Episode 59: the World Cup, the WNBA, and an interview with Dallas Wings’ Azura Stevens
On this week’s show, Shireen, Lindsay, and Jessica talk about the rumors that Kawhi Leonard wants out in San Antonio, about everything World Cup, including the one happening now, the winning United Bid for 2026, and our dreams for 2019, and about the WNBA season so far (Lynx, what is happening?!?).
Then Shireen interviews rookie Dallas Wings forward and former UConn stand out (which is saying something), Azura Stevens.
Of course, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, our Bad Ass Woman of the Week, and what is good in our worlds.
Intro (7:12) The World Cup (25:25) the WNBA season (37:00) Interview with Azura Stevens (46:42) Burn Pile (53:59) Bad Ass Woman of the Week (55:55) What’s Good (58:26) Outro
For links and a transcript…
“Sources: Kawhi Leonard wants to leave San Antonio, eyes Los Angeles” http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/23803570/kawhi-leonard-wants-san-antonio-spurs
“Morocco Lose On Soul-Crushing Own Goal In 95th Minute” https://deadspin.com/morocco-lose-on-soul-crushing-own-goal-in-95th-minute-1826866953
“She wanted to coach football, but everyone told her no. This spring, Panthers said yes” http://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/nfl/carolina-panthers/article213094499.html
“Ravens adding 3 women to coaching, analytics spots” http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000936881/article/ravens-adding-3-women-to-coaching-analytics-spots
“LeBlanc named head of CONCACAF women’s football” https://www.tsn.ca/leblanc-named-head-of-concacaf-women-s-football-1.1109081
Connecticut Sun on top of ESPN’s WNBA Basketball Power Index: http://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/23801176/red-hot-connecticut-sun-lead-way-espn-wnba-basketball-power-index
“Hall of Famer, former WNBA coach Anne Donovan dies” http://www.nba.com/article/2018/06/13/wnba-anne-donovan-dies
“Nassar survivors detail ‘abhorrent behavior’ of Michigan State interim president, call for ouster” https://thinkprogress.org/letter-michigan-state-engler-586e2418ecd3/
“Tom Brady ‘thought it was great’ that players took a knee during national anthem” https://abcnews.go.com/US/tom-brady-thought-great-players-knee-national-anthem/story?id=55926258
“Former Jay Kelly Gruber makes ‘inappropriate’ comments toward female panel host” http://www.cbc.ca/sports/baseball/mlb/kelly-gruber-innappropriate-comments-1.4708196
“Dana White Will Push Greg Hardy Until The UFC Loses Money On Him” https://deadspin.com/dana-white-will-push-greg-hardy-until-the-ufc-loses-mon-1826805728
“Katayoun Khosrowyar wins WSU Coach Award, Presented by TeamSnap” http://www.womenssoccerunited.com/katayoun-khosrowyar-wins-wsu-coach-award/
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 Think Progress, 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. As always, thank you to our patrons whose support of this podcast through our ongoing Patreon campaign make Burn It All Down possible. We are forever and always grateful. If you would like to become a patron, its easy. Go to patreon.com/burnitalldown. You can pledge as little as a dollar a month but if you donate just a little bit more, you can access exclusives like an extra Patreon only segment or monthly newsletters. This month and into July we’re gonna be doing hot takes on the World Cup that will be for patrons only so sign up today so you don’t miss out.
On today’s show, we are going to talk World Cup and then the WNBA season, so far. Shireen interviews Azura Stevens, a forward in the NBA. She’s a rookie from UConn who left a year early and was drafted sixth by the Dallas Wings. And, of course, we’re going to 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. So, first though, NBA trade rumors are all over the place right now and this week, news broke that Kawhi Leonard wants to leave the San Antonio Spurs. I know that there are feeling about this in this group and so, how are you all doing with this news?
Shireen: Yeah, I’m the unadulterated Spurs fan. The thing is, is that I think that what I’ve read, because I’ve been consumed with World Cup, has just been about him being dissatisfied with the way his injury was handled by the team and I can’t imagine the Spurs doing anything wrong because of Becky Hammond and Pop but that’s not reality. I mean, his lived experience was more important, I mean, I think it cuts because it’s been reported that he wants to go to the Lakers so that’s just sort of like, because in my love for them, the Laker have been, and Robert Horry, specifically have killed the Spurs championship dreams a couple, a few too many times. So, it’s hard for me because I think that he’s well-suited personality wise in the GIF’s of Tim Duncan and him high fiving are just too much for me to handle. And for anyone interested, Tim Duncan has still not responded to my monthly emails.
Lindsay: Yeah, I agree. If this is, I saw Tim Duncan playing college at Wake Forest, that was like 20 minutes away from where I grew up so, that’s how I became a Spur’s fan is through Tim Duncan and while I’m not a die-hard team of the team I just have an affinity like most people. I think that, for me, what this Kawhi Leonard situation has really brought out is just the pressure that these athletes are under and the amount of people within their inner circle who are giving them advice and pulling them in different directions. There’s been a lot of reporting about, simply within Kahwi’s group, who he relies on for a lot of support because of, they’ve been there with him through a lot of really tough times in his life and kind of been the constant, but a lot of people with in the NBA are wondering whether or not these people are giving him the right advice and actually steering him in the right direction.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an athlete and to be under the microscope like this. And to have so much money, not only on the line for you, but for everyone around you and to know that every single person who’s talking to you has an agenda. And that’s just gotta be so hard.
I am all for athlete empowerment. I’m all for athlete’s signing one-year contracts if that’s what it takes so they can figure out the best situation for them every year. I’m not one of those people who hates Lebron James for what he’s done to the NBA, in this regard. I think it’s great. Athletes need more power. But at the same time, it seems inconceivable in our world that this isn’t something that Pop can fix. How can Pop not fix it?
Jessica: Isn’t he trying? Didn’t photos come out a couple of days ago, of the two of them in New York City or something, like Pop is …
Lindsay: They’ve been talking about meeting but then, I believe it was Friday, when there was a very coordinated “ESPN sources are saying” drop by reporters all across the industry at pretty much the exact same time that Leonard did want out. Now, he’s still under contract for another year with the Spurs, so in theory-
Jessica: Oh, and he’s saying-
Lindsay: they can keep him. And they also have the ability to offer him much more money than anybody else can because the team that has your rights has the ability to give you more money under these supermax deals. That’s just kind of how the NBA contract structure works. And also, rumor has it Texas is a good place for not paying taxes. Rumor has it, NBA players might factor that in from time to time and I don’t bla- … Look, if it’s legal, its legal, so. I think that it’s going to be really interesting the Spurs do still have some cards, but, you know what? They did kind of throw him under the bus. So, they repeatedly said during the year that they’ve cleared Kawhi to play but that Kawhi and his team didn’t think he was ready to play. And, that was the story that the Spurs decided to go public with and it might not have been a good move.
Shireen: I think, too, that Leonard is a very quiet person, like he’s not out there on social media all the time and I’m just wondering, had he been more outspoken through the process, which he wasn’t, which speaks to his dignity and his choice of privacy, what the story is cause I think he’s very expressive facially and you can see when he’s upset, which to a lot of people looks like his natural expression. But I think that it’s very interesting and very telling that he didn’t speak out publicly about it. Hopefully, hopefully Pop can fix this. I think Pop can fix that world but that’s just me and I’m super biased.
Lindsay: Yeah, and we wanna be careful not to let our Pop love … Also, another wrinkle in this is that Popovich, there are also rumors saying that he’s gonna leave in 2020, so Kawhi, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to sign even if you do love Pop, why you wouldn’t want to sign a huge contact extension that will keep you in San Antonio past when Popovich is gonna be there. There’s a lot of factors here but my mourning phase, this is my, what, stage two of the grief. I think we probably have more things to talk about, but I could talk about this for a while.
Jessica: Thank you both for that. I wanna give a quick Happy Father’s Day shout-out to all of our flame throwers who celebrated this weekend and, now, on to the show.
So, we are recording on Sunday morning while Costa Rica and Serbia in group E are facing off in their first group match. That means we are only a few days in but, Shireen, let’s talk World Cup. How do you wanna get us started?
Shireen: Well first of all, I wanna congratulate us for recording during the match and I am not live streaming secretly on my phone. One nothing Serbia, I’m just saying. There’s so much. Like this is World Cup. It’s the first matches for the early stages. We’ve seen some brilliance. We’ve also seen some incredibly vacuous commentary from media, which you know we will talk about. Big games have already happened.
First match, Russia thrashed Saudi Arabia. The first match of the entire tournament. The hosts really didn’t disappoint in their performance and then their goal scoring, which might help them later in that group.
Egypt did not win against Uruguay on Eid and it was just sad. Mohamed Salah didn’t play at all which, I know a lot of people might disagree with me, I think was actually a very smart decision. If he’s injured and not ready to play, there’s no point in risking injury. It was also his birthday on the 15th of June, so it was doubly sad because it was Eid, that was his birthday and who wants to sit on the bench. These GIF’s of sad Mohamed Salah are a lot to him. Yeah, it’s so sad cause he’s so smiley most of the time.
So much joy for our Persian friends. Iran beat Morocco in which was actually an absolutely devastating, crushing own goal in the 95th minute and I have some friend from North Africa that are just devastated on Morocco’s behalf because the play was … Aziz Bouhaddouz actually is a defender and it was on a set piece and he actually put the ball straight into the net and he cried coming off the pitch. These kinds of things are devastating and, Jess, I think you had a tweet in that moment where, which was like, “Oh, my God this game.” I think you said something like that which was-
Jessica: It’s so brutal. I think I said, “This sport is so brutal.”
Shireen: Yeah that’s what you said, and I remember being like, “Yeah.” I will just very quickly add something that my friend Laurent Dubois and I, we were on CBC The Current last week for an interview before this all started and how he said that soccer is actually has been devised as a form of mass torture for humans because of the nature of the beautiful game. I think there’s something to be said about Fox. I’ve been seeing a lot on Twitter. I don’t watch Fox soccer if I can help it. I’ll watch it in Arabic or Malayalam, neither of the languages that I speak, just so I don’t have to endure Fox soccer. I can’t handle the commentary and something so much as during those early matches because what ended up happening, it was something like when Morocco played Iran, I think the Fox sports commentator said something like, “Oh, this is just warm up for the real thing that we’re interested in,” which he was referring-
Jessica: Oh, no!
Shireen: Yeah, he was referring to the Portugal/Spain match, which was absolutely thrilling, but it’s so ridiculous because the whole point of the World Cup is also to expose yourself to players and teams that you might not be familiar with and most … And I think this is a gift. I think the World Cup, in a way, is a gift because when else do you get to see Team Iran play and just on that note, in a piece that I’m working on and a lot of news has come out about Iranian women fans in the stands cheering on their team, which was so glorious because they don’t have that right in Iran.
There’s so many things that you can so positive about these matches, but no, let’s just … And to credit the Portugal/Spain match, also held on Eid, which I was celebrating and just going from family and friends home, whoever had a TV, which was absolutely breathtakingly brilliant.
Now I have issues with De Gea and Ronaldo, which we all know, and I’m just not there for that, but the game itself. And you have to separate yourself from your disdain for “alleged rapists” at that time. And I specifically when Ronaldo was gearing up for a pen against De Gea and I just wanted to toss my cookies.
Then, we had the drama of VAR, first time it’s been used, and it was used against Australia, the Socceroos had a pen, Griezmann’s pen, Antoine Griezmann’s pen, called against them. And there’s so much hullabaloo about it and I’m the opinion of VAR, which is the digital technology, that I’m for it if it supports the team I root for in that moment. I’ll be honest about that.
Then we had Argentina yesterday-
Shireen: which was so interesting because it’s Iceland verses Argentina, so you have … And everyone’s wanting to see brilliance from Messi constantly who absolutely floundered on his penalty kick, but let’s keep in mind Messi’s stats on pens are not great. They’re 68 percent success rate. I’m a firm believer that he-
Jessica: That’s interesting.
Shireen: Yeah that he will come through-
Jessica: I didn’t know that.
Shireen: and score the old-fashioned way by going through ten people and dancing around them. Which is easy.
Jessica: It’s still so heartbreaking. You just know the pressure. You know all the pressure that’s on him and the long history that he’s had representing his country and all the disappointments around it and also knowing that he’s one of the best who’s ever played this game and then to watch that moment and you’re just, “Ugh.” Those are the things where I can’t imagine mentally. I would not have the mental fortitude to manage that kind of emotional rollercoaster. And he just went right back to playing. I just find that to be remarkable ’cause I would be crying on the ground.
Shireen: He carried this team to the World Cup on his back. For qualifications, he literally scored multiple goals within minutes to be able to advance them. I’ve seen this opinion and I can’t remember who tweeted it out, but how, I think it was Martin Rogers who said that we expect brilliance of him all the time. He’s gotta be a highlight all the time and that’s not how the world works. And the skill required for a pen is very different. Yes, it’s all part of the game but the mental fortitude required to stand there. Also, the goal keeping from the Icelandic goalie, who is a full-time film maker, is, was phenomenal. And congrats to him. He should get some type of specialized Viking clap. In my opinion, as I watched the game, he literally kept Iceland in the match, he kept them alive. And, this is really interesting because at this level of play we see the brilliance of goal keepers who otherwise we don’t hear much about.
And, Denmark beat Peru in a match that was so also heart breaking. Peruvians just couldn’t finish. They hit the cross bar. They were shooting wide in the box, which is like far too high and wide, and it was just, they kept trying and trying and kept trying and Peru is a team that I am just hoping for the best for. I really want them to do well. Denmark, you know how I feel, the only thing I love about Denmark is Nadia Nadim. But it’s hard to watch. I literally wanted to just wrap my arms around the TV and beg and sob them to finish and tie it up. So, Denmark won one nothing.
Then we went onto Croatia who beat Nigeria, most beautiful kids in the history of the World Cup, Nigeria has but they looked disorganized on the pitch. And Croatia, two nothing, who boast two players from Barcelona and Real Madrid. Modric being a goal scorer as well and Rakitic, they’re beautiful players and they play really well together. And right now, we’re into Serbia/Costa Rica. So, there’s the overview.
I just wanted to say getting quickly back to Argentina, the TV spans, spanning the stadium pointing to Maradona, who we saw rubbing his nose and sniffling many times, there was jokes about that, but just quickly to add that in this whole process Jacqui Oatley who is a commentator for BBC, was in a press box and actually saw a couple of Korean fans cheering and shouting “Maradona” because he’s famous and so he waved at them and turned his face and did a completely racist eye gesture towards them. So …
Jessica: Isn’t he terrible, though? Doesn’t he have a history of terrible behavior?
Shireen: All around. We’re talking domestic violence, abuse, outward racism. But, like, dude, you’re on camera and everyone is recording you and that just goes to show you feel you’re untouchable and you’re not so, that’s disgusting.
Jessica: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you, Shireen.
Lindsay, I wanted to ask you, and Shireen, you too, I was wondering who you guys are rooting for, actively, in this World Cup? Every time I’ve watched any match, my son always wants to know who I am cheering for, like, that’s integral for him for sports so I’m always having to decide and so, I just wondering who you are going for at this point since our teams are not in there, obviously?
Lindsay: Yeah, I’ve just decided to embrace team Mexico for, I think, obvious reasons. In the spirit of the United bid which I’m sure we’ll talk about in a few minutes, I just like the team and especially during the group stages and I’ve decided I will recalibrate once we get to the knock out rounds and see what I want. Yeah.
Jessica: That’s a good way to do it. I like the idea of recalibration.
Yeah, we should talk about the united bid ’cause the other huge World Cup news this week which is that the US, Canada, and Mexico will host in what, 2026? Do I have that right? You know, selfishly, I want there to be a game in Texas so I can go. So, I was excited about that. But how are you guys feeling, I mean, we have such conflicted feelings about these mega events and now they’re gonna take place, literally, where we all live. Lindsay what did you think when you heard that they had-
Lindsay: Well my first response was, I was frustrated because I know that Trump did have an influence on this. So, the New York Times reported this week that Trump wrote three letters to Infantino, FIFA president, and said “That for the World Cup, that there wouldn’t be any travel bans or anything. That they would open up their doors for the World Cup.”
Now, there’s a lot of things that are wrong about this. First of all, you can’t take anything Trump says as gospel. It just doesn’t matter. Second of all, he’s not going to be president in 2026 so, barring an actual turn to dictatorship and authoritarianism, even a second term would be over by then. There’s been a lot of talk about how this can be an opportunity for us to put a good foot forward to the world, show how welcoming we are, and I love that sentiment in theory, but I felt like there was a little bit of a … We didn’t deserve this reward right now because of the way that our leaders have been handling themselves.
On the other hand, it’s not just the United States. Canada and Mexico are involved, too. It did make more sense, logistically, than the Morocco bid which was the one competing against the United States. There’s more infrastructure here and remind you that the World Cups going to be expanded by then. There will be 48 teams. So, it’s going to be a lot more logistics than even that it is currently. I could understand why this United bid won. I am, of course, it will be nice to have the men’s soccer tournament here and in Mexico and Canada. But, of course, just the way our international relations are going and the way our country is handling itself, I don’t want there to be any sort of reward for that. And this kind of feels like that. I don’t know. It’s complicated.
Jessica: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Shireen, you had one of my favorite Twitter threads of the week around the announcement. You had a lot of emotions, a lot of different reactions all at once. How are you feeling now with a couple days distance from the initial announcement?
Shireen: Well, it just proved that I best express myself not through speaking or writing, but through GIF’s.
Shireen: I have a lot to reflect-
Jessica: It was well done.
Shireen: You know we can file that under the football or soccer vernacular.
A couple of things to what Lindsay said about Morocco not having infrastructure, a place not having infrastructure has actually never been an issue for holding a World Cup ’cause then enter indentured servitude-
Lindsay: But it should be, it should be included though.
Shireen: I feel like people building things-
Lindsay: It should be, you would want it to be.
Shireen: Yeah, absolutely to add on to what is currently there, I think that we have had a change in provincial government in Ontario and Doug Ford, oh God, is the new Premier and he tweeted out that World Cup is never been held on Canadian soil to which I was like …
Jessica: It just was, it just was.
Shireen: The Women’s World Cup, Doug, was actually held in Canada and then I had all the men coming after me saying “Well he meant Men’s World Cup,” and they’re all getting their selves in a knot about it. But the reality is, is that part of me is so excited because that fever coming here. There’ll be 60 games in the United States, ten in Mexico, and ten in Canada. I think that’s also really interesting to look at. My fear is always American exceptionalism in soccer and the sense of we’re the best, we’re the best at everything and I’m just sensitive to that obviously because I’m not American. I’d like to think that if I was American I’d be absolutely insufferable as an American. But, which I’m being honest here.
Jessica: God, I love you.
Lindsay: Yeah, yeah, we’re not, we’re not arguing.
Shireen: But the thing is that when we look at it holistically. For me it’s also an opportunity. I’m gonna look positively ’cause as Lindsay has labeled me, and I love this I want it on my business cards, Shireen “Half-glass-full” Ahmed. The thing is, is that it looks at an opportunity to change the shape of what, or even better, the shape of what soccer culture looks like in America and take out the racism or the sexism of it. Take out that piece and there’s an opportunity, first of all, my immediate thought is, thank God, women can go watch. It’s LGBTIQ friendly. These are the immediate thoughts I have that you know this is good. People don’t have to worry about their safety, hopefully. I think there should always be observers, like fair net observers in every match to just keep an eye on things and make sure things are well. It’s not going to say its devoid of any type of racism ’cause we know that’s not true.
But the reality is, is that it’s a way to embrace it and in different space and, yes, the United Stated hosting a World Cup, it’s hosted Women’s World Cup’s before, is a positive thing. Then there’s always the commercialization of it. What’ll it look like? Will it look like displacement for peoples, ’cause it’s something else we worry about? And, I mean, in reality, the idea of having it and here it does excite me, I’m not gonna lie, so shots of maple syrup all around, but also, I can’t help but look at something critically and say, “Okay these are the issues with it.” But as longs as we keep having these discussions and we keep coming to the forefront and hopefully this will be an opportunity for people within the margins of sports media to have opportunity to be employed. This is something else I think of.
Jessica: Yeah that’s awesome. I just want to wrap this up by saying that watching the World Cup over the last few days has made me want to … I wanna start pinching all my pennies so that I can go to France next year. I was like how do I get there?
Lindsay: The World Cup and the French Open are going on at the same time. We have to go.
Shireen: Oh wow.
Jessica: Oh my God, oh my God, Lindsay you just sold me. I have to get there, now.
Lindsay: And there’s gonna be matches in Paris, so you could do a World Cup match and then go to a tennis match.
Jessica: I feel like I can’t even continue recording this podcast episode now. I need to go start a spread sheet or something.
Lindsay: Can we get our flamethrowers to come up with a fund and we’ll bring some Flamethrowers with us. We’ve gotta be able to figure something out here.
Shireen: That would be, literally, Burn It All Down heaven is to be at the Women’s World Cup next year in France, which is gonna be phenomenal and I already have plans to be there. I don’t know how yet, but it’s going to happen. And I have sofas that have already been offered for us to crash on, so there’s that.
Also, just to get back to who we’re rooting for, I love Lindsay’s word of recalibration because my heart is with Egypt. My heart is also with team Iran. It’s always been. And not only because they’re not only magnificent specimens, oh my gosh. Mashallah, oh my gosh, but then my international superstar team is France. I love Paul Pogba so much and he just came out and actually said that he feels that he’s the most criticized player in the world, two months from being the most expensive transfer to being the most criticized. And he says this publicly. I think there’s something about that. I would love to see them hoist it like Allez le Bleus, but I will recalibrate according to what needs to be recalibrated.
Lindsay: It is pride month and so I feel like it’s worth noting that, look, there already has been an issue of really devastating anti LGBTIQ violence in Russia. Which is something that, of course, everyone was worried about. So, there was an attack in St. Petersburg on a French couple, so we just want to send our love to them. One of them was sent to the hospital with possible brain injuries. So, we just want to send out love to them and hope that there’s continued safety for all the spectators in Russia.
Jessica: The WNBA season is a month in now and a lot has happened. Lindsay, where do you want to start today?
Lindsay: It’s been an exciting season so far. If you came into the season not believing that the WNBA had room for expansion, that this talent could go to a couple more teams, then you’ve either not been paying attention or you’ve changed your mind. Those are the only two options. Just looking at the top of this, we’ve got the four team that are off to the most impressive start. I’m not gonna say records because games keep happening and records keep changing but the Los Angeles Sparks, the Phoenix Mercury, the Seattle Storm and the Connecticut Sun are right now the four teams at the top of the league. And I could see of those two, making it all the way and playing in the finals. You’ve also got three teams who are in the middle ground right now trying to find their footing, the Dallas Wings, the Washington Mystics and the Atlanta Dream. All three of those teams have huge upsides but can be pretty inconsistent on a night in, night out basis.
Indiana Fever at the bottom of the WNBA right now, though they did get their first victory of the season on Saturday behind 21 points from Victoria Vivians and 19 points from Kelsey Mitchell. The two rookies combining for 40 points, so we wanna give a shout out to them. They’ve been so close in so many games this year and it was great to see them just dominate the Atlanta Dream.
The parody in this league is, like we’ve said, just ridiculous. On any given night, any of these teams can take it.
There have been two stories this season for me. It’s been the rookies. The rookies have been phenomenal. A’ja Wilson is already averaging over 20 points per game for the Las Vegas Aces, excuse me, I mean on the Washington Mystics who didn’t have one of the top draft pics of the year. They had the seventh pick and they got Ariel Atkins who is averaging over ten points a game, I think she had four steals the other night against the Sparks. She’s just phenomenal watching her up close and even the Mystics second round draft pick, Myisha Hines-Allen from Louisville had been having a huge impact on these games. I saw her go toe to toe with Sylvia Fowles. It’s been remarkable to watch. There are rookies contributing highly on every single team. You’ll hear from one of those rookies on The Wings in a little bit, Azura, but you’ve also got Kia Nurse her Connecticut teammate who is pretty much the second option right now for the New York Liberty. It’s remarkable to watch and it’s just so exciting. This league is just gonna keep getting stronger and stronger and stronger.
This is where I wanna start though. There’s one team that we have not mentioned yet. And that is the Minnesota Lynx. The Minnesota Lynx currently have a losing record. They had a four-game losing streak already this season. They have, let’s be honest, not looked that great.
Jessica: Yeah, I think the Lynx, you know, it appears that they are suffering from their bench. So, they have, sort of famously, the older starters, right. The five that start are older, but they don’t seem to have … It’s so important in the WNBA that you have a backup crew that can come in and at least sustain while your starters are down, and they just don’t seem to have that. It’s really wild to watch. It’s kind of like death and taxes, the Lynx and the WNBA, they have one of the best coaches obviously and they are definitely struggling. I’m not sure if they can do it this season. It’s really wild to think that they won’t be, they’ll probably make the playoffs, I guess, based on how all this goes, but I don’t think we’re gonna get a repeat in the finals unless something really turns around.
Shireen: I just actually wanted to mention, just jumping off of what Linds said, one of my obsessions with WNBA has totally been heightened by the UConn holy trinity of Azura, Kia, and Gabby. I love Gabby so much. Mad respect to her. I listed off my favorite athletes just a couple of weeks ago on this Twitter game that was going around of list your favorite WNBA players, NBA players, blah, blah, blah, and my WNBA picks were the three UConn, all in the class of 2018. She’s just incredible and she has a pass that’s actually being talked about just days ago, a bounce pass and Gabby Williams, for those that don’t know, is a rookie with the Chicago Sky, and her bounce pass was said to be nominated for assist of the year because of the nature of it and the difficulty and the level at which she plays.
She’s also been said that she could be a role model for one of the most complete players in basketball, like all around. She’s phenomenal and I love her, and she tweets at me, which I really appreciate. We had this beautiful exchange on Surya Bonaly who was on my list and she said “I don’t know if I’m more excited that you listed me as one of your favorite WNBA players or that you listed Surya Bonaly, who is a former French figure skater so that was really fun. I have to add that in because I love her so much. I think she’s super cool.
Lindsay: Jess, I actually wanna ask you a question cause I know that you’ve, that your Texas team, the Wings, they have the most impressive duo in the league right now, I think, with Skylar Diggins-Smith and Liz Cambage, the Australian who is back in the league this year. Diggins-Smith is right now leading the league in points. I know you spent some time with her and wrote about her before the season started. What are your thoughts on her and the chemistry she’s established with Liz?
Jessica: Yeah, it’s been so exciting to see. I know when we did our WNBA preseason discussion, I was saying that I was really interested to see where the Wings would go this year, in part cause I had hung out with Skylar and I was so impressed by her. She is so intense, and I’m sure a lot of these players are when you compete at this level, but that was really my take away. She was incredibly kind, very smart, all those sort of things, but the number one thing was she was just so focused and intense all the time about everything. And so, when they brought Cambage in, you know, I didn’t know a ton about Cambage. She is something man and it is-
Lindsay: She is so good.
Jessica: She’s so good and it has been really fun to watch this team gel. They’re very young, over all, and so it was always a question of how these young players would come together, but Skylar has done a really great job leading this team. They’re doing better, even, than I had thought they were going to be doing. I was traveling over the last couple of weeks and the hardest thing was that I couldn’t really follow along cause of the time difference, all the games are the middle of the night when you’re in Europe. It’s been very exciting, and their attendance has gone up dramatically over last season. All those things are great. It’s also just fun that the one Texas team is doing that well right now and could really make a run. If they keep going like this I feel like it could just get better and better.
Lindsay: Yeah, absolutely.
There is so much athleticism and speed in the league right now which is what’s really getting me, and I think that’s where, honestly, the Lynx are struggling the most. Let’s face it, age catches up to everyone eventually, even literally, the best in the game. Watching them up close, it just does seem like they are a step slow. They don’t have as good of a bench anymore. Losing Renee Montgomery, who was their go-to sixth woman and she’s now on the Dream and doing great things for them, I think that’s ended up really hurting them. Look, Sheryl Reeves is a legend and second-guessing her in any way seems strange but, look, her go-to has been to just rely so heavily on that starting five, which you understand why she does. But I think it comes at the detriment of developing other players within the system. And that’s catching up to them this year and I have no idea what’s gonna happen. They could not lose a game for the rest of the season because they’re just …
If you bet against Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson, and Silvia Fowls, it’s probably fool’s errand, but I right now, don’t see them getting that crucial buy to the semi-finals, the playoffs. I don’t think that they’re going to be able to qualify for that and without that, anything could happen with the way the WNBA playoffs are scheduled. I don’t even know if I see them getting to the semi-finals right now.
Jessica: Absolutely. I just wanna circle back to your point, Lindsay, about how amazing the season has been so far. We’re just a month in, and there’s just so much talent and when you really think about all the talent that doesn’t even get to see the court because of how limited with just the 12 teams and we absolutely need to expand this league. We just need so much more of this. They are so phenomenal, and it has been really fun this year so far. Lindsay, I know that you wanna finish off with a related thing that happened this week with the WNBA.
Lindsay: Yeah, look, all of us here at Burn It All Down, were just devastated to hear about the passing of the basketball legend, Anne Donovan. She was a six-foot eight player and coach. She was a giant on the court and off of it. She was integral to the women’s basketball getting to where it is today and the original post giant of women’s basketball. When you look at players like Brittney Griner and Liz Cambage, that we were just talking about, and even the development of that position and the way that Candace Parker and Delle Donne have taken over that position. It’s all started with Anne Donovan.
She won two Olympic gold medals as a player in 1984 and 1988 and she was also the coach of the gold medal winning Olympic 1998 team. She’s in all of the Hall of Fames, literally, and she won a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm in 2004. She was the first female coach to win a championship in the league so, we love that. And she coached at many other WNBA places including the Indiana Fever, the Charlotte Sting, rest in peace Charlotte Sting, the Seattle Storm, as we mentioned, the New York Liberty and, up until 2013, or excuse me, 2015 actually, the Connecticut Sun. So, a lot of the pieces to this great Connecticut Sun team that we’re now seeing were started by Anne Donovan.
And I just wanna elicit a finish by, I love the quote that Lisa Leslie had cause I think it shows how important representation is and also just how important these women basketball legends are to producing the next generation. So, this is Lisa Leslie saying this on ESPN. She said, “I saw Anne when I was in tenth grade. She came to my high school. I would wake up every morning to watch the Olympic team and Anne stood six foot eight. She was the center. And I said, ‘I can do this. I want to be like her.’ I actually thought I could take her place because Anne was just amazing.”
We’re thinking about all of Anne’s family and friend throughout the women’s basketball community and we wanna thank her and all the trail blazing legend for everything they’ve done to get women’s sports to where we are right now.
Jessica: Up next, Shireen’s interview with Dallas Wings forward Azura Stevens.
Shireen: I am so excited to have Azura Stevens on Burn It All Down with us today. Azura was the sixth overall pick in the 2018 WNBA draft. She played in all 37 games with eight starts at University of Connecticut, go Huskies! Named a 2018 American Athletic Conference Newcomer and sixth player of the year. In addition to those incredible achievements she also, in high school, and I wanna add this in because it’s personal, was MVP of her high school team as freshman and sophomore and was also given academic awards for her achievements. Thank you so much for being on Burn It All Down, Azura. I know you just had practice and you must be exhausted.
Azura: Yeah just a little bit, but I’m excited and grateful for this opportunity to just chat with you for a little.
Shireen: Thanks. So, what was it like being a part of that amazing draft class? I mean, you were ranked sixth overall and was it even more special because you had two other UConn teammates with you, Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse?
Azura: Yeah it was really special. The draft class was amazing. All of the girls are so talented and great people off the court as well so it was really cool just to be able to experience that with all of them and we’re kind of a class that’s coming in and making a lot of noise and so we’ve kept in contact a little bit now since the season has started but it was really special just to be able to go to New York together and experience that and it was great to have Gabby and Kia there as well. Gabby was actually my roommate, so that was really cool for us to just be able to experience that together, all three of us. And to really just see each other’s dreams come true. And be there at the same time while it was happening.
Shireen: Yeah. What was the transition like from the NCAA to the WNBA. I mean, you make it seem seamless. You had 19 points in your preseason game. You were just sinking those threes. I was watching the video. What was that like?
Azura: It’s a lot of nerves. I think, in the beginning I was a lot more nervous. I think I’ve focused a lot more on just playing basketball and just bringing what I can to the team but it’s kind of just jitters. You’re coming into a league with the best players in the country and playing alongside people like Diana Taurasi or Brittney Griner, these names that we’ve seen growing up and now we’re in the same league as them holding our own and so, for me it was just a lot of nerves at first and just really having that confidence in myself that I made it here and I can play in this league. I was selected for a reason.
I think that my team here has done a really great job of just helping me to just focus on, Z, you can play here, and we need you to step in and step up and different things like that and so they’ve done a good job of just planting that seed of belief in me and so now it’s just a matter of me being confident in myself. And we’re having fun. It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster ride. We’ve lost some games that we shouldn’t have but we’re learning a lot and we have a really great group, so I’m really happy to be here.
Shireen: Yeah, definitely. You mentioned Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. Have you ever been star struck on the road or playing other team and just like, “Oh my gosh, that’s this player,” as you mentioned?
Azura: I think when we went to Minnesota, a little bit in the beginning. Just because of the dynasty that they have there was kind of like, “Whoa!” We’re playing against Sylvia Fowles were playing and Maya Moore. But after halftime when we saw that we could hang in there with them, it was kind of like, I put that to the side and I was like, “Whoa.” If I have a lane on any of these players than I’m gonna take that or just playing. We’re gonna challenge them. I think that’s kind of really died down because, we wanna win games and so you’re not really thinking about that once you step across that line to get on the court and no more of that since that game. No more star struck. We’re trying to beat everybody we step up against.
Shireen: Yeah, absolutely. Well said.
What are you looking forward to the most in the WNBA? Is there anything that you find, whether it’s the fans or the access, ’cause you had a whole bunch of fans at UConn and you were selling out stadiums but is there anything specific?
Azura: I think I’m just looking forward to learning a lot. I think I’ve already learned so much just in the little bit of time that I’ve been here. You come across so many people. You’re on team with a lot of different people. It’s a great league to be a part of, just what it stands for and the growth. I’m looking forward to being a part of the growth of this league and I think even our rookie class coming in, what we’ve been able to do and just the noise we’ve been able to make has been good for helping the league progress in the right direction. I’m just looking forward to that. Helping this league grow in any way that I can and really making that impact for little girls that are watching all around.
Shireen: Yeah, that was my next question. The best interview cause you’re giving me these segues so easily. Thank you so much. So, my next question was exactly on that. What would be your advice to young girls who do want to play professional basketball? Is there one message or one quote you have that you stuck to? Someone you looked up to or something like that? What could you share with them?
Azura: I think just hard work. There’s nothing to replace that or beat that or get around that. You just have to work hard, and you have to make certain sacrifices. I know for me growing up, sometimes in the summers after a certain point in my life I wasn’t taking family vacations. I wasn’t doing things that all my other friends were doing. I was in the gym and I was playing, and I was trying to get better. It all does pay off and it’s really what you want to do. And so now … It was hard sometimes. I see my friends are traveling. They’re doing things that they want to do and I’m going back home so I can work out and get ready for a league playing in the summer.
Thankfully I had great teams that made it fun and we were able to travel but it all does pay off. Now that I’m here, I’m kind of just like, all of those years of different things I had to sacrifice, all of those different times my dad and me in the front yard for hours working on ball handling when I was like six or seven. All of those things, it’s just such a surreal moment when that finally pays off and so, just work hard. Work hard at what you wanna do and if you love the game, be good to the game and it will be good back to you. And so, that’s the advice I have for young girls. There is so much other things, but in a nut shell that’s what I’d say.
Shireen: So, be good to the game, the game will be good to you. That needs to be on a T-shirt. That’s beautiful. It’s really profound.
Speaking of profound, we’re gonna cross over a little bit into junk food talk. You tell me you like Cracker Jack and the combination of nuts and sweetness is really compelling. I totally get that. What’s it like living in Dallas cause you’re from Rhode Island? And then you lived in Connecticut and you did go to school at Duke, but what’s that like? Has that been fun? What’s the food like in Dallas? Is that like a food scene you can get in to?
Azura: Yeah, Dallas is great. I really like it here. I love the hot weather. It’s a nice change from cold stores, so, that’s been really nice. I don’t stay outside a lot cause we’re starting to get into the 100’s and that’s very hot but I grew up in North Carolina so warm weather is what I’m used to, and I like that. The weather’s been great except for we’ve had some storms, which I have never experienced. I’ve experienced thunder storms but not ones like wake you up in the middle of the night. That’s happened a couple of times and I gotta get used to this but, I love Dallas. I love the weather and it’s nice. It’s really spread out. It’s not really a big … Well, Dallas is a city, but I live in Fort Worth and so there’s so many great food options though, especially tacos.
Shireen: Yeah, have you had barbecue?
Azura: I have not had barbecue yet. But I’ve had a lot of tacos and I will be going to the barbecue place soon though because I know of a couple of good spots here, so it’s been a great transition in just moving here and again, I’m happy to be here.
Shireen: So, what do you do for self-care? Do you watch movies? Is it just music and if you do, what was the last movie you saw, if that’s what you do?
Azura: So, self-care, I usually watch TV. I watch TV almost every day. It’s just a time for me to … Well, recently I’ve been watching Impractical Jokers a lot. It’s so funny. Those guys are hilarious. And I love the whole concept of the fact that they’re best friends. That’s just amazing to me. But I like to read as well. I’ve been reading a lot more.
Shireen: What do you reading right-
Azura: I just stated the Alchemist, so I’ve heard great things about that book.
Shireen: Oh wow.
Azura: And the last movie I saw was Winter Soldier. Gabby will be really happy if she’s listening to this or if she hears this. After I watched Black Panther, I have a few friends who are obsessed with Marvel and they’re like, “You gotta watch all the Marvel movies.” And I was like, “Okay. Slowly but surely I’ll get on that.” Every day some of my friends are like, “Have you watched this movie? Did you watch that movie?” And I’m like, “I’m going to watch it.” On our way to Indiana I just watched Winter Soldier. And it was amazing. I loved it. I’m kind of getting into the Marvel series. Slowly but surely.
Shireen: Oh, that’s great! That’s fantastic. I haven’t even seen Infinity Wars yet so I’m way behind, but that’s amazing. That’s so awesome. That’s good for you and you know if Gabby can have any positive influence, it’s definitely getting you into Marvel, so that’s awesome. I totally want to thank you for being on Burn It All Down. You’re phenomenal to watch and it’s been an honor to watch you play. I can’t wait and hopefully I’ll get to see you play in person soon and thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
Azura: Thank you for having me.
Shireen: Thanks, Azura. Take care.
Jessica: Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite segment, we like to call The Burn Pile. Where we pile up all the things we’ve hated this week in sports and we set them a flame. Shireen, what are you burning?
Shireen: Okay, I am burning two things and I know I’m not allowed, but that’s okay. We’re all right with not allowed at Burn It All Down. One thing I really wanted to that I just caught wind of this morning, former Blue Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber got himself canceled. He was completely ridiculous with sexist and inappropriate remarks directed at Pitch Talks co-host Ashley Docking at a Baseball Hall of Fame induction weekend event. Literally, his comment to her, and it’s just so mind boggling … And in the report that we’ll post in the show notes from the CBC, it said that he was inebriated it seemed. But that’s not the point. The point is that he said something, “Hey we really don’t need this girl here, right?” Actually said that when he got on stage and it just goes on to be … He was ridiculous. And he was such a twat waffle that I can’t even deal with it and so I wanna burn that.
Shireen: I’m gonna burn Tom Brady and I’m burning Tom Brady metaphorically for the simple reason that he’s come out with this incredible quote in an interview to Oprah Winfrey so just wait for it. I respect why people are doing what they are doing, and they’re doing it for different reasons and that’s okay. You know, you can do things for your reason. They can do things for their reason. And you have to respect for that. But I thought it was great,” Brady told Oprah Winfrey. Now he’s talking about anthem protests. He’s talking about taking a knee. He’s talking about the players literally expressing that they’ve had enough with police brutality and anti-blackness and violence against black people. This is that he’s saying.
Now my thing with this is, that’s so nice of you to say Tom. How nice. And could be argued that he’s come out and said that Kap is a great QB, I hope he gets a shot. He’s also said he doesn’t know why he’s being blackballed, this is back in November. But my thing is, for me, it’s a little too late and the ambivalence and for what I feel is a little bit spineless and at this point these comments don’t serve anyone except for Brady. It could be argued that he’s an easy target in my opinion the Pats have only done this to themselves. I got no love for him. All due respect to Amir, who I know is a Pats fan, but it had to be said. I just laughed when I saw it and I wonder if he’s still got his mega hat somewhere or has he burned that. Anyways, I’m torching this. Burn!
Back to my old friends at Michigan State University. Interim president John Engler, who we have torched on this show before. it came out this week that there was an email chain that started with the Nassar survivor Kaylee Lorincz, who we’ve talked about on the show before. She stood up in a board meeting, a board of trustees meeting, and accused John Engler, the interim president, of offering her 250 thousand dollars in order to settle her law suit against the university. This was a couple of months ago that she did this in the board meeting. So, we now have, thanks to leaks, a string of text messages between board members about Lorincz and about what she said.
So, follow with me here. That weekend of one of the people on the legal team emailed all the board member to set the record straight on Kaylee’s comments and she said that they were totally inaccurate and that the meeting was set up by Kaylee in order to, “set up” Michigan State University. She went on to say in this email that the trial lawyers were manipulating the survivors. This is when on April 15th, John Engler, once again, still the interim president at Michigan State University, responded and said, “Thank you for that defense. It is deeply appreciated. At least we know what really happened. The survivors now are being manipulated by trial lawyers who in the end will each get millions of dollars more than any survivor, with the exception of Denhollander, who is likely to get kickbacks from Manly for her role in the trial lawyer manipulation.”
Jessica: Oh my God!
Shireen: Oh my God!
Lindsay: This is the president of Michigan State University accusing Rachel Denhollander, the very first survivor to come forward with accusations against Nassar. We’ve had her on the show. She is brilliant. He is accusing her of getting kickbacks for every single survivor that comes forward with stories. He’s accusing all of them for just being in this for money and this email came out and he is still the president. Nobody is kicking him out. Two board members have asked for his resignation but only two and everyone else seems to be sticking behind him. He has released a statement saying that he is going to stay on as interim president. This is despicable. I don’t even have words for this so I’m just going to throw it onto the burn pile. Burn!
Shireen: Burn! Torch it!
Jessica: So, mine is low-hanging fruit this week. But Greg Hardy in the UFC, it needs to be burned. Greg Hardy with any kind of platform really deserves to be burned. And also, Dana White, who runs the UFC should just be tossed right on there as well. So, a quick reminder, sorry, I feel like, sorry I’m even talking about this. Hardy used to play in the NFL for the Panthers and then the Cowboys. He’s an asshole. He’s temperamental. He’s rude to coaches and other players on his own team. And he’s also a reported violent domestic abuser who was once found guilty of domestic abuse. But that conviction was appealed and then dropped because, as so many do, the victim in that case stopped cooperating with law enforcement.
Hardy did his first MMA fight last week and White was really excited about it. He destroyed the other guy very quickly and so the UFC has awarded Hardy a developmental contract. Dana White has said in the past that the UFC wouldn’t support men who put their hands on women but, cause of course there’s a but, White is also great at making up excuses to reason away supporting men who put their hands on women. Hardy just being the latest in a line of them. And there’s a really great Dead Spin article about this and I’m gonna link to you and I just wanna quote it here. “The reason White is willing to give Hardy a chance is the same reason Hardy’s first pro fight was against another former NFL player. It makes for a good hook. Regardless of the division of the UFC’s audience between people who believe Hardy deserves another chance and people who want to see Hardy get what’s coming to him, they’re all watching.” It’s a gross exploitative tactic but it’s not below White. So just burn, just burn all of this.
Jessica: After all that burning it’s time to celebrate some remarkable women in sports this week with our Badass Woman of the Week segment.
First, for honorable mentions we wanna do just a blanket shout out to all the women doing commentary and analysis during the Men’s World Cup this year. We love hearing your voices and your brilliance during the world’s largest sporting event. Katayoun Khosrowyar, head coach of Iran’s U19 women’s team, wins Women’s Soccer United Coach Award. Amelia Kerr from the White Ferns, the New Zealand women’s cricket team, scored a 232, a world record in a women’s one day international. Jennifer King, who is working for the Panthers is the first female coaching intern ever hired in Carolina. Her goal is to be an offensive coordinator in the NFL. She told the Charlotte Observer, “This is for the little girls. I want them to know that if this is what they want to do, they can do it.”
Lori Locust, Elena Grigelevich and Erica Vinson-Ondecko have been hired by the Baltimore Ravens for this summer. Locust will be working with the defensive coaches in training camp through the first three preseason games. Grigelevich is, she’s going to work with the analytics team throughout training camp and Vincon-Ondecko will assist Ravens specialist coach, Randy Brown, on the first day of mandatory minicamp. That’s all amazing, all of that.
A drum roll, please. Yes! Our Badass Woman of the Week is Karina LaBlanc, former Canadian international goalkeeper who was named the head of women’s football for CONCACAF, a brand-new position that she will be the first to hold. In response to this announcement, LaBlanc tweeted quote “I am very much looking forward to this next chapter with CONCACAF. Being the young girl from Dominica that never had the opportunity to play football/soccer until I moved to Canada.” We are so excited to see what Karina will do.
Okay. What is good with you guys? I have missed you all. Lindsay tell me what’s been good in your world?
Lindsay: I honestly have nothing really exciting going on in my personal life or really any fun summer plans. So, I’m gonna stick with the internet and what has been good for me this week has been the new Drake music video that is a Degrassi reunion. I love it so much. I watched it so many times. I loved Degrassi. I do put that in the past tense cause I haven’t watched it in a few years. But, it was so much fun to see all of those people back together and tearing up the high school. I adored it. Although I did miss Shawn because he was my favorite because I love the bad boys and apparently Shawn wasn’t even invited, so I’m gonna have to talk with Drake about that. I don’t even know Shawn’s real name but, I clearly feel very passionately about this. But I just love this so much and it was so Canadian and lovely. So, that was great!
Jessica: Awesome. Shireen, how about you?
Shireen: Well, we celebrated the end of Ramadan, so Eid was incredible, and it was fun to spend time with my family and friends and that was awesome and as I mentioned celebrating on the day, which spilled over to Saturday as well. It was my dad’s birthday yesterday, happy birthday to my dad. He spent the day listening to me, my daughter, my mom watch matches and scream and get excited so that was something he’s used to. I also wanted to say World Cup, which ties into that because I’m enthralled and excited. I’ve also been enjoying Twitter tremendously, looking at the criticism of people really salty and sort of saying, “Oh, well this team doesn’t deserve to be there. That team doesn’t deserve to be there. America should have been there.” Well, guess what America’s not there. Neither is Canada, so I’m there. I’m having a lot of fun with the clapbacks on this. It’s been really enjoyable for me. So, I’m enjoying football Twitter tremendously.
Jessica: That’s awesome. So, what’s good in my world is that I am just really happy to be here recording with you all. My family went to Ireland on vacation and it was lovely, truly. But I did miss Burn It All Down while I was gone. Also, summer is what’s good in my world. Yes, it is literally a million degrees outside, but I just love the slower, relaxed schedule for the summer time and I’m appreciating that so much right now.
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 podcast, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play and Tune In. 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. If you enjoyed this week’s show, do me a favor and share it with two people in your life whom you think would be interested in Burn It All Down, just two, you can do it. Also, please rate the show at whichever place you listen to it. The ratings really do help us reach new listeners who need this feminist sports pod cast, but don’t yet know it exists. And one more thank you to our patrons. We couldn’t do this without you. You can sign up 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 it for Shireen Ahmed and Lindsay Gibbs, I’m Jessica Luther. Until next week.