Episode 89: the NFL’s Rooney Rule, end of sporting careers, and fighting trans discrimination
On this week’s show, Amira, Brenda, Lindsay, and Jessica talk about the Rooney Rule in the NFL and what needs to change, [18:57] the end of sporting careers and why they can be so challenging for athletes, [31:45] and Jessica interviews with Christina Ginther, a trans woman who recently won a discrimination suit against a women’s tackle football team and league. [43:53]
Of course, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, [54:48] our Bad Ass Woman of the Week, starring Thembi Kgatlana and with a special shout out to Maori Davenport, [58:07] and what is good in our worlds. [1:01:05]
For links and a transcript…
“NFL Hires in the Rooney Rule Era” https://theundefeated.com/features/nfl-hires-in-the-rooney-rule-era/
“Only 2 Black head coaches remain in NFL despite the Rooney Rule” https://thinkprogress.org/rooney-rule-nfl-4d0f17baa469/
“This NFL firing cycle is disproportionately affecting minority head coaches” https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2018/12/31/this-nfl-firing-cycle-is-disproportionately-affecting-minority-head-coaches/
“Andy Murray Announces Retirement This Year” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/sports/andy-murray-retire.html
“Sydney Leroux announces pregnancy, adds to USWNT Olympic uncertainties” https://www.daytondailynews.com/sports/soccer/sydney-leroux-announces-pregnancy-adds-uswnt-olympic-uncertainties/HSM9T5gJV92dBQJ5FK640I/
“Abby Wambach’s life spiralled out of control after retirement – now she ‘plans to attack’ every day to empower other women” https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2018/11/13/abby-wambachs-life-spiralled-control-retirement-now-plans/
“When athletes retire we face the most difficult question: who are we?” https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/sep/13/when-athletes-retire-we-face-the-most-difficult-question-who-are-we
“Finding New Meaning After An Olympic Career” https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/02/finding-new-meaning-after-an-olympic-career/553004/
“Michigan State president says Larry Nassar’s survivors are ‘enjoying’ the ‘spotlight’” https://thinkprogress.org/msu-president-nassar-survivors-spotlight-e9ce186cb8ac/
“Basketball official who reportedly asked for Pueblo High team’s green cards fired” https://tucson.com/sports/highschool/aia-fires-high-school-basketball-official-who-reportedly-asked-for/article_b5931706-1454-11e9-8663-f7d92cfdaa2b.html
“Arizona High School Ref Fired For Asking If Basketball Team Had Their Green Cards” https://deadspin.com/arizona-high-school-ref-fired-for-asking-if-basketball-1831642285
“Bernice Sandler, ‘Godmother of Title IX,’ Dies at 90” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/08/obituaries/bernice-sandler-dead.html
“Wheeler’s OT goal helps Canada win women’s U18 world championship” https://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/wheeler-overtime-goal-canada-wins-women-u18-1.4976674
“In Battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, Notre Dame Holds Off Louisville” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/sports/notre-dame-louisville.html
“New Suzuka Unlimited manager Milagros Martinez Dominguez becomes first female boss in Japan men’s soccer” https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2019/01/10/soccer/new-suzuka-unlimited-manager-milagros-martinez-dominguez-becomes-first-female-boss-japan-mens-soccer/#.XD-AXM9KhTZ
“After locking up her 500th win, Maryland’s Brenda Frese continues to build for another national title” https://theathletic.com/760059/2019/01/10/after-locking-up-her-500th-win-marylands-brenda-frese-continues-to-build-for-another-national-title/
“Moors Ladies appoint Head Coach” http://www.solihullmoorsfc.co.uk/news/moors-ladies-appoint-head-coach-2383390.html
“Maori Davenport scores 25 points hours after judge grants motion allowing her to play” http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/25738719/maori-davenport-scores-25-points-charles-henderson-triumphant-return-court
“Banyana win big at 2018 Caf Awards” https://www.supersport.com/football/news/190109_Banyana_win_big_at_2018_Caf_Awards
Jessica: Welcome to Burn It All Down, the feminist sports podcast you need. I’m Jessica Luther, freelance journalist and author in Austin, Texas. On today’s show, I’m joined by Brenda Elsey, an associate professor history at Hofstra on Long Island; Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of history in women’s gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University; and Lindsay Gibbs, a reporter at Think Progress in Washington, D.C.
First things first, as always, thank you to our patrons whose support of this podcast through our ongoing Patreon campaign make Burn It All Down possible. We are forever and always grateful. If you’d like to become a patron, it’s easy. Go to patreon.com/burnitalldown.
You can pledge as little as $1 per month but if you donate a little bit more, you can access exclusives like an extra Patreon only segment or our monthly newsletter.
On today’s show, we are going to talk about how the NFL has 32 teams and almost no minority head coaches 15 years after the implementation of the Rooney rule. Then, spurred on by the news this week that a tennis champion will retire this year after a prolonged but ultimately unsuccessful effort to get back to top form, we will talk about the end of careers and why they are so difficult.
Finally, I talk with Christina Ginther, who last month prevailed in her discrimination lawsuit against a Minnesota women’s tackle football team and the league that they’re in after she was told that because she’s a transgender woman, she could not play on the team.
And of course, we’ll cap off today’s show by burning things that deserve to be burned, doing shoutouts to women who deserve shoutouts and telling you what is good in our worlds. Let’s get started.
All right, Amira, wanna talk to us about the Rooney rule?
Amira: The Monday after the last regular season NFL game is commonly known as Black Monday because that is the day where all the firings start to come down. This year, Black Monday was seemingly aptly named as people started to take notice of a black coach after black coach being fired.
Hugh Jackson was dismissed by the Cleveland Browns earlier in the season and then on Black Monday, the Jets let go of Todd Bowles, Denver Broncos let go of Vance Joseph, Steve Wilks left the Cardinals, and Marvin Lewis ended his very long and contested tenure with the Cincinnati Bengals.
That left just two black coaches in the league and three minority coaches in all when you throw in Ron Rivera. This movement of exodus of coaches from the league paired with the fact that over the last week, we’ve started to see hiring and replacement and it’s not included- You’ve not added any black coaches.
You’ve especially added coaches like Adam Gase, which is just baffling. But anywho, it has spurred yet another discussion about the functionality of the Rooney rule. For those who need a refresher, the Rooney rule has been in implementation since 2002.
The first season that it really went into effect was the 2003 season. It’s named for Dan Rooney who was the chairman of the NFL’s workplace diversity committee and basically requires each team to actually consider a minority coach or interview a minority candidate to replace a head coach vacancy.
There’s many longstanding critiques of the Rooney Rule. There’s obviously mean spirited ignorant critiques of the Rooney Rule which is similar to conversations you might hear around, say, affirmative action or workspace equity kind of notions.
But in particular, I think this is a good moment to take assessment of if the Rooney Rule does anything for me, that’s not- I’m one of the people who’s like mmm, it’s just for head coach vacancies so you don’t get a pipeline, you don’t get insurance, and it becomes a performance.
Did you bring in somebody? Are you really considering them? No, you’re just trying to fulfill the rule before you move onto your other candidate. I think it’s a great time to stop and have a conversation about if the Rooney Rule is working. If it’s not, where do we go from here? And what are the state of minority head coaches or assistant coaches in the NFL? Lindsay?
Lindsay: Yes. I did an article on Think Progress last week. I actually, last month, ended up talking to one of the lawyers from the Fritz Pollard Association which is kind of in charge of implementing and overseeing the Rooney Rule with the NFL and there are a few important things to note.
First of all, last, I believe, September, there were some changes allotted to the Rooney Rule. Really the first significant changes in 15 years. Before we have our bigger conversation about what’s working and what’s not, I just kinda wanna go over this a little bit.
First of all, a lot of these changes were made- People won’t say that it was a direct response to this but it was, I will say, it was a direct response to last year when the Oakland Raiders hired Jon Gruden. It was very clear they just hired Jon Gruden. There was no … They didn’t even really pretend to have legitimately interviewed any minority candidates.
This updated rule, a few things it did was it formalized the requirement that the person in charge of hiring has to be the one who interviews a minority candidate. If it’s the GM, if it’s the president, whoever is really in charge has to be the one doing these interviews with the minority candidate.
They can’t simply say, they can’t just have their assistant do it so they can check a box, which sounds obvious but apparently it was not to some. Second, it imposes stiffer obligations for teams to record data about the interviewing process so that it’s easier to enforce the Rooney Rule and actually have consequences, in theory, if they’re not implemented though it’s yet to be seen if there are gonna be any actual consequences.
Perhaps most importantly, the new rule established a career development advisory panel which, in essence, is a list of viable minority head coaching candidates approved by the NFL and the Fritz-Pollard Alliance. The purpose of this list is to make sure that team NFL owners aren’t merely walking down the hall at their facility and interviewing the first minority they see so they comply with the Rooney Rule.
This was something that every cycle, there would be a first year running back coach who clearly was not ready to be a head coach but they would interview him because he was in the office and it would check their Rooney Rule list.
You might say, well, it’s good that this guy is getting a look but if you’re that far away from being a legitimate head coaching candidate, then what’s happening is the one’s who are farther up, the actual legitimate head coaching candidates or minorities aren’t getting looked at.
This list is primarily viable candidates which are primarily offensive and defensive coordinators, college head coaches, and former head coaches. If you’re gonna interview … Your interview needs to come from a person who is on this list if you’re gonna interview someone who is already employed by the club.
But there are a few things this new Rooney Rule did not do, which they wanted to implement. For me, I thought the most interesting was the fact that the Fritz Pollard Alliance had really fought for there to be now what is called the double minority rule which means that at least two or more minority candidates have to be interviewed for each position.
I think the new language is something like it strongly urges clubs to interview multiple minority candidates but it doesn’t require for them to do so. Why this is really interesting is in 2018, a Harvard Business Review paper looked at the candidates interviewed for 35 head coaching positions that were open in the NFL between 2013 and 2017.
Over that time period, 29 white men were hired compared to only 6 black men. The study found that increasing the number of black candidates interviewed drastically improved the chances of a black candidate being hired.
In 22 instances, owners only interviewed one black coach and only one of those owners hired a black coach. However, in 12 instances, two or more black coaches were interviewed for the head coaching position and four of those owners, 33% ended up hiring a black coach.
The quote from the Harvard Business Review was there is little doubt that the Rooney Rule brought change to the NFL. However, concerns that progress has been too slow can be explained by the fact that interviewing one African American coach is simply not enough.
Now and then, of course, there’s the actual pipeline problem which Amira alluded to which I think is the biggest problem in this. My take with the Rooney Rule has always been it’s a good step, it’s an important step. Other places, other businesses have implemented it successfully but you gotta do a lot more than just that.
It can’t work in a vacuum. One rule is not gonna solve the systemic problem.
Jessica: Yeah, and I think that’s such an important part of this. The pipeline is everything, right? When we talk about diversifying any field, one of the hugest issues is always going to be the pipeline. I think there’s so much to say about this.
Undefeated has a piece about the Rooney Rule. One of the things that they point out is that teams that are struggling, teams that are bad like to hire black head coaches. You’re bringing these coaches in when they’re already bad, asking them to fix it. They struggle to do that and then they get fired.
Amira: Shorter leash.
Jessica: Yeah, which we see this is something very famous in business with bringing women CEOs. They’re very famously hired when companies are failing and then the women struggle to turn around the failing company and then they get fired and everyone thinks women are bad CEOs.
You’re bringing black head coaches into situations that are more difficult to succeed and then people are like, well, they’re bad, right? That skews everything.
The other thing people have been talking about a lot this coaching cycle is the offensive coordinator versus defensive coordinator. Again, the undefeated had a lot of information about this. White hires are twice as likely to be offensive coordinators, 35% compared to 19% while minority hires are almost twice as likely to be defensive coordinators, 47% compared with 24%.
The NFL is currently in a moment where they are liking offensive coordinators as head coaches. There’s no real other way to explain Cliff Kingsbury getting hired. I mean, he’s very pretty so maybe that. But otherwise, there’s just no way to make sense of some of the hires.
But it also just so happens that they tend to be white men, right? You get this way that the industry shifts, just so happens, in ways that favor white people and it made me think and maybe this is too much of a leap, but I read a book a couple years ago about Texas high school football and when they desegregated, they made all these excuses because black high schools in Texas were much better at football.
There was so much work that had to be done to explain why these schools were not going to hire black head coaches and they had to do all this work of saying, you know exactly where I’m going with this if you know anything about this, that it was all the players. That they’re just incredibly athletic, that the coaches weren’t the reason that the teams were good, that it’s the white head coaches that were smart enough to lead their less athletically inclined players to championships.
But they did have to do a ton of work to make sense of this and they didn’t hire black head coaches even though they were clearly very, very good at it. It just makes me think about the way that everything will- There’s always an excuse for it, right? It feels right now with this offensive coordinator, maybe that’s not an on purpose in the front of the brain kind of move, but it just so happens that it really does favor white head coaches.
Okay, Amira, I would like to hear. What do you think we need to go from here?
Amira: What we know just along the lines that you were saying about hiring practices in general is very similar to if you can look at female politicians and understand how coded words like unlikeable or aggressive are used disproportionately for behaviors that would be seen in a different way if they manifested in a man.
It’s very similar to how hiring practices favor or don’t favor minoritized head coaches in the sporting league exactly around what Jess was saying, which is not just kind of looking for excuses, but they actually get embedded in thought practices.
The idea that former players or students of the game, the idea that if you’re good and you excel as a player, it’s because you’re just gifted athletically but it’s not because you have a football IQ, it’s not because you’re on the field smart, these are the same kind of foundational arguments that were used formally to exclude black people from playing quarterback or pitching any kind of mental position.
When I say formally, it’s because sometimes what happens is these thought patterns get embedded into the institutions, into the systems. It becomes harder to disentangle. I think that’s one of the things that’s hard about this is because the Pollard Association, you can look at all of these firings and they found them all to be justified, right?
You can definitely, I’m not gonna sit here, I will not sit here and defend Hugh Jackson. It’s not gonna happen. But I think that what does happen then is you look at the field of candidates and not only are you saying okay, we’re looking for offensive coordinators because we wanna have splashy offenses but the idea that where the knowledge is, who has it, what their knowledge pertains to, is still very much informing practices and ideas about discipline or control of the team.
These are small, the team culture, will have the players respect, these are small coded words. The effect they have though is leading to quite discriminatory hiring practices. Where do we go from here?
Well, I definitely think right now they informally can apply the Rooney Rule to the coordinator position. I think that absolutely needs to become an on paper rule. I think it needs to focus on the pipeline as you both said and I think that one of the biggest areas, I think we also need to think and open up coaching as a viable field from a younger age and not just, we have some kids playing college ball who when they’re told to think past their futures, it’s always media, always be in front of the camera.
It’s like what would it look like if we’re also like, hey, you know what? You really like to coach. This is what that pathway looks like for you and you can start thinking about all the other possibilities open to you, not dissimilar to when we talk about opening up employment pathways to little girls who wanna be coaches or wanna be referees.
We have to show that there’s more possible. It’s kind of an all hands on deck thing for me.
Jessica: Yeah, that all makes a ton of sense. Lindsay?
Lindsay: It’s about being purposeful about it, right? It’s about being cognizant of it and pushing for it. One good story that there is within all this or I think a path forward is the way Bruce Arians has kind of mentored and sought out Byron Leftwich who is gonna be the offensive coordinator for him and the play caller for him at Tampa Bay because Bruce Arians is now gonna be the head coach at Tampa Bay.
Byron Leftwich is black, and he was kind of a backup quarterback, kind of a journeyman backup quarterback for ten years. Of course, there’s a few things to note. First of all, we’re just now getting to the point where there are veteran journeyman back up black quarterbacks, right?
There have been so few black quarterbacks in the system-
Jessica: That’s true.
Lindsay: That this path which the backup quarterback to coaching ranks thing is not an unusual path but that hasn’t been open for black players because there haven’t been that many black quarterbacks. Definitely not veteran backup quarterbacks.
But Byron Leftwich, when he left the Arizona Cardinals when he was a player there or sorry, we he quit his NFL team, I don’t have the exact team he was on in his NFL career in front of me, but Bruce Arians had worked with him and noticed when he was a backup quarterback how much talent he had, how great he did helping in the film rooms helping coaching.
Bruce Arians reached out to him and said, “I want you to come take a coaching fellowship on my staff. I think you’re really talented.” Byron, at first, turned him down because he hadn’t seen this as a viable path for him.
Bruce Arians then convinced, kinda kept plugging away and now Byron Leftwich is one of the few black offensive coordinators in the league and next year, he’s gonna be a play caller. He’s gonna be calling the offensive plays.
We need these coaches to start looking at, coaches on all levels, to start looking for that talent in all NFL players and if they’re looking at all NFL players, hopefully they’re bound to see in the black NFL players because their black NFL players are 70% of the NFL.
That’s a way forward, I think, if they can increase, the statistics show that a double Rooney Rule is effective and you have to increase it to at least offensive and defensive coordinator positions.
Just to note, we’ve had all these openings. It seems there are two coaching vacancies that haven’t been filled yet out of I believe the seven or eight that were started at the beginning of the year and it seems that only one will be filled by a minority. That’s not official yet because the New England Patriots are still playing so you can’t hire.
But the Miami Dolphins are interested in Bryan Flores who is Honduran and black. He’ll be, I believe, the second Hispanic coach in addition to Ron Rivera who is a Puerto Rican, the Panthers head coach and now just the third black coach in the NFL if that does become official. Other than that, all the head coaches have been white.
Jessica: Lindsay, there was sad but not wholly unexpected news in the tennis world this week. Please tell us about it.
Lindsay: Yes. I’m so sad.
Jessica: I am sad, too.
Lindsay: This week, we all, honestly in this situation I do feel comfortable speaking for the entire universe, received some devastating news when Andy Murray, Sir Andy Murray, announced through tears that he is gonna be retiring from tennis this year.
He is simply in too much pain due to hip injury to keep going. Murray’s hope is that he can make it to Wimbledon and retire there, but he doesn’t know if he can make it and there’s a definite possibility that the Australian Open will be his final tournament, even a possibility that by the time you hear this, he will have played his last pro tennis match.
Murray’s best known for winning three grand slam titles: Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016, the U.S. Open in 2012, and two Olympic gold medals. He was a British number one, of course meant a lot to the Brits. But he was beloved, really, in these parts for his feminism and his thoughtfulness.
He was and still is an avid advocate for women’s tennis. He would often remind announcers and journalists that women’s tennis exists when they would forget to include women in records or narratives. He really made history a few years ago when he hired Amelie Mauresmo to be his coach.
Look, for a lot of reasons, it’s really heartbreaking to see his career end this way in so much emotional and physical agony. Of course though, the truth is that very few athletes get to retire like a Pete Sampras or a John Elway, winning a championship on their way out the doors on their own terms.
More often than not, they’re forced to call it quits because in a lot of cases for a lot of women, it’s not financially viable to keep going. Perhaps, they’re scared for their health. Perhaps their brain health in the case of concussions.
Sometimes it’s a health issue. I’m thinking Chris Bosh and his blood clots. Sometimes for women, it’s pregnancy and I know we’re gonna talk about that. I’m very curious for you guys to hear what retirements kinda stick out to you? How do you, as fans, deal with it when players are calling it quits? All the kinda mixed emotions we feel.
But I also wanna leave this quote from Swinn Cash who got to leave pretty much on her own terms, her WNBA career, and she wrote, but it was still really tough, and she wrote for The Players’ Tribune, quote, “Most people don’t get to wake up every day and do something they’re passionate about. You always feel you can give more, but at some point, you have to do what’s right for yourself.
“Maybe every athlete goes through that when they retire. It’s hard to open up your hands and let go of what you know. You hold on because it’s so much a part of your routine and your life. I’ve always been training for something. What happens when that’s gone?”
Jessica: Brenda, any retirements that you wanna talk to us about?
Brenda: I think one of the most emotional for me was Barry Sanders’ retirement in 1999. Being from the Detroit area, Barry Sanders was really important as a role model and the Detroit Lions are terrible. They’re so terrible he was never gonna go to the Super Bowland he never thought he was gonna go to theSuper Bowl.
He was the most talented ever person to just know from the beginning this isn’t gonna happen for me. And I just remember that the way that we found out was he actually sent a letter to Wichita, his hometown newspaper.
It’s amazing and he said I have kids and I have my health and I’m done here. He was close to Peyton’s rushing record, right? It was a big deal. He rushed for, what, 15,000 something yards. He was a devout Christian, which I’m not, but wow, principles and class and it was just lovely and guess what happened?
The Lions sued him for some of his remaining bonus. Right, it’s this incredibly classy, emotional, he’s like I’m staying in Detroit with my four sons, member of the community, sterling representative and the Detroit Lions in all their incredible shittiness after they just gouged Detroit as part of the Ford company, sued him for one sixth of the bonus.
I remember that just being like wow, you know? They really don’t care about athletes at all and just being so impressed with Barry Sanders and as far as I know, I read, sadly, I read his biography, his autobiography biography and I think he’s been really happy. Not concussed and four sons and I just think that’s a beautiful thing and I do wish more women had the opportunity go out like that.
Jessica: Yeah, that’s such an important point about- The thing about these sports teams and orgs is when you’re done, you’re not useful anymore, right? Amira.
Amira: The disposability of it all really, it makes me very sad and I think it’s very rare to, like you said, go out on your own terms and to get a sendoff and to have it be a very kind of perfect send off.
A lot of times, especially in the NFL, a player might try to go and get a job on a different team and so, I’m thinking particularly here around Vince Wilfork who was my favorite player for so much of my life.
Then he didn’t really have enough to keep playing in New England, so he went down to Houston and played with them for two seasons and then he retired. And he retired in an epic way. If anybody remembers, he retired by filming a ribs commercial. Barbecuing ribs in this overalls.
I’ll link it to the show notes. It’s epic. He announced his retirement barbecuing ribs, which he’s kinda known for dancing and barbecuing ribs so I really appreciated that and then he would come and sign a one day contract to retire as a Patriot. He kinda came back to do that and that was a lot.
But I think the things that really get me about end of careers are this kind of agony of your body quitting perhaps before your mind does. There was a tweet I saw to D. Wade this week that was like why is D. Wade quitting or giving up, whatever?
He responded, “Ask his body.” I kinda eased out of sports because I had a really bad appendectomy that took me out of my last year of soccer right before college and then I got pregnant with Samari and I didn’t reflect on it in the moment because it felt like a whole new chapter and life changes and stuff like that.
But then looking back, I was like, oh damn, I’m just not playing formalized institutionalized athletics anymore which I’ve done my entire life. But I think about this a lot. I think of my best friend who was a standout track star all through high school, who went to Brown and ran track, was all Ivy League, was the Ivy League freshman, won all the awards and then had a horrific hamstring injury and it took her out in the middle of her collegiate career and she came back her senior year with a reconstructed hamstring and tried to battle through it and I just remember watching her last meet.
She just couldn’t get the kick she was used to and it was heartbreaking. I remember all of us crying and just feeling like what can you do? You can’t get that kick that you used to. You can’t run in the way that you’re used to be running even though in your head, that’s what you have. That’s what you can do.
I think that is really heartbreaking. I’ve said this before on here and I’ve said this to you guys over and over again, but I felt the same say when Syd Leroux was announcing the baby. I immediately remember that video of her talking about what it feels like to do the same, be the same career as your husband and then every time you have a baby, you’re sidelined and he can keep on playing.
Then knowing that this particular baby feels like the end of her career. How do you manage being really happy about the direction your life is going in perhaps, but also very sad for what it means is coming to an end?
Jessica: Yeah, that’s such a good point and the flip side of this is so interesting too because there was a really great- The last episode of the 30 for 30 Podcast season that recently ended, Clinton Yates narrated it and it was about a baseball player named Rickey Henderson.
I admittedly didn’t, I don’t watch baseball and I don’t know a ton about baseball but he’s very, very famous for stealing bases and he played for a really, really long time. What’s so interesting about his story is that everyone tried to get him to stop. They kept trying to say that he shouldn’t be playing anymore because he’s too old.
He actually went down into Triple A baseball to try to play to get back to the majors. He thought he was still good enough but there was all this discussion around him and people kept being like, why are you playing? And he’s like, because I love to play baseball?
It’s so interesting hearing it and thinking about the fact that we chase people out, people get forced out, just how messy the end of careers are and you hear so often about athletes who really struggle with that transition.
Abby Wambach has been famously very open about this. Michael Phelps has been very famous about how- And his would come in cycles. He would have the very high of the Olympics and then crash afterwards, then have to sort of build himself back up again and then …
On the flip side of all of this, I will say here in Austin, it’s been fun, this NFL post-season, I’ve caught a few games and they keep showing this commercial for a bakery and it’s Michael Griffin and Brian Orakpo, and Brian Orakpo just retired and these two men own a bakery.
It’s only a few miles from where I live and it is on my 2019 to-do list is to go to their bakery. I do think it’s interesting because they really have a path forward. I hope that really does help them in the transition.
Michael Griffin left a while ago, Brian Orakpo just retired but one of the things that I was reading about in prepping for this and this was in an article for The Atlantic last year in February about athletes retiring, Olympic athletes.
But that a lot of these people don’t have job experience. The things that- What do you put on your resume? How do you assess what skills you have that will translate outside of athletics? Even though, of course, you do have them but that can be such a struggle.
But I will definitely report back here to all of you once I have gone and had cupcakes and I’m really crossing my fingers that one of them is there because apparently, I think it’s Orakpo who is the decorator and Michael Griffin is the baker! What is not to love about that story? Brenda.
Brenda: Yeah, I can’t help but think about Bryce Love. Have you been following this story? Has anybody been following this story?
Jessica: I have not.
Brenda: He’s a player for Stanford and on the last play of the last regular season game, he tore his ACL. Now, it’s iffy if he’ll get drafted into the NFL, so it might be the end of his football career. I just wanna throw that out there that there’s a whole bunch of college players whose careers might end that way and they’re never getting paid.
Just throwing out there that it’s really important to think about that labor and the fact that their careers can end at 21 and they don’t come out of it with a nest egg, so to speak. They come out of that with a lot of medical bills and I hope Stanford is paying a lot of attention to that because I hope it’s not the end of his career.
Of course, I hope not, but I think we do need to keep in mind that a lot of- And Amira was mentioning college athletes, that their careers can end very early and they are injury prone at many levels.
Jessica: Yeah, great point. Lindsay?
Lindsay: I just feel like I wanna give everyone a quick look behind the scenes. We thought of this topic as slightly a lighter fare for us today and I think that this means we don’t do light very well.
Jessica: Up next, my interview with Christina Ginther, a trans woman who called out discrimination in women’s tackle football.
I’m excited today to be joined by Christina Ginther. It’s possible that you’ve read about Christina sometime in the last month because in December, she prevailed in her discrimination suit against the Minnesota women’s tackle football team and league, The Minnesota Vixen, and the Independent Women’s Football League.
Because Christina is a transgender woman, she was told by the Vixen owner that she could not play for the team. Before we get to what happened with the Vixens, Christina, give us a little intro to you as a football player.
Christina: Sure. I made my transition later in life at age 42 and if you are familiar with the process of gender transition, it’s not easy. I have lost a lot. The most difficult part was losing my marriage and a lot of circles of friends, a lot of in-laws that I was close to.
I’ve been through this radical upheaval in my life. Going into my second year of transition, I was about 18 months in, I’m like I wanna rebuild my social structure. Where do I belong? Where do I sit? I’m like, well, I’m athletic and I’ve always wanted to participate in a team sport.
In the Twin Cities in Minnesota here, we have a publication called Lavender Magazine which is an LGBTQ publication and they had an issue that held up the Vixen as this model of LGBTQ inclusivity. Weeks later was the Twin Cities pride festival.
There was a booth posted by the Minnesota Vixen and they were getting the word out about their team and I’m like wow, this seemed awesome. I went to an open practice to see is this gonna be a fit.
Jessica: How did it go? How were you?
Christina: It was awesome.
Christina: I mean, the question in my mind was is this gonna be trans friendly?
Jessica: Of course.
Christina: I wanted to see have there been other trans women that have played? Is this anything unusual? Sure enough, April that year, The Huffington Post had an article about a woman named Sabreena Lachlainn. Sabreena was the first transgender woman to play women’s football back in 2005.
Jessica: Oh wow.
Christina: And also the first trans woman to play in the IFWL. Also the article said she helped write trans inclusive policies to pave the way for future trans women to come. Awesome. Trans friendly. It IFWL is a pioneer in this and this was over 10 years ago. Awesome.
I show up to the open practice and it was awesome. A lot of the players were off to the side cheering me on as I was doing catching drills. I always wanted to be a wide receiver and I was having an enormous amount of fun and people were so welcoming.
I’m like yes, this is it. This is where I wanna be. They were having a football clinic two weeks later and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was such a positive experience. There were three tryouts that month. This was in October.
I attended the first. I had injured my left quad and re-injured it during the football clinic and then I’m like, well, let me rehab my quad and I even told the coach this. I wrote to him and I’m like, I wasn’t able to perform up to my best. Could you give me my numbers? I just wanna see how they’re doing and I’m gonna rehab for the next four weeks and I’ll go to the third tryout at the end of the month.
He did and I had no indication that anything was wrong at this point. Little did I know, and this came up in court documents, that one of the coaches had suspected at this point, at the tryout, that I was transgender and they had initiated a witch hunt among the coaches to look at my social media and see if I indeed was transgender.
At this time, I was shouting it all over the place. Hey everyone, I’m a proud transgender woman and so proud to be part of the trans community and I’m documenting my transition. I was very open about being trans and I didn’t think that would be an issue.
I work with an orthopedist for four weeks to rehab my quad. I’m stronger than I was when I did the first tryout. I do great in the third set of tryouts. Two weeks later, the team owner called me and said, “Well, we looked at your social media. Your numbers were good, but we found out that you’re transgender and you must be born female to play in the league and there’s also a safety concern.”
I was like, but I’ve read an article that trans women have played before in the league. The owner Laura Brown said, “Well, there’s a lot of confusion about that, so I contacted the league and they told me that you must be born female in order to play.” I was just in shock because everything I read said this should not be an issue.
Suddenly, I realized my being trans is a liability. That if people don’t know that I’m trans at first and then suddenly find out that I am later, that trans label others me. I am no longer like everyone else. My trans status is something to be ashamed of. My trans status makes me a freak. It makes me not desirable. It makes me not equal to others. That was the message that was communicated to me.
Jessica: What did you say?
Christina: I said, what gave me away? How did you know? I didn’t know what else to say. They’re like, well, before we offer contracts to players, we check their social media, standard policy, to make sure that they’re upstanding people, they’re not making offensive posts, and we found out that way.
In trial though, that’s not what the documents showed, that that’s not what had happened. This is what Laura Brown said in her deposition. One of the coaches suspected I was trans, they began this hunt to see all right, go find out if she is.
Christina: Their documents showed that.
Jessica: It was a targeted-
Christina: Yes, and the coaches were all looking. Even Laura Brown’s husband was looking at my social media and sure enough, there’s a text exchange between the head coach Brandon Pelinka and Laura Brown. I actually have the document right in front of me.
It says, “Ginther”, that’s Brandon Pelinka’s text to Laura Brown, the owner of the Vixen. Laura says, “Yes?” “Has a YouTube channel.” That’s Coach Pelinka. “It’s called Engender. It’s about her transitioning, so I don’t think we need to ask about it.”
Here’s Laura’s reaction. “LOL.” Laugh out loud. James, who is her husband, said he saw her documenting about it on Facebook too. Coach Pelinka says, “LOL” in response. I mean, even as more of these documents and learning how-
Jessica: Like it’s a joke.
Christina: Exactly. Yeah, that they’re happy that they found out that I’m trans so that they don’t have to bring me on the team.
Jessica: Yeah. The Vixen owner, Laura Brown, was saying that the Independent Women’s Football League had a policy and that she was just following it. Is that correct?
Christina: She said this is their policy and you have to be born female.
Jessica: Did the IWFL at some point change that or was that Huffington Post article incorrect?
Christina: I contacted Sabreena Lachlainn, the person who was-
Christina: Featured in that Huffington Post article.
Christina: And said, I read your article. Congratulations on being the first woman but here’s what happened. She wrote back to me right away and said, “This is BS. This can’t be true. Someone is lying.” She left several messages for the IWFL which the IWFL never responded.
Jessica: Wow. So, you won your lawsuit in the end. Both the team and the league were found to have legally discriminated against you by not allowing you to play. Can you talk a little bit about how the court ruled on accountability?
Christina: In our lawsuit, we named Laura Brown the LLC that owns the Vixen and of course Minnesota Vixen plus the IWFL. What the court ruled is that Laura Brown was not acting alone. It was a team effort. Like I said, the coaches, even her husband was involved in trying to find out am I trans, using that as the reason for not including me.
What the jury found in their verdict is that, yes, the Minnesota Vixen as a team are responsible. Not only are they responsible, but they discriminated with deliberate disregard to the Human Rights Act, meaning it was intentional.
Also, because they were acting on behalf of the IWFL, then the IWFL is also accountable. Now, Jessica, the main purpose of this lawsuit is trans people get told all the time no, you’re not wanted because you’re transgender or they’re given a hard time. They’re not included. They’re not accepted.
At the same time, a lot of trans people feel they don’t have a voice, that you just have to take it and not say anything. Also, people feel almost like they’re doing society a favor by keeping trans people out.
The main purpose of the lawsuit, in addition to holding those accountable who discriminated, is to show that everyone has a responsibility to ensure equality and fairness for everyone including trans individuals.
Jessica: What would you like people to understand about trans athletes that maybe they don’t? Especially female trans athletes.
Christina: Sure. I know that there’s a perception out there. A lot of people don’t understand trans people, trans individuals. Why would you change your gender? For most people that are comfortable with the way they were born.
But the thing is, we don’t do this because it’s a choice because we think hey, I think it’ll be cool to change my gender today. It’s a very difficult process that most people don’t do until it gets to be a life and death decision.
Once transition begins, there’s an enormous sense of freedom. The problem is social acceptance. A lot of trans people don’t get that and it causes a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression. There’s a woman who is a visible part of the local community here who recently committed suicide.
That happens all the time because of that lack of social acceptance. What trans athletes are trying to do, we’re simply trying to fit in. We’re trying to participate in an activity and I believe athletics have tremendous positive impact on someone’s psyche, on their mental wellbeing, on their emotional wellbeing.
That’s all trans athletes, we’re trying to do, is belong, to be with the gender that we identify with, that we’re comfortable with. I joined the Minnesota Machine in 2017 and they were in a different league with trans eligibility policies that are similar to the NCAA’s policies and they welcomed me with open arms.
Jessica: What league is that?
Christina: That’s the Women’s Football Alliance.
Jessica: You’ve been playing with the WFA for two years?
Christina: That’s correct. Let me just say something about this and there are so many amazing women in women’s tackle football. There’s so many people of character who are tough emotionally and mentally in addition to physically, who are just incredible people.
It has been an honor for me to be able to play next to these women and regarding being trans, my teammates’ universally said I don’t think of you as a trans player. I think of you as a player. I don’t think of you as any different. You’re just one of our teammates standing shoulder to shoulder on the field.
Jessica: That’s very lovely. I’m really glad to hear that you have a team and teammates like that now. Well, thank you so much, Christina, for being on Burn It All Down and for telling us your story.
Christina: And thank you so much, Jessica, for having me on Burn It All Down. It’s such an amazing podcast. You’re doing such great work bringing visibility to women’s athletics and, of course, to trans inclusion in athletics. Thank you so much for what you’re doing.
Jessica: Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite segment. We like to call it the Burn Pile, where we pile up all the things we’ve hated this week in sports and we set them aflame. Lindsay, what are you burning this week?
Lindsay: You will all be shocked to know, I’m gonna try and be quick about this. I’m gonna shock everyone, but I’m gonna actually throw some Michigan State things on the burn pile but I have a surprise addition to this week’s burn pile which is gonna be Michigan State’s neighbors over at the University of Michigan.
Let’s start with Michigan State. First of all, this week, interim president John Engler, told the Detroit News that there would be no more Nasser investigations at Michigan State because officials are quote, “trying to go back to work”.
He also told the Detroit News that many Nasser survivors are quote, “enjoying the spotlight”. Also on Friday, there was the first Board of Trustees meeting of 2019 at Michigan State. There were no motions to fire John Engler at this board meeting which includes new board members who we were very excited about.
And Diane Byrum, a trustee who has not been very supportive of survivors and does not have the support of survivors was voted chairman of the board. One of the votes in her favor was by Briana Scott, a new trustee who had run on a campaign of change and of supporting survivors.
Then, over at the University of Michigan, guess who is the new assistant coach of their gymnastics team? That would be Rhonda Faehn, a former senior vice president of USA Gymnastics who left amid the fallout of the Larry Nasser scandal.
While she did report Nasser’s abuse to USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny in 2015, she did not go to law enforcement nor did she speak up when Nasser’s firing was announced as a retirement, nor when he remained at Michigan State for over a year where he was abusing patients.
Oh, and the reason why University of Michigan needed some coaching help, that they had a vacancy for Rhonda Faehn? Well, because in November, a University of Michigan assistant gymnastics coach Steve Vetere was fired after he was caught having sex in the parking lot with one of his female gymnasts.
I would just like to throw all of this on the burn pile.
Jessica: Burn! How is it getting worse? Burn!
Lindsay: It’s spreading.
Jessica: All the time. Oh my gosh. Okay.
Amira: Jess’s disbelief at each level of the burn is the things that-
Lindsay: I couldn’t pick one. I had to just throw it all in there.
Jessica: It’s like I pay attention to the edges of these things and then when Lindsay gives us the details, I’m just like ugh.
Amira: She’s like oh, oh no! No!
Lindsay: It’s so bad.
Jessica: Okay, Brenda. What is on your burn pile?
Brenda: I went to Michigan State so I’m crying over here in a corner. God. What’s on my burn pile? I’m gonna be really quick because we’re gonna do a Patreon on it for this month. I wanna burn Juventes.
Jessica: Go ahead.
Brenda: It’s a really terrible soccer team and why is it terrible? Well it’s probably the most corrupt and devious gambling racket to ever exist and now they will do anything to protect their billion-dollar baby, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Like I said, we’ll go into more detail on the Patreon but I wanna burn Juventes’ misogyny, their immediate response to any news about Cristiano Ronaldo’s ongoing rape case that he raped Katherine Myorga, her rape case I should say and the ongoing new claims of certain women, we’ll talk about it, but what matters to me here is that Juventes will go to any lengths to immediately post the most offensive and misogynistic social media statements, conferences that preemptively forgive him of everything and exonerate him completely.
I wanna burn that because it’s part of the whole machine to protect abuses of power that are directed against women. I wanna burn Juventes. I’ll just give you one example. I can’t help it. They posted immediately after the allegations came out via a sort of brief celebrity from England.
They posted a whole anniversary, their six month anniversary with Cristiano Ronaldo. Like a whole series of-
Jessica: How about that timing?
Brenda: Yeah, no, there’s no mistake. It’s immediate. It’s two hours after these claims came out a few days ago. They said, which of these images best captures our six-month anniversary with Cristiano Ronaldo? What even is, who does that? Middle schoolers, you have a six month anniversary. It’s so phony. Anyway, I wanna burn Juventes. That’s my angle right now.
Jessica: Burn! All right, Amira, what do you wanna torch?
Amira: I just …
Amira: The Chiefs and the Colts played football this weekend, was it yesterday? It feels like two weeks ago. Jeez. During the game, the NBC cameras panned over to a Chiefs fan sitting in the stands in full-
Jessica: No. I’m just rejecting this.
Amira: But wait. In full indigenous headdress. The Chiefs play at Arrowhead Stadium, they do their version of the tomahawk chop familiar to those who watch Florida State football. They also re-appropriate Native American anthem into a game time war chant.
The thing that particularly irritates me is that two years ago, there was a whole bruhaha because a famous restaurant in town in Kansas City put up a sign that read “KC Chiefs will scalp the Redskins, feed them whiskey, send to reservation.”
This was when the Chiefs and the Washington football team were playing in the two, it was just terrible all around. No marketing was good for it ever. The sign was taken down but it spread through social media.
What happened in the fall out of this is that the Kansas City Chiefs decided that they wanted to partner with the American Indian Center of the Great Plains and other groups to band together and look for quote unquote “a common ground”.
The Chiefs, it’s a low bar, but the Chiefs did what’s very rare is they brought in these groups and they asked what was particularly offensive. They basically were like, “Yeah, the headdresses. You should ban them from the stadium.” Et cetera, et cetera.
Here’s the thing we found offensive and the Chiefs were like, “Yeah, we’re not gonna ban them but we will ask the broadcast partners not to show fans wearing regalia but we won’t ban them from the games.”
Likewise, there’s nothing we can do about the war chant or the Tomahawk Chop because those are things that get the stadium pumping. But what we will do is do educational programs where we bring in the drum during Native American Heritage Month in November and we can talk about what happens.
The guy was like, yeah, no, we’re used to this. You bring us out, you play the music, we dance, everybody claps, we go back home. There’s no education. There’s no understanding. It’s a mess.
This was two years ago and out of this, the Chiefs patted themselves on the back and said, ‘Look, we have a new Native American awareness program. We’ve talked to people, we’re not offensive anymore but can’t let go of certain symbols in the stadium because it’s quote “meant to symbolize the crowd coming together and supporting a team we all celebrate.”
We fast forward to today, two years after they’ve patted themselves on the back and celebrated this and you see broadcast partners certainly singling out and zooming in on a fan wearing head gear. You don’t see education and as the Chiefs continue to be good, which by the looks of their quarterback will go on for a long time.
My hope is that we’ll have these same conversations that we have clustered around, say, Chief Wahoo or the Washington football team because they cannot articulate how tiresome and exhausting and frustrating it is to be dealing with this kind of symbol, this mockery on stolen land.
It’s literally, we shouldn’t forget it and we talk about it here, we’ve done a few episodes on indigeneity but because they’re so baked into our sporting culture, it’s just like you forget that the Chiefs are playing at Arrowhead Stadium with tomahawk chops and head gear until you see them on primetime and then it’s like we’re doing this for real? Yes.
The answer is yes. We’re still doing this and nobody cares and I just wanna burn it.
Jessica: Burn. Last week in Arizona, some freshman boys in high school wanted to simply play in a school sanctioned basketball game but it wasn’t that simple because they had a racist referee. According to the Arizona Daily Star, a basketball official just minutes before tipoff asked the head coach of the Pueblo High School if his players had their green cards.
Pueblo High is on, this is according to the Arizona Daily, Pueblo High is on South 12th Avenue in a largely Hispanic part of Tucson. 89% of the students who attend the school are Latino. The ref said that he was just attempting humor, but guess what? Racism isn’t funny.
There’s an image of the ref in a Deadspin post and let me just say, since this is audio, he looks exactly like you think he would. Geography matters here. Tucson is not far from the U.S. border and we are in a particular moment where racist rhetoric is coming from the very top of federal official in this country and that rhetoric is everywhere.
Asylum seekers are being held at the border in camps, families are being separated, people are being forced to stay on the Mexican side of the border in squalor, all while bullshit ideas about boogey man caravans are being trotted out by the White House and the U.S. government is shut down because the man child who is president wants to waste money on a border wall.
There’s no humor to be found in jokes about green cards directed at 14 year old Latino boys. Only racists think that this is funny. The good part of this is the man was swiftly fired. Still, burn the fact that anyone anywhere feels like they can get away with this kind of quote “joke” and for the fact that plenty of people, unlike this ref, do actually get away with it. Burn.
Jessica: After all that burning, it’s time to celebrate some remarkable women in sports this week with our badass woman of the week segment. First we want to remember Bernice Sadler, the godmother of Title Nine, the 1972 legislation that barred the federal government from giving money to educational institutions who discriminate on the basis of sex.
Sadler died last weekend at the age of 90. She was central to the development, passage, and implementation of the law. Thank you, Dr. Sadler.
And now for this week’s honorable mentions. All the athletes who competed in the 2019 international ice hockey federation under 18 women’s world championship. Cheers especially to Canada and Shireen who beat the USA to win gold in the tournament.
Sabrina Ionescu, the University of Oregon basketball star, recorded the 15th triple double of her career on January 6th against Washington State.
Nigeria women’s national team, the Super Falcons, were not only the African champs this year but also declared the African women’s team of the year by the Confederation of African Football. Congrats, ladies, we can’t wait to watch you soar at the women’s world cup.
Notre Dame. The number one team in women’s college basketball held off number two, Louisville, last week with Burn It All Down favorite Arike Ogunbowale scoring 30 points.
Desiree Ellis, the Banyana Banyana coach, was chosen as African women’s coach of the year for 2018.
Milagros Martinez-Dominguez, the Spanish coach, is the first woman to coach a soccer team in the Japanese Men’s League Suzuka Unlimited.
Brenda Frese, the Maryland women’s head basketball coach, notched her 500th win this week.
Sarah Thomas is now the first woman to officiate an NFL playoff game.
Annie Zaidi for being appointed as head coach to Solihull Moors football club. Congratulations Annie. Annie is the first hijab wearing woman in the UK to achieve this level of coaching certification.
Erika Ayala, a frequent guest on this program, Sherry Darling, and Kelly Schultz, who will be an all women broadcast team at the NWH All Star game in Nashville in February.
Okay, Burn It All Down wants to give a special shout out this week to Maori Davenport, the high school senior in Alabama who we briefly talked about last week at the end of our segment on amateurism. She was deemed ineligible by the Alabama High School Athletic Association in November for depositing an $857.20 check that she was mistakenly sent by USA Basketball after she played for its under 18 team in August.
Late last week, a court ruled in her favor, granting an emergency temporary motion while her lawsuit against the AHSAA is pending and on Friday, y’all, she played in a game, scoring 25 points. Go on, Maori Davenport.
Okay, can I get a drum roll please? I love it. Our badass woman of the week is Thembi Kgatlana who won African Confederation’s woman footballer of the year and who also took top honors for goal of the year at the CAF Awards.
Kgatlana is a South African forward who plays for the Houston Dash and was a top scorer at the Africa Women Cup of Nations in Ghana last year. There’s a beautiful video of her South African teammates singing to her in celebration that we will include in the show notes. Congratulations, Thembi.
What’s good with y’all? Lindsay?
Lindsay: It is snowing in D.C. for the first time all winter and it’s the pretty snow right now where it’s just fluffy and it’s quiet outside and it makes me very, very, very happy and Moe loves it. My dog, Moe, loves it.
Check Instagram, @linzsports for photos and also, Australian Open starts and you know how excited I am for the first tennis Grand Slam of the year.
Jessica: Yay. I am also very excited about the Australian Open. It was kind of a rough week. I had a little bit of trouble with the what’s good here but last night, I went to this café with my family. It’s a really cool place where if you order anything, they have drinks and food. If you order anything, you can sit down and you can play any board game.
They have hundreds of board games and all these tables and we picked this incredibly complicated one that I can’t remember the name of now. We mainly spent the time reading the rule book but we got started and we’re gonna go back next week to pick it up. That was a ton of fun last night. Brenda, what’s good with you?
Brenda: I’m gonna go visit my colleague and friend Celso Castilho in Nashville. He’s at Vanderbilt. I’m gonna give a talk there and I’m really looking forward to just checking it out. I’ve never been to Nashville.
Amira: Oh my goodness, take me with you.
Brenda: Right? And his text to me, Celso’s text to me and he’s written this most amazing, brilliant book on Brazilian abolition that I’m in awe of him anyway, but he texted me and he said, “How do you feel about the honky-tonk thing? Is that something you want to do?” I was just like this is gonna be good. I’m excited.
Jessica: That sounds like it’s gonna be good. Amira, what’s good with you?
Amira: Yeah, this week, school went back to session. We go so early.
Jessica: Yeah, that is early.
Amira: It’s so early. Don’t get me started. I should’ve burned that. Anyways, but, I’m really excited for both of my classes. I have a Gender, Sexuality, and Sports class where I have more student athletes including graduate student athletes I’m really excited about.
And my Civil Rights class which includes seven returning students from every class I’ve ever taught here and that, to me, is a beautiful thing. I’m happy about that. I’m happy that I have friends and fellowship here. We actually had a ratchedemics party this weekend which was beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing to find black people in central PA who you really like and can party with.
It’s no small feat, believe you me. I am thrilled about that and I don’t wanna talk about football. You know. Send me your good vibes should you care about my football mental health. But other than that, I’m gonna curl up on my couch and stay warm.
Jessica: That’s it for this week’s episode. Thank you all for joining us. You can find Burn It All Down on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you want to subscribe to Burn It All Down, you can do so on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Google Play, and Tune In.
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