Episode 70: Steph Curry & male allyship, sports bra ‘scandals’, and an interview with Kia Nurse
Lindsay, Shireen, Amira, and Brenda talk about Steph Curry’s Player’s Tribune article about women’s equality (18:38); policing women’s bodies in sports (31:47); and Shireen interviews New York Liberty star Kia Nurse (44:20).
Then, as always, there’s the Burn Pile (53:58), BAWOTW (55:38), and What’s Good (59:00)!
For links and a transcript…
“This is Personal” by Steph Curry https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/stephen-curry-womens-equality
“Stephen Curry supports women’s game by hosting girls camps” https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2018/08/16/stephen-curry-supports-womens-game-by-hosting-girls-camps/37495197/
“Alize Cornet says tennis chief’s Serena catsuit comments are ‘10,000 times worse’ than her treatment at US Open” https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/30/sport/us-open-tennis-alize-cornet-usta-apology-fft-spt-intl/index.html
“French Open bans Serena Williams’ catsuit, arguing it fails to ‘respect the game and the place’” https://thinkprogress.org/serena-williams-catsuit-banned-183316e9d420/
“After a Long Fight, FIBA Finally Lifts its Ban on Religious Headwear” https://sports.vice.com/en_au/article/nz8bvg/after-a-long-fight-fiba-finally-lifts-its-ban-on-religious-headwear
“An International Boxing Federation Wants Women To Wear Skirts In The Ring” https://www.businessinsider.com/boxing-women-aiba-wear-skirts-2011-10
“USA Gymnastics’ new elite development coordinator is a ‘slap in the face’ for Nassar survivors” https://thinkprogress.org/usag-appoints-nassar-defender-da858af6a6d6/
“‘Back to the middle ages’: Italian police investigate Lazio fans’ sexist flyers” https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/aug/22/back-to-the-middle-ages-italian-police-investigate-lazio-fans-sexist-flyers
“Japan wins 6th consecutive Women’s Baseball World Cup” https://www.sbnation.com/2018/8/22/17753266/womens-baseball-world-cup-2018-time-schedule-live-stream-online-results-scores
Lindsay: Hello, hello, hello and welcome to episode 70 of Burn It All Down. We are so excited to have you all here with us today in this first week of September. My name is Lindsay Gibbs. I am the sports reporter at Thinkprogress.org, and joining me today are three of my fabulous co-hosts, Brenda Elsey, the associate professor of history at Hofstra University.
Amira Rose Davis, my fellow critic of sexism in women’s tennis and on Canadian television and also an assistant professor of history and many other things at Penn State, and the alarmingly enthusiastic Shireen Ahmed who was in a very good mood this morning because she got some sleep. So coming to us live from Toronto, Canada, hi everyone. How are you all doing?
Lindsay: Morning. Shireen, show us some of that pep.
Shireen: I am so ready to burn everything. I am so excited about life. I got seven hours of sleep last night. I’m just so excited.
Lindsay: I love to hear this. We have a really great show for you all today. When do we not? Let’s be honest. We’re going to be talking about Steph Curry and male allyship after his letter about women’s equality in The Players’ Tribune. We’re going to be talking the policing of women’s bodies in sports inspired by a couple of tennis-related wardrobe conversations this week.
Then Shireen has a phenomenal interview with the lovely Canadian and WNBA star, Kia Nurse. So yeah, buckle up. All right, we’re going to get a little bit into Steph Curry and male allyship. Brenda, you want to start us off here?
Brenda: Yeah. Male allyship is a pretty complicated topic. I mean there’s a lot of literature, a lot of books, a lot of writing, a lot of thinking that people have done about this topic. I feel like in the age of Trump, it’s hard to even criticize anyone making an effort, basically. I had a really big problem in thinking through this Steph Curry letter because of course, this week, he wrote in The Players’ Tribune about having two all-girls basketball camps.
Of course, it’s like, “Yeah,” but then I’m like, “Ew,” about the letter. I don’t know. I’m going to open this as a polemical and then we can talk about it. But first of all, the piece is called This is Personal. Maybe Steph knows that the main feminist slogan from the 1960s and 70s is the personal is political. I feel a little bit annoyed at the lack of social context, at the lack of intersectionality in the letter.
I mean there’s not even really a mention of race or how the fact that his daughters will be women of color, face a different set of obstacles. It just felt to me a little bit trite and that there’s not much of an admission that he makes a lot of money off of these camps. I mean this isn’t like some big NGO like LeBron’s launching to send young, underprivileged girls to great schools or something.
This is a basketball camp. He didn’t mention or include any women basketball players so far as I can tell. And it just felt a little bit … I mean again, it’s hard to criticize it because of the context in which we live in. But I find it pretty easy to criticize in terms of what does ideal male allyship look like? I’ll just read, I guess, for example, something where he says that his basketball … this is from the letter, that the basketball camp, “Was the sort of thing that can help to shift people’s perspectives.”
So that when someone sees an NBA player is hosting a camp, you know, maybe they won’t automatically assume it’s for boys. And so eventually, we can get to a place where the women’s game, it isn’t women’s basketball. It’s just basketball. I don’t know. It felt like there’s a lot of great women’s basketball and under-informed. What did you guys think?
Lindsay: I’ll go real quick. And I said this on social media and it included in one of Twitter’s big moment things, and so I got a lot of backlash about this for a few days. But I stand by it. He has this big thing about women’s equality and about his girls’ basketball camp, which I think it’s wonderful that he had a girls’ basketball camp. I am all for him having a girls’ basketball camp.
I do think that, in itself, is great. But he doesn’t mention the WNBA once. How do you not mention the WNBA? How do you not mention women’s college basketball but especially the WNBA? It was the day of the WNBA semi-finals, and this is a really concrete way you can help the game of women’s basketball right now, is by drawing attention to these phenomenal playoffs that are going on right this second.
Yet if you look at Steph Curry’s Twitter feed, when I did earlier this week, there was only one mention of the WNBA and that was a retweet he had of a player’s Tribune article that Allie Quigley had written about shooters, and it tagged … about the best shooters and it actually tagged Steph Curry in the tweet. So it was talking about his own shooting ability as well. So that was it.
He’s not out here on social media really hyping up the WNBA, and I’m not saying that has to be his job. That doesn’t have to be everyone’s job. But if you’re going to be writing about the women’s basketball and right now, and talking about how we need to support the women’s basketball community, how in the world do you do that without giving a lift to the pro game?
It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s incredibly frustrating and I just think our bar is so low for male allyship that we goo goo ga ga over anything. Like one man comes out and says, “Yes. Women deserve equality,” and then all of social media loses their minds praising him for a few days and it’s not okay with me. I love Steph Curry, I do. So, this is complicated. Shireen?
Shireen: Ok, so, we’re talking male allyship. I’m rolling up my sleeves here because I need to get into this. Allyship, according to the Anti-Oppression Network, let’s actually define what that is. “Allyship is not an identity. It is a life-long process of building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Allyship is not self-defined. Our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with.”
According to this, the Anti-Oppression Network is fantastic and they have really good explanations of things and projects and just terminology. What Steph Curry did is not, in fact, allyship. What he basically did was shout out his thoughts on what should happen because he has daughters. I’m sorry. You don’t get cookies for saying that you want the world to be a better place because you have daughters.
You should actually give a shit even if you don’t have daughters. You should care about women if you don’t have a wife or you don’t have a sister. Exactly like Lindsay said, people are saying … And this most often happens with male figures, I find, and celebrities. They use the women in their lives as shields to protect against criticism like, “Oh, I’m not sexist or a misogynist because I have a daughter and I want the best for her.”
No. That’s actually you being super, super patriarchal in your clan. That doesn’t make you a make ally at all. And I don’t love Steph Curry. I think he’s an amazing basketball player, but I don’t like … I’m way more about Katie than I am about Curry, and that’s because Kevin Durant’s mother, I love. Now, the thing is that getting back to this topic, the idea here that … I agree with Brenda, that when someone says something, we’re not trying to be discouraging or be feminist kill joys.
Well, actually, yes. But the thing is that really, Steph Curry, do better. Do better because you want the best for your kid. And guess what? The best is the WNBA. You didn’t mention it. John McEnroe did this when he criticized Serena Williams when she was pregnant. And she came back and she’s like, “I respect and adore you, but just keep your comments to yourself. They’re not factually-based.”
He came back to come up with something … His reply was, “No. I have daughters. I understand the importance of women.” What does that mean even? What does that mean? That means that you’re literally using the women in your life to protect you from getting criticism rightly so and being accountable for comments against other women. It doesn’t work like that. So I’m very riled up about this.
Lindsay: I love it. I love when Shireen gets riled up. It doesn’t take much though, so Amira, I know you have some things to say.
Amira: Well, I’m actually less riled up. I just don’t care. I mean I do care. But I just think that for me, this is a long story about people who are allies, who … It’s journey. I always think it’s a journey, and we see this with white people who need another white person to explain something that black people have been saying. Or we even saw it with the viral video of Beto O’Rourke in Texas explaining why players are kneeling like they haven’t been saying it themselves for years, three years at this point.
But that goes viral. That gets the applause. And so I think that it’s a super frustrating thing, but for me, it’s like this just like … It’s something that I roll my eyes at. But I also feel like for my own sanity, I’ve just like, “You know what? Steph wrote a letter in The Tribune hyping up girls’ basketball,” and we can always push allies to be better.
But I feel, right now at this particular moment, I just feel so taxed by larger … I don’t know how to explain it. I just can’t bring myself to give energy to this in this way.
Lindsay: It makes sense.
Amira: If that makes sense.
Lindsay: It does. Shireen?
Shireen: Amira, on that topic then, because we’re exhausted from it, rightly so, I totally agree with you on that, but is the idea to then just say, “Well, it’s okay. It’s fine. The bar is that low”? The reason I’m riled up about it is I actually think Steph Curry is a sincere human. I have hope for Steph Curry. I don’t have hope for like … I don’t know, Sidney Crosby.
Amira: Well, I don’t think it’s saying the bar is low. For me, it’s parsing up the difference between individuals on their personal journeys of allyship. To me, I think Steph is on that. Steph is doing that. This seems to be the beginning of some sort of awareness. I think what frustrates me more is the reaction to that. It’s not Steph that is making everybody hype this up more. You know what I mean?
It’s like when we talk about Shea Serrano’s tweets. Shea has turned into this ambassador for the WNBA, but it’s not him who’s retweeeting himself thousands of times. And so it’s like the eye roll for me is on everybody else’s reaction that somehow that is more legitimate or somehow, that they can hear a male voice talking about women in sports besides hearing the women.
Or they could hear a white voice talking about X, Y and Z instead of all the black athletes who’ve been saying it. That, to me, is where it’s at whereas I’m like, “You know what? If Steph is to the point now where he has decided to take this step and then write about it, maybe the rhetoric’s not there.” I do think it’s worth criticizing rhetoric to say, “This is how things get perpetuated,” and I’m totally on board with that.
But I think that my ear is drawn more to the way that we legitimize and elevate voices that are in more proximity to power all the time. That, to me, is the real issue with that and pushing allies to be better, I think is a continual process. But sometimes, I’m just tired. I don’t know.
Lindsay: Totally. Bren?
Brenda: It’s totally tiring educating people about oppression. I’m sure it’s pretty exhausting. But I would like to compare Steph’s letter a little bit with the open letter about female coaches that Pau Gasol wrote. I think that’s a really good comparison because it’s so much better. It’s so much better because it speaks to a particular issue. It elevates a particular woman. And it doesn’t give-
Lindsay: You’re saying Pau’s letter is better. Pau’s-
Brenda: Yes, because it doesn’t give himself the center stage in this story or his daughters or what’s personal. He chooses to lift up Becky Hammon and to delegitimize all the arguments that someone might come up with to say why women wouldn’t make a good coach, and he is able to do it from the inside in a way that’s persuasive.
And so for me, I feel like Gasol asked himself, at some moment, “Who is this for? What can I do? How can I support this person’s career when I read this stuff that’s just bullshit as a basketball player?” I feel like Steph had an epiphany or something, which is great. But it’s not the same kind of allyship.
Amira: It’s certainly not, but I think that people start somewhere like-
Brenda: Of course.
Amira: We think about this all the time when we say, “Oh, somebody was a raging homophobe,” and then all of a sudden, their daughter came out. And so now that you’ve all seen the viral video of that father in Alabama protesting local politicians, Roy Moore and whatnot because his daughter came out and actually killed herself, and that was his epiphany.
I think that there’s a conversation to be had certainly, and this is why I’m glad to have the conversation. I’m not disagreeing. I agree with everything you’re saying completely. But I also think this is like holding up that letter and saying, “Oh, this is what allyship should be,” and then saying, “I think I’m taking a stand,” so it’s like, “Steph, I see you. I see you on your journey. Here are some tips to be a better ally, but also, I’m glad you have joined us in this room.”
Shireen: Is that okay to say, “I’m glad you’ve joined us. Let’s take you in this direction”?
Amira: Yeah, 100%.
Shireen: Something like that.
Amira: But something that I’ve become increasingly wary of, and this is like in sports, in politics, in general, is people who are just getting there, who don’t necessarily have that same background. They have to start somewhere, getting shooed out of the room because they are just arriving to it. I saw this a lot around stuff in the women’s rights and stuff like that.
And don’t get me wrong. It can be so frustrating and annoying when you’re like, “But we’ve said this, or we’ve been telling you this. Or you could do to the library and do all this research and all this stuff.” But at the same time, I’m just at this point where I’m like, “Listen, you’ve opened the door. You’re trying to come in. That’s fine. Here’s how to be a good ally. Here’s how to do that. Come in,” but I’m also going to be appreciative of your arrival.
Lindsay: I’m glad that you’re saying all this Amira because you’re right. And like I said, I do really love Steph Curry and all that he stands for, and maybe that’s where my frustration came. And maybe I want it better from The Players’ Tribune. Maybe I thought The Players’ Tribune could’ve pushed him a little bit more, because let’s be honest, we know that he did not write this letter himself.
These are based off of conversation. The Players’ Tribune has done so much great work on women’s basketball. But I guess my frustration came from it being the day of WNBA semi-finals and then instead of there being a big WNBA semi-finals piece, it was all about Steph.
The same thing happened on ESPN, and I’m going to criticize ESPN in a place … And I don’t want to think I’m criticizing the people who do the Around The Rim podcast, the women’s basketball podcast at ESPN because LaChina Robinson is a legend and does so much for women’s basketball, and so does Terrika Foster-Brasby, her producer, and I admire both of their work so much.
But the podcast has been on hiatus during much of the last part of the WNBA season for good reason because this was the time they were taking an actual vacation, which they very much deserved. Do I think that ESPN would’ve had other people come in and do that podcast? Yes, in exchange because it’s a vital thing.
So when they’re on vacation, that shouldn’t mean that ESPN’s only women’s basketball podcast goes dark during the most important part of the WNBA season. Then the podcast came back this week during the playoffs with big reporting from inside Steph Curry’s camp. So they were allowed access into his camp.
I’m not mad that they were allowed access into his camp. I’m mad that the biggest women’s basketball podcast didn’t have an in-depth thing on the WNBA semi-finals and instead had an in-depth report on Steph Curry’s camp. And so I’m just frustrated in general with-
Amira: Well, when they take up space, that, to me, is the issue precisely.
Lindsay: It felt like it was taking up space and he was getting so much praise, and that it wasn’t … Instead of using that platform to direct attention to a thing that could actually … Instead of taking that platform that he had and directing attention, mentioning his girls’ basketball camp, mentioning his things, getting the praise that he deserves for the girls’ basketball camp, and then directing it to some place really productive, it just stopped. Do you know what I mean?
Lindsay: It just stopped and everyone said that was okay, and that’s just where my frustration came from.
Amira: I agree with that.
Lindsay: I know that we could talk about this forever and I hope that we continue this conversation. But for now, we’re going to move on. All right. There was another complex kind of conversation happening in the media this week about what women should or should not wear or how they should or should not change attire on the tennis courts. Amira, you can to get us started here?
Amira: Yeah. You may have heard me burn Serena Williams cat suit ban from the French Open Federation last week. The on the heels of that, just mere days later, we had another treat to the policing of women’s clothes in tennis. French star Alize Cornet was issued a warning for briefly taking off her shirt on the tennis court of the US Open this past week.
She had gone for a heat break, came out onto the court, realized her shirt was on backwards and just quickly turned it around. Now, the reaction to the violation set off another kind of red flag about the way women’s bodies were policed in tennis certainly because, and not in the least, because many male athletes sit on the sidelines during changeovers with no shirt on all the time, and they’re never issued such warnings.
After the firestorm that followed and a lot of people calling it out, the US Tennis Association issued a lukewarm apology for the court violation and clarified that what the attire policy was, and tried to walk it back. So that certainly happened. But I think that we can listen to Cornet herself who was like, “You know what?”
“I appreciate their apology,” but took that opportunity to actually call out her own president of the French Federation and said, “What Bernard said about Serena’s cat suit was 10,000 times worse than what happened to me on the court yesterday because he’s the president of the federation and he doesn’t have to do that.”
“We still have people like the president of my federation that live in another time and can do these sort of comments that, for me, are totally shocking.” I think that to be able to even use that moment to connect to that … And I actually disagree with her, in a way. I don’t think it was that much worse. I think they’re part of the same problem, this historic and continued policing of what women wear as athletes professionally and otherwise.
The minute I saw the hell blew over this, especially when she showed her sports bra, I thought back immediately to Brandi Chastain taking off her shirt after The 99ers won the world cup, and what a firestorm it was because she dared to don her sports bra. And so the fear of a sports bra is something that lingers very high in my mind.
And I would love to throw it to you guys and see your kind of opinions on the continued policing of women’s bodies and especially thinking for me, I know we talk about the professional ring because I’m happy to have that conversation. But the other thing I wanted to throw out there to kick this off was thinking about what that does to amateur and youth athletes.
I think about this as I see the high school cross-country team run by my house. I remember being in high school and having all these disagreements because the boys’ cross-country team ran in Speedos, essentially. One time, we all took our shirts off and were running in a sports bra because it was hot as hell, and there was all of this uproar over it.
I remember how much shame it brings and how much feelings of, “Well, what’s wrong with us? What is the power of our sports bras that scare you?” And so even though this conversation is happening on the professional or older level, I also want to think about the ramifications it has for high school girls and middle school girls, and the messages we’re transmitting to them.
Lindsay: That’s so important. Brenda?
Brenda: It’s funny because sports, it is such an interesting lens because the body is front and center. And the body is so much of what goes on in terms of gender conversations, obviously. But it’s funny because when Amira is talking about young people, I’m sure a lot of listeners have had this where … and you all, where you have to explain to a little girl why she can’t take her shirt off, and they’re like, “What?”
Around five or six, they really don’t understand the logic because they’re not there yet. So it is really important for young people to think about it. From the perspective of women’s soccer, because of the tradition of changing jerseys, it is always a conversation that in every women’s football federation or branch, that they tell women, “Just so you know, you can’t change your jerseys.”
In fact, when the Brazilian federation, in 1981, finally ended the prohibition legally of women’s soccer, it was the first thing that it said. “Women cannot change their shirts.” And it’s just amazing to me that it just assumes a sexualized relationship between the women among the women, the women in the audience or the men looking at the women, any of which seems like something one, as an adult, can maturely tackle and yet we still have these ridiculous things.
Lindsay: It’s ridiculous. Shireen, I know you have a lot of thoughts on this.
Shireen: Well, the whole idea of policing women’s bodies is so integral to the conversations that I have in my own work and research. I mean it’s, quite frankly, the reason that I got into sports writing in the first place, was control on women’s bodies, policies about hijab, exclusion of women in various parts of the world and in probably most federations, major federations.
But just to this thing that Brenda said, I have a daughter. I mean I was an athlete as a child and I never looked to my body, and I was very lucky that this happened in my life, and I realized it was a privilege to desexualize myself in sports in the sense of not take away how I identified as a woman and as a girl.
But when Brandi Chastain took off her shirt, I didn’t see, “Oh my God, boobies.” I saw world champion. That’s what I saw. I was so excited for her. It was an incredible moment. She did, viscerally, what … Her reaction, viscerally, was just one of elation and jubilation, and I related to that in the sense of I was so excited for her in that moment.
Just on that piece as well, last week, I participated with a wonderful organization called NUTMEG Soccer in Toronto that I went to go work with a group of girls in downtown. We just had a little chat with them about the work I do. There was a couple of them that were doing somersaults as I was talking because attention span and pulling grass. It was fabulous.
There was also one little girl and I believed she identified as a young girl, and she didn’t want to wear the same thing as everyone else. Some girls came in dresses. Some girls came in shorts. One girl came in really fancy cleats and it was totally fine, and guess what? Nobody was negatively affected. Everybody had fun, everyone tried their best. And therein lies the issue, that … And even in that process, I asked the girls in a circle, there was about 12 of them, to give me something good about themselves.
I’ve noted this in my own coaching experience, the way that young girls are programmed by society, very young girls, meaning between four and eight or nine, will tell you how great they are, a lot of them. They’ll be very happy to tell you. When they get to that pre-adolescent phase, they become so self-conscious and prepubescent and then that stage.
They have a very hard time with confidence. So I noted, in the group, the younger girls had a great time to tell me they were good at somersaults and splits and singing and polo stick. But when we got to the older girls, it was really hard for them because this is the fault of society. Like Brenda said, it’s almost like you’re faulting the athlete for the perceptions that society has about them.
It’s not Brandi Chastain’s fault that everyone else is going to have a hard time seeing an athlete in a sports bra. But it’s like women get penalized for that. It’s pretty frustrating on that end, and I’ve seen it. I’ve seen policies and I’ve written about policies. And not just about hijab bans. I’ve done research. FIVB actually has a policy about the width of the bandana, the bra and the bikini bottom for beach volleyball players.
They have no such policies for men. Just like in soccer, the men can switch shirts and the women can’t. It’s clear, obvious institutionalized sexism in these policies. That’s what this is.
Lindsay: Absolutely, Amira?
Amira: I completely agree, and I think a lot, for me, thinking about this, is how historical it all is. It’s stemming from this particular notion that sports itself is a masculine space, and that women are trespassers on this field of men. Historically, that has come into play in two different ways. One, as a business prospective, though value in women’s sports has been this kind of spectacle of, “Come see the unbelievable. Come see the feminine meet the masculine.”
The reason that had to be played up is because who would want to just see women as athletes? No. It’s about the fact that we’re supposedly merging these two things that don’t go together. And so if you think about a league of their own, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, this is why their uniforms were skirts.
It was like, “Look, come look. We have women playing baseball but they’re still women because they’re wearing skirts.” Or the idea about tennis skirts. And there used to be tennis dresses where the idea was like, “You’re still feminine on the court.” And it goes to persistent ideas like FIFA is like … when Sepp Blatter is like, “The way to improve the women’s game is to make the short shorter.”
This all is part and parcel of the fact that what is worth seeing women as athletes is their bodies being feminine and still performing this inherently masculine thing. I think that that premise itself is so toxic. And so when we’re talking about policing women’s bodies, we realize it’s because a lot of these sports institutions, exactly what Shireen said, is institutionalized.
And they were institutionalizing ways that weren’t even meant for us. I think that to me, the policing of bodies is about drawing the box in which it’s acceptable to be a woman who engages in sports and plays sports. And so part of this is a larger conversation of how do we break down these structures and so that women can be athletes for the sake of being fucking athletes and not because they look good doing it.
Lindsay: Preach. I think what we get is, to wrap this up, women get trapped in this box. And you saw it this week. Serena in this cat suit, maybe this isn’t feminine and delicate enough for the French Open and for tennis, historically, and her black body is scary. Then Alize Cornet, “Oh my God. Women boobs, we can’t have that out in the open.”
So it’s like you’re trapped in this box. The people who are running this sport very much want the women to look like women, preferably, than white women who have … is non-threatening and as feminine as possible, yet not in an overtly sexual way. And you just draw these lines, that they don’t fit any real woman because you can’t win.
We have to see you as sexual but not too sexual. When women are just like, “Hey, I’d like to be an athlete. And yes, sometimes I would like to wear …” Tennis allows women to express their fashion sense in different ways. That’s very good for the sport because people love fashion and also because the sponsors are happy because they get to sell a lot of different type of clothes.
And that’s become an integral part of the sport. But women should be able to do that based on their own personalities, based on what makes them feel comfortable, and not on these rules. I mean Victoria Azarenka loves playing in shorts. I love seeing players play in shorts because it just is something a little bit different. I love Serena’s tutu.
We can have all of these things and they can all fit in the same umbrella. I always think back to the Boxing Association which, a few years ago, was trying to get the women to box in skirts at the Olympics, literally wanted the women to be in skirts so that people would know that they were women because they were so afraid that from far away, you wouldn’t be able to tell they were women.
But they’re women and they’re women’s boxers, so people are going to know they’re women. What are we doing? It just makes me really, really angry. Shireen, really quickly wrap us up. We’ve got to go.
Shireen: The crux of this issue is for everybody in the world to understand that women are the backbone of the entire world, of all of humanity. And we are perfectly capable of selecting our own wardrobes on the court, on the pitch, in the pool, wherever. It can be done. It’s none of your business. We will do what it takes to get done, and let us be comfortable and make our own decisions. End of story.
Lindsay: Amen. Now, Shireen has a fabulous interview with the wonderful Kia Nurse.
Shireen: I’m so excited to have my favorite WNBA player on Burn It All Down today, not only because she’s Canadian, but I’m so happy to have Kia Nurse on with us today. Hi Kia.
Kia: Hey. Thanks for having me.
Shireen: Kia, what do I say about Kia? Born in Hamilton, Kia Nurse is a Canadian basketball player for the New York Liberty. She’s a point guard with the WNBA. She was drafted 10th overall at the 2018 Draft. She played shooting guard for UConn, go Huskies, and also won back to back championships in 2015 to 2016. She’s also a really pivotal member of the Canadian national team in which she played the 2014 FIBA World Championships and won a gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
She also won MVP of the 2015 FIBA Americas Women’s Championships. In addition to all of these amazing things, she’s also a classically-trained opera singer, so the rumor goes. I’m so glad you could be with us today. How are you doing?
Kia: I’m good, thank you. I’m glad I could get the chance to talk.
Shireen: I have a whole bunch of questions for you, first of all, starting with the WNBA Draft. What was it like being part of that amazing draft class? You were number 10 in the overall pick, and what do you think that effect had on Canadian basketball hopefuls because you were such a legend?
Kia: Obviously, the draft was a dream come true. We went in a couple days early and for me, when I was sitting, having conversations with my agents and I said, “Am I even going to be invited to the draft? I have no idea how this works.” I know there’s only 12 people who do get invited because our draft is so small with only 36 picks.
For me, it was an honor to have even been there but also it was great to have my entire family there to be able to see it happen. So being part of a great draft class was a lot of fun. It was nerve-wracking. Anybody could really go anywhere at any time. But I was really blessed and really fortunate to have gotten drafted to New York.
For me, I think all Canadian basketball hopefuls and the young women who are growing up can now see that something like this is possible. I was one of those kids who didn’t go to a prep school in the United States, who stayed home and played at St. Thomas More for high school basketball. I did translate stuff. I was all really in Canada, and my whole philosophy growing up was that if I was good enough, then somebody would find me.
I would give myself the opportunities to be seen in the summer, going to a couple tournaments here and there over in the States, and if somebody wanted me, they’d come invite me. And I thought that was something that now Canadian, young hopefuls can stay home, play basketball, be with their family while they can and then find ways to make it as far as they want beyond that.
Shireen: That’s awesome. That’s so important. Was this draft more special because you also had two other UConn teammates with you, Gabby Williams, Azura Stevens?
Kia: Absolutely. One of the best parts about it is that we did orientations. We did a lot of things before the draft with all of the people who were there. It’s always better when you’re in a room of 12 people and you know two of them already, so you’ve got your own little clan. But it’s a lot of fun. Obviously, for Gabby who I spent all four years with and Azura who I spent two years with, they’re great people. They’re great basketball players. They work hard. And to see them having success in what they’re doing makes me as happy as anything.
Shireen: That’s beautiful. That’s wonderful. What was the transition like from the NCAA to the WNBA? Was that like a shock? Because I mean you were playing massive stadiums at UConn and filling those stadiums. And then to go to Liberty, and I know your team is at Westchester now, but was that part of an interesting transition for you?
Kia: Absolutely. I think for the basketball side of the transition, I was very fortunate to have come from UConn and to come from the national program where it probably allowed me to learn and understand the transition a lot faster than I would have had I not been there. In terms of changing over to the whole new system and the whole new league, you have new teammates, you have new coaches.
You don’t fly private anymore. You’re commercial. We had a very condensed schedule which included a bunch of back to backs and a ton of travel in a short period of time. I mean, like you said, our facility, with the move from Madison Square Garden to Westchester was completely different, and it’s a different crowd.
But I think for us, it’s a bit of a transition just coming from a college like UConn. But it’s been a lot of fun so far, and I think it can only continue to get better.
Shireen: Have you ever been star-struck when you’ve played other teams? Have you ever stepped back … I know you’re Kia Nurse, because I know there’s tons and tons of girls, not just in Toronto and around the entire country, who see you and completely lose it because they’re so excited. But have you ever had that feeling of, “Oh my gosh. I’m stepping on the court with this legend”?
Kia: Yeah, always. Most nights in the WNBA, you get to play against the best in the world night in, night out. It’s pretty crazy. I mean I had to guard Maya Moore. That was one of my assignments and I was like, “This is not going to happen. This is not going to go well.” She had a couple buckets in a row and I was like, “This is not good.”
She was the one I was always star-struck by her ability and what she does. Sue Bird is another one with her mindset, the way that she plays. I think for me, to be on the court with these women every single night is an honor, but it’s also something that is going to continue to help me grow as a person and as a basketball player.
And I think shout-out to Lindsay Whalen because she had an incredible career and what she did, and she has inspired so many. And I think that’s one of the other ones, when I go on the court, I was like, “How am I going to stop this?”
Shireen: Amazing. You’re enjoying New York and it’s not too far from home, and the season for you has been good so far. How is the season this year for you?
Kia: New York was incredible. It was a great transition. I absolutely love the pro life and the standard of accountability that you have to hold yourself to, the responsibility of taking care of your own body, but also having the freedom to go home and sleep the whole day if you need to, or go home and go to a dog shelter because you’re bored and you want to play with some dogs.
Shireen: Wow. That’s awesome.
Kia: There was so much that was going on. But at the same time, it was just a ton of fun. And for me, the year obviously didn’t go as well as we wanted to on the court and we didn’t have a great winning record, but it was a learning experience. It was a transition. I have great teammates and we’re going to see … and hopefully, see where it goes next year. We got the number two pick last night in the draft lottery, so that will be good for us.
Shireen: Do you have any predictions about the playoffs?
Kia: No. I mean right now, the WNBA playoffs are absolutely incredible. I think it’s so unpredictable and that’s probably the best part about it. I think for people who have never watched women’s basketball or people who have something to say about women’s basketball, this is the time to watch because these games and these women are putting on shows every single night for people to see.
For me, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to watch any of it because I’ve been in Canada and we don’t show those things out here, which is frustrating in its own self. And WNBA has blocked out our century over here. But to be watching all the highlights and stuff right now is great and then I’m going to find a way online to get this to work.
Shireen: You know what? I have some shady soccer folks that send me shady live streams. I will be happy to send you WNBA’s.
Kia: That would be wonderful.
Shireen: And if anybody heard this, know we’re all good in Canada. We’re not doing anything questionable up here. But you do what you’ve got to do to watch these games, and especially when I see everybody else tweeting about them, I’m just like, “The Mystics are making people absolutely nuts,” so it’s incredible. Are you looking forward to the season at University of Canberra Capitals in Australia heading over to the WNBL after National Camp?
Kia: Yeah. I’m excited beyond belief. I think for me, this is a whole new adventure. And I think everything lately has been a new adventure. Now I look and I talk to people and I’m like, “Well, I live in one place for like three months at a time, and then I move to go somewhere else.” Right now, the whirlwind that it is, as my life, has been a lot of fun. But at the same time, every three or four months is something new and exciting to go and explore.
From what I’ve heard, from all the players who have previously played in Australia, I haven’t heard one bad thing about it yet, so very excited to get out there to see a new culture even though it’s pretty similar here. But kangaroos, I’m really excited about kangaroos. The spiders, I’m not excited about, but again, new teammates, new coaches, new system and I think that’ll be a lot of fun.
Shireen: And Vegemite. You can eat Vegemite in Australia.
Kia: I heard about that. I’m going to try it. I’m a very picky eater but willing to try it.
Shireen: I saw your tweet about missing ketchup chips and I totally resonated because when I got to the United States for work or whatever, I go to buy chips because it’s my snack food. And I don’t see ketchup and I’m like, “How is this a country? They don’t have ketchup chips.” Is there anything else you really miss about Canada?
Kia: There’s so much I miss about Canada, I’m like … When I come back, I’m like, “This was nice.” The all-dressed chips are also a thing with me. My mom was talking me up on both of them but she always comes to ketchup first. Crunchie bars, I am obsessed with. Tim Hortons is a big thing for me, but apparently, there was one down the street from where I lived in the train station and I just didn’t find out till the last week I lived there, which was really unfortunate.
Shireen: Is it really the same, the Tims down there? Is the-?
Kia: No. It doesn’t taste the same but it’s just the homey feeling of it that I actually appreciate.
Shireen: Do you have a favorite donut?
Kia: Chocolate dip or old-fashioned dip. I think it’s just the dip part I like about it.
Shireen: For everybody listening, this is legitimate, important sports talk. We talk about Tim Hortons like it’s very, very important. I saw recently and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention you at the MMVAs, which is the Much Music Video Awards, which is basically like the most important cultural event in Canada, other than the NHL playoffs, which usually have nothing to do with Canada other than the players, how was that experience and was it fun to be back and just be around? What was that like?
Kia: It was absolutely incredible. For a couple years now, I’ve had people try to work and see if we can find a way to get there, and I’ve never had the schedule to be able to do anything around this time. Now, I was fortunate to not have to go back to school here for a couple of days, and it was absolutely incredible. The red carpet was an experience in its own.
I was like, “Don’t fall and make sure your poses are good.” But my hair and makeup, people helped me a lot, so thank you to them. But it was absolutely incredible. We hang out with Andre De Grasse, also another great Canadian athlete who’s fun to be around, and saw some celebrities up close and personal, danced the night away and called it a good one.
Shireen: That’s amazing. You looked absolutely exquisite. I think you look exquisite all the time, but I think that even in sweats on campus, which was actually one of the highlights of my entire last year, was meeting you and meeting Batouly and meeting the team, and you came from an incredible program, and to see on the ground and see the conversations that your teams were having and interested in was so important as women athletes and women of color.
I mean there’s a lot of crap that happens in the NCAA and different programs. So, to see that happening in real life was incredible, and you had an impact. I mean I’m just going to go on into me a fangirling. And I hope you’ll forgive me, but it was just an honor to be with you. For those of you that don’t know Kia, I have her shirt, the Liberty shirt and I’m so proud to wear it.
When I wear it around Toronto, I get smiles and nods because it’s the first one I’ve had. But I mean it’s important too and I’m happy to wear it anywhere. But I just am really proud to own it, and I also suggest all of you all getting one and just like … In addition to your singing … Will you sing us a couple of bars?
Kia: No, never. You’ll never get me singing. Maybe at a karaoke party, but that’s the one thing. The one fundraiser I may throw in my life is absolutely a karaoke party.
Shireen: Awesome. That’s brilliant. Thank you so much for being on board and all down. We are huge fans and so excited you got to talk to us. And best of luck in the Canadian team. We’re definitely routing for you all and then again in Australia, and hopefully, I’ll see you around in February when you come home.
Kia: For sure. Thank you again for having me on. I always love talking to you. It’s always so much fun, and everything that you do for everybody around in the podcast world, everybody listening. You speak your mind and I really appreciate that. It gives me the motivation to want to do the same.
Shireen: That’s so sweet of you. Thank you so much. I want to get you to sign my jersey when I see you, so-
Kia: No problem, any time.
Shireen: Thanks so much Kia and say hi to everybody, all the fam.
Kia: I will. Thank you.
Shireen: Take care.
Lindsay: Now, it is time for everyone’s favorite segment, the Burn Pile. Brenda, get us started.
Brenda: This is going to be quick and dirty, and it’s a dirty burn because it’s not … I don’t know. Some people are going to feel like, “Oh, it’s not fair.” What I want to do is I want to burn a lot of the wonderful responses to Manu Gińobili’s retirement. Don’t we all love him? Yay! I know Shireen and I do.
I want to burn the responses that seem not to know where Argentina is or that it’s a real country with a real history and a basketball league that’s been in place for decades. I also want to burn the very trite headlines like ESPN’s Cry for Manu Argentina. I know that a lot of writers’ titles get changed. Mine did at The Guardian and I was furious, and there’s not always the capacity for writers to do that.
So I don’t want to blame them all the time. But I do want to say there’s a general kind of. “We love Manu Gińobili who’s retired after 23 seasons, gold medal winner, Euro winner, one of the funnest people to watch of all time.” But we don’t really care where he’s from. It doesn’t really matter. So I want to burn that.
But I want to burn that because there’s something so provincial about it, which is like, “Either get a Spanish speaker, reader on your staff that can read Argentine headline so that you don’t say things like, ‘A hero to this people,'” which is so dumb, and you have no idea. Do you have any real idea if Argentines love or hate him? Because I’m sure you don’t.
Either get someone on your staff that can do it for you, that can actually make an assessment of that, or just don’t rest on ridiculous things like Madonna-inspired Don’t Cry for Me Argentina. I guess it’s Andrew Lloyd, whoever. I mean really. So I just want to burn that because I think Manu Gińobili deserves better and I love him so much.
Shireen: This happened a couple weeks ago and I’m just going to say that we’re talking Serie A here, and I’m going to burn the Lazio supporters section that think that certain places in Stadio Olimpico is a ‘sacred place’ where women are not welcome. What ended up happening at a match against Napoli, and this is the end of August, the Ultras, who are their supporters section, handed out flyers stating that the part of the stand that they do occupy is, like I said, a sacred place.
I don’t even know what that means. I’m sorry. I think anywhere Marta walks is sacred. I think where Nadia Nadim goes is sacred. Carli Lloyd’s foot is sacred. What does that mean? It means that Lazio supporters have a very unhealthy, misguided view of what is actually proper football, which is very, very bizarre. Anyways, I want to burn that. I am all for people having access, and particularly, women having access.
I think this also, really, really quickly, gives us an insight to understand that these types of misogyny aren’t only in places in Iran. They’re not only in places in developing nations. They’re in western world, women are not welcome and it’s bullshit, and I want to burn it.
Lindsay: All right, here with USA Gymnastics really quickly. It’s still a flaming dumpster fire. I know you’re all going to be shocked. But this week, USA Gymnastics appointed Mary Lee Tracy as the president and head coach, or she is the president and head coach of the Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy. They appointed her as their new lead development coordinator, or at least they did briefly.
Why was this appointment so brief? Well, because it turns out Mary Lee Tracy had very publicly, as in, in printed news articles, defended Larry Nassar and said that the victims were lying even after 50 of them had come out and Nassar had already been charged on three counts of criminal sexual assault.
In December of 2016, an additional 37,000 images of child pornography had been found on his computer. This is what Mary Lee Tracy told WCPO, Cincinnati. She said, “My Olympians have all worked with Larry. We are all defending him because he has helped so many kids in their careers. He has protected them, taken care of them, worked with me and worked with their parents. He’s been amazing.” What!
Not only that but Mary Lee Tracy has very recently, as in like the last five months, been on public Facebook pages defending things at the Karolyi Ranch and saying that Aly Raisman and other survivors were exaggerating and being dishonest when they’re talking about how abusive the culture of the Karolyi Ranch was. This is not a woman who should be the lead development coordinator.
Now, Rachael Denhollander, Aly Raisman, a lot of these women came out against this appointment. I wrote about it for ThinkProgress and other outlets covered this as well. Mary Lee Tracy went on to say that she was being now cyberbullied. She was the victim here, and apparently, she tried to reach out to Aly Raisman to talk to Aly. But USA Gymnastics was very upset that she did this because USA Gymnastics doesn’t want any contact with the survivors because of ongoing litigation.
So they ended up firing Mary Lee Tracy because she reached out to Aly Raisman. This whole thing was just a dumpster fire and it shows that USA Gymnastics is not ready. It has not learned a single thing. USA Gymnastics has no idea how to change its culture, and we just need to start over at this point, throw it all in the burn pile. Burn.
Lindsay: All right. Amira, wrap us up.
Amira: I want to burn the fact that this past week in Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican women’s team was playing a match versus Argentina. As the match started, they stopped playing and stood together in solidarity to speak truth to power and bring a sense of urgency to what they’ve been facing from the Puerto Rican soccer federation which includes lack of pay, lack of matches, the firing of their coach about a month ago that was with no plan in place to replace the coach, and with major disagreement about why their coach was let go.
They stood there and refused to play, and the Argentinean team gave them space and support and, of course, are familiar with their own fights against their federation. This comes on the heels of them signing a letter to the Puerto Rican soccer federation calling for, again, more games, wasted opportunities of not getting more international friendlies in, maintaining and reinstating the coaching staff, and continued support, financial support for both things like injuries, transportation, food and just actual general pay, which they’re not getting.
What I want to burn is the kind of lack of awareness of this soccer team where I saw a very … I can’t even find a news article about this. It was all on-the-ground reports from people who were at the game via Twitter. I want to burn that. But it speaks to a larger problem about how we’ve conveniently ignored Puerto Rico. One of the things that this really made me upset about that I really, really want to burn, this comes on the heels of a week where the death toll officially, after Hurricane Maria, was raised from 64 people to 2,975.
I don’t even have words for how heartbreaking this is, how infuriating it is, and how it’s not the lead story every day, that 2,975 people lost their lives. And we, as a nation, have been turning our backs and clearly headed by this administration, but also generally, it feels forgotten. I know it’s not exactly sports, but the combination of this and the lack of attention that the women on the Puerto Rican soccer team were experiencing bounded together and just tore at my heartstrings to say, “This is ridiculous.”
“This whole island needs attention. These women need attention. The rebuilding needs attention. We need to be paying attention to make sure corporations aren’t coming in and using this disaster to privatize and build resorts, and push people out, and push people to the montañas.” There needs to be attention here, and I want to burn the way that we’ve treated and ignored and colonized and continued to mistreat island that I hold so dear. I want to burn it down.
Lindsay: Thank you so much for that Amira.
All right, time to talk about some badass women. All right, so for honorable mentions this week, we have Japan who won the gold women’s soccer at the Asian Games, Pernille Harder of Denmark for winning UEFA’s women’s soccer player of the year, the Icelandic women’s soccer team for selling out a stadium for the first time. Oh, that’s so exciting. Maha Janoud, the first female assistant soccer coach in the Middle East region.
She is coaching in the Syrian domestically, so that is super exciting, and all the women playing in the 2018 and 2019 Women’s Field Hockey Series. It takes place in six countries and it’ll start up again on September 18 through 23rd, and the final leg will be in Santiago, Chile. Can I get a drum roll please? There we go. That’s good.
Shireen: That was a baseline. That wasn’t a drum roll.
Lindsay: I liked it, all right. We want to congratulate the Japanese women baseball players who were dominant in sweeping their way to a sixth consecutive women’s baseball world cup. They finished things off by beating Chinese Taipei six, nothing in the final. Ayami Sato was named the tournament MVP for Japan, and Chinese Taipei took the silver, and Canada beat US for the bronze.
And our very own, Jessica Luther, has been there all week and we cannot wait to read what she writes from there and also to talk with her more about the women’s baseball world cup on the show. So congratulations to all of the players but especially the Japanese team.
All right. Let’s wrap up quickly. I’m going to go with what’s good. What’s good is these WNBA playoffs, I certainly hope that both of these series somehow go five, because this is just the most fun I’m having. Of course, by Tuesday, you will know the answer to that. But this is such a fun time for me with the WNBA semi-finals and then the US Open tennis going on. I’m just having a ball. Brenda.
Brenda: Chile’s first ever official friendlies with US women’s team, if anyone’s not following it, you should. These women are incredible, what they’ve sacrificed, that they don’t really get paid for what they do, and the US women’s team for inviting them. Thank you. They’re in front of crowds yesterday of 20,000 to 30,000. They’re playing again this week, September 4th and their enthusiasm is infectious and it’s just so cool. It doesn’t matter if they lose. They’re such winners.
Lindsay: All right. Amira?
Amira: I really had so much fun on Friday watching Aretha Franklin’s home-going with all of Black Twitter. It was like the family reunion I never knew I needed. Then it went on. It was like eight and a half hours. So it ended basically right before Venus and Serena played, so it was just like a day of blackness and I just love black people so much, and that was really great.
I’m reading a really good book, Children of the Blood and Bone, this young adult book but it’s like I just love it. And so it’s like the last fictional book that I’ll probably read until this semester is over or the whole school year. So I am going to settle in and read that today, and watch Serena and watch Sloane, and watch the Red Sox, and it sounds like a good Sunday to me.
Lindsay: Sounds amazing. Shireen?
Shireen: For everybody following the saga of me dropping off my eldest to university, that’s done. He’s not super far. He’s only an hour away, but it’s still moving out in that process. I survived it. I got mistaken as his older sister a couple times which made me feel really good about myself. But anyways, that was wonderful and he’s doing kinesiology. I hope, at some point, he actually is assigned some required reading where I’m cited. That would totally make my life happy. Anyways, there’s that.
I watched Mulan last night, which I absolutely love. I’m super excited about the rest of my children going back to school because at this point in the summer, I feel like a cruise ship director and I’m exhausted. I want these children to go to school and be gone for seven hours every day. I’m so excited about that. I cannot tell you. I also wanted to do, say, two things.
I’m very excited about some Burn It All Down march because I’m going to get myself a tote bag because I love tote bags, and I cannot wait to see the faces of my brilliant co-host on this tote bag as I take it everywhere. In addition to drinking from my mug of coffee, which I am doing currently, thank you Amira, I am really, really excited about that.
And mostly, I want to say this, I’m going to see Brenda Elsey in the last weekend in September at Dickinson College for the Critical Perspectives on Soccer and Social Justice, the second symposium. I’m keynoting and she is speaking right after me, and I think there’ll be some karaoke happening in Carlisle.
Brenda: Maybe at the symposium.
Shireen: Maybe at the symposium. And hopefully, Amira will come. Amira drive down, no pressure.
Amira: Yeah, love it.
Lindsay: All right. Thank you all so, so much for listening and being with us today. You can follow us on Twitter, BurnItDownPod. Remember to go to our Patreon page. Your support is literally the only way we can do this. It takes money to get the help we need to do this, and we really appreciate it. Thank you all so much. We’ll see you next week.