, and it appears that the number of girls and women who Nasser assaulted is closing in on 200. We’ve seen the web of accountability expand, which we can only hope is gratifying to survivors and definitely needs to continue. Lou Anna Simon, the president of MSU, resigned, along with athletic director, Mark Hollis. USA Gymnastics announced its entire board of directors will resign. We know at least 14 trainers and coaches knew of the abuse as far back as 1997.
I think we’ll see further scrutiny land on the lower levels of the administration in the coming weeks. In addition, the NCAA and IOC have indicated they’ll pursue investigations, whatever that means. It’s not precisely clear how the state legislature will proceed, or the Attorney General, but it’s coming down the pipeline.
It’s interesting to think about Penn State and former president, Graham Spanier, who was sentenced to jail time. Though he’s appealing, I might imagine that we see similar moves in Michigan, though it depends since Pennsylvania law has a statute that they used, to these Penn State cases, which are the statute of engendering the welfare of children. I’m not sure how the Michigan Attorney General will proceed in that sense.
What gets at me though about the way this conversation is going is that it has tended to focus on sports, which is obviously really important to us. The role of sports in the university, what they get away with, how these systems of power are protected, but it’s also about a culture that almost elected Republican Roy Moore to the goddamned Senate.
From sports to advertising to toy companies, girls are sexualized constantly. They’re not taken seriously, not believed on so many levels. It has to do with just larger issues in our society of not valuing women. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Lou Anna Simon. Women not valuing women, which is of course in a sexist society, women participate in their own domination. I understand Nasser, but I just want to make a point that the brave survivors, athletes and not, have given us a lot to think about this week.
Jessica: Yeah. Lindsay?
Lindsay: Yeah, I think there’s so many ways the conversation needs and has to go now. I think that’s a difficult thing because our attention span is so short, so how do we have all these conversations at once, and how do we make them productive? That’s something I think that I don’t know the answer to, and I don’t know what’s happening next.
What I don’t want to get overlooked is how much these women changed everything by baring their souls. When the Indianapolis Star first released its investigation back in 2016 into the mishandlings of USA Gymnastics, into how USA Gymnastic had mishandled sexual abuse complaints, that wasn’t even focused in on Nasser, but it was about the systemic issues there.
The US Olympic Committee issued a statement saying that USA Gymnastics was one of its foremost partners in preventing abuse. After that, and the USA Gymnastics also released at statement saying it had the utmost concern and was being absolutely proactive about these cases. The NCAA, while these women were speaking the first few days, the president, Mark Emmert, said, “I don’t have enough information to have an opinion on this.” That was about day three of the testimonies. By day seven, they announced that the NCAA was doing an investigation.
I had the list at ThinkProgress of all of Nasser’s enablers. I wrote it like the first couple days of the trial, and the only person who had suffered any sort of accountability was you had, was Kathie Klages, the former gymnastics coach. Afterwards, I could make an update to almost every injury. That was so powerful to go back.
It’s devastating that these women had to bear their souls like this and put their trauma on display for everyone, but it also changed so much because so many people don’t understand what being a victim of sexual assault really means, and what it really does to your life. People think, “Oh, it’s bad,” and they hear a high number, and they get completely horrified, but until you have woman after woman talking about how it literally ruined their lives and the extent of the damage, and how it hurt families and the extent that the systemic abuse enabled this, that’s when things started to change. I hope that we can keep pushing forward.
Jessica: Yeah. I’m interested to see how much accountability happens once the cameras turn off. I think that will be a really interesting lesson from all of this as we go forward. Shireen?
Shireen: Just in terms of the domino effect of the organizations that Brenda had mentioned, the president of MSU resigned, and then we saw the USA Gymnastic board. I think that there’s been some discussion about the responsibility criminally or legally of these adults who knew. I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer, but the discussion around that because other than resigning from cushy positions, what actually happens? What happens to it? Do they just step away from those roles, and I as someone who is acutely aware that the healing process for survivors is a lifelong process and what that looks like, and for them what it might look like.
You had testimonies of people saying that they went to these specific people, these coaches were aware, admin were aware at Michigan State, and it was just ignored. Beyond let’s just commit to losing our jobs, and let’s go for it and pretend and say that we’ll believe girls and women, what really happens here? What does justice look like? It can look like many things, and I’m wondering a lot about that. This week.
Jessica: Yeah, I think there’s so many things to say about this. It’s hard to quantify in any way what this last week has been like. One thing that’s remarkable on some level is how big the media actually got about this. Lindsay, I totally agree with you that it’s these women putting themselves on display for the world and talking about the horrific things that happened to them, and kudos to the media for finally showing up. It’s always hard to [crosstalk 00:10:48]
Lindsay: Except Fox. [crosstalk 00:10:50]
Jessica: Fox Sports, right? I do want to mention this because it just makes me so angry. They didn’t cover Nasser at all. Like literally zero percent. There’s a Deadspin article about this, and it has the most amazing update, and it says, “A reader points out that in April 2016, Fox Sports finalized a 15-year agreement reportedly worth more than $150 million with Michigan State for the school’s multimedia rights according to the Lansing State Journal.”
I just keep thinking, especially with the huge ESPN article that came out on Friday that Paula Lavigne did that’s amazing and goes after so much of what has happened at Michigan State over the last however many years. What? Decade or so. The way these huge college systems. I’m obviously deeply invested in this idea because I’ve written a book about it, how corrupt all of this is.
Then we even see it, that report about Fox Sports and how it spills over directly into what the media will cover. That they could just completely ignore is unbelievable, when you look at everything else, all the other media who finally showed up. So angry. It makes me so angry.
Lindsay: I think that that’s a great point and a lot of this is holding our breaths and seeing what happens next. I think all of us can do our part by continuing to ask the questions, whether you’re fan, whether you’re an alumni, whether you’re a journalist with a small platform, or a journalist with a big platform, or people with a podcast. Continuing to ask these questions is the only way to honor what these victims have done.
That’s the only way forward. I think that the tough part is this is so much bigger than us on both ends. You have Michigan State, whereas Jess mentioned Paula Lavigne and ESPN did a huge investigation into mishandlings of sexual abuse complaints throughout the athletic department.
At the same time, on the USA Gymnastics side, you have that we’ve talked here about how much bigger the enabling of abuse within USA Gymnastics has been, but also with in the US Olympic Committee. This is part of the US Olympic Committee. Just a couple of years ago, there as a lot of stuff in swimming. There were 14 people who came forward with allegations. There’s just horrific stories in swimming that are very similar to gymnastics.
Taekwondo has had a lot of problems with this recently. Congress has sent letters to the US Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, USA Taekwondo, and USA Swimming about an investigation into their practices. I think that’s good. I don’t rely on our government for much these days, but we need to get some subpoena power into this. We need to get people testifying, and we need to not forget to figure out who knew what, and the accountability of that is just immeasurable.
There are other ways forward too. There’s going to hopefully be a vote in Congress this week to pass an act that makes all people involved with the IOC mandatory reporters that makes a certain amount of training a requirement. Once again, I don’t think our government is the way to solve everything, especially the way it’s going to go this way, but I know that a lot of victims are very excited about the possibility of this legislation passing through the House.
I hope that we just continue to look at this on a bigger scale. At the same time, what scares me is how much of this is a cultural thing within the sports. How much of this abuse is perpetuated because we tell these girls and their families and boys at times that the Olympic team only selects five people or only selects three people? Only so many people get to be trained by those world-class coach. You don’t want to mess up the system by speaking up.
How much of this culture is run on emotional and verbal abuse that really facilitates an environment that keeps sexual abuse and physical abuse quiet? That’s the really tough part to change, and I don’t know how you go about it.
Jessica: Yeah, I totally agree. We talked about this last week, but just the way that coaching in general can be so abusive, so then we’re asking these young girls to identify for us other kinds of abuse and call it out. No wonder. It’s so confusing for them. I just totally agree with you, Lindsay, about that that’s going to be very hard. The accountability that’s coming in the future is going to be very hard work, and I just don’t know if it’s going to be sustainable for a lot of people. Brenda?
Brenda: Yeah. I’m really interested in terms of protecting many of these women as students and from this type of a culture of abuse at the NCAA investigation, as far as I remember Lou Anna Simon was chairing then NCAA. Am I wrong in that?
Lindsay: She was in 2013 and 2014, yeah.
Brenda: Okay, so precisely when she ignored a Title IV investigation and kept Larry Nasser on the books to abuse women for the next 18 months. I’ve always wondered, and I know Jessica and I even talked about this, and she’s written this book and has a lot to say too, so I want to ask you guys. Do you have any faith that the NCAA could play a role in changing the culture, at least for those who are athletes? Many of these victims were not athletes. They’re just as valuable and brave, but I wonder about the NCAA investigation into this and what you guys think.
Jessica: I don’t think it will do anything. I don’t trust the NCAA to do anything well. I’ve said this before, I think I’ve said it to you guys particularly. I’m of two minds about the NCAA. I wish they cared about athlete safety in a whole range of ways including gender violence. That would be nice, but even if they did it, it would all feel like lip service based on how they treat athletes in general and their care for them.
I don’t really have much faith in it, especially after everything that happened with Penn State, which was handled very poorly on their end. Everything ended up being walked back because they don’t actually have rules about this. There’s something there’s no rule-breaking that’s happening. Yeah, I’ll never say anything terrible about the NCAA though. I think that’s where I’m left at this point.
Brenda: Yeah. I took a look when I served on this athletic committee. At Hofstra, you can get a 445-page manual every year as to what the NCAA’s about. Reading it, which is amazing, and reading it pretty interesting because it actually doesn’t. The purpose is, the stated top purposes of the NCAA don’t actually say very much about protecting the athletes themselves.
It talks about to making rules, play governing. It talks about intercollegiate athletics records. It speaks to promoting physical fitness, and it speaks to eligibility and copyrighting.
Jessica: Of course. The important thing.
Brenda: Of course. I almost feel like this is an organization that has become something to prevent athletes from unionizing and making any sort of, I don’t know, and making organizations that can deal with their universities on their own. It feels like this is just some giant intermediary. Yeah, I have a similar feeling about it. I was just curious as if I was being too pessimistic.
Jessica: Yeah, the NCAA seems to exist to protect programs that then exist to protect themselves. Again, looking forward for accountability, I don’t think we’re going to find it through the NCAA.
Lindsay: Sorry. Really quickly, the Washington Post did a big investigation into how the IOC had handled all this stuff. One of the things they wrote in that still sticks with me. It reminds of what you guys were talking about with NCAA, which was that for a while they were afraid to put anything in their bylaws about sexual abuse or about sexual harassment or even in their manuals because the lawyers were afraid that would make them more liable because it could be proved in court that they knew the extent. They knew that these measures needed to be in place. They were afraid that any mention of this would make them more easily be able to sued. That just makes you sick because they’re really more worried about being sued than they are about protecting the athletes. That sums it up.
Jessica: Shireen, I know we’ve talked repeatedly on this program about English Football Association, much of it negative. Maybe all of it negative. We wouldn’t want to break that pattern. What have they done this time?
Shireen: Well, Jess, my update will make you very proud in that I’m consistently saying that the blundering FA has continued to ruin perhaps again any possible situation where there could be hope for moving forward. Now, for our listeners who have followed the saga of the FA, the Lionesses, and their now ousted coach, Mark Sampson, it’s not over with the coach drama. We know that the FA continues to be complicit in allowing misogyny, anti-blackness, and xenophobia to continue to grow and breed and fester.
Now, they needed a new head coach, the Lionesses, who are currently ranked third in the world. What does the FA do? Find the most unqualified man, with sexist tweets to boot. Now what we’re talking about is, sure, Phil Neville. Phil Neville, yes, we all know him from the famous class of ’92, and then he played with Everton. He’s actually never managed an elite national women’s team. Never, ever.
I tried to redo this intro a couple of times, and I just ended up screaming at the screen because I was so angry, so our friend, David Rudin of Howler actually wrote a lovely little piece about this. When I say lovely, I mean scathing. This is what he said, “Neville was never the FA’s first choice for the job. This may have been because he had no qualifications to speak of. It may also have been because it appears he didn’t bother to apply for the job.”
Jessica: Oh, my god.
Shireen: “His name,” Louise Taylor reports, “Only came to the search committee’s attention because a broadcaster suggested it. That’s how the sausage fest gets made.” Now, this is absolutely true. He didn’t actually apply for the job, and in the process we know that the FA, who is notoriously bad with tweets. Because we remember when the Lionesses came back from Canada in 2015, the FA famously tweeted out, “Congratulations, Lionesses, you can go back to being teachers and wives tomorrow.”
Jessica: That’s right. I forgot about that.
Shireen: We haven’t forgotten though, those of us who are paying attention. FA, we see you. We know this is happening. This decision that was announced on Twitter, and to continue Twitter, the FA’s sorry Twitter malfunctions constantly and just willful ignorance. They tweeted out congratulations to Phil Neville without actually tagging the women’s team in the tweet. They didn’t even mention the team that he would be coaching when they made the announcement. This is how narcissistic this is and male-centered.
We had a couple of coaches, like Mo Marley, who was the assistant coach was completely overlooked for this position. Then we recently have Carolina Morace, who’s an Italian player, and Vera Pauw, who’s now the Houston Dash head coach talking about this. I think that their comments are extremely important in the sense of what they say in their criticisms.
They say, “I’ll be honest. I think quite a few of them are just not good enough to coach and manage in the men’s game, but because they’re men, and because the system has been run by men for many years, I think they get an easier route into women’s football. What message is this putting out to the women who are working so hard to get into the women’s game?” That was also Hope Powell, who’s now the coach of Brighton and Hove Albion. We can rage about this. I need to pass this on because I’m getting all furious.
Jessica: Brenda, do you want to take that baton [inaudible 00:23:32]?
Brenda: Yeah. I think appointments like this are so frustrating on so many levels. Partly because they seem to convey the idea that women’s football is new, and it’s really hard to find talent. A lot of times, FA can get away with it in places like Brazil and Argentina and things like that where the domestic leagues are struggling, and there’s less attention.
In the case of England, I guess this is partly why it left so many of us with our jaws on the floor is that they’ve gotten so much attention, deservedly, for the recent upstart of the league and also for how old their women’s soccer tradition goes back, which is to the very beginning of the 20th century.
It’s one of those things where a lot of us were left with our hands open and shrugging and being like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” If this happens in England, then we’re all so screwed. I think everybody was collectively outraged and also confused. In the case of Brazil, [inaudible 00:24:39] who was given the job of the Brazilian women’s national team never had a single winning season with a men’s team.
Brenda: Yeah. Not a single winning season with any of the men’s teams that he coached, and they removed their first female coach of the women’s team, we talked about on the show after just seven months, to bring him back after he had another losing season. It’s a pattern, and it’s just frustrating that if it’s England, the rest of us are going like, “Oh, man. Nothing’s getting better.”
Jessica: Mark Sampson, he left because of all the stuff with Eniola Aluko, right? That’s why an empty position here? Do I have that right, Shireen?
Shireen: He was technically let go because of situations of impropriety.
Jessica: That’s right.
Shireen: With an underaged player at the time.
Jessica: Oh, my god. Okay.
Shireen: Yeah, so which the FA knew of when they hired him. Yes, it gets worse. The FA was aware of all this. They were also aware of Phil Neville’s sexist tweets that actually made fun of domestic violence. They knew all of this, and they didn’t care. It didn’t phase them. This whole thing was acceptable.
I think part of the thing, and for those of our listeners that are Patreon donors, contributors, we did this segment on John Herdman leaving. Now, John Herdman was actually given an opportunity and offered to go work with the Lionesses, which he did not take so he could coach the Canadian men’s team. Yes, you heard that right. He was basically a demotion from the women’s team to the men’s.
It’s this idea that Brenda talks about. The idea is that the men’s game is superior somehow in those positions, which are more lucrative, are more important, but it doesn’t mean that you put in any one standing. Basically, my 11-year-old son, who plays recreational soccer has the same amount of qualifications as Phil Neville. I think my son might be a better coach, quite frankly.
Just to wrap this up, our friend of the show, Anna Kessel, who’s actually head of Women In Football spoke about it, and she said, and I think it’s really important. She talked about transparency. You’ve got to look at the wider picture, she said. Less than 10% of coaches in the game are female.
Mark Sampson, when he was hired, he didn’t meet the criteria, and we’re doing this again. It’s not even just the entire system. It’s the processes within the system, which are flawed. Basically, we need to trash them all, and just get women in these positions who are qualified and ready and willing.
Jessica: This weekend, the New England Patriots will meet the Philadelphia Eagles and Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Super Bowl LII. I spoke with two NFL beat writers about the game, Nora Princiotti, who covers the New England Patriots for the Boston Globe, gives us the Patriots side, and Kimberley Martin, a writer at the Washington Post, who will the NFC pool reporter gives us the Eagles. We’ll let the underdogs go first. Here’s my chat with Kimberley Martin.
Can we start by you explaining what your job will be as the NFC pool reporter next week? What does that mean?
Kimberley Martin: As pool reporter, you basically are the reporter that gets to go to practice. I’ll be at Eagles’ practices every day. I’m responsible for watching, taking notes, and then writing up the pool report of what happened at practice. All the other reporters in Minneapolis will read my stuff so they know what happened each day at practice.
Jessica: Let’s talk about the Eagles. Going into Sunday, can you give us an idea of what this team’s strengths and weaknesses will be? What do you expect from this team when they’re actually playing?
Kimberley: This is a team that they’ve adopted the underdog mentality. They had Carson Wentz as their star quarterback, and with him I believe they started 11 and 2, first place in the NFC. Philly was rolling. Fans are happy, everything’s great, then Carson Wentz tears his ACL and injures his LCM.
Then it throws everything off, and people are looking at this great team and wondering what comes next? Back up, Nick Foles take over. At first, some people though, “This might be it for the Eagles because Nick Foles is their backup,” but they’re in the Super Bowl.
What you have is a team that, it’s funny to me that they considered themselves underdogs and really rallied around that because for so long, all season long, people just thought they were great. It makes sense because there were so many doubters.
What to expect though, you have a team that thinks they can pull off anything, but the question is will they? Nick Foles, coming off a great game, but the thing with Foles is you don’t know which Nick will show up sometimes. He’s been good in the playoffs, but again, the stage, this is the biggest game of his career. In the quarterback position, going against Brady, you’d say the Eagles are definitely at a disadvantage there. The Eagles definitely have a great running game with Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount.
Aside from this just being the Super Bowl, the Eagles, you have a lot of guys who either played for the Patriots, or came to the Eagles on one-year deals. This is their time to prove, okay, prove themselves as players. Prove that this team can pull off the improbably, which I think a lot of people assume it will be very difficult to knock off the Patriots.
Like I said, I think the defense [inaudible 00:30:07] will be the key between Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry. They’ve got a very good defense. Can Foles again eliminate turnover? Can he protect the football? Can they get some offense going? The Patriots are obviously going to try to stop the running game. It will be interesting to see how the matchup unfolds.
Jessica: That was wonderful. Thank you. I was wondering if there are any particular stories that we should be paying attention to, that are worthy of attention, might fly under the radar? Maybe another way to ask this question is what are you looking forward to covering in the run up to the Super Bowl?
Kimberley: From the Eagle’s standpoint, the biggest story this week is Nick Foles. This is a guy who used to play for the Eagles. It’s always been a guy that’s been, I don’t want to say, not good enough, but a couple of years ago, he thought about retiring. I think he was at a point where at that crossroad I think a lot of players are at. Do I continue?
He went to Kansas City, played for his former Eagle’s coach there, Andy Reid, and he said it was pretty much a career defining moment. It helped him and he said, “Going to Kansas City, I’m a better person because of that decision.” He signed a deal to come back to the Eagles to be Carson Wentz’s backup. He understood the deal.
Then to be thrust into this spotlight of, okay, now all of this is on you, really Nick Foles, this is his one shot because Carson Wentz will come back from the ACL, and he will be the starter again. Every year teams get these young quarterbacks. Carson Wentz is no different. He’s the future of the Eagles, but in the present it rests on Nick Foles. What is he going to do with this opportunity? Who knows where things go for them?
Jessica: You just made me care about Nick Foles more than I have ever imagine I would care about Nick Foles.
Kimberley: I think more people care about Nick Foles after his couple of performances. As much as I think the storyline of the Super Bowl weekend of the game, a lot of it will focus on Brady and Belichick and the Patriots dynasty. Can this be the end? Will they pull it off? All that stuff.
I think from the Eagles’ perspective, they’ve rallied around Nick Foles to this point. Now, can he again pull off the impossible and win it for the city? Everybody there is waiting for the bottom to drop out, so this has been great for the city. It’s been a great run. We’ll see if they can pull it off in the end.
Jessica: Then I’ve got to ask. Do you have any predictions for the game on Sunday?
Kimberley: For this game, you just want an entertaining game. It would be a great story. Don’t kill me, Patriots fans, but it would be a great story if the Eagles pulled this off just because of the season. You have your great quarterback, and then you go to his backup, and it’s sort of like uh. Then he wins it for you. I think that’d be a phenomenal story.
The Eagles, I think, are five-point underdogs or five-and-a-half. I think they were five-and-a-half when it opened. I’ve got to be honest. I don’t see the Eagles winning. I think the Patriots, when people doubt him or were there questions about the Patriots way, and I think we’re nearing the end of Brady-Belichick, I think he’s more determined than ever to put a stamp on it.
I think it will be decided way more than five points. I think the Patriots will probably win by like eight or 10 or something like that. That’s what I’m thinking. I’m hoping that it will just be a good game, but I see the Patriots coming out with the win.
Jessica: Kimberley went with the Patriots. Let’s hear now from Nora Princiotti on those reigning Super Bowl champions. Going into the game on Sunday, what should people be looking for as far as the strengths of this Patriots team and maybe some of their weaknesses?
Nora Princiotti: The strength of this team, you always start with Tom Brady. The game is never over, as we’ve learned repeatedly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just seen my timeline on Twitter, and everybody tweets the same thing, which is, “I’ve seen this movie before.” It’s like, well, yeah.
Then beyond that, they can beat you in a lot of ways. Rob Gronkowski is obviously an all world level tight end. He and Brady at times together are unstoppable. They also have four solid running backs, who have to greater and lesser extents contributed over the course of the year. Within those guys, three of them really, James White, Dion Lewis, and Rex Burkhead are all threats in the passing game. That at various times has made them really dangerous.
They have guys like Gronkowski, but they also have Brandin Cooks to stretch the field. It’s really that combination of just the number of things that they have on offense to beat you that I think gives them their biggest advantage.
As far as weaknesses go, it’s what defense shows up on any given day. They’ve shown that they can play really well, but there were days, and most of them were in September, but not all of them, where bunch formations would just trip them up. Things that you don’t associate with a Bill Belichick-coached team would just screw them up. They wouldn’t be able to handle it, and you would see these the blown coverages all over the field, miscommunication. It’s just that inconsistency where you’re a little bit like, this could go really badly. It probably won’t, but it could go really badly.
Jessica: Are there any Super Bowl week stories that we should be paying attention to? Or maybe some that are worthy of attention, but might fly under the radar? What kind of stuff will you be looking for as a reporter?
Nora: I’ll be interested to see how the Brady-Belichick hoopla that’s then buzzing around. Much of it, I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m discounting it because a lot of the reporting has been in the Globe, and it’s been really good reporting, but just how all of the stuff about tension in the organization. Even beyond tension, just who’s going to get the credit finally for this unprecedented level of success? How that takes shape over the course of the Super Bowl week because it’s interesting to get a sense of just where everybody is on it, when everybody is in the same place together as they are for the Super Bowl.
This is probably more me than anybody else, but Chris Long and LeGarrette Blount were beloved Patriots. Even Chris Long, just for a year. It will be cool to see those guys. Then I will say just one thing that I’ve been working on is we hear the word distractions a lot in sports as a whole, and especially, I think, around the time of the playoffs. It doesn’t always mean what it’s supposed to mean. A lot of the time it just means, “I don’t want to talk about that, so I’m going to say that it’s a distraction.” Or, “I don’t know what else to ask you, so I’m going to ask if something is a distraction,” or, “I don’t want to ask a direct question, so I’m going to lump everything under the name of distractions.”
It’s just not very specific. I spent some time talking to players just about how they would define the word distraction. What is a distraction to them? They were all really funny about it because they were all like, “Truthfully, there’s not a lot. When you’re in a game, it’s going to be distracting you.” You can read a newspaper article about your team and come into the meeting the next day, and learn your assignments and keep your head in the playbook, and that’s fine.
Then I got into an interesting conversation with Devin McCourty, who was involved with a lot of the social justice activism that happened for the entire year, but got the most attention at the beginning of the year. I think sometimes they heard negative feedback or people trying to get them to stop doing that by calling it a distraction. By calling it something that just wasn’t on the field gridiron football, and sometimes there are people in this game who get a little bit scared when guys are individuals and have their own priorities and their own thoughts.
We were laughing about it because a few guys who were really involved in that were Devin, and then Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins. Obviously guys who had really successful football seasons. They’re going to the Super Bowl. Didn’t distract them too much.
That was an interesting thing to think about. I love that stuff where it’s sort of like a sports cliché that doesn’t actually make sense. Then you try to figure out what’s actually going on here. Yeah, that was a fun one.
Jessica: Yeah, I wonder if that will come back up this week. I wonder if all that discussion around that will come back up.
Nora: Yeah. I think just to a certain extent because the guys on the teams.
Jessica: That’s interesting. The last thing I’ve got to ask. Do you have any predictions for this game?
Nora: I’ll be honest with you. I have not dug into enough Eagles [inaudible 00:39:04] to really have a good grasp on them yet. The thing is that the whole year, I have loved that roster. I almost always, when we do picks in the newspaper, I almost always pick the Patriots just because it usually works out pretty well. I feel like I’m going to go with the Eagles in a pretty low-scoring game. I just think that roster is so complete.
Then I’m going to second guess myself because I’m going with Nick Foles over Tom Brady, and that’s kind of … I’ll go just right off the top of my head here, I will say Eagles 21, Patriots 17. They’re going to score more than 17 points. Let’s say 24-21, Eagles.
Jessica: And Nora went with the Eagles. You’ll just have to tune into the Super Bowl on NBC on Sunday, February 4th at 6:30 Eastern to see who was right with their pick. Thank you to both Kimberley and Nora for joining us.
Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite segment, the Burn Pile. Where we pile up all the things we’ve hated this week in sports, and set them aflame. Lindsay, you want to get us started?
Lindsay: I would love to. This past week, weekend I should say, we had a wonderful story where Julie Ertz, a player on the US women’s national team and her husband, Zach Ertz, who is a player on the Philadelphia Eagles, so Julie Ertz was playing with the national team against Denmark, I believe. They were playing friendly, and she scored, and it was a great win for Team USA. At the same time, the Eagles trounced the Vikings, and her husband’s team made it to the Super Bowl, and there’s this beautiful viral clip of her finding out after the game that he made the Super Bowl, and all of her teammates were so excited.
I just love sports power couples. It was just a wonderful sports power couple-like moment, but guess what? A white man decided to ruin it. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News tweeted, “Have to respect the dedication of Julie Ertz with her husband playing for a trip to the Super Bowl, she was with the national team for a friendly versus Denmark, and she scored.”
Lindsay: Wow. Breaking, woman loves her job, appreciates her job. Her job matters to her. Guess what? Women have responsibilities that don’t involve being in the stands cheering on your man. How do you even come to that mental? What are the mental gymnastics to get there, except just that your brain is so ingrained in patriarchy that you literally do think it’s kind of cute that Julie Ertz was so dedicated to this little sport she loves.
Jessica: [inaudible 00:41:59]
Lindsay: He went on to keep trying to justify it by saying if Zach Ertz had a preseason game at the same time she was in the World Cup, I would be saying the same thing about him. You’re just not understanding how soccer works. Yes, it was a friendly, but it also counted towards their ranking and going against Denmark because they had such a good showing in international competitions recently, whereas the US women have been struggling. This wasn’t a just-for-fun game. It was just so condescending, so demeaning, and Frank Isola, that tweet goes on to the Burn Pile.
For more on people with garbage tweets, I present to you the tennis player named, I shit you not, Tennys, with a Y, Sandgren. He’s from Tennessee, naturally. That is all real. He made an incredible and unexpected run to the quarter finals of the Australian Open this year, which meant he received the most scrutiny on him that he ever has in his career. That means people reading your old tweets, and boy, did Tennys have some.
In January, Sandgren retweeted a video posted by Nicholas Fuentes, a young alt-right commentator, a former host of a podcast called America First, and an attendee of the violent Charlottesville rally. In November last year, Sandgren seemed to support Pizzagate, that weirdo conspiracy that was built on a premise of a child trafficking ring being run out of a Washington pizzeria that was supposedly connected to important people in DC, including Hillary Clinton. It ended in a guy showing up with a gun, who was going to break up the ring, and he shot into the air. It was a whole thing.
Sandgren tweeted about it, “It’s sickening and the collective evidence is too much to ignore.” Also last year in a conversation with James Blake, a black former US tennis player, Sandgren denied systemic racism exists in the US because the country had elected a black president.
Okay, so these tweets led to an exchange during the Australian Open, when a reporter asked Sandgren, “Do you feel that you support some of the alt-right movement?” Sandgren replied, “No, I don’t. I find some of the content interesting, but no, I don’t. Not at all.”
You find some of the content interest? So Sandgren deleted all but one tweet, and has since posted twice. One is an apology of a specific “gay club tweet”, and that one was from 2012, in which he said a visit to a gay club had “left his eyes bleeding.” Oh, man, this guy. The other was posted on Saturday, and it’s an image of a statement in which he feints some kind of ignorance and then apologizes for socializing with people from the alt-right.
Maybe that statement was a response to our Queen Serena, who had tweeted directly to Sandgren a few days earlier, “I don’t need or want one, but there’s an entire group of people that deserves an apology.” Who knows if we’ll ever seen this guy make a run at a tournament like this again, but reporters should keep asking him about this stuff.
He plays in a global, diverse sport as his job. Burn all those shitty gross tweets and the views they express. Burn.
Jessica: Burn. All right, Brenda, what do you want to throw on the incinerator?
Brenda: Because of our giant Nasser burn last week, I’m a bit late to this game, but trust me. It didn’t get the attention it deserved. I want to burn Argentine soccer player, Carlos Tevez’s statements recently about raising children.
For those of you who don’t know the fellow, Tevez is a beloved player who’s played for the national team and now for Boca Juniors. Previously, he played for Man U, Man City, and Juventus. If you don’t follow soccer, he’s a big deal.
Anyway, Tevez said he needed to take his son, Lito, to the barrio, and just to give you a sense of his neighborhood, it’s called Fort Apache. There’s quite a lot of racism laden in this whole context as well, but he says he took Lito to the neighborhood, the barrio, where he could slapped around because all of the attention from his women family members, his mother, his grandparents, would bend his wrist. Has bent his wrist.
This isn’t the first time that Tevez has something like this. It’s a pretty consistent pattern, so Tevez for me joins compatriot, Diego Maradona, and Uruguayan striker, Luis Suarez, as my personal figurative Burn Pile of uber-talented South American players who need to just leave their misogyny in 1818. I want to burn Tevez’s comments and the lack of outrage that I wish was happening in Buenos Aires and global soccer about this.
Lindsay: Torch it.
Jessica: All right, Shireen, what’s on your Burn Pile this week?
Shireen: This week, I am burning Ron Duguay’s ridiculously sexist comment. Last week, Rangers lost to the Kings, Ron Duguay, who was a commentator actually said, he was complaining about the referees, said, “I think these guys would have been better off doing a women’s hockey today because the way they did the officiating, they were kind of soft.” Now, let’s take a …
Shireen: Yeah, groan. Let’s just unpack this douchebaggery. Let’s look at what that really means. It means that he’s saying that the officials are acting weaker and relating it to women’s context Is he saying that the actual game, the women’s game, hockey game, which we love and are powerful and not only have paved the way for fair play, but of literally blessed Canada and US, our Olympic medals, your world championships? What does that even mean?
Yes, perhaps you can argue that there’s less cross-checking in the women’s game, but there’s also less in Olympic hockey as well and men’s college hockey and in European leagues. Also, there’s a really great piece about this that our friend, Beth Boyle Machlan, wrote. Her comments are really good, and she talks about the effects of this on young girls.
There are young folks watching this and getting Ron’s statement. Ron, pack away your sexism, and actually, in an interesting turn of events, Hilary Knight started replying, and I’m getting a lot of joy from Hilary Knight’s Twitter fire this week. He starting blocking everybody who as opposing him. Happy to say that I was blocked by Ron, but that’s okay. I’ll sleep very well at night. There’s no problem about that. I want to take those sexist, ridiculous, inaccurate comments and burn them.
After all that burning, it’s time to celebrate some remarkable women in sports. I want to lead off this Bad-ass Woman of the Week segment by reading a tweet by WNBA star, Chinenye Ogwumike, that fits the moment and this particular week really well. “Over the last year, we’ve witnessed US women’s soccer and hockey fight for fair pay. The WNBA stand for racial equality and US women’s gymnastics delivered justice against sexual abuse. Once again, female athletes are fighting for themselves because that is the only way. So proud.”
Now our honorable mentions. First, Ena Patel is the new director of player personnel for the Colorado Rapids, making her the highest ranking female executive in Major League Soccer. Anya Shrubsole, an English cricket player who has made history as the first woman on the cover of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac.
Alisar Badour become the first-ever Middle Eastern female referee to officiate in top division after participating in a Syrian Cup game. Morgan Reid of Duke University drafted to the NWSL by the Courage wrote a powerful piece in the Players’ Tribune, highlighting the sexual objectification of women college athletes, and Liang En-shuo won the girls’ title at the Australian Open on Saturday, becoming the first player from Taiwan to win a girls’ junior Grand Slam in singles.
Now, Lindsay, tell us who the Bad-ass Woman of the Week is.
Lindsay: Our Bad-ass Woman of the Week is Caroline Wozniacki who finally won her first Grand Slam at this Australian Open. This was her 43rd major. She used to be known as the Slam-less number one. She was the number one player on the WTA for a couple of years on and off, without having a major title. Now, with this title, she’s back to the number one ranking with her Slam. It is really incredible.
I love this stat. She will hold the number one ranking for the first time in six years, and with it she’ll beat the record for the amount of time between stints at number one. Serena Williams used to have that record at five years and 29 days. Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki are the unlikeliest of great friends, and I love their friendship. I want to read you Serena’s tweet from this, which was, “I got too nervous to watch, but woke up to Caroline Wozniacki, new number one in Aussie Open champ. So awesome. So happy. Are those tears? Yup, they are. From a year ago to today I’m so proud, my friend, so proud. Literally can’t even sleep now.”
That was just amazing from Serena, and I want to give a lofty honorable mention to Simona Halep. There was an amazing final. Wozniacki won 7-6, 3-6, 6-4. It was two hours and 49 minutes. Simona Halep who saved match points in two different epic matches this tournament was just incredible. I really hope she gets her Slam trophy. She really deserves it. She spent four hours in the hospital being treated for dehydration after this final, so woo.
Wozniacki and Halep, you’ve made us proud. Thank you for repping women’s tennis and women’s sports, and for being bad-asses.
Jessica: To wrap up this episode, let’s talk about what is good in our worlds this week. I’m going to start because mine was awesome. Amira was in Austin this week as part of a whirlwind trip through Texas that she took, and I got to share some time with her on Friday. We ate some Tex-Mex. It was lovely, and I’m very lucky because I’ll actually get to see her again in a few weeks because I’m going to Penn State to give a talk on Valentine’s Day, so yay. Shireen, what’s good with you?
Shireen: I’m going to do some skiing this week, and I’m excited about that. I just came back from an awesome quick trip to Vancouver, but most importantly, I like to tell people when they ask me how many kids I have [inaudible 00:52:18] I say I have three boys and a soccer player. My beautiful spirited daughter, Jihad, is turning 16 on Tuesday. I’m so proud of her, and I love her, and she’s in the middle of exams right now, but I’m really looking forward to that. She has soccer practice then night of her birthday, so she’s asked me to make halal Jello shots, which is what I’m going to do.
Jessica: Lovely. Brenda?
Brenda: Mine’s kind of, well, they’re both embarrassing. One is that it took me until this time in my life to figure out you can cut a kiwi in half and use a spoon to eat it [crosstalk 00:52:55].
Jessica: Life hack.
Brenda: It is. It’s total life hack, and it means, see, with kids, I had to do that over and over again while I would do small cuts in my fingers and then re-injure them as the juice seeped in. It’s amazing. You just cut down the middle, you take a spoon, and you eat it, and it’s so simple. I also feel so dumb that took me so long.
Lindsay: You didn’t know that?
Brenda: No. I did not. It was my 11-year-old that was like, “What are you doing peeling?” [crosstalk 00:53:24]
Jessica: What, you’re not judging?
Brenda: Don’t judge. I was stilling putting knives in the toaster until last week.
Brenda: Then Barcelona plays twice this week. Today, in about six hours, we’re recording on Sunday, and Thursday. That always makes me so happy.
Jessica: Awesome. Lindsay?
Lindsay: Yeah, well, Right now, I’m thankful that Brenda hasn’t burned her house down or chopped off any of her fingers. [crosstalk 00:53:52] That is very good. [crosstalk 00:53:58] Anyways, January has been a whirlwind month. I had this Nasser trial really took up a lot of my life, and I went home for a family wedding. I don’t know, just feel like I haven’t been settled all this week, so I’m excited, as lame as it sounds, to just get into a routine. That’s what good in my life is that I’m going to get my life a little bit back together, and try and settle into a good routine for 2018 starting this week. I know that’s lame, but gosh, I’m excited about it.
Jessica: I love routine, so it sounds amazing to me.
That’s it for this week’s episode. Thank you all for joining us, and thank you to Hofstra University for their continued support. You can find Burn It All Down on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you want to subscribe to Burn It All Down, you can do so on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play, and TuneIn.
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That’s it for Burn It All Down. For Shireen Ahmed, Lindsay Gibbs, and Brenda Elsey, I’m Jessica Luther. Until next week.