Episode 49: Kobe and Women’s Bball, Racism Roundtable, and Ayesha McGowan’s Historic Cycling Quest
This week, Amira Rose Davis, Lindsay Gibbs, Shireen Ahmed, and Jessica Luther discuss Kobe Bryant’s relationship to women’s basketball, and what this means given his history with women and that the sport can use all the champions it can get. Then we go around the circle and each address a different story of racism in sport from the last couple weeks. And Shireen interviews Ayesha McGowan, who is working hard to become the first female African-American pro cyclist.
As always, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, Bad Ass Women of the Week, and what’s good in our worlds.
Intro (5:06) Kobe and women’s ball (20:44) Racism Roundtable (31:16) Shireen interviews Ayesha McGowan (43:55) Burn Pile (53:56) Bad Ass Woman of the Week (56:35) What’s Good (1:01:50) Outro
For links and transcripts…
“David Ortiz and Aly Raisman show Fenway Faithful about Girl Power” http://www.espn.com/espnw/culture/the-buzz/article/23043251/david-ortiz-aly-raisman-show-fenway-faithful-girl-power
“Nah, Bro. All Muslims Do Not ‘Love’ Kobe Bryant” https://the-cauldron.com/nah-bro-all-muslims-do-not-love-kobe-bryant-86293d9ae142
“What About ‘The Breakfast Club’?: Revisiting the movies of my youth in the age of #MeToo” https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/what-about-the-breakfast-club-molly-ringwald-metoo-john-hughes-pretty-in-pink
“The legacy of the Kobe Bryant rape case” https://thinkprogress.org/the-legacy-of-the-kobe-bryant-rape-case-6a42f159be7b/
“Native American Lacrosse Teams Reported Racial Abuse. Then Their League Expelled Them.” https://deadspin.com/native-american-lacrosse-teams-reported-racial-abuse-t-1824292659
“”I’ll Ship You Back To Africa”: The Full Story Behind Brandeis University Firing Its Basketball Coach” https://deadspin.com/ill-ship-you-back-to-africa-the-full-story-behind-br-1822668443
“Michy Batshuayi calls out UEFA after racism investigation dropped” https://sports.yahoo.com/michy-batshuayi-calls-uefa-racism-investigation-dropped-220908795.html
“Bob McNair on inmates in prison comment: “The main thing I regret is apologizing”” http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2018/04/05/bob-mcnair-on-inmates-in-prison-comment-the-main-thing-i-regret-is-apologizing/
“One of the NFL’s most outspoken activists is facing 10 years in prison on questionable charges” https://thinkprogress.org/bennett-houston-indictment-4c7c5cca436f/
“Indians Fans Taunt, Mock, And Scream Obscenities At Native American Protesters At Home Opener” https://deadspin.com/indians-fans-taunt-mock-and-scream-obscenities-at-nat-1825073128
“Woman mayor protests sumo sexism in off-ring speech at event” http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2018/apr/06/woman-mayor-protests-sumo-sexism-in-off-ring-speec/#/0
“Augusta National has finally entered the 20th century” https://thinkprogress.org/welcome-to-the-20th-century-augusta-0f0cde59e1c3/
“Thousands protest across Ireland for second day over rugby rape trial” http://www.euronews.com/2018/03/31/thousands-protest-across-ireland-for-second-day-over-rugby-rape-trial
“Weightlifter Sanjita Chanu Wins Second Gold Medal for India” https://www.news18.com/news/other-sports/cwg-2018-weightlifter-sanjita-chanu-wins-second-gold-medal-for-india-1709741.html
“A 50-50 prospect: Commonwealth Games offers medal equality” https://www.ctvnews.ca/sports/a-50-50-prospect-commonwealth-games-offers-medal-equality-1.3867489
“How Equal Playing Field Empowers Women Through Opportunity, Equality, And Respect” https://uproxx.com/life/equal-playing-field/
“G-Whiz! Arizona State sophomore ace had some kind of week” http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/22942295/arizona-state-sun-devils-pitcher-g-juarez-named-espnw-softball-player-week
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 tenacious Lindsay Gibbs, a reporter at ThinkProgress, the hardworking Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of History and Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University, the excellent Shireen Ahmed, a writer, public speaker and sports activist in Toronto 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’d 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 and our monthly newsletter or even do your own burn pile. Last week, we had Rhea Butcher on the show, patrons got to hear the full 20-minute interview, sign up now and you can hear it too.
Before we get into it, let’s talk about something fun, you guys. Did you all see Aly Raisman and David Ortiz on the mount this week before this season opener for the Boston Red Sox?
Lindsay: I totally missed it. Can you guys tell me?
Jessica: Did you miss it?
Lindsay: I was traveling. Okay, tell me about it.
Jessica: You have to go look at every GIF that exist.
Lindsay: Okay, tell me about it.
Jessica: They were there to yell, “Play Ball.” Again, I’m not a baseball person so I don’t know how it works but …
Amira: It is a Fenway opener.
Jessica: There you go.
Amira: For openers, people do little things. For the Fenway opener, they had Aly and David and they were going to throw out the first pitch and officially open and welcome baseball back to Boston.
Jessica: Yeah. Amira, I like how you call them David and Aly like girlfriends. David was wearing his Red Sox jersey and he ripped it open because he’s David Ortiz and underneath he had a black shirt with, in huge white letters, the words girl power. Then he hugs her and he then tells the crowd that Boston is her city too.
Amira: Which is, essentially, what he said after the Boston Marathon bombing but he used cuss words.
Jessica: Right, famously. It’s really sweet. It’s like a sweet echo because after she won the gold in Rio, she threw out the first pitch at Fenway and he was her medal holder like she had put her medal or medals, probably, around his neck for her to be able to throw out the ball. They’ve been out there before together so for … I don’t know, it was really sweet. The GIFs are just adorable.
Lindsay: Did he give any nod to the advocacy work she’s been doing about time is up and Nassar and everything?
Amira: That was essentially what the shirt was referring to and why they were having her there. The ask for Aly to be present and do the first pitch was the kind of organizational acknowledgment of what she’s been doing. I mean, as a Red Sox fan, it was really heartening, I love Papi and it was really great to have this moment. It’s amazing to watch him rip off his shirt, it’s kind of a Superman rip off and it just says, “Girl power,” it’s phenomenal.
Shireen: I didn’t see it happen live but I was in the US when it happened and it was being replayed and it was on Twitter. It was such a really really sweet thing particularly, for me, it signifies allyship and the girl power was not just a subtle nod to the Spice Girls who I’m also sure Papi is a fan of, I think it was also just a very wonderful form of saying, “You can support these survivors, these women.” For him to do that and be such a formidable character in baseball and a personality that’s so important in that community and globally like in the baseball world was really lovely. It was a very lovely thing.
Jessica: It was lovely and, yay, sports.
Jessica: I say that because now we’re going to move on to our show which is, maybe, the opposite of, yay, sports.
Shireen: [inaudible 00:04:26].
Jessica: Yeah, it’s like a rage show. First up, we’re going to talk about a subject that we wanted to discuss for a while and we feel like this is a good moment. We’re going to talk about Kobe Bryant and his relationship to women’s basketball, we have a lot of feelings on this. Then we’re going to turn once again to discuss racism in sport because there was a slew of new stories this week in lacrosse, basketball, football. Then, finally, Shireen interviews Ayesha McGowan, the woman attempting to become the first ever female African American pro cyclist. We’ll cap it off by burning things that deserve to be burned, doing shout-outs to women who deserve shout-outs and telling you what is good in our world. Let’s get into it.
Kobe and women’s basketball, let’s do this y’all. Lindsay, you want to get us started?
Lindsay: Sure. I’m going to try and be brief here because I know I just have a lot of things to say, I just want to get this conversation started. All right, let’s start with the women’s final four which was absolutely incredible last week. Of course, it had the two overtime games in the semi-final and then the championship which Arike Ogunbowale, my new best friend in my mind, won on an almost last second three-pointer from the corner to take down Mississippi State in the semi-finals and in the finals.
There was a very notable presence in the crowd which was Kobe Bryant and his wife and his daughter. Kobe has long been a champion of women’s basketball. Considering that women’s basketball needs a lot of high profile champions, that that is a good thing for the sport right now and that Kobe is so beloved in the basketball community. As expected and as always the case when Kobe shows up, Kobe gets a lot of air time, Kobe gets a lot of attention, Kobe sucks a lot of the air out of the room for being Kobe and for saying very, I would say, good but also not … I wish it wasn’t a big deal that there was a man and he was like, “These women are awesome,” everyone is like, “Oh, let me fawn over you forever. You are such a feminist,” or whatever. It just drives me crazy but that’s another subject.
We want to specifically hone in on Kobe right now. Of course, this is troubling to me and, I think, a lot of fans because Kobe in 2003 was accused of rape and the allegations were incredibly troubling, to say the least. The way his legal team treated the woman who he have this encounter with set a tone for victim blaming and slut-shaming that we still see used time after time in legal defenses by high profile athletes to this day.
While I try and go into every situation with a very open mind even though my trolls on Twitter will tell me I don’t, I looked back at this case in 2016 when Kobe was retiring and there is very good reason to still be troubled by everything that happened here. I’ll read to you Kobe’s apology statement at the time which he gave as part of a settlement to end this civil suit and at the time that this statement was given, the woman also stopped cooperating with the criminal investigation and this is what made all this go away for Kobe. Here’s the statement, “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
It’s kind of a staggering apology because Kobe is saying, “I understand that she believes that she was raped and I’m conceding to that fact” so while he’s not saying in the affirmative that he raped her, he is very much giving credence to everything that this woman has been saying and has been crucified in the press for. Since this statement and since he came forward and gave his wife that famous apology ring which was for cheating on her because he did admit to having this encounter with this woman, Kobe hasn’t talked about this, there’s been no reckoning for Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant lost a lot of sponsors during the deal but he gained them all back and some, he, of course, finished an illustrious basketball career, he won an Oscar this year and we all still worship at the altar of Kobe Bryant.
That statement that I just read is the last he said on any of this. To me, that feels very very unfinished and that leaves a lot to be desired and it’s really hard for me to lift him up as, pretty much at this point, the most high profile champion of women’s basketball on the Sports Illustrated cover which Arike Ogunbowale was about her shot which was an incredible moment for women’s sports. The text of it said, “Arike Ogunbowale brings home title for Notre Dame, even Kobe is in awe,” so all these women are sharing this moment with Kobe. You guys, I don’t know what to do with this, somebody help me.
Jessica: Yeah. It’s so complicated because he does bring the attention and, you’re right, that he sucks the air out of the room when he does it but, at the same time, women’s basketball needs all the attention it can get. The idea that this is how they’re getting attention, I have so many feelings all the time about this. I understand the embrace of him by the league and the sport that needs this kind of attention on it, I mean, Arike Ogunbowale was on Ellen this week and surprise guest Kobe Bryant was there and I wonder if part of the reason she was there is because they knew they could get him too but that’s great. She was on there, she got to talk about what happened and how great women’s basketball is and I’m happy about that so I don’t know. Shireen, what are your thoughts?
Shireen: I have so many thoughts. Lindsay, the piece that you wrote for seeing progress on this was really really important about when the case was happening and how the media handles abusers. I wrote a piece in April 2016 which subsequently went into Best Canadian Sports Writing 2017 [crosstalk 00:11:21] …
Lindsay: Not even humble brag.
Shireen: Humble brag. The reason I did that is because not just women’s basketball but fans of basketball in general still idolize this person and it makes me super uncomfortable that this happens because there’s no discussion. I mean, if Kobe was to come out and sort of say, “Listen, I’m going to donate a million dollars to,” and I use that figure because CAP donates so generously and so easily, “to women shelters or for survivors or Me Too,” right … Did Kobe say anything about Me Too? I can’t even remember. That was a movement that literally went everywhere. When Breanna Stewart came out and wrote that piece, did he come out and support or retweet when he’s, supposedly, all over women’s basketball and support her? He didn’t say anything? I’m sure his handlers told him not to say anything because of the obvious reasons.
Also, I agree with what Lindsay says about women having to share it. I do struggle with the idea that women’s basketball needs to be amplified, ergo needs to rely on Kobe but I actually don’t feel that way, I think women’s basketball relies on women who always do the work anyway. Maybe we can nudge Steph Curry and be like, “Can you start talking?” or email POP because we can email POP and be like, “Can you start picking it up?” there’s got to be another alternative to Kobe Bryant, my god. Maybe we can get Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is on the sidelines of the Lakers to start talking about … I don’t know, anyone but Kobe is literally my … I need that on a shirt, anyone but Kobe.
Amira: Yeah. I also have complicated feelings about this. One, the first things first, I think that it’s also a stunning example of the kind of idea, the myth that rape allegation will ruin your life because he seems to be rolling along just fine.
Lindsay: He won an Oscar, I just can’t [crosstalk 00:13:18], I’m sorry.
Amira: It wasn’t even the best in that category [crosstalk 00:13:20].
Lindsay: Sorry. Okay.
Amira: No problem. I’m glad you got that off your chest. A lot of my complicated feelings come because I’ve been wrestling lately with the idea of rehab or rehabilitating your image both in a corporate sense like, oh, now I can sell things or have myself appear court side and everybody fawn over me but really thinking concretely about what do you do and where do you go after allegations or after you confessed … I’ve just been really wrestling with this idea.
Thinking about, Shireen, what you just said, utter lack of acknowledgement and once you noted that [inaudible 00:14:04] last time, you talked about that. Would it feel less icky if he took ownership of that or said me too and said, “You know what …” Molly Ringwald just wrote a piece where she completely considered and returned to movie she was in and the way she was part of a certain type of process of this. I think that what would it look like if he was doing that and not running or shielding from it but embracing it, would that make it better or would there be a way in which it didn’t matter? Because once this happens, that’s it, that you’re always going to be carrying that with you for the rest of your life.
Those are the things I’m thinking about. Of course, I compare this to Ben Roethlisberger a lot and the way legacies of allegations can hang on you but the disparate ways in which people are treated. I don’t know, I’m very much wrestling with that idea, what would it look like for him to be accountable?
Jessica: Right. I think one of those most difficult things about this is how do we decide if we don’t have an idea of what that means to the victim, to the person harmed but, of course, we shouldn’t be knocking on this person’s door asking and so how we, as a society or community, decide that it’s enough, that this accountability has been had and we don’t have to carry it with us all the time any time that this person is there, it’s so hard to measure. I want to tell you what I personally think he should be doing but does it matter what I think he should be doing, I don’t know and that’s one of the things that I wrestle with when I think about not redemption, I guess rehab, I don’t know, it’s so complicated and it’s hard. Lindsay?
Lindsay: Yeah. To bring us back to women’s basketball, one of the reasons why I don’t get so angry with the women’s basketball community about this is because it’s a universal thing with Kobe, right? There’s this universal acceptance and moving on. It’s not like all corners of the sports world and entertainment world are blackballing Kobe for this and then it’s just women’s basketball who’s celebrating him. I mean, journalists, we love Jemele Hill, friend of the who I like to say, who we’ve interviewed, she interviews Kobe and doesn’t bring … It’s just kind of universally accepted and moved on and that’s really hard to grapple with especially as we come today.
I mean, I think sometimes the significance of the Me Too movement, it’s a very important step but it’s very much just a step and nobody knows what the rest of the staircase looks like or even if it exist. We have to keep building it as we go along and part of that is figuring out what we do with people like Kobe Bryant who’s the allegations happen so long ago, that are still there, that are still troubling and that we think there are still some reckoning that needs to be done.
I wrote about this a little bit with Shaun White which is a very different situation, on the spectrum but it was sexual harassment and I don’t want to say that I’m saying that as rape, I’m not. One of my things with his Olympic redemption arc was that NBC didn’t even ask him about it in their softball interviews with him and I felt that one of my things was … I’m not saying that this guy needs to be banned, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy his gold medal winning run in the Olympics, I’m saying I think if we’re talking about his story of the past four years, he should be asked about these incredibly troubling allegations and it has to continue to be part of the conversation. That’s why I think even though we don’t have all the answers right now, continuing to bring it up, continuing to grapple with it … I’m not saying that Kobe has to go away forever but I’m saying this, right now, what’s happening also isn’t the answer. Even though I don’t have the answer, we got to keep pushing this conversation forward.
Jessica: Absolutely. Shireen?
Shireen: I’m okay with Kobe going away forever but … No, just kidding, not really. The last thing is is that I can say with certainty that although a lot of media does sort of ignore those hard questions or doesn’t want to bring it up or maybe are told that, by their superiors, they cannot bring it up, that’s kind of the power that he wields is that he will never be on Burn It All Down and they don’t like to speak for us as a whole but I’m pretty sure I can say that and that’s it, for me.
Lindsay: Unless he wants to talk about the rape out. If Kobe would like to specifically address what happened in 2003 and what he has learned from it …
Jessica: We have space here.
Shireen: We have space.
Lindsay: He has space, but he should know, those are the only questions we will be asking.
Amira: Yeah. I think one of the things that leads me to think on this, the particular vehicle of sports in rehabbing an image. Like you said, Lindsay, watching Shaun White tear through that course, there’s something about sports. I’m thinking this particularly reflecting on … I can’t even say it, for Massachusetts, I’m the worst person, [inaudible 00:19:36] …
Amira: Yeah. There you go, thank you. As that movie is coming out and thinking about how scandals and politics move a certain way, it leads me to think about the sports world especially because there’s so much embodiment, we watch them, we consume them, they can raise your blood pressure and make you scream and make you cry and invoke all these emotions. I mean, we’re all cheering for Tiger again and his comeback, I think Lindsay made this point earlier. I think that there’s a way that sports is a particular vehicle that allows these conversations to drop off unless we’re very relentless on continuing to ask the question.
Jessica: Thank you. I just want to end by telling everyone to watch women’s basketball. Do it because they’re amazing and not because Kobe Bryant tells you they’re amazing. All right. Surprise, there’s racism in sports. Amira, do you want to give us the latest on this?
Amira: Yes. We talked a little bit about [inaudible 00:20:53] last week but I want us to do a little bit of round table of racism, if we will. I’ll kick it off and then I’ll pass it to you. One story that has emerged this week is about a lacrosse team in the Dakota Premier Lacrosse League, the DPLL. One of the things that has happened is that these three predominantly indigenous teams were expelled from the league by one, Corey Mitchell. The reasons for this, if you ask the league, they cite ideas about rosters and things that clearly just seem like excuses.
The 7 Flames Lacrosse team as well as the other two teams kicked out are saying, “No. Actually, we’ve been bringing reports of racism. Our players have been called prairie niggers, they’ve been called a bunch of drunks, they’ve been told to go back to the reservation. This is a continuous thing from other players, from referees, from coaches, from fans. Every time we bring it up, it’s dismissed.” They say that the league expelled them within weeks of the opener so they didn’t get any time to appeal this because this dude, Corey Mitchell, would rather kick them out of the league than deal with these allegations. He reportedly said that they keep playing the race card and he knows that racism exist but he doesn’t really believe that it’s operating here and he would rather not deal with this problem so it seems like he is not the nicest guy in the world. Many coaches confirmed the racial slurs that are constantly being hurled at these players from these teams that are mostly drawn from the Lakota reservations in the Dakotas.
What’s really frustrating is that because this decision was made so close to the beginning of the season, these kids are not getting to play lacrosse within this league. It’s doubly frustrating if you realize lacrosse was a sport played by indigenous people before settlement and so it’s like, “The audacity.” Now, it’s just being appealed to USA Lacrosse and, in many ways, they’re backing this Corey Mitchell dude who runs that league. At the end of the day, these kids who have been, by all accounts even people who are discernibly against them, subjected to racial abuse and one could say, “This is how it’s been for all five years that I’ve played in the league,” and so if we really were playing “race card”, we would have played it years ago but all we want to do is have a chance to play.
It’s just boiling my blood to think about these kids who are not able to play because this racist dude wants to expel them rather than deal with the fact that they have a huge problem on their hands and then when they do play, they’re subjected to ridiculously racist taunts just because they want to play lacrosse. That’s to kick off the round table of racism, thoughts on this story or other stories that you’ve seen that we can add to this wonderful week in sports?
Jessica: The lose-lose of racism.
Jessica: I was going to bring up Nick Martin at Deadspin ran a story this week about Brandeis, it’s a DIII school. Their basketball coach, he just seems like an abusive asshole in general but he seems to direct most of that at his black basketball players. He cuts them from the team much more or more often than he cuts white players. He says things to one of the African players on the team, he said that he was going to ship them back to Africa. Then he wouldn’t sit near him on the bench and he made an Ebola joke which reminded me of what we were talking about with Eni Aluko, wasn’t that right [crosstalk 00:24:37] …
Well, he did until Deadspin called and said, “Hey, we heard all these horrible things about your coach, why does he still have a job?” and then they fired him. Of course, Brandeis is saying that they’re following due process and doing procedure and it just so happen to line up this way but it does appear that because Deadspin put the heat on them, that they finally did what they should have done probably years ago. Again, it was one of these things where people knew that this was happening and this school just sort of sat on it. That’s my round table to add. Shireen?
Shireen: Yes. Since we’re talking about policy and not actually get anything done about this issue, I automatically go to FIFA. FIFA, as everybody knows, disbands its anti-racism task force in 2016 in the fall because, apparently, they solved racism. Just this past week, in World Cup qualifiers …
Lindsay: Good job, good job.
Shireen: Well done. Just this past week, France led by the incomparable and fabulous and brilliant Paul Pogba, my god, that person is fantastic, they actually beat Russia 3-1 in Saint Petersburg and then were treated to monkey chants including when N’Golo Kante came to the sideline for a throw-in. I think that the issue is the French sports ministers saying racism has no place on soccer fields which I find incredibly ironic that the FFF still bans hijab but that’s another story.
The idea that this is still happening, overt as oppose to covert racism like overt racism is not okay so everyone can say that but the idea that it’s still prevalent … Then what this FIFA do, the governing body dismantles the actual committee on it and we know that UEFA did nothing in so much, I know you all talked about this last week, that Michy Batshuayi called it out himself. Now we’re getting to a place where the athletes are actually calling it out themselves which is what is happening, athletes are rising up. I don’t think they’re necessarily trying to be activist but they have to carry their own load in such a tremendous way and racial abuse is extremely emotionally, psychologically, mentally draining to endure and the fact that they have to do this is so upsetting.
Jessica: Yeah, it really is. Lindsay, do you want to tell us about what went on in Houston this week?
Lindsay: Yeah, just a couple of things. I mean, look, the biggest thing, the Michael Bennett case is ongoing and that’s something we should all be keeping an eye on because it’s another way of silencing these athletes. We talked about the Michael Bennett stuff a little bit but it doesn’t directly fit in … it does directly fit in to this conversation, what am I saying? It absolutely does. Michael Bennett is facing up to 10 years in prison in Houston. In 2017, after the Super Bowl, they are now saying that he apparently pushed a 66-year-old paraplegic security guard who, the police chief was sure to mention multiple times, was black so this can’t be racist because the paraplegic security guard was black and sprained his shoulder as he was trying to get to the field to celebrate the Super Bowl with his brother. I wrote a piece about this on ThinkProgress this week that we’ll link but there’s a lot of reasons to be skeptical about this story and to feel that it is a way of silencing him for the activism that he has done against police brutality and systemic racism.
Speaking of systemic racism, we have the Houston Texans owner Bob McNair who you might remember, always a perennial Burn Pile member, who you might remember told his colleagues last year during a close-door conversation that ESPN was able to report on through resources, when they were discussing the protest during the national anthem in the NFL and how the league was going to deal with this issue or whatever, he said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
Well, at the time, he apologized to anyone who was offended by it in the standard apology manner but he gave an interview this week to the Wall Street Journal in which he said, “The main thing I regret is apologizing.” What Bob McNair has learned from all of this is not that he should see his players as well-rounded people who are trying to make the world a better place and who have these backgrounds that he should learn about and that he should give them the freedom to express themselves and really treat them as partners in this, that’s not what he learned, he learned that he should never be forced to apologize for anything. He even said, “I really didn’t have anything to apologize for.”
This, to me, it’s just staggering because these are still the people in power like how do we continue to have this incident after incident of racism, how are we having another racism round table and how we have another one probably in a month with all new incidents because guys like Bob McNair are the ones who still have all the power, they’re the ones running things. Ultimately, to them, racism isn’t a flaw of the system, it is the system.
Amira: Yeah, exactly.
Jessica: Amira, want to wrap it up for us?
Amira: Yeah, exactly. I think these examples show us all the way in which racism permeates within sports so from being called a prairie nigger while you’re trying to play lacrosse as a 14-year-old to Michael Bennett and the Trump up indictment because you dare to say black lives matter. I think that the full spectrum includes these aggressions but, also, as we can see, it’s so systemic. It’s McNair and the owners meeting, doing this and then issuing a non-apology apology and then recanting that apology but it’s everywhere from the failure to handle it in the Dakota Premier Lacrosse League to FIFA. I think that part of this round table is showing the full accounting of all the different crevices that racism lives in in the sports world.
Jessica: Next up, Shireen interviews Ayesha McGowan, the woman attempting to become the first ever female African American pro cyclist.
Shireen: I’m so excited to have one of my favorite Twitter people, cyclist extraordinaire, absolute bad ass, violinist, former music teacher, Ayesha McGowan, also known as a quick brown fox on Burn It All Down today. Hi, Ayesha.
Ayesha McGowan: Hi.
Shireen: How are you doing?
Ayesha: I’m okay. Can you hear my cat? He has joined us.
Shireen: No, but I am so there for that cat. What’s your cat’s name?
Ayesha: This one is Boris.
Shireen: Hey, Boris. I read a piece that was written by Stephanie Granada on Outside magazine about you and I thought it was incredible because it talked about how you want to actually change the scene of cycling because there are no female African American pro cyclist in the United States.
Ayesha: Right. Yeah.
Shireen: Your plan, tell me about your plan.
Ayesha: Well, the goal is representation. I consider myself an advocate by example so I figure it’ll be a lot more of a sell if I can try to convince them to get into bike racing if I’ve been there, if I’ve done that especially if I’ve done it at the highest level of the sport. My plan is to go pro and try and dupe some of the folks into doing it too.
Shireen: That sounds awesome. What is involved in that duping? How do you convince other people to get into a sport that is widely not representative?
Ayesha: I mean, at the core, bike racing is super super fun. There’s a lot of social stuff that I could use some assistance. It’s very homogenous and that can get a little isolating at times but I feel like as a black woman, that’s an experience that I’m relatively used to and so that has not stopped me from pursuing this thing that I enjoy tremendously. I feel like there’s been a lot of women like me who have not had the opportunity to even discover if they enjoy it or not and so that’s the thing that I want to change.
Shireen: I was reading a piece that, actually, had written for Huck Magazine a couple of years ago and it was really, really beautiful, your quote was, “Advocacy led me to racing.” Because you’re explaining your journey to racing and how you got into it and you talked about your childhood and, essentially, biking was a form of transportation to friends’ homes but then also how, later in life in university, it also became like that and you sort of got introduced to different bikes but you really, really fell in love with it and then you came to it from a volunteer perspective, working with disabled folks. How did that turn into racing though? How did that activism and involvement in community engagement turn into racing?
Ayesha: On the community and advocacy level, there are so many different kinds of cyclists and so many people who enjoy bikes in different ways and so you’re always getting exposed to different ways of riding a bike. I started as a commuter and that led into advocacy and then that led into … I was like a messenger for a very short period of time and that led into the fixie scene which is kind of like the skaters of bicycling and that led into racing unofficially and then that led into sanctioned racing and legal, governed racing. It’s just one thing, literally, led to another and just being exposed to all these different things by different people and meeting new people and just wanting to try all of the things has led me down a very interesting road.
Shireen: I was wondering, when you go to races and stuff, do you ever get double takes? Do people ever look and go like, “Oh,” but not in a bad way but sort of like, “Oh,” that kind of micro-aggressive …
Ayesha: [crosstalk 00:35:20] called me a unicorn to my face and that was pretty early on. It’s like, “Oh, okay, this is what we’re working with.”
Shireen: Oh my goodness.
Ayesha: I mean, I get it but it’s like, “Really? Really? Yeah, we’re doing that, okay.”
Shireen: See, I don’t get it, actually. I can’t even, oh my gosh. I need more coffee for that. The reality is you love this sport, what would be obstacles in your way? For example, if our listeners want to support you in this journey, what do we need to do to help you build up that community, that diverse community within racing? What can be done, our listeners, and what can we do?
Ayesha: Okay. The obvious answer for most things like this is money but from a less financial perspective, voices, voices are very helpful, voices are very important, speaking up when you see things that aren’t right, if you see brands that are misrepresenting people of color or not representing them at all. I say this with a caveat of if they claim to be inclusive and if they claim to represent diversity and they’re not doing that, then speaking up is very important. It can be really challenging and it can feel scary in a sense where I feel like oftentimes that if I speak up, then am I damaging my chances of doing the thing that I want to do. At the same time, it’s like, well, that’s why I’m here so I have to speak up, I don’t really have a choice otherwise I am wasting my time and everyone else’s.
Yes, being a voice is super, super important and, also, giving it a shot if you have this opportunity to ride a bike in some capacity or try something new in some capacity, go for it, don’t count yourself out before you’ve given it a try and that extends beyond cycling. Even in just this Winter Olympics, I know you are paying close attention to that, we just had so many firsts and we’re still having all of these firsts and it’s because somebody decided to try something that wasn’t necessarily expected of them. I think that is the best way to support what I’m trying to do, be a voice and also be an advocate by example, try something new.
Shireen: That’s amazing. That’s actually really, really well-put, to try something new and to get out there because that’s how it happens. One of the things that you had written and you touched on as well was about representation and how your involvement in cycling, it’s actually really pivotal and it’s groundbreaking in that sense. I don’t like to use words like pioneering and groundbreaking but they’re the actual words I’m using. Just you said, people don’t see themselves in the sport so they don’t feel like it’s a thing they ever want to do and that’s very consistent with what you’ve been saying, you can’t be what you don’t see that idea. When you were growing up, who are your supporting role models that you did see? Did you have any and who were they?
Ayesha: Yeah. I feel like my biggest influencers were track racers or track runners like Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Flo Jo and Gail Devers. Also, some WNBA basketball players because that happened in our lifetime so it was really cool to see women not have representation as professional basketball players in this country to having an entire league and that was awesome so that was really cool and pivotal for me. Serena isn’t significantly older than I am so just watching her grow up and just turn into this amazing athlete is still inspiring today. Just now watching her overcome being a new mom and there’s something like last week, she said a couple of weeks ago she couldn’t walk to her mailbox, this image of that woman not being able to walk to her mailbox and I know that she’s going to just come back out and destroy everyone and it’s going to make me so happy, that’s awesome.
Those are the women that I look up to. It’s not that I want to run track or play tennis, it’s just this example of you can do this thing that you want to do if you really want to do it and that’s been super, super helpful for me.
Shireen: Yeah. I think as coming from marginalized communities and people in spaces where there weren’t a lot of role models that look like us … I didn’t grow up with any South Asian soccer player. I mean, I looked at Briana Scurry a lot because … I mean, I loved her and she was a prominent black woman, she was a goal keeper for the US women’s national team that won in ’99, the World Cup. There wasn’t a lot. In fact, I looked to a French skater named Surya Bonaly.
Ayesha: She’s great.
Shireen: Isn’t she amazing? I mean, I’m not a black woman but I certainly wasn’t Katarina Witt or someone else so I would look to these people so I totally understand what you’re saying. Figure skating wasn’t even a sport that I did, I’m much older than you but looking for examples when you’re a child and going out there and say, “Who looks different?” That’s why Kristi Yamaguchi has a soft spot in my heart because I looked to her because she didn’t look like the rest of what it was, she was unique and she was brilliant and she was powerful and I was like, “Yay, she’s a woman of color,” and what that meant. Have you had young women come and say that to you? Have you had young people come up and say that I’m glad you’re doing this?
Ayesha: Yeah. It’s really awesome. It’s not just little people, it’s people of all ages like women of all ages, men of all ages. That is not exactly the impact that I thought it would have, I don’t know what impact I thought it would have, I just felt like it was important and something that I should try and do but it’s pretty neat, for sure.
Shireen: Well, you deserve all. You’re being humble, I can tell you’re being humble. You deserve all of the accolades because just the way you present yourself, the way you write, the way you get out there. If somebody wants to get into cycling who’s not really sure how, do you have a couple of tips on how they can do that?
Ayesha: Yeah. Most places have local cycling clubs and organizations that are geared towards people getting into cycling. You can get in as a commuter where there are usually advocacy organizations that are trying to get people on bikes in general. Then you can also get in as a recreational cyclist or a racer and that’s where the cycling clubs come into play where you get into that more intense version of cycling that is closer to racing but not racing. Yeah, that’s where I would start.
My biggest advice is to find other people to ride with because they’re going to teach you more than you could ever read on the internet. It’s also just really nice to have that camaraderie of someone to learn with. That, really, is what helped me. When I moved to New York, I started riding with WE Bike NYC and their whole thing was we’re just going to go ride and get some ice cream or ride and get some donuts or ride and do this thing. That’s why I got to the track in the first place and that’s why I start working with the InTandem people who have disabilities because of this group. They put together these rides and I showed up and I tried it and I loved it and I never would have done that on my own, I would have come up with a reason why I couldn’t.
Having that partnership and that camaraderie of other people to try it with and laugh at myself with and laugh at and share that struggle, I thought that was really helpful and that’s how I learn. I encourage others to try that if they learn in a similar fashion.
Shireen: Where can our listeners find you on social media?
Ayesha: I am ayesuppose on everything, it’s a pun so it’s A-Y-E-S-U-P-P-O-S-E or on the internet in general at aquickbrownfox.com, a quick brown fox, not the quick brown fox.
Shireen: aquickbrownfox.com. Thank you so much for being on Burn It All Down. I’m so happy to talk to you, I think you’re amazing. Thank you for bringing Boris on, we know he’s a devoted listener as well. Best of luck with everything and we can’t wait to see where your journey takes you.
Ayesha: Thank you so much.
Jessica: 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. Amira, want to get us started?
Amira: Yeah. On Friday, the Cleveland baseball team opened their season and at their home opener at Progressive Field as they’ve done for 25 years, people led by the Committee of the 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance demonstrated at Progressive Field to protest the use of Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians name and the imagery that the team uses. If you remember, we had a discussion earlier this year about the owner Paul Dolan announcing plans to discontinue the display of Wahoo on the jerseys and hats in the 2019 season but many protesters took to the streets to say, “Less Wahoo is not good enough, we need to get rid of it once and for all.”
What I’m burning though is the reaction to these demonstrators. There’s a video that you can watch if you feel like torturing yourself of Indians fans walking in past the protestors, screaming at them things like, “Fuck you, Marxists,” making war cries, saying, “Long live the chief,” or yelling, “Get a job,” when they’re inexplicitly walking to a baseball [crosstalk 00:45:10] same time. The thing that really gets my goat about this is like you’re literally walking on Iroquois land, you’re walking on Chippewa land, you’re walking on Shawnee land, you live in a state called Ohio which is an Iroquois word for great river. The audacity to fix your face and mock and yell and chagrin people who are simply saying, “Give us dignity and stop using racist ass images,” is appalling. The audacity to not reckon with this legacy of settler colonialism is just absolutely grinding my gears. Like I’m sitting here recording this right now on Lenape land, on Munsee land, like you can’t forget that at all.
To honor indigenous people and generally just burning the shitty way, not only that these people behave as they walk into the stadium or the continued use of the mascot which are perpetual burns but also just the shitty way that we kill, extract from, mock, ignore, misremember and actively silence indigenous people. I’m over it, it’s sickening. We’re living in the legacy of settler colonialism and we can’t forget that, I’m burning it down.
Jessica: All right, Shireen, what are you burning this week?
Shireen: Okay. This week, I came across this story. This is actually taking place in Japan. We have so much to burn all over the world and we’re going to do that. Actually, what ended up happening was Tomoko Nakagawa who is mayor of Takarazuka City spoke to the media because she was, part of her job as mayor, she’s head of the city in leadership, was to award sumo wrestlers, sort of give them their props after they had won but she was protesting because the tradition in sumo wrestling is male only so she wasn’t allowed to actually come into the ring which, I guess, they consider sacred for their machismo, I guess you could say. She had to stand outside the ring and the optics of this are terrible. This is a woman that was democratically elected and she’s not allowed into this little space to be able to award the sumo wrestlers so she spoke about it.
I think this is incredibly important for many different reasons because I think that within many cultures globally, we know that toxic patriarchy is all over the world but there are sports that are still considered like this. Jessica, you had mentioned just something in passing that the lengths that men will go to to hang on to those traditions are really upsetting and [inaudible 00:47:50] happened. For a quick example, the South Asian subcontinent has a sport called kabaddi which is a very old form of I guess you could call it wrestling, women have teams now. It’s really not that hard to move away from something and include women. She doesn’t want to wrestle anyone, she literally just wants to do her job as mayor. I’m burning that, I’m burning toxic patriarchy when it’s wrong and exclusionary and just disgusting. I want to burn it.
Jessica: All right, Lindsay, what do you want to throw in the incinerator?
Lindsay: Augusta National. Please.
Jessica: Go ahead.
Lindsay: This week, there are a lot of falling headlines about Augusta National because they announced that they are going to actually hold a women’s amateur championship starting in 2019 which will be the first tournament this club has ever had for women. They didn’t accept women until 2012 as members, they didn’t admit any members to their club and currently there are four. Of course, this got a lot of praise. I do understand the people who have been following this story for a while or seeing in the past seven years these are two significant signs of progress but I’m over giving them any credit for crap like this, this is far too little, far too late. Let me talk a little bit about what this tournament actually is.
In 2019, they’re going to host the first ever Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship. My favorite quote was from the chairman who said, “I thought this was the right time to do this,” you know, 68 years after the LPGA was formed. Sorry. Now, the ladies are finally ready. Look, this is not, first of all, a full tournament. It is a 54-hole stroke play event but only the final 18 holes will be played at Augusta, that means only 30 of the players will make it to that final round which will be played at Augusta.
Also, it’s an amateur championship which means the professional women are not allowed to compete in it so this is not an LPGA event. This is not actually the 72 best players in the world, it’s the 72 players in the world who have maintained their amateur status so professional women golfers are still not allowed to play at Augusta.
Third, what makes me very angry is that it happened at the exact same time as the LPGA’s first major championship of the year, the ANA Inspiration. Which means, first of all, the top amateurs in the world are going to have to decide whether they want to try to qualify for this premier LPGA event or if they want this very rare opportunity to play at Augusta and that’s bad for the game. Secondly, that means that the attention, it’s going to be competing for eyeballs because they want to broadcast this so it’s going to be competing for eyeballs with the first premier women’s golf event of the year. I don’t like that, it doesn’t feel like that’s helping boost women’s golf, it feels like it’s helping boost Augusta National and not women’s golf as a whole. Burn. This is not good enough, burn.
Jessica: This week, Twitter follower @ms_peaceweaver asked me if Burn It All Down was going to talk about the recent Northern Irish rugby rape case. I didn’t know what she was talking about so I looked into it and now I’m here to burn the inevitable horrific narratives that come out high profile sexual assault cases involving sports stars. I want to make a content warning right now because I’m about to mention some disgusting comments by these players who’s since been acquitted in court.
A woman who was 19 at the time says two Ulster and Irish National rugby team members, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, assaulted her at Jackson’s home in June 2016. Two other men were charged in the case, Blane McIlroy who was exposed of exposure and Rory Harrison who was charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information, they were all found not guilty. Some of the evidence the court heard was that the taxi driver who took her home said she was distressed. The next morning, she messaged a friend, “Worst night ever so I got raped.” There was blood on the sheets and on her underwear and there were a horrific series of WhatsApp messages between the men like I feel dirty that I read them today. Olding wrote, “There was a bit of spit roasting going on last night, fellas.” Jackson responded, “There was a lot of spit roast last night.” Harrison, the friend charged with withholding information and who took the woman home that night in the taxi, told the group, “Mate, no jokes, she was in hysterics, wasn’t going to end well.”
In the end though, the jury believed it was consensual. Apparently, the woman was inconsistent in her recounting of what happened. She was on the witness stand for eight days and she was cross-examined by the defense team for all four men so four times over. There was another woman who witnessed what happened and told the court that it didn’t seem like she was in distress, it was just a threesome. The defense’s argument then was that the woman was simply embarrassed about people finding out she had participated in a threesome and decided instead to say it was assault.
I want to give kudos to the thousands of people in Ireland who protested across multiple days throughout the country including Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Galway. They’ve used the #IBelieveHer to support the woman and to tell their own stories. The woman’s name, of course, was released on social media. One group paid for a full page advertisement in the Belfast Telegraph calling for both men to be drop from their teams. Jackson has since apologized for his lewd behavior and expressed regret for what happened. If you could see me now, I will be shrugging. Overall, I’m just so damn tired of how these things play out over and over again in the exact same way and I’m just so upset for that woman so I just want to burn it all. Burn.
Jessica: After all that burning, it’s time to celebrate some remarkable women in sports this week with our Bad Ass Woman Of The Week segment. First, our honorable mentions, congratulations to all the competitors in the Commonwealth Games including Indian weightlifter Sanjita Chanu who won a gold medal in the 53-kilogram category. She lifted a total of 192 kilograms, it’s so much, which included a Commonwealth Games record of 84 kilograms in the snatch and 108 kilograms in clean and jerk. Also, congratulations to Uganda’s netball team who had the country’s first ever victory at the Commonwealth Games with a narrow win over Malawi. Kudos to the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the first multi-sport event ever where there will be the same number of medals for women as for men.
We want to give a shout-out to everyone involved with Equal Playing Field. You might remember this organization from their event last summer where women played the highest altitude game of football in history on Mount Kilimanjaro. One of those women, Monica Gonzalez, was our guest on episode 10 of Burn It All Down. Now, Equal Playing Field has staged a game at the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea. EPF is a grassroots non-profit initiative to challenge gender inequality in sport and to promote sports development for girls and women globally especially in marginalized country context. They do these games to raise awareness about how unequal the playing fields are and to bring the message of gender equity in sports to communities throughout the world. We are so excited for them.
Arizona State sophomore Giselle “G” Juarez who pitched in all four of the Sun Devils games last week. In 22 innings, she allowed just 10 hits, walked one and struck out 37. She came away with three wins and a save. She hasn’t allowed and earned run since February, a streak of 68 consecutive innings.
All right, a drumroll please. Wow, okay, that was a drumroll. [crosstalk 00:55:51] … It was beautiful.
Our Bad Ass Woman Of The Week is Arike Ogunbowale. What is there to say about this shooting guard from Notre Dame that hasn’t already been said? She hit the game winning buzzer beater in both the semi-final game against Connecticut and then again in the championship game against Mississippi State with almost no time on the clock, a tied game and Victoria Vivians’ hand in her face, Ogunbowale shot a three-pointer that somehow, miraculously, went in. Congratulations and thank you to all the women who played in the tournament this year. Arike Ogunbowale, you are a bad ass.
Okay. To round up this episode, let’s talk about what’s good in our world this week. Lindsay, what is good with you?
Lindsay: I just got back from a very brief trip to Philly which was horrible because of the driving and because of the fact that I stupidly left my credit card at home when I went to rent my car and they talked me into getting their insurance which then made me triple the cost that I was in. Anyways, this trip went way overbudget for really dumb reasons and I’m really mad at myself but it was really lovely, I got to meet my aunt and my little cousin and celebrate her 20th birthday which is just … I just can’t believe she’s 20.
Jessica: Happy birthday.
Lindsay: Then I got to go see and spend a night with my oldest friend who grew up in the house next door to me and I don’t think I’ve seen her since I was in her wedding three and a half years ago. It was just a really quick lovely trip to reconnect with some people I love very, very much. If you see me in the next two weeks though, you need to see me at home because I will not be going out to eat for a while. It was lovely.
Jessica: Amira, how about you?
Amira: Yeah. I survived my big event with the [crosstalk 00:57:54]. Yay. I’m looking forward to sleep. It went very well and we had wonderful feedback. We had the overflow room because so many people came out, over 275 so it was very exciting. It was so great to be there when [inaudible 00:58:14] released her memoir and signed her first book. It was just all around wonderful. I’m also looking forward and I’m heading to Memphis on Wednesday. I’ll be in Memphis with a quick jot down to [inaudible 00:58:26] but mostly Memphis for the weekend doing some business down there. I’m excited to be in warm weather because it’s currently April and 27 degrees outside so I’m ready for Memphis and for barbecue and looking forward to having a good time and to go to the Lorraine Hotel. We’re recording this about four days after the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination there so I’m personally, on a personal note, looking forward to walking within that space and reflecting on the legacy.
Jessica: Wow. Okay. I hope you have a nice trip. I think you guys could predict what I’m going to say here but Billie Jean King tweeted at me this week to tell me that a Huffington Post piece I wrote about wanting more media coverage for women’s sports was a, and I quote, “fantastic article”. I was cooking dinner and I couldn’t finish, Aaron had to take over and then I couldn’t sit down to eat.
Lindsay: Put them in the kitchen, Billie Jean King says so.
Jessica: Yeah. I couldn’t eat like they started eating without me because I couldn’t sit down, I was all over the place. She also now follows me on Twitter as well as the rest of the Burn It All Down crew.
Lindsay: Billie Jean King is a flamethrower.
Jessica: Yes. I am just not over it and so I am now awaiting the mug I ordered that has a picture of the tweet on it. [crosstalk 00:59:50]. Shireen, what’s good in your world?
Shireen: Thanks. I just got back [crosstalk 00:59:58]. I had these pretty incredible couple of days doing a panel with Gwendolyn Oxenham and Dr. Jane Williams, moderated by Grant Wall who was delighted to be in our company. Even more exciting than that was I actually got a chance to meet Achille Mbembe. He is an incredible Cameroonian race theorist, he’s a philosopher. He’s amazing. We watched a match together and, more importantly, he was texting [inaudible 01:00:27] at the same time who was inadvertently texting me so this is one step closer to me and [Zuzu 01:00:33] so that was super important. This is the days after what Jessica mentioned about Billie Jean King following me on Twitter and I was sobbing into my hijab which I so coolly told her.
Lindsay: You guys are embarrassing me.
Amira: Lindsay, you didn’t do anything? My class had just finished watching Battle of the Sexes and we’re talking about her so I put it up on a PowerPoint in my class to [crosstalk 01:01:01].
Lindsay: I mean, I was really excited, but I was really trying to play it cool.
Jessica: [crosstalk 01:01:08].
Shireen: I agree with Jess, I have no chill about this. In fact, I was in the grocery store when it happened and I walked out and the only person, because I needed to tell somebody other than you folks, was the kid who was on his smoke break and he had no idea who I was [crosstalk 01:01:26]. Just to quickly cap off, my sons are playing in provincial volleyballs which are our state finals and I’m really excited about going because being a volleyball parent is really fun. People are very polite which I find bizarre but I get some shouting in there.
Jessica: All right. That’s it for this week’s episode. Thank you all for joining us. You can find Burn It All Down on Facebook and Twitter. If you want to subscribe to Burn It All Down, you can do so on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play and TuneIn. For information about the show and links and transcripts for each episode, check out our website burnitalldownpod.com. You can also email us from the site to give us feedback, we love hearing from you. Please do one thing for us this week, share this episode or this show with two people in your life whomever you think will be interested in Burn It All Down. If you rate this show at whichever place you listen to it, it will help us reach new listeners who need this feminist sports podcast but don’t yet know it exist. One more thank you to our patrons, we couldn’t do this without you, literally. You can sign them to be a monthly sustaining donor to Burn It All Down at patreon.com/burnitalldown, that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/burnitalldown. That’s it for Burn It All Down. For Amira Rose Davis, Shireen Ahmed and Lindsay Gibbs, I’m Jessica Luther, until next week.