Episode 86: The Best Of Burn It All Down 2018, part 1
This week’s show is part 1 of 2 where we recap the best of 2018 in sports and the best of Burn It All Down.
After the gang talks about their favorite sports moments from this year, [13:27] we play three of our favorite segments from 2018
1) from episode 42 in February, when Amira, Brenda, and Lindsay discussed the “woke” Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue; [31:40]
2) from episode 49 in April, when Shireen, Lindsay, Amira, and Jessica talked about the relationship between Kobe Bryant and women’s basketball; [47:34] and
3) our massive burn pile from episode 38 in January where each of the five of us picked one aspect around the Larry Nassar case to throw on the fire and burn into oblivion. [1:18:44]
Jessica: Welcome to Burn it All Down, the feminist sports podcast you need. We are so happy you’re here. This week is the first of two episodes where we will focus on the best of 2018 from the sports world, and specifically the best of Burn it All Down. I’m Jessica Luther, and I’m joined today by the whole crew. Professors Amira Rose Davis, and Brenda Elsey. And fellow writers and journalists, Lindsay Gibbs and Shireen Ahmed. Before we get into the meat of the episode, I want to take a moment to thank all of our patrons. You make this independent, commercial free, feminist sports podcast possible. Your donations allow us to afford quick, high quality editing, to provide transcripts for each episode, to have wonderful graphics to go along with the podcast. Thank you to Shelby Weldon, for making those for us. And to purchase ads to help spread the word.
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On today’s episode we talk about our favorite sports moments from 2018, before replaying some of our favorite discussion segments from this year, which include the time we talked about the so-called woke Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. And another when we discussed Kobe relationship to women’s basketball. Then, we’ll wrap it up with a long burn pile, focused specifically on everything and everyone around the Larry Nassar case, who deserves to be tossed in the metaphorical burn pile. Let’s get going.
Okay, it’s been a long year, but there have been some wonderful moments in sport that are worth looking back on before the new year is here. Lindsay, what did you love in sports this year?
Lindsay: Hi. I loved everything about women’s basketball this year. I am still buzzing from the women’s final four. The Arike Ogunbowale classic, as I like to call it. The two proverbial buzzer beaters that she beat. Take down UConn in the semis. And then Mississippi State in the final, to get Notre Dame that championship. It was electrified. It was electrifying, and I honestly still can’t believe it happened. And then, that led to a really phenomenal WNBA seasons, where we saw more parody than we’ve seen in a long time. We saw the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks both struggle, and they had been the dominant teams all year, which means we got to see some new faces, new stars, emerge.
It was, of course, the year of Stewey, with Breanna Stewart, on and off the court, with her coming out with her own Me Too story, and really inspiring a nation, and the world, in that way. And then having her MVP, winning MVP of the finals, winning the finals, USA Basketball MVP. She won it all. Those WNBA semifinals, which both went to the fifth game, which were just absolutely phenomenal. It was so cool for me, I cover the Washington Mystics and seeing them make it all the way to the WNBA finals just meant that I got a court side seat to a lot of playoff games, which was a real treat for me as a reporter. It was a phenomenal experience. I don’t know if y’all remember, I got on national TV giving myself a mustache. Which was a personal-
Jessica: I remember.
Lindsay: Great moment for me. Lots of highlights.
Jessica: Awesome. Thank you, Lindsay. Amira, I feel like anyone who listens to this podcast probably can guess where you’re going with this, but what was one of your favorite sport moments this year?
Lindsay: Wait, was it the Super Bowl, Amira? Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. I forgot.
Amira: You have jokes.
Lindsay: Sorry. Sorry.
Amira: You have jokes. We have rings. Exactly.
Lindsay: That is so true. That is so true.
Amira: While the Patriots did not win the Super Bowl that they appeared in for the third straight year.
Lindsay: All right. All right.
Amira: Something ridiculous like that. It’s okay, because the Boston Red Sox did win the championship. And actually, my favorite game of the series we didn’t win, which was the epic two day long … How many innings? 17. That was the collective experience of watching it in disbelief as every time it looked like it was going to be over, it somehow kept going. That was really fun and it’s no surprise how much I love Mookie Betts and JBJ, and David Price … Basically, all the black guys on the team I adore. They were a squad that I enjoyed watching from Spring training all the way up into when they got the championship this Fall. That was my clearly, high-key sporting moment.
My low-key sporting moment that I just have to give a quick shout out to, was a local game here in Rec Hall with Penn States volleyball, one of the top volleyball teams in the nation, playing Nebraska. Another team who just lost this week for … They came in second. They lost the championship. They won it last year, but they knocked Penn State out of the tournament last year when Penn State was the number one seed. And these two programs constantly go back and forth. Nebraska always gets the upper hand. In mid-October, Nebraska came there to state college to play a game that wasn’t pretty, but it was intense. Rec Hall was rocking. It went to five sets. Penn State came from behind to defeat Nebraska at a time in the season where it was these were top teams battling. The electricity in that room was just why I like sports. It was palpable.
Everybody was so invested, living and dying on every spike. Every exchange of the ball. It was that sheer energy, that fear you have no idea what’s going to happen, and the eruption of joy when we pulled it off, that reminded me why I love sports the way I do. It was a less known moment, not necessarily on many people’s radars as the Red Sox win, but I have to put it up there as the same exhilarating feeling. Those were my best sports moments of the year.
Jessica: Beautiful. Thank you, Amira. Shireen, how about you?
Shireen: It’s going to be no surprise to anybody that my favorite sports moments circumambulate around football. In addition to the Indian Women’s National Football team winning the AFC Championship, which is really fun, you can see some of those clips on YouTube. They’re GIFs now. Obviously, the Men’s World Cup, for me, was huge. Not only did I call Croatia-France final, watching Ivan Rakitić and Luka Modrić get the recognition I feel they so aptly deserve with Croatia, the way that team is.
It also restarted a conversation about refugees in sport, because Modrić is a refugee, was a refugee. And I think that’s really important to recognize. And the conversations that started of that. Honestly, France winning the World Cup was beautiful. It was fun. The conversations about racism in France, and considering the amount of xenophobia in that country, and what it is. The conversations about it being an African, North African, or West African team, in addition to being French, and what identity is. I love the conversations around it. I really, really enjoyed the World Cup.
Ahmed Musa’s goal is one of my favorites, from Nigeria. I still have it in my head. But one of my favorite moments of the year is when Iranian goalkeeper, Alireza Beiranvand saved a penalty that was taken by Cristiano Ronaldo, and watching this man go down in flames is always one of my personal favorite things. I will hold that closely. Also, the story of Beiranvand’s life, and how he was homeless, worked in a pizza place in Tehran, like in a shelter. The story of how he came up, and then he saved one of the most important penalties. Iran actually did lose that match to Portugal, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s space being devastated is always something I hold close to my heart. There you go.
Jessica: Awesome. Thank you so much, Shireen. I’m going to piggyback off of Linds. One of the things I wanted to mention was WNBA semifinals, specifically Sue Bird. In game five, against Phoenix. She was wearing that mask over her broken nose because Breanna Stewart had accidentally broken it. She came out in the final quarter, she scored 14 points, making five of six shots, four of five from behind the three point line. It’s one of those moments where you’re watching it and you just cannot believe that a single person can do that. I know she doesn’t love it when people bring it up, but at her age, she is the oldest player in the WNBA. It was so fun to watch. I hold those moments. Thank you Sue Bird.
I also wanted to give a shout out to Caster Semenya for continuing to be spectacular and win almost every race that she enters. And then, I don’t want to forget that the Winter Olympics happened this year. We spent a lot of time talking about it. Shout outs to Chloe Kim, for being amazing in the way that we knew she could be and would be. And Mirai, man, when she hit that triple axel, my heart stopped. She leapt in the air and then she landed that thing and her face. I re-watched the smile on her face at the end of the … I think she held it together right until the end when she had finished. Then she was just the … The joy that she felt in accomplishing that. Those were all just wonderful moments in sport for me this year. Brenda, why don’t you round this out for us.
Brenda: All right. Mine’s a tie. I have a tie. One is Pussy Riot high fiving Mbappé at the-
Jessica: Oh my god.
Brenda: Finals of the Men’s World Cup of 2018. I thought it was just awesome to see disruption in the finals of the Men’s World Cup. It rarely happens. It’s very controlled, and given the fact that it was in Russia, I feel like it was even more controlled than ever. It was a wonderful moment to see this young superstar, who handled his fame really well, and with a lot of elegance. It was … He was just amazing in that tournament and surprised a lot of people. To see that combination, just that image is so iconic and it’s burned in my brain. That is second, or tied to my other favorite moment in sport, which was the Copo Americana Feminina, or the Women’s American Cup, because only Americans in the US called the US America. PSA for everybody out there. Basically, Brazil won all seven of their matches so handily to win, and they really could use some more competition. I have to say, just hats off, 13 different Brazilian players scored in seven matches.
Jessica: Wow. Wow.
Brenda: That’s insane. How much talent do you have? Where is that factory located, and why don’t I have any? 13 different players scored. And, of course, the fact that Formiga in her 21st year on the Brazilian National team. 21st year. She’s been on the national team longer than some of the members have been alive.
Brenda: She scored, and it was so awesome. I have so much respect for her. She scored against Columbia. Beautiful goal. Those are tied for my best of sports moments this year.
Jessica: Awesome. I’m very proud of us for how quickly we did that because I feel like there are so many things that we could talk about. It makes me very hyped for what is to come.
The first segment we want to revisit before the year ends comes from episode 42, which we posted on February 20th. In it, Amira, Brenda, and Lindsay discussed their complicated feelings about this years “Woke Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.” Was it empowering? Exploitation? Or both?
Amira: Alright. This week, Sports Illustrated released yet another swimsuit issue, as they do every year. This one featured many athletes, and I know for us, inspired a very complicated discussion. We want to kind of wade into that now. Lindsay, do you want to kick us off?
Lindsay: Yeah. I do. I’ve got a lot of, as Amira said, complicated thoughts about this. I’m kind of excited to work through that, but let’s just set the stage. It’s that time of year again, when in a rare moment, women grace the pages and the cover of the most prominent sports magazine, but of course this is for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. This has been heralded as the first swimsuit edition of the #MeToo era.
According to Vanity Fair, this year, “The team behind the media institution set out to make a magazine where models were as much participants as objects.” Just let that soak in for a minute.
There were five athletes who were really heavy featured in this issue. You had Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard, who are of course the tennis players. You had Aly Raisman the gymnast, and then you had Brenna Huckaby, who is a paralympic snowboarder. That was kind of interesting. She was the first paralympic athlete to be included. She has an amputated leg, so she was the first paralympic athlete to be included in the SI swimsuit edition. Also, you had Paige Spiranac. I don’t know if I’m saying her name right, but she is the golfer who is best known, not for even her starts on the LPGA tour, because there haven’t been that many, but for her Instagram following that she’s really garnered. She has 1.3 million followers on Instagram.
One of the things they did this year was to try and get this message across, that you don’t have to be modest to be respected, which is something that we here at Burn It All Down are … That is true, very much believe that. But one of the things they did, was they had a lot of photoshoots that didn’t include any swimsuits an all, and instead had these models and then some of the athletes completely nude with words painted on their body.
For example, Aly Raisman had “Trust yourself,” and “Life for you,” “Abuse is never okay,” “Women do not have to be modest to be respected,” that was written on her body. You also had Robyn Lawley who is an older model who had, “Nurturer, mother, creative, human,” written over her naked body. The point of this was to be in her own words. It was supposed to look at what’s empowering to these women.
It’s tough because, for me, this is complicated because it’s still all in a magazine that was intended for the male gaze and that has always used women’s bodies as a selling point. I hope that all these women were empowered, and they do seem like they were empowered, but is this the best way for the empowerment to happen, and where does this take the conversation? Amira?
Amira: Yeah, it was interesting. I was looking for posters for my office this week, and I was looking for women athletes. I went the Amazon, as I do for everything in my life, and I put in “Women athlete posters.” Legitimately the first five pages were pictures from ESPN’s Body issue, of women athletes blown up and decontextualized from the issue.
If you’re not familiar, the ESPN Body issue features a wide variety of athletes of shapes, sizes, colors, men, women, and it’s a celebration of body and athletic bodies. Removed from that context and to have the only posters returning for women athletes being when they don’t have clothes on was jarring to me. I think it was through that lens that I first encountered this SI issue, that I immediately thought about, “Well, what happens when these photos are removed from the context? When empowerment for one can also mean objectification for everybody else who’s passing the magazine around or going to take the pictures and then make a poster, print it and sell it on Amazon, and that becomes your go to image of your athletic body?”
That sits with me in a very troubling way. I guess the other part of me thinks about objectification, and how perhaps the conversation we have about the objectification of athletes happens certainly in a gendered context, but does that, at times, obscure the way that we … Even a few weeks ago, we were sitting here ogling about Pita Taufatofua’s oily, flag bearing body. I think about those kind of casual ways that I also participate in objectifying male athletes, which doesn’t necessarily have a system or avenue or institutional support behind it. We’re not necessarily getting the swimsuit issue like that, so there are kind of degrees of difference, but it has me thinking very deeply about what it means to objectify athletes in particular. Brenda?
Brenda: Yeah. I think … It’s so interesting, what you said about taking it out of the context. On the one had, you have this process by which they don’t get to control what happens to that image. It’s empowering for them, and I agree with Lindsay, I hope it is empowering for them, but we’re talking about images that go beyond their authors and owners of those images going forward. They’re owners of their bodies, right? But part of it too, is the context, which is that Sports Illustrated only features about 4% … Well, 4% of its covers are women. There was a study that was done recently in the International Journal of Sports Sociology that demonstrated that there were actually more women on Sports Illustrated covers between 1954 and 1965 than there was from 2000 to today.
This isn’t something that’s improved at all. I think it would be very different if women athletes had a lot more coverage in that magazine. I would wager that the 4% and change of women in Sports Illustrated would be cut in half if it wasn’t for the swimsuit issue.
Lindsay: I think that was not including the swimsuit issue, maybe. I don’t know.
Brenda: I think the study does include it, I think it does. In fact, though, if Sports Illustrated … I mean, who’s the audience for this? One of the things is that, in the subscription of Sports Illustrated, you can even opt out of swimsuit issue. They know very well that they’re trying to hit a particular demographic. In their marketing packages, they brag that this is the white male market between 18 and 35, that they’ll hit more people from the Superbowl.
I don’t care who the creative team is. The economic structural model there is exactly what we think it is. It’s about exploiting women and their bodies. They have the right to participate in that, and it’s not just one layer. It’s not so simple as that. But I do think if we step back, the business model is very simple.
Amira: Yeah. It got me thinking historically … Those covers that you mentioned, for instance, in the 50s and 60s … That’s right around the time that I’m researching in my women are appearing on some of these covers, but also in newspapers and black newspapers and Ebony and Jet. I find it a really interesting discussion because, one of the things that I see then a lot is the framing of these magazines, especially in Jet and Ebony, wanting to overemphasize femininity and demonstrate that one could be female and athletic, and that those two things could coincide and to kind of push back on the notion that athletics made you manly. They really had to play up this heterosexual inclination as well, at the time.
There’s a lot of photoshoots that, say, baseball player Toni Stone took, where they insisted, either she’s wearing a dress, there’s one picture of her topless laying down on a table while her husband is giving her a massage and they make sure to caption, “She’s getting a massage from her husband after the game.” There’s all this curation of image.
Part of it was strategic. That is for the Olympians. This is around the time where sex testing was happening, which was a really invasive test at the time, and particularly black women were more susceptible to these kind of invasive testing procedures, and scrutiny about their femininity, but it also makes me think that there’s a lot of parallels in terms of image and presentation that seem to be trying to still push back on this idea that somehow you can’t be athlete and a woman. What that means is you still kind of being a spectacle or defying the odds if you are a woman who’s an athlete and still wants to wear makeup or show off your body or whatnot. That kind of historical continuum, I think, is a bit disheartening that it’s still happening. It’s interesting to me to document that change over time. Lindsay?
Lindsay: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that concerns me the most about this is that I feel like we’re still setting up … The gold standard for women is still being viewed by men as sexy. I don’t know if that’s true, but I think that that’s my concern, is that that’s the message we’re still sending.
That’s where I think I get stuck on this, because I want all these women to feel empowered and beautiful. I follow a lot of models on social and athletes who have the SI swimsuit issue, and they all say great things about MJ Day, who is the full time editor of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. She does really seem to care about her models and create a really supportive environment, and they all just love here. That’s great, that they’re finding this empowerment.
I’ll read from that Vanity Fair piece again. MJ Day runs the swimsuit edition like a den mother. She pays attention to the comfort and emotions and comfort levels of her employees. MJ Day says, “This is a safe space.” But she then goes on, MJ, in this interview, to talk about how they’re trying to showcase a variety of images of beauty.
She says, “Why are we only saying to ourselves that there is one type of person who is worthy of being celebrated? It’s bullshit, and we all know it, and we live it, and yet it’s continued to be propagated in the media.” Okay, yes, I agree with that quote very much, but if you look at the SI swimsuit, it is a very narrow standard deviation of what is beauty.
Sloane Stephens might be slightly more muscular, but Sloane Stephens is one of the most gorgeous women in the world. There’s no doubt about the fact that Sloane Stephens is stunningly gorgeous by pretty much all standards. Same with Eugenie Bouchard and these other athletes they’re giving.
I think that’s where I really get caught up, is the fact that we’re still … I understand that for a swimsuit issue, putting people of color on there and putting women who are a size 10 instead of a size 2, that these are supposed to be hugely radical acts, but all of these people still fit into a very narrow standard of beauty.
How far can you take that empowerment? SI is still very much reinforcing these standards of beauty that we have.
Brenda: I always ask myself exactly what Lindsay just ended on, which is, how far does that empowerment go? Who is this empowering, besides? If it’s them, great, but how many girls are looking at the SI cover and being like, “I feel so empowered.” I’m sorry to say it, but it does absolutely nothing for the larger structure of sexism that exists. The fact that they’re trouncing around on Caribbean islands has a real gross thing for me. Puerto Rico doesn’t have power, but it’s so hot and sexy to roll around on a beach that could be whatever Caribbean island.
There’s also a whole context to both a very narrow standard of beauty, all of the bathing suits are typical of pornographic … Featuring and covering certain sort of styles.
Lindsay: Very minimalistic.
Brenda: But also very traditional. They’re not featuring the muscles. They’re actually not. I mean, the muscles are part of those women’s bodies and they come along with it, but it’s all about the peekaboo genital, breast, peep shots, and women occasionally licking their fingers or looking like they accidentally … Are just waiting for some man to come on to that beach.
Anyway, I can’t imagine a girl seeing it and being like, “Thank you so much for doing that. It’s really cleared stuff up.”
Lindsay: But I think that there are girls who see that, because there are girls … We’re still sending the message to girls that they need to be seen as sexy, and that that is the holy grail. On that note, I think that it is empowering to girls. I’m just not sure if it’s empowering to girls in the right way. I think that there are actually tons of younger girls who see this, maybe not you or I, but who do see this and say, “Yes, oh my gosh, this is great, because she can still be sexy, and I want to be sexy.” That’s what concerns me.
I follow all these athletes, and whenever these athletes are in SI and they post their photos on Instagram, those are the most likes they get. They repost them and repost them. Caroline Wozniacki, who is a phenomenal athlete, and love her so much … And she posts her SI swimsuit outtakes at least once a month, I feel like. Same with Eugenie Bouchard. They keep bringing up these images and they keep wanting to be validated that way and they keep showing that it’s important to be validated that way.
I don’t begrudge them at all, I just worry, why do they feel so proud of that? Why is that such a big thing to them, I think is where I get stuck.
Amira: It’s so interesting, because I really like ESPN’s Body issue. This is why for me it brings me back to the context. I think the way the layouts work in ESPN’s Body issue and the kind of celebration of athleticism is … I don’t know, I don’t have the same reaction and I don’t know why. I’m still kind of working through these things.
Brenda: They’re posed entirely differently. They’re not laying down on a beach waiting for someone to take a picture of them or have sex with them, which these women in SI clearly are. The pose is absolutely central, whereas the ESPN Body issue … They’re running and leaping and jumping and flexing.
Lindsay: They are celebrating the athletic … What SI is doing is conforming these athletic or women of color bodies to still fit the standard poses and standard definition of sexy, whereas I feel like ESPN is more, “We are going to find what’s attractive about your specific body and cater to that.” Raisman has been very … Of course, this is all happening for her right after she’s come out about being abused by Nassar and she’s been such a great advocate for women and for survivors in that.
She did tell People magazine that she’s had people telling her, “I don’t understand how you can complain that you were molested, because you participate in Sports Illustrated swimsuit magazine.” I just want to say, that is fucking disgusting. By sitting here and sorting through our comfort level with this and what it all means and the context, we want to in no way shame these women or say that they are anything but wonderful women.
Jessica: Next up is our discussion from episode 49 in April, about the relationship between Kobe Bryant and women’s basketball. And our struggle with it, given his history with women and because the sport can use all the champions it can get. On the episode that day were Shireen, Lindsay, Amira, and me.
Kobe and women’s basketball, let’s do this y’all. Lindsay, you want to get us started?
Lindsay: Sure. I’m going to try and be brief here because I know I just have a lot of things to say, I just want to get this conversation started. All right, let’s start with the women’s final four which was absolutely incredible last week. Of course, it had the two overtime games in the semi-final and then the championship which Arike Ogunbowale, my new best friend in my mind, won on an almost last second three-pointer from the corner to take down Mississippi State in the semi-finals and in the finals.
There was a very notable presence in the crowd which was Kobe Bryant and his wife and his daughter. Kobe has long been a champion of women’s basketball. Considering that women’s basketball needs a lot of high profile champions, that that is a good thing for the sport right now and that Kobe is so beloved in the basketball community. As expected and as always the case when Kobe shows up, Kobe gets a lot of air time, Kobe gets a lot of attention, Kobe sucks a lot of the air out of the room for being Kobe and for saying very, I would say, good but also not … I wish it wasn’t a big deal that there was a man and he was like, “These women are awesome,” everyone is like, “Oh, let me fawn over you forever. You are such a feminist,” or whatever. It just drives me crazy but that’s another subject.
We want to specifically hone in on Kobe right now. Of course, this is troubling to me and, I think, a lot of fans because Kobe in 2003 was accused of rape and the allegations were incredibly troubling, to say the least. The way his legal team treated the woman who he have this encounter with set a tone for victim blaming and slut-shaming that we still see used time after time in legal defenses by high profile athletes to this day.
While I try and go into every situation with a very open mind even though my trolls on Twitter will tell me I don’t, I looked back at this case in 2016 when Kobe was retiring and there is very good reason to still be troubled by everything that happened here. I’ll read to you Kobe’s apology statement at the time which he gave as part of a settlement to end this civil suit and at the time that this statement was given, the woman also stopped cooperating with the criminal investigation and this is what made all this go away for Kobe. Here’s the statement, “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
It’s kind of a staggering apology because Kobe is saying, “I understand that she believes that she was raped and I’m conceding to that fact” so while he’s not saying in the affirmative that he raped her, he is very much giving credence to everything that this woman has been saying and has been crucified in the press for. Since this statement and since he came forward and gave his wife that famous apology ring which was for cheating on her because he did admit to having this encounter with this woman, Kobe hasn’t talked about this, there’s been no reckoning for Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant lost a lot of sponsors during the deal but he gained them all back and some, he, of course, finished an illustrious basketball career, he won an Oscar this year and we all still worship at the altar of Kobe Bryant.
That statement that I just read is the last he said on any of this. To me, that feels very very unfinished and that leaves a lot to be desired and it’s really hard for me to lift him up as, pretty much at this point, the most high profile champion of women’s basketball on the Sports Illustrated cover which Arike Ogunbowale was about her shot which was an incredible moment for women’s sports. The text of it said, “Arike Ogunbowale brings home title for Notre Dame, even Kobe is in awe,” so all these women are sharing this moment with Kobe. You guys, I don’t know what to do with this, somebody help me.
Jessica: Yeah. It’s so complicated because he does bring the attention and, you’re right, that he sucks the air out of the room when he does it but, at the same time, women’s basketball needs all the attention it can get. The idea that this is how they’re getting attention, I have so many feelings all the time about this. I understand the embrace of him by the league and the sport that needs this kind of attention on it, I mean, Arike Ogunbowale was on Ellen this week and surprise guest Kobe Bryant was there and I wonder if part of the reason she was there is because they knew they could get him too but that’s great. She was on there, she got to talk about what happened and how great women’s basketball is and I’m happy about that so I don’t know. Shireen, what are your thoughts?
Shireen: I have so many thoughts. Lindsay, the piece that you wrote for seeing progress on this was really really important about when the case was happening and how the media handles abusers. I wrote a piece in April 2016 which subsequently went into Best Canadian Sports Writing 2017 [crosstalk 00:11:21] …
Lindsay: Not even humble brag.
Shireen: Humble brag. The reason I did that is because not just women’s basketball but fans of basketball in general still idolize this person and it makes me super uncomfortable that this happens because there’s no discussion. I mean, if Kobe was to come out and sort of say, “Listen, I’m going to donate a million dollars to,” and I use that figure because CAP donates so generously and so easily, “to women shelters or for survivors or Me Too,” right … Did Kobe say anything about Me Too? I can’t even remember. That was a movement that literally went everywhere. When Breanna Stewart came out and wrote that piece, did he come out and support or retweet when he’s, supposedly, all over women’s basketball and support her? He didn’t say anything? I’m sure his handlers told him not to say anything because of the obvious reasons.
Also, I agree with what Lindsay says about women having to share it. I do struggle with the idea that women’s basketball needs to be amplified, ergo needs to rely on Kobe but I actually don’t feel that way, I think women’s basketball relies on women who always do the work anyway. Maybe we can nudge Steph Curry and be like, “Can you start talking?” or email POP because we can email POP and be like, “Can you start picking it up?” there’s got to be another alternative to Kobe Bryant, my god. Maybe we can get Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is on the sidelines of the Lakers to start talking about … I don’t know, anyone but Kobe is literally my … I need that on a shirt, anyone but Kobe.
Amira: Yeah. I also have complicated feelings about this. One, the first things first, I think that it’s also a stunning example of the kind of idea, the myth that rape allegation will ruin your life because he seems to be rolling along just fine.
Lindsay: He won an Oscar, I just can’t [crosstalk 00:13:18], I’m sorry.
Amira: It wasn’t even the best in that category [crosstalk 00:13:20].
Lindsay: Sorry. Okay.
Amira: No problem. I’m glad you got that off your chest. A lot of my complicated feelings come because I’ve been wrestling lately with the idea of rehab or rehabilitating your image both in a corporate sense like, oh, now I can sell things or have myself appear court side and everybody fawn over me but really thinking concretely about what do you do and where do you go after allegations or after you confessed … I’ve just been really wrestling with this idea.
Thinking about, Shireen, what you just said, utter lack of acknowledgement and once you noted that [inaudible 00:14:04] last time, you talked about that. Would it feel less icky if he took ownership of that or said me too and said, “You know what …” Molly Ringwald just wrote a piece where she completely considered and returned to movie she was in and the way she was part of a certain type of process of this. I think that what would it look like if he was doing that and not running or shielding from it but embracing it, would that make it better or would there be a way in which it didn’t matter? Because once this happens, that’s it, that you’re always going to be carrying that with you for the rest of your life.
Those are the things I’m thinking about. Of course, I compare this to Ben Roethlisberger a lot and the way legacies of allegations can hang on you but the disparate ways in which people are treated. I don’t know, I’m very much wrestling with that idea, what would it look like for him to be accountable?
Jessica: Right. I think one of those most difficult things about this is how do we decide if we don’t have an idea of what that means to the victim, to the person harmed but, of course, we shouldn’t be knocking on this person’s door asking and so how we, as a society or community, decide that it’s enough, that this accountability has been had and we don’t have to carry it with us all the time any time that this person is there, it’s so hard to measure. I want to tell you what I personally think he should be doing but does it matter what I think he should be doing, I don’t know and that’s one of the things that I wrestle with when I think about not redemption, I guess rehab, I don’t know, it’s so complicated and it’s hard. Lindsay?
Lindsay: Yeah. To bring us back to women’s basketball, one of the reasons why I don’t get so angry with the women’s basketball community about this is because it’s a universal thing with Kobe, right? There’s this universal acceptance and moving on. It’s not like all corners of the sports world and entertainment world are blackballing Kobe for this and then it’s just women’s basketball who’s celebrating him. I mean, journalists, we love Jemele Hill, friend of the who I like to say, who we’ve interviewed, she interviews Kobe and doesn’t bring … It’s just kind of universally accepted and moved on and that’s really hard to grapple with especially as we come today.
I mean, I think sometimes the significance of the Me Too movement, it’s a very important step but it’s very much just a step and nobody knows what the rest of the staircase looks like or even if it exist. We have to keep building it as we go along and part of that is figuring out what we do with people like Kobe Bryant who’s the allegations happen so long ago, that are still there, that are still troubling and that we think there are still some reckoning that needs to be done.
I wrote about this a little bit with Shaun White which is a very different situation, on the spectrum but it was sexual harassment and I don’t want to say that I’m saying that as rape, I’m not. One of my things with his Olympic redemption arc was that NBC didn’t even ask him about it in their softball interviews with him and I felt that one of my things was … I’m not saying that this guy needs to be banned, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy his gold medal winning run in the Olympics, I’m saying I think if we’re talking about his story of the past four years, he should be asked about these incredibly troubling allegations and it has to continue to be part of the conversation. That’s why I think even though we don’t have all the answers right now, continuing to bring it up, continuing to grapple with it … I’m not saying that Kobe has to go away forever but I’m saying this, right now, what’s happening also isn’t the answer. Even though I don’t have the answer, we got to keep pushing this conversation forward.
Jessica: Absolutely. Shireen?
Shireen: I’m okay with Kobe going away forever but … No, just kidding, not really. The last thing is is that I can say with certainty that although a lot of media does sort of ignore those hard questions or doesn’t want to bring it up or maybe are told that, by their superiors, they cannot bring it up, that’s kind of the power that he wields is that he will never be on Burn It All Down and they don’t like to speak for us as a whole but I’m pretty sure I can say that and that’s it, for me.
Lindsay: Unless he wants to talk about the rape out. If Kobe would like to specifically address what happened in 2003 and what he has learned from it …
Jessica: We have space here.
Shireen: We have space.
Lindsay: He has space, but he should know, those are the only questions we will be asking.
Amira: Yeah. I think one of the things that leads me to think on this, the particular vehicle of sports in rehabbing an image. Like you said, Lindsay, watching Shaun White tear through that course, there’s something about sports. I’m thinking this particularly reflecting on … I can’t even say it, for Massachusetts, I’m the worst person, [inaudible 00:19:36] …
Amira: Yeah. There you go, thank you. As that movie is coming out and thinking about how scandals and politics move a certain way, it leads me to think about the sports world especially because there’s so much embodiment, we watch them, we consume them, they can raise your blood pressure and make you scream and make you cry and invoke all these emotions. I mean, we’re all cheering for Tiger again and his comeback, I think Lindsay made this point earlier. I think that there’s a way that sports is a particular vehicle that allows these conversations to drop off unless we’re very relentless on continuing to ask the question.
Jessica: Thank you. I just want to end by telling everyone to watch women’s basketball. Do it because they’re amazing and not because Kobe Bryant tells you they’re amazing.
Finally, it seems right to end 2018 at Burn it All Down with a 30-minute burn pile from episode 38, which posted on January 23rd. All about the many failures around the Larry Nassar case. Each of us picked a different aspect of this nightmare to highlight and then toss onto the burn pile. We recorded this within days of the sentencing hearing for Nassar, wherein 156 girls and women, read victim impact statements in court. We have covered the fallout from the case from the very beginning of this podcast and will continue to do so.
Brenda: And now we’re going to pivot to a very serious topic and one that we would like to send out a trigger warning to listeners about. The conversation that follows will probably have details of sexual abuse, which may be very explicit and upsetting to people. We’ll put time stamps on the show notes in case those of you who need to skip it want to skip it.
This week in Michigan, Larry Nassar, the team USA gymnastics doctor and associate professor at Michigan State University heard the testimonies of the women he assaulted. At least 150 girls and women suffered sexual abuse at Nassar’s hands for over 20 years. As part of his plea bargain, all of these victims have the right to appear in court and give their testimony to confront Nassar. The testimonies reveal so much about how people in institutions refuse to listen to the girls and women, instead of listening to those hundreds of survivors, people chose to rest on the supposed authority of one man, an all too familiar monster as it turns out.
This week at Burn It All Down, we’ve struggled to think of how to honor the survivors and articulate actual words that make sense of a case of this magnitude. So, we’ve decided to forgo our usual format of a burn pile and structure the conversation as the biggest incinerator ever to burn it all down. We’re going to start with Amira who is going to talk about her particular choice aspect of the case. Amira?
Amira: Yeah, I want to start with the man himself and how he revealed how shitty his character is even in this moment. This week, as almost a hundred survivors stood in front of him in a courtroom and revealed to the judge, to the courtroom, to the world the wake of devastation he left. He had the audacity to write a single spaced six-page letter complaining that it was too hard for him to listen to the description of abuse. That he was mentally not able to withstand this, blaming the judge and the courtroom for turning it into a media circus.
What the fuck? I’m sorry. The audacity. The audacity of causing this pain and not being able to withstand a day. These women, these girls, many of them still minors have been living with this for years and you can’t take 48 mother fucking hours to hear you have inflicted. They are holding up a mirror to you and you are running away? You are a coward. And kudos to the judge in this case who responded to this ridiculous letter and said listen spending four or five days listening to them is significantly minor considering the hours of pleasure you have had at their expense in ruining their lives. I just … this is about power, and you can see now that he is shredded from it, he has no ability to exert himself over these brain young women. He is cowering. He is cowering and he’s weeping, and he is just … even in this moment I don’t know what else I would have expected. I knew he was a monster, but this revealed him to be a coward. I’m burning it. I’m enraged. I just have no words.
Lindsay: Yeah, I have been listening to pretty much all these victims’ statements and one of the things that has struck me, the level of his evilness and his soullessness, you don’t think it could astound you anymore and yet it does over and over and over again. What has gotten lost in this conversation is not only did he sexually abuse, which is the worst not only I’ve ever said, but most of these women came to him for specific treatments of pain and he did not properly treat them. Many times, he actually invented diagnosis of severe back pain or misdiagnose them so they would keep coming to him, so he could keep abusing them for his own pleasure. So many of these girls, besides the emotional pain and the ways their lives have fallen apart, they are still in extreme physical pain because they were never treated properly when they were supposed to be.
Brenda: And we know how emotional trauma works in the body and exacerbates all kinds of, there are psycho somatic reactions to those types of things, on top of the fact that they weren’t treated for their actual physical ailment. Shireen, what do you want to burn about this case?
Shireen: Well, amongst the many things, like everyone else wants to incinerate, for me one of the most harrowing things was the lack of media coverage on this particular … it was one of the most horrific, systemic abuse in sports in the history of the United States. I think that it was just staggering how little and I’ll actually be referring to work that Lindsay has done and Lindsay … just really the work, you know I’m talking about the lack of media coverage, the work you put forward to this like hats off to you because I’ve been relying on your heavily and I know this work is exhausting. When I say that I also want to add that mad respect and much love and lots of self-care to the people that have been covering this because it’s not easy.
Now in terms of the coverage, or lack thereof, and which Larry Nassar had the audacity to say to the judge that he accused of a “media circus”, which is not true, the Indianapolis Star broke this story and we had it in September of 2016 and in a previous episode we did have the journalist on that had been following this. Then Lansing State Journal had covered it. Dvora Meyers from Deadspin had been covering. I think, and Jessica wrote a piece for BuzzFeed on it, I think it’s important to know that there was less than 20 minutes combined of Fox News, MSNBC, CNN on this entire case. We’re talking about everything from the facts to witness testimony to actual court because he’s being sentenced, this is just now what we’re seeing is the victim impact. But the fact that it hadn’t been covered the way it ought to be is just so devastating and instead we’re hearing about … I don’t know … President Agent Orange having temper tantrums and Forbes Magazines. It’s just getting lost and it shouldn’t be.
Brian Graham of The Guardian actually wrote an article about this and why it’s not getting more attention and he wrote about this and he said it’s just that people don’t care. That really struck me because the reality is there are systems, violent systems in place and do people really not care? If people call up their local stations and say listen we want to hear about this, why is this not being reported if they tweet accurately? These things actually do make a difference. For people to say, it’s also I understand, difficult for people to hear and read about it and it can be triggering and lots of love out there to the survivors who are being re triggered by this, but this is a systemic problem within this sport and in the United States and in many other countries. The only way to clean out this dirty laundry is to air it. It needs to be out there.
Again, first and foremost love and support to the survivors. Those who have come forward and those who still can’t. But in terms of media, you have a responsibility and not only to cover it, to cover it responsibly. Use media tool kits if need be. Chicago Task Force Femfesto. Like, it needs to be done and please do it responsibly.
Brenda: Jessica, you actually wrote in BuzzFeed about people caring or not caring enough.
Jessica: Yeah, I did. They don’t seem to care enough in my experience and from the circle I run in, even though I run in this one right here where we care very deeply. The article is framed around the Sandusky trial, which a lot … I’m from Penn State, just inundated the news like on all sides. My entire point of the piece was to say that what we’ve learned, the mask drawn back is that all that Sandusky coverage had nothing to do with the victims in that case and caring about child sexual abuse. It was literally just the institution and specifically that coach, Joe Pa that everybody loves to much and that we can see that because here we have his horrific case with Nassar that doesn’t receive the same kind of intensity of media scrutiny.
It’s not that people haven’t been covering it. Of course, there is a defensive response to the piece, there’s lots of articles about this and I heard about it from one of my friends, so you must be wrong. How are you ever going to prove that the intensity of the media coverage is very different? That the tenor and the flavor of it is very different. It seems obvious to me and I think that’s because they don’t have an institution or a famous person that they identify with and care deeply about that is involved here. It’s not about the victims. It’s not actually about that and trying to mitigate that kind of harm and I think that was really what I wanted to draw attention to.
Brenda: Lindsay is somebody who covered this intensely. Do you have something to comment in terms of media coverage of this?
Lindsay: I think that there needs to be a line drawn between reporting and coverage because the reporting on this case has been absolutely fantastic. It is because especially the Indianapolis Star and the Lansing State Journal reporters, that we are at this point. Their reporting led to these brave survivors coming forward and got us to this point. So there has been phenomenal reporting but that study that Shireen mentioned that I wrote about, about 20 minutes, so this was last week. It was Monday through Friday morning and it looked at CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. So, three 24-hour, 7-days a week cable news stations. It tallied in all the four days on all the stations just less than 20 minutes of coverage on his case. This was the biggest week for the case in the media because it was the week that all the victims were speaking day after day, 9-5 in court. That was really, for me, a staggering number because we’re not expecting unfortunately at this point, for those networks to do any new reporting, new investigative reporting on this. But they should be amplifying it and they should be treating like something people should care about.
Because so many people get their cues on what to care about from those cable news stations. Building on Jessica’s point that this is a great example of how the Paterno scandal or what Sandusky did the people were more outraged about Paterno’s legacy than they were about the child sex abuse. On that note, I think I’ve heard a lot, maybe we just don’t care about female victims. Maybe we care about male victims. But I think society has told us that we don’t really care about male victims of sexual assault either. We care about men’s sports and the legacies of men’s sports than we do about women’s sports, but we treat all victims like shit.
Brenda: So, on the burn pile, which is already just flaming, flaming, flaming … flames up to the sky. Jessica, what are you going to throw on?
Jessica: So, I’m going to start the enabling part of this. I want to talk about one specific enabler of Nassar’s who is getting less attention overall because there are so many fingers to be pointed here. But I want to talk about this guy, his name is John Geddert. He was the head coach of the US Women’s gymnastics team for the 2012 London or in 2012 London when the fierce five, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber won gold. Four of those women Douglass, Mahroney, Raisman and now Weber have said that Nassar abused them. Weber, the 2011 World All Around Champion was personally coached by Geddert who is the owner of Twistars, a USA Gymnastic Club near East Lansing.
On Tuesday last week, Outside the Lines published a long piece about Nassar’s enablers and the first one profiled was Geddert. Here is how his relationship to Nassar is described in the piece, “the two men were all but inseparable professionally and socially. They worked together for more than 25 years, first at Great Lakes Gymnastics starting in 1996 at the gym Geddert owns now, Twistars. They worked the 2012 Olympics together. Geddert was in Nassar’s wedding party when Nassar got married in East Lansing in 1996. They attended each other’s house party and traveled the country and later the world together at competitions. They vouched for each other when faced with career threatening circumstances”. Most disturbingly, if we’re listing in a hierarchy, at least one woman has said very clearly that Geddert knew of Nassar’s abuse. This is how Outside the Lines wrote it up, “On least one occasion, Geddert walked into the back room of Twistars while Nassar was digitally penetrating a young gymnast according to the woman’s court testimony. And this is what she said, “all I remember is him, Nassar, doing the treatment on me with his fingers in my vagina, massaging my back with a towel over my butt and John walking in and making a joke that I guess my back really did hurt.”
The gymnasts that spoke to OTL about Geddert connect the two men through their abuse. In two separate incidents, a parent and a gymnast reported Geddert to the police for assault. The gymnast told police that Geddert stepped on her toe, grabbed her arm, and pushed her into the wall to discipline her. Nassar texted that gymnast’s grandmother to plead on Geddert’s behalf. Lindsey Lemke who started training at Twistars when she was seven years old and is currently a senior at Michigan State University, spoke about Geddert’s behavior this week. “He would take girls by the shoulders. Squeeze hard enough to leave marks, shake them, and yell directly into their face. There was specifically one time when he picked up the vault hand mat and hit me with it because I couldn’t get my vault right that day and this was already after I had crashed into the vault hard enough to bruise and bleed.”
The quote that will forever stay with me though from this piece that OTL did is about how the two men’s abusive behaviors fed each other. One gymnast told OTL, “part of what enabled is John broke little girl’s spirits and bodies and Larry was there to fix them.” This made me think of how often we excuse coach’s behavior, which in any other context would be seen as abusive because we have this idea this is how you make athletes better. You berate them. You push them around. You make them feel little in order to see if they can rise above that. John broke little girl’s spirits and bodies and Larry was there to fix them. We have to reckon with part of this too.
Brenda: It’s difficult just to hear that. It’s so important to recognize that this isn’t about one person. But breaking little girl’s spirits is nothing anyone should be doing. So, speaking about Michigan State, and just to segue into my burn, I went to Michigan State and I belonged to the Campus Feminist Collective. I worked at the women’s resource center. I know there are people at Michigan State who would have moved mountains to prevent this and they could have. But for the irresponsibility of the officials that were already informed. It’s unbelievable to me what has happened. It is unbelievable. But in any case, now it’s believable and we have to process and digest that.
This is this week’s, what has pissed me off so bad. Patrick Fitzgerald, the lead attorney for Michigan State University in the cases, defended MSU’s response to Nassar in a letter to the Michigan Attorney General. He said, “The evidence will show that no MSU official believed that Nassar committed sexual abuse prior to newspaper reports in the summer of 2016.” The operative word here is believe. They didn’t believe people. They were informed. They had the information, but they did not believe those students. They did not believe those women. They did not believe softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez who told at least two different trainers she was assaulted at least 10 times by Larry Nassar in 2000. She went unheard and ended up leaving softball and then MSU. Even after the Title Nine investigation concluded Nassar’s procedures constituted violations, he continued to be employed for 16 months. It’s unbelievable to me. I would like to say at the very least, the students at Michigan State are absolutely clear about this. A couple of days ago the Associated Students of Michigan State University, the student government passed a resolution saying, “We as undergraduate students no longer have the faith and confidence in the current administration of Michigan State University to carry out the duties of fostering a safe and secure campus atmosphere.”
All of these people need to resign. This is unbelievable. I just want to continue. A few days ago, the board of trustees than reiterated their support for president Lou Anna Simon. It’s clear that she knew this.
Amira: Reiterated their support this week.
Brenda: Two days. Two days ago. She responded that she is watching the testimony by live streaming.
Lindsay: She showed up one day for a couple of hours. She did show up for a couple of hours one day.
Brenda: She claims she is watching everything live streaming. It’s a ten-minute drive. I would just like to say if people feel frustrated, what is amazing about this is the MSU board of trustees consists of eight members for eight-year terms. Two members selected every two years by the people of Michigan in a state-wide general election. Michiganers, get your asses up and vote these people out. The current chairperson, Brian Breslin from the Republican Party already said he’s not going to run again.
So anyway, I’m just going to end on burning it, but I also want to put flame to the feet of people in Michigan and say do not let these people represent you. You have an option. It’s not like Harvard where their trustees are god knows who. These are elected officials and they need to be held to task.
Sorry about that. Shireen, yeah.
Shireen: Just quickly, one of our favs on Burn It All Down Jemele Hill actually published today in the Undefeated, today is Sunday, she also is an MSU grad and she writes just really profoundly, “Michigan State needs to wear this shame. The University deserves this humiliation, derision, doubt, discomfort and every unkind word. We need to listen to every word from the victims and adsorb all of their anger. They have dealt with this betrayal and violation of their trust for years. Michigan State only has to survive a few news cycles.” It’s just really important and thank you Bren and all those MSU alumnus who are out there calling them out because it’s important.
Amira: As somebody who works at Penn State, who has really been reckoning with similar ways to move forward, I think one of the things you pointed to Brenda is still important about mobilization and that there are people, I work in the women’s studies department here, who is amazing. Part of what they do, and they are students are demanding accountability and the thing with these institutions is that they are so large, that they can be points of reckoning and they are people you can build with and it’s always going to be a battle. It continues to be a battle here and it’s been a few years. That’s the other thing that people need to realize is that you’re strapping in for a really long battle where a lot of people in power don’t want to give that up easily. This is just the beginning.
Brenda: Absolutely. Lindsay, do you want to pour gasoline on this burn pile? Just make it happen.
Lindsay: Don’t I always. I did want to quickly say that on Saturday one MSU trustee Mitch Lyons, did call for the resignation president Lou Anna Simon. We’ll see if that’s a trend. Of course, on the same day, the basketball coach Tom Izzo reiterated his support and said, “I hope the right person is convicted.” If Michigan State could get a PR person or something. If they can’t get a soul, can you at least get a PR person? I don’t know. It’s just infuriating. Are we ready to go to the mammoth? The mammoth?
Let’s talk USA Gymnastics and US Olympic Committee, shall we? So, first of all, the first known direct report to USA Gymnastics officials about the abuse was in 2015. We can burn everything about their response since then and that in itself is enough for a humongous scandal, but I really quickly would like to say that it’s important to note that John Geddert was a USA gymnastics certified coach in 1998 when he was told about the abuse, when he found out about the abuse. Twistars is a USA Gymnastics certified gym and that means that they had the responsibility to report it to USA gymnastics in the late 90s. So, USA Gymnastics, if everyone had done their jobs, would have known in the late 1990s, even if the Michigan State Element of this wasn’t going on and that’s gotten lost and that is appalling.
I’d also like to note that all of this is happening within the context of a larger sexual abuse scandal out of USA Gymnastics. So, this is from the very first Indianapolis Star investigation into this that launched all this but remember the very first Indianapolis Star investigation of this, was into the systematic sexual abuse of USA gymnastics. It wasn’t even focused on Larry Nassar. It was just that Rachel Denhollander read this investigation, we had her on the show a few weeks ago, episode 31, it’s a must listen. So, when she read their big investigation, that’s when she came forward about Nassar and got the ball rolling there.
So, top executives failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse and they relied on policies that enabled predators to abuse gymnast long after USA Gymnastics had received warnings. That is a quote from the Indianapolis Star investigation. So, it’s a really important context for all of this because USA Gymnastic denials just don’t fit with the history that we know.
Let’s start in 2015. In 2015, Sarah Jantzi who was the coach of Maggie Nichols who was an elite gymnast at the time, who was expected to be on the Olympics team in 2016, before we she was injured. So, Sarah overheard Nichols telling Aly Raisman about one of Nassar’s treatment sessions. This coach was very alarmed and notified USA Gymnastics officials immediately as well as Nichols parents. USA Gymnastics, you think they want you to think that they notified law enforcement right away. That’s what they initially said. They did not however. It took them five weeks.
The first thing they did was to hire a workplace harassment investigator to look into the matter. It took them five weeks and it should be noted, and I have to credit the podcast Gymtastic, which is an excellent gymnastic podcast, but for pointing this out for me. The independent investigator actually gave them the report, gave USA Gymnastics the report at the end of one week saying yes, you need to deliver this to the FBI. USA Gymnastic waited till the following business day, which was Monday, to report it because the FBI probably doesn’t take calls on the weekend.
Anyways, around the time USA Gymnastics finally notified the FBI, Nassar and the USA Gymnastics Committee officially parted ways but USA Gymnastics allowed Nassar to publicly portray it as a retirement. He wrote a sappy retirement post on Facebook. USA Gymnastics did not notify Twistars which once again is a USA Gymnastics accredited gym where they knew Nassar was treating patients. Nor did they notify Michigan State University.
So, it took until mid 2016 for the FBI to actually interview Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols. They didn’t interview Aly Raisman until after the 2016 Olympics which I just don’t feel is a coincidence. Do you? It actually took nine months for the FBI investigation into this to get officially launched. It took that long for USA Gymnastics to call them up and say hey are you actually investigating this or not? During this whole time, they told parents who were there being interviewed, they told parents that they could not talk about this publicly and the reason they were not talking about this publicly was because of the FBI investigation, the one that wasn’t launched for so many months.
Sorry. This is one of those cases where every single detail I like find is more appalling than the last. We also know they paid McKayla Maroney $1.25 million to stay silent. There is believed to be other confidentiality agreements that USA Gymnastic paid out as well. There was a non-disclosure agreement included in that, but they are saying now that they will not support that which is good. That’s so kind of them.
They also said, Maggie Nichols came out publicly to ESPN this past week for the first time as a victim A, as the person who first reported to USA Gymnastics. In this though, USA gymnastics gave a drop dropping response to Maggie Nichols, criticizing that they waited five weeks to report this to the FBI. By saying that, private an investigator talked to Raisman and Nichols, it didn’t have “reasonable suspicion that they had been molested by Nassar. It took until they spoke to a third victim.” They released this statement this week during this trial is going on.
Let’s take it to how USA Gymnastics and US Olympics Committee who oversees US Gymnastics have been held accountable for this. Well they haven’t. Steve Penny who is the president of USA Gymnastics, the CEO I believe of USA Gymnastics, was finally forced out just this last spring. So once again, quite some time, over six months after the Indiana Star investigation came out. He did receive a $1 million dollar severance package however. Everybody else on the USA Gymnastics board including chairman Paul Parilla, who I believe Chairman of the Board is big boss man if I understand executive talk. The Vice President, the treasurer, all these people who staunchly defended everything that Steve Penny did. We know Steve Penny explicitly asked the gymnasts and their parents to keep quiet. They all staunchly defended him and still have their jobs. There are calls for USA Gymnastic to completely clean house down to even some trainers. One trainer, Debbie Van Horn who is now the USAG’s director of sports medicine services. There are calls for her to step down immediately because she worked directly beside Nassar for two decades and was supposed to be the other female in the room during Nassar’s treatments.
She was recently promoted. Also, a lot of this abuse happened at the Karolyi Ranch, Bela and Marta Karolyi who we know there have been allegations that they are physically and verbally abusive for years. We can go back to there. I know I’m going long. I’m sorry. There is just so much here.
Jess, when you were talking about Geddert and that emotionally abusive environment and physically abusive, I couldn’t help think that the same thing is happening at the Karolyi Ranch, right, which is the centralized system for USA Gymnastics, has built it into this power house and look it’s important to know that at this Karolyi Ranch compound, parents were not allowed to attend. Often private coaches aren’t allowed to attend. It is isolated to the point that it’s find.
Amira: Exactly. And Aly’s point was so great this week, sorry to jump in, that at the same time they released the statement saying okay we’re not going to have gymnasts return to the Karolyi Ranch. They had people there that same day training.
Lindsay: So just going back a little bit. At the Karolyi Ranch, Nassar was allowed to enter their dorms privately. He was allowed to treat them wherever, which goes against every regulation. Every single one. A lot of the gymnasts, including … it was really elite gymnasts who were here but Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Maggie Nichols, McKayla Maroney all say they were abused at the Karolyi Ranch and up until earlier this week, the Karolyi Ranch was still the place where the national team was going to train. When Simone Biles came forward with her statement, she said, I can’t believe I’m going to go in order to make the next Olympics, I’m going to have to go back to the place where I was abused.
So finally, this week USA Gymnastics announced that it was parting ways with the Karolyi Ranch and it was looking for other places. They ended up canceling the next national team training camp, so it could find another ranch, however like Amira just told us there were gymnasts there currently training at the time and there is an artistic gymnastic or acrobatics gymnastic event happening there in February because it was too late to reschedule.
If you’re wondering, nobody from the USOC showed up to hear testimony all week. Aly Raisman asked I would like to finish this by saying why isn’t the US Olympic Committee here now? I have represented the US in two Olympics in both USAG and the USOC have been quick to capitalize on my success, but did they reach out to me when I came forward? No, they did not. USOC has not taken away USAG’s Olympic certification. So, burn.
Brenda: This deserves a huge chorus of burn right. Let’s just burn it. Loud burns. Ready?
Shireen: Burn it burn it burn it all down.
Jessica: That’s it for this week’s episode. Thank you for joining us. There’s so much more content than what we have provided today. This is the 86th, 86th consecutive week that we’ve published an episode. There’s plenty more where all of this came from. We encourage you to look back at our catalog and see what from Burn it All Down you’ve missed. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you want to subscribe to Burn it All Down, you can do so on Apple Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitch, Google Play, and Tune In. For information about the show, links, and transcripts for each episode, and to email us, check out our website burnitalldownpod.com. And if you’d like to purchase Burn it All Down merchandise, we have some for you at Teespring. Treat yourself to a BIAD mug, pillow, hoodie. Buy gear for your whole family, including babies and kids.
And now, for some asks. If you enjoyed this week’s show, please share this episode with family, friends, work colleagues, neighbors, people at the dog park you talk sports with. Whomever you think would be interested in Burn it All Down. Also, please, please, please, rate the show at whichever place you listen to it. The ratings help us meet new listeners who need this feminist sports podcast, but don’t yet know it exists. Finally, please check out our Patreon and give us a gift this holiday season. If you can, sign up to be a monthly sustaining donor to Burn it All Down, and get exclusive content you can’t get anywhere else, such as Patreon only segments, a monthly newsletter, and even a chance to contribute to the burn pile. You can find the Patreon at Patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/Burnitalldown.
We’re grateful for everyone who has signed up so far. Your patronage allows us to create this independent, commercial free, feminist sports podcast. We could not, we could not, do this without you all. Thank you. That’s it for Burn it All Down. For Amira Rose Davis, Shireen Ahmed, Brenda Elsey, and Lindsay Gibbs. Four of the best people I know. I’m Jessica Luther. Next week we’ll be back with our favorite interviews from this year. Until then, and in this case, until next year, see you in 2019.