Episode 71: Kaepernick and Nike, the colonization of surfing, and an interview with Bonnie Tsui
On this week’s show, Shireen, Amira, Brenda, and Jessica talk about playoffs and their feelings (9:22). Then the team discusses Kaepernick, Nike, capitalism, and activism (24:19). After a discussion on the colonization of surfing (34:38), Shireen interviews author Bonnie Tsui about race and gender in the sport (46:11).
Of course, you’ll hear the Burn Pile (56:55), our Bad Ass Woman of the Week, starring the US Women’s National Softball team (59:00), and what is good in our worlds (1:03:10).
For links and a transcript…
“Nike’s ad featuring Colin Kaepernick isn’t risky at all; it’s business” https://theundefeated.com/features/nikes-ad-featuring-colin-kaepernick-isnt-risky-at-all-its-business
“Is Colin Kaepernick’s Nike deal activism – or just capitalism?” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/06/colin-kaepernick-nike-activism-capitalism-nfl
“On Colin Kaepernick’s Nike Ad: Will the Revolution Be Branded?” https://www.thenation.com/article/on-colin-kaepernicks-nike-ad-will-the-revolution-be-branded/
“Black Athletes Are Not Objects For Our Entertainment” https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-kaepernick-nike-racism-sports_us_5b9038cce4b0511db3dea228
“Equal Waves, Equal Pay: World Surf League Closes Its Gender Pay Gap” https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanaglass/2018/09/05/equal-waves-equal-pay-world-surf-league-closes-its-gender-pay-gap/#64f6d1dc611a
“The Complicated History of Indigenous Knowledge and Colonial Entanglements in Surfing” https://www.kcet.org/shows/earth-focus/a-history-of-indigenous-knowledge-and-colonial-entanglements-in-surfing
“College of the Ozarks Drops Nike for Using Colin Kaepernick in Ad Campaign” https://www.chronicle.com/article/College-of-the-Ozarks-Drops/244446
“Poe’s Perspective: Barstool Sports needs to get the boot” https://dailytrojan.com/2018/08/30/poes-perspective-barstool-sports-needs-to-get-the-boot/
“Here’s What Happened on Day 3 of the Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/06/us/politics/kavanaugh-hearing-confirmation.html
“The Whitewashing Of Naomi Osaka” https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-whitewashing-of-naomi-osaka_us_5b967eb3e4b0cf7b004209b5
“Las Araujo, históricas en el baloncesto español: primeras madre e hija en ser internacionales” https://www.antena3.com/noticias/deportes/baloncesto/las-araujo-historicas-en-el-baloncesto-espanol-primera-madre-e-hija-en-ser-internacionales_201809055b8fb4910cf26cfa43c80817.html
“Finalists of the FIFA Diversity Award 2018 revealed” https://www.fifa.com/sustainability/news/y=2018/m=9/news=finalists-of-the-fifa-diversity-award-2018-revealed.html?_branch_match_id=468396685941251600
“Kim Little and Scotland qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup” https://www.sounderatheart.com/seattle-reign/2018/9/4/17821354/kim-little-scotland-qualify-2019-womens-world-cup-england-denmark-seattle-reign
“Women in Football appoint Jane Purdon as CEO” https://www.womeninfootball.co.uk/news/2018/09/06/women-in-football-appoint-jane-purdon-as-ceo/
Shireen: Welcome to this week’s episode of Burn It All Down, it’s the feminist sports podcast you need. On this week’s panel, we have the fiery and brilliant doctor Amira Rose Davis assistant professor of history and women’s gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University, all round badass Jessica Luther, independent writer general slayer and author of unsportsmanlike conduct, college football and the politics of rape, doctor Brenda Elsey associate professor of history, an undeniable genius at Hofstra University in New York. And I’m Shireen Ahmed, freelance sports writer, cat lover currently visiting my mom in Windsor, Ontario.
Before we begin, I would like to thank our patrons for their generous support, and to remind our new flame throwers about our Patreon campaign. You pledge a certain amount monthly, as low as two dollars, and high as you want, to become an official patron of the podcast. In exchange for your monthly contribution, you get access to special rewards. With a price of just a latte a month, you can get access to extra segments of the podcast, a monthly newsletter, and an opportunity to record on the Burn Pile, only available to those on our Patreon community.
So far we have been able to solidify funding for proper editing and transcripts, but we’re hoping the reach our dream of hiring a producer to help us with the show. Burn It All Down is a labor of love and we believe in this podcast, but having a producer to help us grow would be amazing. We are so grateful for your support. And with that we have an upcoming special announcement, so I’m going to throw it to Amira to give us some clues, Amira.
Amira: Hey you all, I’ve been teasing this, we’ve all been teasing this for the last few weeks, but I’m proud to announce that it is finally here Burn It All Down swag has arrived, so by the time you’re hearing this episode you’ll be able to log on to our Teespring store front, teespring.com\burn-it-all-down, but of course we’ll link that on our Twitter page and our website, and there you’ll be able to get mugs and shirts and hoodies for the fall, a whole variety of merchandise featuring not just our logo that you have come to know and love, but two new Burn It all Down exclusive designs, and so definitely check it out.
Plus, that’s not all we want to announce two contests, so one tweet us or Facebook us your favorite show moments, whether it’s an interview, a periarticular segment, it could even be our conversation about how I’m amazing at Escape Rooms. Whatever it is, let us know and be entered to win exclusive merchandise, that contest will run to the end of September. Similarly, sign up to be a new Patreon during this month, so again by the end of September, and also be entered to win some exclusive swag. To our current Patreons, we’ve already sent you some swag, it’s on the way and you should be receiving it any day now.
So anyways, I’m super excited, be on the lookout Burn It All Down Swag so then you’re out on the streets you can see who else is a flame thrower just like you.
Shireen: Thank you so much Amira we have an incredible show as usual, episode 71 coming your way we will talk Kap and Nike, we will talk surfing, and I have a great interview with author Bonnie Tsui, hang on to your hats.
Before we get started, let’s have a little conversation about what we did over the weekend and what playoffs we were watching, and why we talk about this, is the emotional component and our investment into sports. Jessica, tell me about your feelings.
Jessica: All of them, the show is only so long? Yeah, so I’m really into the WNBA finals, semi-finals and the finals, semi-finals were amazing and exhausting and just took you on the ride that you really want as a sports fan. I lost my entire mind and body when Sue Bird went on her 14 point run in the fourth quarter against Phoenix, she just couldn’t miss and I, it was just, I could feel it in my body, the way that I was reacting to her.
The first game of the WNBA finals were less climatic to say the least, but I’m hopeful that we will get much better play from Washington by the time you guys hear this, we all have heard game two which is going to air in a few hours for us.
So, I’m hopeful and I want to go on that emotional journey during the finals as well, that’s like that cathartic release you get from sports, so I’m looking forward to it.
Brenda: I have a brief respite which is really good because school has just started and I have a bunch of deadlines, so for me the last playoffs I’ve been super invested in this Copa Libertadores, which is a club competition in South America and Colo-Colo, which is the Chilean club they’re in this really political fight to keep the club from being privatized, and they have this amazing feminist front.
So, it’s hard for me not to root for the and they played Corinthians August 29th, to go on to the quarter-finals which is a really big deal, and during that game I … this is so embarrassing, I thought if I watched the second half and didn’t just watch the updates that they would lose, I was really sure somehow-
Shireen: We’ve all been there-
Brenda: Really, how do I so this, like what, I’m an adult who has been privileged by education and I seriously believe somehow that they’ll lose just because I want them to win, if I watch the second half.
So, I watch the first half, they’re in Brazil and they ended up losing but they still won, because it was the second leg. So anyway that’s the kind of craziness, that’s the crazy headspace it puts me in.
Shireen: Amira what about you?
Amira: Can I just say I’m not burning this but this is like burnable, the fact that the Mystics game three is scheduled not in their usual arena but in a gym in Fairfax at George Mason. Despite my anger about that, I love the thrill of playoffs, particularly tight games and comebacks so much that I end up Youtubing the end of Patriot’s Super Bowls that went in my favor or I watch the Red sox comeback in the Yankees in 2004.
And so basically I did that two days ago, and I was up for like 4 hours on YouTube just watching the end of great playoff games, and so that, I’ll just say that I’m mostly really excited for this, of October baseball, and I’m having fun with the WNBA finals and I kind of feel like the fall of something new, like it starts to be like football season and college sports, but I’m really ready for October baseball.
Shireen: That’s awesome, for me champs league is starting to get underway, I just watched a little bit of the US Open and the emotions there were palpable, particularly the Naomi, Serena final which we will talk about, and for me and just like for example in terms of emotional investment in the sports, particularly I find when I’m rooting for a team like a did Puerto Rico I cheered for them, they didn’t go far, but your body gets physically tense and you feel exhausted after the matches, so it’s just like how do I handle this, like I had to lie down many times during the World Cup, and I foresee that happening in future, you’re just, you’re so emotionally tied to this sport where there’s 22 people trying to put a ball in the back of a net, it’s so interesting,
And even the WNBA finals, I wanted to give Lindsay some chai with extra cardamom, because I was just like, her Twitter feed was amazing, she was just excited and-
Amira: That’s what I was telling you guys last year during the Super Bowl, I guess it’s not even fun for me anymore like literally, I’m like physical agony watching the Patriots play, my stomach is in knots, my palms are sweaty, I can’t eat, I have literally no appetite, and it only starts to ease if we’re comfortably ahead, and so I’m just like why, this is like for a number of reasons in which why I don’t want to watch the NFL, but, this is like at the top of that-
Shireen: Amira the Pats make me nauseous too Amira, don’t worry.
Amira: Never a moment goes by.
Shireen: To start our episode, Jessica, can you take us through Kap and Nike?
Jessica: Sure, so I’m not going to give too much background because we have talked repeatedly about Kaepernick and the protests by NFL players against police brutality and racial injustice, you can search that on our website if you want to listen to any of those episodes, also we have a wonderful hot take that went up just a few days ago where Amira talks to Tony Smith Thompson about Kaepernick, protest, capitalism in corporations, so please make sure to listen to that it is really, really good.
But for those who don’t know, this week Nike announced that Kaepernick would be the faces of the 30th anniversary of their Just Do It campaign alongside Serena, LeBron, Odell Beckham Junior, Lacey Baker, the first openly queer woman to join the Nike skateboarding team in 2017, and Shaquem Griffin, the first one handed athlete in NFL history.
The print image of Kaepernick is an up close black and white image of his face with the words ‘believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything’ as well as the Just Do It slogan and the Nike swoosh. There’s also an inspirational TV spot that Kaepernick narrates in which Nike aired during the game on Thursday night, the first game of the NFL season.
In the ad, there’s no mention of racial justice or an image of Kaepernick kneeling I believe, but it’s a hell of an inspirational ad about chasing your dreams. Nike received more than 43 million dollars in media exposure from, after Kaepernick tweeted out this image in the last few days, and has got a 31 percent bump in online sales this week, so it’s already working.
Two last things before we jump in, first a remainder that both Kaepernick and Eric Reid, Kap’s former 49er team mate who was the second person to kneel, they don’t have jobs in the NFL this season. And Kap is suing the NFL for collusion around his blackballing, and second in many the NFL signed an eight-year contract with Nike for Nike to provide game day uniforms and side line apparel for all 32 teams, that eight-year deal is supposedly worth one billion dollars. In case anyone thinks Nike is, Nike using Kaepernick in their ad is going to be the end of the company.
Okay, so there’s a lot here, we can talk platform, we can talk capitalism, we can talk about whether activism or justice can be branded, we can talk about Nike’s all over the place ness regarding causes it takes up and oppressions that it commits, we can talk about the power of images, we can talk individual verses systems, we can talk Nike verses NFL, we can talk about Nike calculating that the better marketing choice is to sign Kaepernick rather than not, we can go in so many directions. So where do you guys want to start with this?
Shireen: I just wanted to reiterate something you said really quickly Jessica, Amira your conversation with Toni was excellent, and I really recommend everybody talk about that.
I did just want to just draw attention quickly to something that Lindsay had reminded us that, you know, in all the lauding of Nike it’s really important to remember that we have to stay critical, like there’s absolutely is a place to support Kap, support marginalized athletes, but remain critical of Nike which let’s not forget is not a philanthropic organization, it’s a corporation that makes tons of money.
And Lindsay had re shared an article she wrote about Nike’s commitment to MSU, and not saying anything about the athletes and the horrible sexual abuse scandal that happened with the gymnasts and Nassar, and I think it’s just, it’s important to stay cognizant, also Phil Knight recently contributed 500 thousand to a republic gubernatorial which is a really interesting word, gubernatorial candidate in Oregon, and that was shared by our friend and friend of the show, doctor Jules Boykoff. So, it’s just, it’s a lot of things here to wrap our heads around, but it’s complicated. Jess?
Jessica: Yeah, and on that note, Nike has done a lot of work around LGBTQ athletes, that’s really admirable, and it’s like I really love all of that at the same time Jackie Keeler, a native American Woman and an indigenous woman here in the States tweeted this week about how Nike wouldn’t get behind them on their Not Your Mascot campaign because Nike provides the uniforms for the Cleveland baseball team, and it’s actually been Adidas that stepped up in that space behind that, so Nike’s kind of all over the place when it comes to what issues they’d chose to get behind, and sometimes it’s really cool and other times it’s really head scratching and upsetting. And so this is just like just slot this in that history.
Amira: Yeah, no I think that’s totally spot on, and it’s very interesting because when you listed all the ways we could take this, you’re right, there’s so much here, and I think starting with Nike as a corporation is kind of a good place to start, because they do have this very kind of up and down wishy washy history, in which their brand has been tied to this kind of sense of rebellion, this sense of kind of rebels and social justice and all this stuff, where they take calculated risks.
So, in the 90s you might remember they did a series of adverts with women, targeting women and that was largely led by a team of four women who designed one of the most infamous commercials, If You Let Me Play. And in this commercial, it’s a series of young girls who were saying, “If you let me play”, and quoting statistics about the benefits of sports for young girls, and they did a series of these commercials to encourage girls to get into sport at a time when nobody was really doing this at all.
And one of the things that points to though, is this team of women had to fight a lot with the execs in the office to even get this aired, and then when it ended blowing up and they got all of these good press and all of these letters saying how much the ads meant, then they were like, “Oh, we’ll actually keep going with this campaign.”
But at the same time in the 90s you might remember that Jordan obviously was elevated to the biggest brand’s spokesman with the Be Like Mike campaign and Craig Hodges, former NBA player took a lot of exception to the way he felt Nike and Jordan remained silent on political issues. So Rodney King for instance was beaten in 1992, and Jordan refused to comment on it this is when his famously the same time when pushed to weigh in on Jesse Helms said, “Republicans buy shoes too.”
And Craig Hodges in particular wanted there to be a Nike boycott because of their history of child labor in sweatshops in developing nations, and pushed Jordan to walk away from the brand, saying that they could make their own shoe company and sell shoes to, in black communities themselves, and they didn’t need Nike because of all of these kind of human rights violations, and could not get Jordan to budge on that.
And in fact after being very outspoken on his propose Nike boycott among other things, he was not picked up by any team while he was still in his prime, and a very very good player, and really pushed out of the league as well.
And so for me it’s really interesting to think about because as you mentioned Jess, their commercials are really powerful, and even this month for instance, they released a commercial in Mexico that features Mexican women athletes, Olympians running through the streets navigating all of these sexism somebody chanting at them or kind of goading them on, and they’re kind of running past that doing gymnastics, the boxer I forget her name, punches literally through these barriers, and it’s funny because I remarked that they could have filmed this in Nike’s boardroom with women ad execs running through their office, because on the heels of the report on the last month about how rife sexism is in Nike’s top offices, and it’s already resulted in a lawsuit.
So I think that is kind of the duality here it’s like in one way you’re branding yourself and rightfully so have actually been on the forefront of some of these advertising, but what is the limit of that, representation matters and so that’s the hard part for me when I wrestle with this, I showed this in my class and my students were crying.
And the other thing I want to say on that representation matters the thing about the commercial before we get into it more, is that also is a super amount of visibility for disability awareness and the athletes with disabilities that are featured in the video are not positioned in this kind of sad or like inspiration, they’re just, they’re included. And I think, I know a lot of members who argue for disability rights were really, really impressed with that inclusion.
So, I think those things do matter and then, and so with that caveat, I can proceed to tear it apart so.
Brenda: I don’t think they’re such a good corporation, I don’t think they’re such a thing. And I think all of this is calculated because they realize what can make them money, I think it’s kind of that simple and it does matter, it’s not that it doesn’t matter, I totally agree with Amira representation maters and, even if it’s profitable, corporations have clung to racism and sexism. So, it’s not like so simple as that.
But in this case, I do feel like I’m happy to see Kap getting something he’s amazing and will do so much more with whatever funds are resources he has than just any other athlete, and to continue to see the movement stay in the limelight is awesome, the Mexican women thing gives me huge pause, again it is a marketing decision and I just cannot get over the sweatshop labor, I just still can’t. Every time my kids put on something with Nike I say to them, “It’s for kids, by kids.’
And I know I’m like a bummer, I’m like the biggest bummer mom in the whole world right, but I say to them, “Just know that another child probably made that.” And I just can’t, there’s no getting over that for me and, so I, I’m still aware capitalism’s a total system, we’re not bad people for picking the better of evils, but I do hope that, I don’t know, Kap finds a way to also shine light on the people who are making those products.
Shireen: I just wanted to on that note, Brenda to follow and your anti-capitalism is showing, it’s beautiful, I think that Dave Zirin last week wrote this really cool piece that I appreciated and he had a line in that like, “Will the revolution be branded,” and one of the things that Nike has tried to, and I have received so many criticisms of really brilliant people on this, one of my favorite Twitter accounts, @Futbolsacountry, the football offshoot of @Africasacountry.
Eliot Ross our friend, it had said don’t be fooled by this, Nike is not this renegade revolutionary, it’s a corporation, they looked at their numbers before these decisions were made, and we’ve seen the results in spikes in purchasing this week post the reveal of Kap as is face of the campaign.
And I think that whether or not people choose to burn that merchandise or wear it, the fact is that Nike got money form their purchases, so let’s just be clear about that, and I just, it’s super complicated for me because at the same time, I just mentioned there’s a lot of LGBTIQ work, there’s a lot of talking about, the first ones to, the biggest company to put women in hijab in mainstream advertising. They’re not the first to create a sports hijab, I wrote about that, read about it, but they really went super big on that and it was by design, because there’s a market for it.
I don’t, I will never believe that Nike came up with the design of the hijab because they love Muslim women, that’s just, no one’s ever convince me of that. Secondly, one thing I just wanted to add really quickly Amira, of, one of our guest hosts Shakeia Taylor, who I love very much just actually had sent to us and article and I wanted to throw this out there, kind of digressing about Michael Jordan saying that about republicans buy shoes, and it was, it’s a slight article from two years ago that maybe he didn’t actually say that, so I just wanted to add that in there. Because that wrapped around so much of what MJ, his, when people think of him, that’s one of the most famous things the he said floating around there. So just for anyone interested will have that into the show notes. Amira you wanted to add something else?
Amira: Yeah, on that specific quote, it’s long been thought about whether did he say it or not, but he definitely gestured to without that specific wording, we have him on record saying similar, to the similar gestures, which is like I’m not weighing into this, because as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says, he chose commerce over conscience.
So, I think Shireen’s points are spot on and Jules and Ben Carrington and Dave join the litany of voices kind of raising this hesitation, and I think one of the big things is, and Tony said in our hot take like, “In what world do we live in that Nike and NFL are rivals?”
And Nike went out of their way to position themselves as such and thinking about what that means when people in acts of resistance are equating that with buying a Nike shoe. And I think that’s where a lot of the problem comes in, and I think that’s it’s significant to know that Kap made it a part of the contract that they gave a hefty donation to the Know Your Rights campaign, echo somebody like Simone Manuel who put in an inclusion rider in her contract, right, so this is something that’s been done and black women have also been doing things like this with their corporate sponsorships.
And I think the real thing that for me this left me with is the way that protest has become profitable I think of Pepsi’s failed ad with Kendall Jenner, I think of even when I was in college the commodification of Che Guevara and the shirts that people would wear, and I think that there’s a way that we have to kind of be hypercritical of it so that we don’t fall prey to equating buying shoes with actual sustain solidarity and resistance.
Because just this week we saw another unarmed black man killed, and this is why people were kneeling, and people are raising their fist and people are speaking out, and in this controversy, we can’t let the radical act then be buying shoes when that’s not going to help us, who are being killed on the streets.
Shireen: On to our next segment, Amira, would you like to take us through?
Amira: So, this week, the world surfing league announced that moving forward it will be equal pay for equal waves. They’re closing its gender pay gap in the World Surfing League and moving forward, starting in 2019, women surfers will receive the same earnings for winning as their male counterparts.
This is certainly something should be hailed and it’s the first US based sporting league, I think as a whole, to do this move and I think that’s really, really, really cool and really important. It also got me thinking about surfing as a whole, a sport that you might associate with maybe surf California culture, dudebros, whatever, and I think that there’s a really hidden but fascinating deep history here about surfing as a sport, about native Hawaiian culture, indigenous Hawaiian culture and colonialism.
How surfing moved from being a sport in Hawaii to being this kind of branded institutionalized competition is very fascinating to me. And so, I felt like one of the discussions we should have highlighting a sport that we don’t necessarily talk about as much, is what’s going on in the surfing world that can tell us about race, gender, colonialism, indigeneity.
And so when I saw this headline, I was like maybe this is the perfect moment to have that conversation. So what’s up with surfing?
Brenda: I haven’t, this is such a good point that you’re bringing up because when I looked at, at least all the links to talk about gender gap in surfing, they were really great, and I did not see any real mention of native Hawaiian traditions of surfing and how native Hawaiians have responded to this or participated in it. So it’s such a good point because when I teach the history of surfing and maybe other people do to, when I teach surfing, I usually start with Duke Kahanamoku who was a native Hawaiian at the turn of the, well early 20th century, and he was a five time Olympic medalist in swimming.
And he’s sort of responsible for the mass diffusion of the sport, because he was such a prominent swimmer, and his struggles to get his titles and world records recognized in surfing and in swimming are just like a telling history of the US and its complicated relationships with its empire.
Because different forces tired the use Duke to integrate Hawaiians as kind of natural part. So the history of the sport is really interesting, and one of Dukes main partners was actually a woman named Doris Duke who’s this really weird … I don’t know if you all know her, but she’s this really weird socialite bazillionaire, and even, yeah, no she’s, it’s wild, Lauren Bacall plays her in a miniseries at one point.
She just has like a bazillion dollars and does crazy things all over the world, and she bought this house that she called Shangri La in Hawaii and was a close friend of Duke and they surfed the together all the time. So there’s also not very many mentions of the history of women always being very involved in surfing from the very beginning, or that it was always a colonial enterprise.
Shireen: I think that, I’ve had the beautiful experience of actually surfing a couple of years ago when I was in Hawaii, it was very, very difficult. But when we were taught, this is in when I was in Waikiki, and I have this really cool video of me completely doing well and standing, and then wiping out so hard. And it’s one of my favorite videos of myself, because A, this culture is, the surfing culture is so tied in to, as Amira said the respect of indigenous culture and water, and how water is such a powerful part of Polynesian tradition.
And when we were standing and getting a little lesson on the beach, me and my two eldest … and I have to tell you I was better than both of them, and I use this opportunity to say it publicly, they mentioned this that surfing was actually a form of transportation and fun, and it was really interesting to me to hear that, because I’ve never thought of surfing as a form of transportation.
And it just was, it was really cool to sort of hear that and think, my understanding of surfing was very like Baja, Dylan from 90210 in the back seat of his convertible Porsche, that was my exposure of surfing, I grew up in the east coast of Canada, so there wasn’t a massive surfing scene that I was aware of.
So, it was just very, but to hear about this and to hear about decolonizing our brains in history, I think it’s biggest points that you all bring up and especially because when the traditions and the introduction of surfing, what it’s from actually an indigenous culture but it’s been taken over completely.
In my mind, it’s very similar to yoga, the way that yoga has been usurped by white lulu lemon, kale eating, mat culture. Don’t even sun salute me, I can’t even with that. Do you even understand what namaste means … sorry this is like a Shireen rant, but so surfing is very much like that, is it a form of prayer, is it a form of … I think about this a lot, and how does it look to that culture being taken over and millions of dollars put into the men’s side of it, because as we’ll hear in the interview with Bonnie, coming up on the show it’s very much a male dominated sub-culture as well, Amira.
Amira: Yeah, I just want to wrap this up with the thinking, pulling that kind of history now to present day where women in surfing have been not just fighting around pay equality but just like acceptance, so if you think your first introduction to surfing might have been the Disney movie Johnny Tsunami, but there was then two Hollywood movies centered on women surfers both Soul Surfer and Blue Crush, that kind of became the one way that women in surfing became thought about.
And so I think that one of the things that women surfers had to fight is acceptance within the sport on their terms and they were dealing with things like surfing legend Laird Hamilton who basically was like, “Hey shark attacks occur because women surfers are in the water when they’re menstruating-
Jessica: Oh my God!-
Amira: And there’s blood in the water. And so there is-
Jessica: Oh my-
Brenda: Of course, they did. Of course they did-
Amira: I am not kidding-
Jessica: Of course, you’re not. I believe that one hundred percent, I just, also what the fuck!
Amira: Right, exactly. So when we talk about women in surfing kind of forged their own way, this has been one of the things that they’ve pushed back, and since their very presence has been usually relegated to handing out a trophy or smiling on the beach in thong, and they’ve pushed that.
But I also because we do and we always have to understand this intersectionality, right, I really want to end by highlighting this really great organization in the Bay area called Brown Girls Surf and it was started by Mira Manickam and she has started this program that aims to teach young girls and women of color that quote, “The oceans and surfing is theirs to inhabit.
And she says, “Look, it’s really hard to imagine you can be a surfer if that’s not what is expected or encouraged for you to be, and if nobody around you surf, you don’t see people who look like you surfing, it can be really hard to take that imaginative leap and picture yourself riding a wave and being out there.”
But as Shireen pointed to, there’s so much besides being a sport and stuff like that, but there’s a lot that people gain by being on the water and surfing and it’s something that should definitely be opened up. And so this organization’s really dope and she says her ultimate hope is that surfing becomes a sport that accurately reflects the diversity of the places where it exists, and I think that really points to how we started this discussion about colonialism and native Hawaiian culture. Is that surfing has kind of grown as it’s brought in money, as it’s the global surfing market has expanded, that expansion has also come at a cost of people of color and women who want access and have access before to a sport, but have been now locked out of the profitability of that sport.
Shireen: I just wanted to add one thing that as Amir was talking, and it tarred something in me to remember and Brenda just sent me something as well. Water and use on the water of surfing is an incredible form of resistance. We hear about female surfers in Gaza in occupied Palestine, and how they’re in the water and they feel a sense of freedom.
And then there’re the women surfers in Iran and which is beautiful to see, because all these places that you have coastlines. And then one of the most interesting pieces I’ve ever worked on, it was a while ago about four or five years ago, about a woman surfer, the sole woman surfer, in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, and how she went against custom and tradition but said that she felt an incredibly profound sense of freedom that she would never feel on land.
No one could oppress her, no one could suppress her, because nobody could catch her, and I found this to be incredibly moving and like so, so important, and just like in light of the stories that I had followed were all of women, and women in those places, because of course like Amira said, wherever you have water, you can have surfing.
And it just gets me excited about it and about the possibilities that are out there for these women and I hope they all hang ten.
Next up is my interview with the amazing Bonnie Tsui. First of all Bonnie’s incredible, she’s recently published a book called Why We Swim, she was born in Queens New York, raised in Long Island, she attended Harvard University, she’s also a competitive swimmer, she rode crew in university, snow boarded and she lived in Australia where she not only raced in triathlons and climbed Mount Arapiles, but she accomplished so much more, her writing is stunning, and I came across Bonnie’s work form an absolutely gorgeous piece in California Sunday on Mavericks surfing competition.
It’s a visually stunning piece, the writing is gorgeous and I recommend everybody go out, grab a copy and I’m so delighted to have Bonnie on today to talk about her work, surfing, swimming and her new book.
Bonnie: Thank you so much.
Shireen: So, let’s dive in, you see what I did there. Bonnie can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with the water.
Bonnie: Oh sure, I mean I grew up swimming from a really young age, and the book that I am wrapping up now, Why We Swim. So we grew up in Jones Beach here in Long Island, I’m actually in New York now so I can talk about it like my hometown in that really immediate way.
And then, our days at the beach and on swim team and my parents actually met in a swimming pool in Hong Kong, and my father was lifeguard and my mom was just this beautiful swimmer and of course they fell in love, and that was always part of our family law and so we just my brother and I swum, and were lifeguards and.
And then in about 10 years ago I started surfing, I’d always try it every once in a while and I would go somewhere where it was possible to do, in warm water, and then living in San Francisco and living in Berkeley, now I do, the ocean was right there, and the only thing was that it was cold. So cold water surfing is something you really have to gird your loins for, and so just put on your wet suit, put on your hoodie, put on your booties and your gloves.
And once I got that whole thing down, I just started surfing regularly. And now I get up probably a couple times a week, either Ocean Beach or Pacifica or up in Bolinas, and I just love it so much.
But what I do is very different from what these women big wave surfers do in this story for California Sunday, so let’s just make that distinction very clear.
Shireen: That scene and coupled with, then I wanted to ask you about this, diversity in terms of race as diversity, is surfing diverse in that way, what Does the scene look like, are there women of color out there, people of color out there, or is it a predominantly white sport still?
Bonnie: That’s a funny question to answer because if you go around the world to … I’ve surfed in a lot of places, and you surf in Hawaii and you see lots of people out who are brown, people of color. And you go to surf in Indonesia, I mean it’s just the locals, the locals are surfing the waves where they are.
And I think what you’re asking, it’s the competition level, so that’s an interesting question because competition is so, such a specific slice of the sport and it’s very people, it’s controversial, people feel very ambivalent about it even people who are competing, because how do you judge surfing?
And so surfing is something that is, it can be available the everyone if you have a board and can swim and an ocean nearby. And so lots of people, it’s equal access in that way, you just need a surf board and you need the waves and if you can borrow one and have one available to you, it can be a crappy old beater board and you just have the best time.
And there’s a spirit of sharing out there in terms of, well I think that sort of originally that spirit that aloha spirit, but then of course surfing can be so territorial, it can be so competitive, it can be so mean.
And so you’re out there in terms of, and you’re asking about diversity in the sport, like gender diversity, it’s very, very male dominated and it has been for a long time. And so that’s what we’re seeing with, even if you’re just going out and you’re not competing, 90 percent of the time, 95 percent of the time at Ocean Beach, I’m the only woman or maybe I’m going out with a friend who’s also a woman, and you just don’t see a lot of girls out there.
And that’s changing, but I still feel like there’s this kind of do you belong here question, and I feel like I have … and maybe it’s just this sort of like idealized vision I have of surfing from visiting friends in Hawaii and surfing there and just having it feel like, it’s inviting, you grow up in that sort of culture and Hawaii is the culture of the water and then where you are able to do everything.
You grow up surfing and swimming and puddle boarding and doing all these things and canoeing. And so that culture of invitation I think has evolved over the years, and when it comes to surfing that makes it feel very actually exclusionary, and I don’t think that’s what’s surfing is about at all.
Shireen: Right, and on the global level, you’re absolutely right, there’s women in the Bangladesh who surf, there’s women in Palestine who surf, there are women in Iran in the south who surf, so-
Bonnie: Right, and so it’s like of course there are and so but when you talk about surfing in competition and in the sort of the culture globally, it is very white, it feels really white, it feels really male, and I think that when you kind of look more locally that’s not true.
Shireen: That’s a great point, just to sort of expand on that a little, and ask you when you look to role model for surfing who would you look to or does that have to come more within because there’s this marked absence of top level young girls wanting to get into it, and even young boys, who can we look at to sort of say I want to be like this person or.
Bonnie: It really, it was really interesting for the story, so we’re talking, we can talk about, we also talk about these particular stories about big waves of surfing, right. So people who are really riding the giants, these huge five story waves, so if you talk about women in surfing, it’s a small number in competition anyway. You talk about women in surfing big waves, it’s even smaller. And then of course as a sport sort of recreationally, women are very interested in surfing and often start surfing actually later, and I know this is sort of skewed because of the women I know who are surfing and pick up surfing as adults and all that.
In Bay area, there are many surfers, I mean I know many surfers who have started not as kids. But in terms of role models, talking to Sara Gerhardt and Bianca Valenti who are two of the big wave surfers in the story, Sara Gerhardt was the first woman to surf Mavericks in 99. So 1999 is when you think about the first formal competition that it was just for men and it was sold as men who ride giants kind of thing.
Shireen: Lots of machismo there-
Bonnie: Right, and then a couple of weeks, or riding mountains, men who are … I think it was. And then it was a couple of weeks afterwards, she after the competition I think, in February, she went out to Mavericks and puddled out and caught her first wave at Mavericks. And so she was widely known as the first woman to surf Mavericks, and then the next month in march of 99, she went out again.
She paddled out before and she had caught a wave, prior to that February of 99 session. And then she went out in March and then caught a wave, so that was the one that was caught on camera by a photographer on the beach and so that was like the first proof that there was a woman who surfed Mavericks.
And when I talk to her about surfing, and she grew up surfing in Hawaii, and surfed in North shore with all of these guys, and she always the only woman out there, she said. And she, even, there wouldn’t be wet suits or there wouldn’t be gear for her, because she always had to wear the men’s stuff because there was no equipment for her that, and so she just would always just wear these things that were ill fitting, and then when she moved to California and she’s a chemistry, she got, to get her PHD in chemistry in Santa Cruz.
So she’s a professor, she’s a teacher, and so she started surfing Mavericks then when she moved to Santa Cruz. And so she talks about the whole evolution over the decades of women in the sport, girls in the sport and she was there when she was the only one. Even in Hawaii, back then just having to kind of deal with the machismo I guess on the water.
But she said she felt lucky because she fell in with a crew of guys who were cool, were cool and just saw her as another surfer, but that wasn’t always the case whenever she went out and wherever she would go out.
Shireen: Bonnie, where can we find you and your work?
Bonnie: I have been a long-time contributor to The New York Times and so I have actually started out writing for the travel section and still do a little bit of contributing there but I’ve written for Sunday review, a lot of opinion pieces, and about gender and race and sex, and so all these stuff that, all the burning hot issues of the day and swimming.
And so, sport is a really powerful part of my life and certainly surfing and swimming and so I feel, I certainly have a personal interest in sport and being an athlete for all of my life I feel that that contributed so positively to myself and identity and how I view myself and how I feel in the world.
Shireen: And of course, that’s really, really powerful. So where can we get your book?
Bonnie: So, I will tell you that right now I’m editing my book, so we’re in editing mode, the book is slated to be published next year, so because of the publishing industry is, it takes a while, I hope everyone’s going to look for Why We Swim next year in 2019.
Shireen: Awesome, thank you so much for being on Burn It All Down, like the history of surfing and the challenges that the women in the community still face are incredible, and I hope you enjoy all the waves and all the water everywhere.
Bonnie: And you too. Thank you so much for having me.
Shireen: Thanks for being and the show. Now it’s time for our favorite part of the show, the Burn Pile. Brenda, what are you torching?
Brenda: I am torching, figuratively of course, and my fingers are crossed behind my back, the administration of the College Of The Ozarks, a Christian liberal arts college in rural Missouri. Which has changed its uniforms so that they would not wear Nike following it’s, the announcement of its deal with Colin Kaepernick this week.
This is the same liberal arts college that wouldn’t play other teams if they had students demonstrating against police brutality, thus the men’s division two NAIA basketball national tournament had to be moved from the school, and it had hosted it for 18 seasons.
College Of the Ozarks president Jerry Davis said in the release quote, “If Nike is ashamed of America, we are ashamed of them, we also believe that those who know what sacrifice is all about, are more likely to be wearing a military uniform than an athletic uniform”, end of quote. I feel like this could be a group burn-
Shireen: Yeah and we would burn it-
Brenda: So in any case, it gets better, just hang on, buckle in for two more seconds here. I did some research into two very interesting thing. First they have a dean of patriotism, their college admissions dean-
Brenda: Is. Yes, yes-
Amira: He probably makes six figures-
Brenda: Probably, although probably they’re sacrificing salary altogether for their Christian and patriotic duty, Amira. I doubt they-
Amira: Obviously, obviously-
Brenda: In 2017, the college instituted a new requirement that all freshmen take a course called quote, “Patriotic education and fitness”, end of quote. Which-
Jessica: Oh, Lindsay burnt that didn’t she-
Brenda: Which includes … she did back in the day so-
Brenda: They’ve come up again, and the course includes tying knots, that’s part of the course requirement which is amazing. And it’s just, I know but I did some further research, and according to the data that I can find, the college of the Ozarks has approximately zero African American students or faculty, absolutely zero.
Now I could be wrong and I challenge our wonderful patreons and listeners to try to figure it out for me, but I did some pretty good research and if you were just for international students, it actually has zero minorities at all.
So is this the kind of college that actually get to make this comment, and what are you teaching your students besides knot tying, because it sounds like you’re teaching them just general obedience, the women’s volleyball team wore gray shirts this week and so that’s how important being sure that they stifle patriotic descent is. So I want to burn them. Burn.
Shireen: Burn. Jess.
Jessica: So, this week at Washington DC, the senate held hearings for Trump’s supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh as you would suspect is a conservative judge and there are real worries about how he’s going to rule on all kinds of cases, but especially abortion rights, given then he’s replacing the main swing vote on abortion cases for decades, Justice Kennedy.
I don’t want to get too into the weeds here on Kavanaugh and his record and the fact that he maybe perjured himself at the hearings this week, I suggest checking in with coverage-
Amira: He definitely praising himself-
Jessica: I suggest checking in with coverage at the site, Rewire News for that kind of stuff, especially the work of Jessica Pieklo and Imani Gandy, what I do want to burn is the fact that late in the hearings about a dozen current sand former players of the girls basketball team Kavanaugh coaches through the Catholic Youth Organization were paraded behind him on camera.
According to The New York Times, and this is literary how The New York Times reported it, quote, “About a dozen current and former players in blue sweaters, pony tails and plaid skirts, showed up to watch. They sat in the front rows right behind their coach, judge Kavanaugh introduced each of them, rattling off their names and in a remarkable display of memory, not devoted to legal precedent, their grades.” Thanks New York Times.
So please let me quote our friend Lindsay Gibbs who could not be here today but who tweeted about this on Thursday, and so here, this is, I’m quoting Lindsay, “Girls’ sports are not your shield, PSA. Being nice and respectful to people in person does not give you a pass in supporting oppressive policies and supporting inclusive progressive policies does not give you a pass on being an asshole, aim for both. I feel so, so sorry for those girls being used as a political prop by a man who is fighting for the chance to take their rights away, their parents should be ashamed for allowing it.” Thank you Lindsay Gibbs, I am 100 percent with her, burn all that bullshit, burn.
Shireen: Burn. So I’m going to burn Barstool, I guess you could say metaphorically…
Jessica: Go ahead, go ahead…
Shireen: I know that, we have permanent incinerators FIFA’s in one…
Jessica: They are made of wood, right?
Shireen: Michigan State is in one…
Jessica: Those bar stools?
Jessica: Ready to be torched.
Shireen: That is so good, so this week, and I get this a lot to this information as well from a woman and Julia Poe who writes for the daily Trojan. Barstool decided to go after Skylar Diggins-Smith who is an amazing guard for the Dallas Wings and was in that WNBA playoffs, and they literally started making up quotes and rewording what she had said completely out of context, and this is a, I’m going to call it a fraternity, a club, a series of twat waffles is maybe what I can identify Barstool as.
Shireen: They present themselves as media and I don’t understand how you can ethically even publish shit like this. They literally went after her and it’s so frustrating because as Poll said, Julia Poll, she said, “The wide amount of misogynist the site has spouted, is it really possible that they really hit a publication low when it posted a series of fabricated quotes by Skylar.
And I think it’s really, really, really problematic because A, it takes away from the focus that she needs to have, and B it’s completely going after her because her legendary in the misogyny war, they’re legendary when it comes to being complete assholes, and the fact that they do this and still get tons and tons of money for this and do not get called out, at some point it makes me feel frustrated, so I’m two part going to burn, metaphorically burn their listeners and their supporters because there are millions of them who get their news, sports news from BS, which I think is the very appropriate acronym for this place.
And also, the fact that they’re going after her in a way that’s unacceptable and absolutely just problematic and toxic and evil. So I’m going to burn BS.
Amira: Burn. As you probably heard on our hot take, we had a lot of thoughts, and there’s many burnable things that happened this past weekend at the US Open, but I wanted to bring up one point in particular and this has been going on for a very long time with Naomi Osaka as she’s moved into the spotlight. With her Haitianness, ergo her blackness is constantly being erased. So back at the Australian Open this year for instance, a reporter asked her constantly to comment on her kind of relationship with both Japan and the United States as she holds dual citizenships.
Again Naomi was born in Osaka, moved to the United States when she was three and her mom is Japanese her father is Haitian and she group up mostly in the United States, and so reporters are fascinated with this kind of complexity, so she’s always getting questions about her identity particularly centered around her relationship between both Japan and the United States. And she always goes out of her way to remind people that she’s black.
So the reporter asked her, “What is your relationship like?” And she’s literally like, “Aha, and my father’s Haitian, so represent, I’m sorry, I forgot your question.” I adore her-
Jessica: She’s amazing-
Amira: Just last week. She’s so amazing. Just last week at the US open, another reporter asked her to comment on her relationship between all of these different cultures meaning Japan and the United States, and Naomi said “I feel like we do this every time.” And she said “Okay, I was born in Japan, I moved to the United States, I grew up with my mom and dad, my dad’s Haitian.”
Even after she put it out there again, “My dad is Haitian, stop erasing it”, the reporter circled back and followed up by saying, “So tell as about what you draw from Japanese culture verse American culture.” And Naomi said, well I grew up in New York, with my dad’s family and my grandmother, so I actually grew up in an Haitian household.”
This came up again as I watch all the kind of laudatory packages roll in. Celebrating her win is the first of somebody, a player from Japan to win a major Grand Slam and that is certainly the case. But it’s also the first time we have a player form Haitian descent to do so, and it’s the second year in a row where we’ve had black women in the US Open final, and that should be celebrated as too.
Naomi is clearly a black woman, and not to understand that is to not understand diaspora, is to not understand biraciality, it’s to not understand the way race works in this world at all. And Naomi continues to insist and continues to remind, this is not, she’s not Madison Keys, she’s not saying I’m just Madison, she’s literally telling you time and time again, she is black, she is Haitian, she’s all of these things, so stop erasing one part of her, I’m burning it.
Shireen: Now after all that brilliant burning, let’s talk and amplify amazing women, badass women of the week, honorable nominations go to Spanish national women basketball players Maria and Angeles Araujo for being the first mother daughter player to play for the national team. We would also like to shout out the finalists for FIFA’s best player award for Marta, for being up there one more time, Ada Hegerberg ,and Dzenifer Maroszan.
We would also like to recognize the WNBA for 31 percent increase in viewership of this year’s playoffs that’s far, Sylvia Sweeney, former Canadian basketball captain who was recently awarded the order of Canada, Fatuma Abdelkadir of HodiAfrica for being the finalist for the FIFA diversity award and the winner will be announced September 23rd.
Kim Little and Scotland’s women’s football team for qualifying for the 2019 FIFA World Cup for the first time ever. Jane Purdon who is the first exec for Women In Football the organization in the United Kingdom, also want to a special mention the Danish women’s football team of 1971 who were the official winners of the unofficial World Cup in that year, 1971, that were finally honored for their achievement in Viborg, Denmark on September 4th. Sam Kerr for winning the 2018 NWSL Golden Boot award.
And can I get a drum roll please.
Amira: Wait, I wasn’t ready-
Brenda: Me neither, I’m ready.
Shireen: That’s some hasty percussion Amira.
Brenda: That was me.
Shireen: Okay, sorry Bren. Our badass woman of the week goes to Naomi Osaka the 20 year old Haitian Japanese American, US Open winner, we love you, we’re proud of you and we hope you keep slaying. What’s good friends, Amira, tell me what’s good?
Amira: I don’t know, I did an Escape Room this weekend it was fun, I won of course-
Shireen: Of course-
Amira: I’m literally as recording this, booking an Escape Room for, to do with Brenda and Shireen when they come into central PA in two weeks, so I’m really looking forward to that, and just generally you guys are what’s good, you make my weeks get off to a great start, I love chatting with you.
Jessica: I’m so happy to be back, that is what’s good, but also, I got to go to the baseball women’s world cup. And that was so much fun, Japan was as good as everyone told me they were going to be, I heard that they were the Bad Ass Women of the Week last week, but it was just a real joy to get to watch these women play baseball and I felt very fortunate that I was able to go and I should have a couple of more pieces about it coming up this week at the Huffington Post.
And the last thing is that my kid turns 10 on Wednesday, so and then my husband turn … well I’m not going to say that, but it’s his birthday next Sunday, so we are entering what I like to call the cake portion of the year. So I am very excited about the Virgos in my life and their birthdays and their cake. So that’s what’s good.
Shireen: Awesome, Brenda.
Brenda: Well, what’s good now is that Amira just booked an Escape Room, so now I’m really happy at this moment, that is really exciting and let’s see, I love having Jess back on the show, I know there’s a lot about ourselves and it kind of sounds narcissistic, so I’ll tell you one more thing which is that I just started school and it’s this honeymoon moment between my classes and I.
I haven’t asked them for anything, they haven’t asked me for anything, it’s just like we like each other still, there’s no tension there, I haven’t tried to poison their minds with my Marxist ramblings, and they haven’t fought back with anything ,so it’s this like great moment where we’re all like “This class is so happy”, so I’m enjoying it, I’m enjoying it.
Shireen: So, I have a pretty healthy pile, I saw Christopher Robbin last night, and it was adorable, it was much needed in terms of happiness and I love Winnie The Pooh, I think he’s one of the greatest philosophers of our time, in terms of what he says, and I just want to go and get myself a red balloon. I know that Antoine de St. Exupéry is like a great thing and the Le Petit Prince is like revered but I really strongly feel like Pooh is about him. Also, a bear of color, you know what I’m saying, so I’m all there for that.
My daughter won her league cup yesterday, I was visiting my mom and I was unable to come, so she won the league cup which is a really big deal, they went undefeated this season, she’s very excited about that, and when I have a 16-year-old in a good mood, it changes my world beautifully.
I did relaunch my website www.shireenahmed.com this week, much thanks to Amina my webmaster who did so much work and I love it. I’m very proud of it, please check it out.
I did want to also say, I accepted a challenge, or I challenged my friend Katelyn Burns who writes for Rewire, they were recently unionized so that’s wonderful, congrats to them, but I accepted a Cornhole challenge from Katelyn…
Shireen: Because I am pretty, I am pretty good at Cornhole, I call it Bean bag toss because I think Cornhole is an American thing, and so I don’t know when that will happen, but I love her and I think this is wonderful. Lastly, I would like to say that I’m very, very excited about the Burn It All Down merchandise. Very, very excited, I need those pillows, I need everything, and I’m just really happy, my birthday is in January if anyone cares, so that’s it.
Amira: And can we just say L Shana Tova, happy Rosh Hashanah to all our flame throwers celebrating this week.
Shireen: Shana Tova, everybody.
That’s all for this week in Burn It All Down, Burn It All Down lives on SoundCloud but can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Google play and TuneIn. We appreciate your reviews and feedback. So please subscribe and rate to let us know what we did well and how we can improve.
You can find us on Facebook at Burn It All Down, on Twitter @Burn It All Down Pod or on Instagram at @Burn It All Down Pod or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check to our fabulous website at wwwburnitalldwonpod.com where you will find previous episodes transcripts, a link to our Patreon and coming soon, our store.
We would appreciate you subscribing, sharing and rating our show which helps us do the work we love to do, keep burning what needs to be burnt. From Amira, Brenda, Jessica, I’m Shireen Ahmed. Thanks for being here.