Episode 95: WoSo, Interviews w/ Katie Barnes on transphobia, & Susan Shepard on sex-trafficking + sport
On this week’s show, we start with a discussion about Zion Williamson and how NCAA exploits athlete. [3:01] First up. Brenda, Amira, Shireen, and Jessica discuss Women’s Soccer and how its struggles continue. [9:55] Jessica interviews Katie Barnes of espnW about Martina Navratilova’s op-ed arguing against the inclusion of trans athletes in sport, the sexism underlying this argument, and the harm these arguments do, especially to trans kids. [28:30] Then Lindsay talks with journalist Susan Elizabeth Shepard to get a media literacy lesson related to the news that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged on two counts of soliciting prostitution in a sex trafficking-related bust at massage parlors in Florida. [44:43]
Of course, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, [58:20] our Bad Ass Woman of the Week, starring Joni Taylor Head Coach of University of Georgia women’s basketball, [1:09:20] and what is good in our worlds. [1:11:49]
For links and a transcript…
“Denuncias de acoso sexual empañan a la Selección Colombia Femenina Sub-17” https://feminafutbol.com/noticias/denuncias-de-acoso-sexual-empanan-a-la-seleccion-colombia-femenina-sub-17-22834/
“Women’s soccer in Colombia is at risk of regressing” https://equalizersoccer.com/2019/01/07/colombia-womens-soccer-moving-backward-dimayor-professional-league-future-uncertain/
“The FFA launches its bid for Australia to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup” https://www.foxsports.com.au/football/matildas/get-onside-the-ffa-launches-its-bid-for-australia-to-host-the-2023-womens-world-cup/news-story/f1cee361ff4135d93f676a342eb5be4c
“NWSL loses A&E Networks as a major investor” https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/02/20/nwsl-loses-ae-networks-major-investor/?utm_term=.20bb54f5b073
“NWSL split with A&E Networks welcomed by team owners” https://theathletic.com/830757/2019/02/21/murray-nwsl-split-with-ae-networks-welcomed-by-team-owners/
“A lot of U.S. Soccer employees were paid more than its world champion women’s coach” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/soccer-insider/wp/2018/02/21/how-many-u-s-soccer-employees-made-more-money-than-the-uswnt-coach-a-lot/?utm_term=.f4fd43a3987e
“‘My whole community lost my son’: Mother wants answers for NJ football player death” https://www.app.com/story/sports/2019/02/20/braeden-bradforth-neptune-nj-football-player-death-garden-city/2836273002/
“The Steelers Are Happy To Let Ben Roethlisberger Feel As Important As He Thinks He Is” https://deadspin.com/the-steelers-are-happy-to-let-ben-roethlisberger-feel-a-1832788147
“Colorado state wrestling tournament’s final day will feature 2 girls for the first time” https://www.denverpost.com/2019/02/22/colorado-state-wrestling-tournament-girls-finals-first-time/?fbclid=IwAR3AYrThEv8L2waIcQ0QcTHQalA7xJXju_9LPp-_Gb0pRGqQebxssEQoXi0
“Georgia women’s basketball coach, Joni Taylor, on sideline two days after giving birth” https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaw/2019/02/23/georgia-basketball-coach-joni-taylor-back-two-days-after-baby/2961698002/
Shireen: Welcome to this week’s episode of Burn It All Down. It’s the feminist sports podcast you need. I’m Shireen Ahmed, freelance sports writer, sports activist in Toronto, Canada. On this week’s panel, we have the fiery, brilliant Amira Rose Davis, Assistant Professor of History and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at Penn State. We have all-around badass, Jessica Luther, independent writer, general slayer, and author of Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape in Austin, Texas; Brenda Elsey, Associate Professor of History and undeniable genius at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York.
We have a great episode this week with two very important interviews. After we discuss women’s soccer and the gong show that is often seen in the football world, Jessica speaks with ESPNW reporter, Katie Barnes, about Martina Navratilova’s op-ed. Then, Lindsay will speak with Susan Elizabeth Shepard and the news around New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Before we start, I would like to thank our patrons for their generous support and to remind our new flamethrowers about our Patreon campaign. You pledge a certain amount monthly, as low as $2 and as high as you want, to become an official patron of the podcast. In exchange for your monthly contribution, you get access to special rewards. With the price of a coffee a month, you can access extra segments of the podcast, a monthly newsletter, an opportunity to record on the burn pile, only available to those in our Patreon community.
So far, we have solidified funding for proper editing transcripts, but are hoping to reach our dream of hiring a full-time producer to help us with our show. Burn It All Down is a labor of love and we all believe in this podcast, but having a producer to help us as we grow would be amazing. We are so grateful for your support.
Speaking of dreams, I would like to remind all listeners about the upcoming first ever live taping of Burn It All Down. We will be recording live at Columbia University School of Journalism at Pulitzer Hall in the Stabile Student Center on Friday, March 8, 2019, International Women’s Day, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. This is part of our participation in critical sport communities, new directions in sports scholarship, journalism and activism. This is a joint symposium with Columbia University and Hofstra University organized by Dr. Frank Grady and our very own Dr. Brenda Elsey. Now, let’s get started for this week’s show. (music plays) We have thoughts on Zion Williams. Amira, tell me about your thoughts.
Amira: Yeah, I want to play a quick game. Just shout out numbers here, what do you think the cheapest ticket to see the Duke UMC game went for, this past week?
Jessica: The cheapest ticket?
Amira: Cheapest ticket.
Shireen: $500 US.
Jessica: I don’t know, cause they were going for thousands. I’m not sure.
Amira: Exactly. The cheapest ticket was $2,500.
Jessica: Oh, my God.
Amira: For those wondering, it’s basically a Superbowl ticket price for this past year. If you want to know the upper levels for what people are paying to see this game, there’s a ticket that went for over $10,000 on Vivid Seats to this game.
Jessica: What are people doing? Wow.
Amira: Again, I want to play another game. How many seconds into the game do you think that we got before Zion Williams was out because of a injury.
Jessica: 62? I have no idea.
Amira: Shireen has it. We’re under a minute.
Jessica: Really? That’s how short it was?
Amira: Under a minute.
Jessica: Wow, I didn’t even realize that.
Amira: So just one more question.
Brenda: I love these games.
Amira: Roughly –
Shireen: Am I winning?
Amira: Yes. How much do you think Nike’s stock market value fell?
Shireen: Oh, cause he blew his shoe when he fell?
Jessica: A hundred million.
Jessica: Five hundred million.
Shireen: Three hundred million?
Amira: So, the number you’re looking for is 1.1 billion dollars knocked off of the stock market value.
Shireen: Because his shoe blew?
Amira: Because his shoe blew, so for those of you who didn’t-
Shireen: That’s what it takes?
Amira: -get to see this, UMC and Duke have a story of basketball rivalry. The first installment of the 2019 edition was just this past week, and it was particularly hyped up, because, obviously, there was a young star who probably would be one and done. And so, this was like, you’re only gonna have two chances to see this rivalry with him in it. And so, as you can see, their ticket prices were high, Barack Obama was front and center, wearing this black bomber jacket with 44, it was badass, and he had a front row seat to watch Zion’s shoe break, just completely come apart, shred apart, resulting in a knee sprain, less than a minute into the game – you can literally see a .gif of Obama saying, his shoe broke. Right?
And the reason why I wanted to play this game is because when we talk about amateurs, and when we talk about the money raw on athletes, I just wanted us to get a sense of the magnitude of this, right? You have thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars poured into the game being spent on the game to come see it, you have Nike, who has – who makes billions of dollars, entering into these exclusive agreements with schools, so why is he wearing Nike shoes, oh he’s wearing Nike shoes cause Nike has an exclusive agreement, right, with the teams to dress Duke head to toe in Nike apparel.
And so, we have all this happen, you have him sprain his knee, putting his career earnings completely in jeopardy, thinking of if it’s worse, right? And then you have a massive stock tie into this, and I just, all I could think about is like, wow there is so much money on this and I think a lot of the immediate responses were like, alright, that’s why one and done sucks. Like he, his career is at risk for what? Because of a faulty shoe that he’s forced to wear because of this contract with the school. It was just a lot; it was just a lot.
Shireen: Okay, so I have a quick game question. How much of the money from all this bazillions of dollars do the athletes actually get?
Brenda: I know this one!
Amira: Oh, oh, I know this one!
Jessica: Amira! (laughs)
Amira: Nothing, unless you’re counting meal plans, maybe.
Jessica: They probably have a nice sauna to go sit in.
Brenda: Wait, wait, can I ask a game question? Can I ask a game question?
How much does Coach K get?
Jessica: He’s taking a bath in his money right now.
Brenda: So, do you think university coach, turning down those high end and big offers, how much does he get?
Amira: Brenda? Roughly 7 million, 7 and a half million.
Shireen: 8.89 million
Brenda: 9. 9!
Amira: A year?
Brenda: A year!
Amira: Oh, he got a raise. Look at him.
Brenda: Look at him! He gets a raise!
Brenda: You know, Bobby Knight’s prodigy, one of the great defenders of the amateur game, that must feel nice, when you get 9 million dollars a year.
Amira: So, that’s just, I felt like this was a very clear-
Brenda: It’s the most clear.
Amira: The most clear!
Brenda: I mean it’s, that’s part of what’s so amazing about it.
Amira: Right. And so, if you wanted to know, Nike’s stock has recovered. If you wanted to know, his knee is a sprain, and he will continue to play the rest of the season.
Jessica: So, will we see him again in the next – there’s one more rivalry game?
Amira: There’s one more rivalry game, so knock on wood, hopefully he’s not injured or anything like that. He says he’s staying there, everybody out of Duke said, there’s no, he’s not gonna sit for the rest of the season, despite people like the Marcus cousins being like, leave. Just go.
Shireen: Well, can I add that Scotty Pippin told him to rest himself and even though he loves the game not to give too much of himself because he wanted to go pro. I’m just gonna say this, Scotty Pippin said so, and nobody listened, so I’m just leaving that out there.
Amira: So, this will just be another entry on amateurism and one and done rules, and thinking about what it means to have value placed on you for a set period of time, a fixed period of time tagged to your ability, and what happens when you become disposable. And part of this is not to say, oh my goodness, leave Duke don’t get a education, it’s to say, it’s very clear that your earning potential is right now and when you’re forced to wear shoes that deconstruct on national TV while everybody else is building billions on your back, then you can seize the production of your labor. And I just feel like it won’t be the first or last time we see this, but this past week it was a very clear moment of, just a reminder, this is completely exploitative and bullshit.
Brenda: Can I just say Nike made for kids by kids.
Shireen: Moving on, Brenda can you take us into our first segment on soccer and the continuous gong shows that exist in the football world? (laughing)
Brenda: I feel like I need intro music for this.
Shireen: I like that Brenda chuckled, that was her immediate response to that.
Brenda: Because it’s like, I’m here to kick off your weekly update in: it’s Women’s World Cup here but people can’t stop treating them like s***! And I feel like I need some Saturday Night Live news update!
Shireen: There you go.
Brenda: So ,there’s three kinds of sets of issues right now and I’m just gonna intro this and people can then grab on because this is a giant dumpster fire. Three sorts of issues that are ongoing: 1. Differences in resources for national teams. 2. Sexual harassment, sexist climates, and 3. Professionalization. So there’s three kinds of issues I just want to kick it off with.
One, the fiscal tax return, that’s differences in resources for national teams. Number one, the fiscal tax return for US soccer teams came out from 2018, and shows what we suspected. Jurgen Klingsmann earned 3.4 million dollars, Bruce Arena 1.2 million dollars, Jill Ellis 291,000 dollars.
Amira: I’m sorry, can you just say those numbers one more time? I just couldn’t hear them, they were just too, what?
Brenda: I know, it’s dissonant sounds, it’s like, a lot? Not so much.
Amira: I’m sure you didn’t say that Jill Ellis was paid – okay just say it again.
Brenda: Yup, Jurgen Klingsmann 3.4 million dollars, Bruce Arena 1.2 million dollars, Jill Ellis 291,000 dollars.
Brenda: But one of the coaches is not like the others! In that, they actually won a World Cup and qualified for another one. So something’s really different there, in terms of standards.
Number two, sexual harassment and general sexist climate. Columbia, looking at Columbia this week, an NGO coming out of Columbia found and released to the newspaper Puebli Metro a letter of denunciation from two players on the U-17, that’s U-17, that means they’re under 17.
Shireen: They’re kids, correct.
Brenda: Saying that they had been sexually harassed by two members of the coaching staff, including the head coach, and this splits into the disciplinary committee of the Colombian Football Federation and since that time, no investigation has been conducted. No real sanctions, the head coach is still in place, one of the assistant coaches is not, the things that they say happened to them are absolutely disturbing and they were threatened, their position on the team was threatened if they did not comply with the sexual advances of these coaches. They did not, but it is obvious that it left them really hurt and damages, and it’s been a year and a half since that letter, and again, no investigation.
Number – and this is upsetting too, I mean we’ll talk more about this, because Columbia has also got this professional team that the Federation wanted women to have, so it could make a bid for 2023, and in the last six months, all kinds of stuff coming out. And I actually was with Inti Formas which is one of the clubs back in November, in Argentina, where they explained how terrible their conditions are. So, it’s a program that we looked at with a lot of hope about three years ago and has since totally imploded because of the lack of resources, and ongoing sexual harassment of player, and minors, no less. Not that kids matter and women don’t but there’s a special abuse and vulnerability there.
Okay, finally, professionalization, and people we can talk about this, people who don’t follow Stephanie Yang, friend of the show definitely should. This week she’s done great reporting on the fact that this week the partnership between the NWSL and A&E Lifetime had ended. I just wanna open that up to see if you all were following that story, but it sort of revealed a problem in terms of the way in which people still don’t know how to market women’s soccer, and the expectations on the teams aren’t always realistic.
Jessica: Yeah, I mean I can jump in on the NWSL, there’s a lot here, thanks for that, Brenda, that was really useful. The Columbia stuff is just, so upsetting.
But as far as the NWSL ending their relationship with A&E, which is the parent company of Lifetime, and Lifetime was the channel where they were broadcasting the games, that stuff is complicated. It’s been interesting to watch women’s soccer media try to figure out is this good or bad, and how do we report on this? It feels like that tension where you don’t wanna say bad things about the sport that you love because it already gets so much stuff.
So, there’s been some positive, people are looking at it in a positive way. Caitlin Murray had a piece in the Athletic that said that the coaches – oh the owners, sorry, the owners of the teams are very happy about this because one of the things that happened when A&E came on board was that they created something called NWSL Media. And so while A&E had a 25% stake in the league, they actually were getting 62.5% of everything coming in through NWSL Media, and so now, the 9 teams had to split that, and it was impacting whether or not they could expand. The new owners don’t like that deal, so now they’re getting all that back, and they have control over that, it’s difficult to say what’s gonna happen here. Yahoo has the streaming, Verizon via Yahoo has the streaming rights for the year, so they can’t have that, and it’s World Cup season, they need a platform, apparently they’re looking at other networks, it’s just not, it doesn’t seem very good.
But there are silver linings to it, like this NWSL Media thing, so.
Amira: Well, I’m glad you brought up the streaming because I was curious about your opinion on this, Jess, and everybody else, because I think one of the things that we saw with the WNBA is that as they went to streaming platforms, and with the WNBA League Pass, I think that the numbers that they saw on there and the increased viewership numbers were in part helped my understanding by streaming packages.
Jessica: That’s an interesting question.
Amira: More than you’d think, it gives maybe another opportunity for viewership, cause I find one of the things, a frustration we’ve talked about a lot is how do you find these games, right?
They think one of the partnerships, one of the eyebrow partnership things with Lifetime in the first place was like, okay you can look at the market logic behind this, we want women to watch, what do women watch? Women watch Lifetime movies.
Jessica: Yeah, literally sandwiched in between them every Saturday.
Amira: Exactly, and so I think that one of the things that you’d see though is that sometimes people are like, I can’t access Lifetime, or, why would I think to find soccer on Lifetime? And so, I’m wondering if…
Brenda: (laughing) Sorry.
Jessica: That’s a really good point. The WNBA League Pass is great, I mean, there are still issues with it, and that’s its own thing, but it definitely makes it way more accessible and there was a huge push to get people on it. One of the interesting things that Caitlin Murray brought up was that because Verizon still owns the rights for this year, that means ESPN+ can’t take it on, and you get a – in the US, that’s where a lot of soccer coverage is, right, where you can actually watch stuff. And so, it does feel like maybe, for lots of sports in general, streaming is the future. And so, if the NWSL can figure that part out, I don’t know enough about this part of it, but it does seem like the WNBA has done something good in that regard.
Shireen: Well, I mean I rely heavily, or did, rather, YouTube for watching NWSL games cause they were the first to be up there, and I could have access to them, and that was really helpful for me particularly being in Canada, where I don’t have access to Lifetime necessarily, especially if I don’t have Cable at all. So other than going on Reddit or asking Twitter followers to send me some shady stream, which usually works. And so, I think that for me, NWSL was one of the most successful ways on YouTube just for me to watch.
And just for example, yesterday, I watched the Continental Cup between Man City Women and Arsenal Women’s side and I watched it on Facebook, Facebook Live. And that was really easy cause everybody has access to Facebook, you don’t have to pay for it, necessarily, other than if you go to a café and you need to pay for the time on the computer or whatnot, I don’t know. But does that even happen anymore? Am I talking like 1999 or something anyway?
Brenda: Livestreaming is the only way to get most South American women’s games. They’re not broadcasted anywhere, but CONMEBOL usually has a feed for it. Actually, in CONCACAF as well. So when it was Jamaica – no, I’m sorry, Panama versus Argentina, Facebook was the only way I could see it.
Shireen: Yeah, and that’s similar, I mean, I would say that I would love to watch the SAFF, which is the South Asian Federal Football Tournament, but Pakistan for the fifth year is not participating in it. But that’s the only way I get to watch SAFF as well, is someone’s handheld phone showing.
Brenda: The great thing, though, by doing the Facebook streaming, is that I can see the hilarious comments of people while I’m watching. (laughing)
Jessica: It is interesting, though, the one thing I’ll say, last thing I’ll say about it, but Brenda mentioned that this is yet another example of they’re not sure what to do with women’s sport, and how to market it, and then Amira brought up that where are the women? Let’s put the soccer where the women are. Which, once again, just discounts that men watch it too, and I feel like, and I’m sorry, I should’ve looked this up ahead of time, I feel like there was a recent report, maybe out of Australia, about how popular women’s sport is in Australia and that way more people watch it than everyone though. So, I think that’s a really good thing to keep in mind, about we still don’t really know what to do with women’s sport.
But I wanted to just pivot quickly, Brenda brought up everything happening in Columbia, which made me think about all of Shireen’s reporting on Afghanistan. I was wondering, Shireen, if there were any updates about it?
Shireen: Thanks, Jess, I published a piece last week for ThinkProgress about it, and currently, for those that don’t know, and I’ll just recap really quickly, there were allegations against the president Keramuudin Karim of the Afghanistan Football Federation, that he had sexually and psychologically abused players. So, that had been reported to FIFA, or some personnel at FIFA, and then to the EFC, neither of which had really done anything, so you’ve got Coach Kelly Lindsay and Assistant Coach Haley Carter and then team programming director, Khalida Popal, who are sort of spearheading the campaign.
We’ve had all of them on this show. We’ve had Kelly and Khalida, last year, and then we’ve had Coach Haley on the show for Hot Take, and that was recently. So, in terms of development, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, who’s head of the Jordanian Football Federation convened a round table in London two weeks ago to talk about this and to literally come up with points and recommendations for federations to be able to amend their processes with which to report, which is crucial.
So that was a really good step, we’re seeing an event, we’re seeing a discussion about it. Right now, the entire process by which, and also there’s other issues that come up, if the reporting isn’t done in the procedural way, then that becomes an issue as well, but I mean, some people are not living in places where process and procedure is normalized or even stabilized, so people do what they need to. So, I understand all of these sides, so anyways, that’s what’s happening thus far, and we’re just waiting to go through the system, the process of this, which is really, really, really crappy, I mean it’s not perfect at all.
And the problem is, is that, one of the biggest issues is, when I was doing my research, when people report, they automatically notify the Federation as well. And it wasn’t even thought of by the quote-on-quote founding footballing fathers who created these half-assed systems, that the person who could’ve committed abuse was the head of the Federation. So it’s really messed up, there’s no way to protect someone’s safety and privacy, which is also part of the problem, but so that’s that little update there on how terrible men are in the world of football.
Amira, did you want to add something, just stepping back to about, I think, salaries again?
Amira: Yeah, well, I wanted to – thank you for that update. I wanted to think, go back to the Ellis salary thing, and think about some of the other consequences or other things that it signals so, those numbers that you gave, Brenda, were really troubling. And it’s not the first time that we’ve seen this disparity, and if you remember, the last few times that the public disparity has come up, they’re like, oh yeah, well she got a huge bonus! And we’re gonna address this through these bonuses and the restructured deal she got after the, what was it, after the Olympics, or after the World Cup in 2015? And I think one of the things that this shows us is one, Clinton was paid more in severance than Ellis’ salary. His severance package was over 3 million dollars, and that is multiple times more than her salary.
But the other thing that is really, and obviously you can, it’s very easy with women’s, with national soccer, with the national federation in the United States because they’re like oh yeah, market logic, you pay the men’s coach more, but as we know, those arguments don’t – they keep losing steam because the revenue isn’t actually there, right, so you have more success on the field, but you also have the women’s team being the revenue producers being what’s bringing high balls to the table. Especially when the men aren’t even qualifying. But the other thing that’s really instructive about this disparity is that the other people who are also higher on the list over her are youth coaches. So that really disrupts the idea that there’s a market logic to this pay structure. Because that – they’re, the U-20 team, the U-23 team, there’s no even – there’s no pretense that they’re bringing in revenue for the federation, they’re not, it’s not a thing. And both of those coaches are getting paid more than the head coach of the highest women’s level, and I think this is really instructive, because I think what it is, what this disparity becomes is a canary in the minefield.
Because if she’s getting paid less than men’s developmental coaches of the U-23 or U-20 team, then the women’s U-23 and U-20 coaches are getting paid much less than that, so the resources on development in the entire field and system aren’t there, but also if this is the disparity at the – one of the most resourced and highest achieving women’s federations in the world, then we can really be worried about the state of women’s soccer in the United States and globally if this is still the top, it’s no secret that then there’s a huge drop-off with the NWSL. This is, it’s such a canary in the minefield, because if there was a problem here, if there’s such a disparity here, if there’s such a mismanagement of resource allocation here, then everyone else is going to be f****d, too.
Brenda: I’m just so excited that you brought up this issue, Amira, about infantilization and women, because it comes in two places, right, I mean there’s two connecting pieces to what you’re saying, too. FIFA, in its new development package, and I’ve said this a lot on this show, has a program called FIFA Forward, which was put into practice this past year, and which they claim gives more incentives and more resources for the development of women’s soccer. But if you control F through that program, women only come up with youth programs. So that means it’s a way in which federations are able to actually fund male youth programs, under the auspices of women and youth programs, so they can actually, there are many loopholes, and that’s one way that they get – just, as an example of precisely what you’re saying.
You’re looking at how they’re going downward, and if you look upwards, it’s actually the very same thing. And this has, I think, a real profound impact on the way, on the marketing, and on the way in which the women see themselves, because after the NWSL break, the Players’ Association, the Women’s Players’ Association responded to be very supportive of the break, and one of the things they said is that they recognize the ambition of the league, which is still, quote, in its infancy. And that’s the type of language that is really problematic. If I was there, they haven’t hired me as a consultant, and I’m not their union organizer yet, but I would like to say there is no such thing as a 7-year-old infant. The league has been going since 2012, and it is not okay to continue to refer to yourselves as being in infancy. Women have played soccer for over a century, they’re not babies.
Amira: And if you wanna read a book about the long history of women playing soccer, I know just the book for you. This is a plug for Brenda’s book, Futbolera.
Jessica: Tell us all about it!
Amira: Go read it! (laughing)
Shireen: It’s brilliant. Absolutely. (music plays)
Next up, Jessica interviewed Katie Barnes about Martina Navratilova’s op-ed arguing against inclusion of trans athletes in sport, the sexism underlying this argument, and the harm these arguments do, especially to trans kids.
Jessica: I am thrilled today to have my friend, Katie Barnes, on Burn It All Down. This is Katie’s second appearance on the show, they were our first ever guests way back in episode 4. Katie is a writer and reporter for ESPNW, where they write about a whole host of things, with a special focus on LGBTQ athletes, and especially trans and non-binary athletes. Welcome to Burn It All Down again, Katie.
Katie: Thanks for having me.
Jessica: I wish we had a better, happier reason for you to be joining us this weekend, but I reached out to Katie after the Burn It All Down crew read and cringed at tennis legend Martina Navratilova’s op-ed last weekend, so, two weekends ago, by the time you’re hearing this in the Sunday Times, about female trans athletes. I mean, it’s about trans athletes in general but she specifically targets female trans athletes, which we’ll get to.
I want to quickly thank friend of the show, Shane Thomas, for actually sending me the article, it was behind a paywall and I couldn’t get to it, so that was very kind of him.
The Cliff notes version is that Navratilova believes trans athletes are cheaters, acts like transition is easy and simple, she incorrectly refers to testosterone as, quote, the male hormone. Katrina Karkazis, who’s been on the show before, talking about this exact thing, she had a really great thread about this on Twitter last week.
Martina deadnames her friend Renee Richards, the pioneering trans woman in tennis who sued in the 1970s to be included in the US Open. She speaks for Richards, she uses Richards as her, but I have a trans friend shield… And then Martina brings up Caster Semenya, whom we’ve talked about on this show repeatedly, including in the last episode when Brenda burned the IAAF in the Burn Pile. Semenya isn’t trans, and her case is only related in that sex and gender aren’t as clean and tidy as the terms men’s and women’s sports suggest that they are. Navratilova uses Semenya in this op-ed as a foil against which to state that female trans athletes are cheaters, while Semenya is fighting a fair fight.
Overall, it’s a stunningly basic and ignorant take on trans athletes that lacks empathy. That’s the setup. Katie, what did you think, when you first read this?
Katie: I think I was mostly disappointed, as a queer person who grew up playing sports, Martina is in that pantheon of iconic LGBTQ people, particularly in the sports world, and whenever there’s an in-community discussion that spills out publicly, in such, I think a negative way, that’s just hard. On a personal level, I’m just deeply disappointed. Professionally, I think that what Martina wrote about exposes a lot of the simplistic language and just deep misunderstanding that people have around transgender athletes, trans women in particular, which we can absolutely talk more about, but my hope is that through what I would say is largely an inaccurate and uninformed piece written by Martina, that there will be a fruitful discussion that comes from it that is more educated.
Jessica: What are some of the big things that she hit upon that are wrong, and harmful, that you think we should be correcting?
Katie: One of the biggest things is something that you outlined in your introduction, which is the idea that transition and that identity, in terms of transgender identity, is something that is very easy, it’s very simple, and that also it is reversed. That’s the thing that she did say was that this idea that a man can just say he’s a woman, go off and dominate women’s sports, and then go back to being a dude. And that’s just such a simplified idea, and often not what we see, and not at all what we’re talking about.
It’s just this bonkers idea to me that, especially in the culture we live in, that a mediocre guy, who can’t hack it in men’s sports is going to pretend to be a woman to dominate women’s sports. And then for that to be a quote on quote cool thing to do.
Jessica: To get all the accolades, all the accolades that women are getting for being athletes, yes, yes.
Katie: Right, on its face, doesn’t make sense, in that regard. And so, that to me is the biggest thing. And then also, just trying on identities and gender, especially when transgender people, particularly transgender women, especially those who are of color, are the most, some of the most targeted and marginalized people, particularly within the United States, if not it’s certainly elsewhere as well, that’s just the data I know the best. It’s not exactly a cool, hip, trendy thing to do, and it’s not a safe existence either when we talk about what violence looks like.
So that part of it is just really, really misinformed, and certainly doesn’t track with any of the reporting that I’ve done over the years.
Jessica: One of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you, specifically, about this is because of your reporting which is phenomenal, and anyone who’s interested in this topic, you have to go find Katie’s work at ESPNW on this, it’s just exceptional, and I think that Martina and people who are making these arguments are often imagining elite level professional athletes, which of course trans athletes exist on that level, but I feel like the greatest harm here is probably to children who want to participate in sport that are also trans. So I wanted to get your take on why it’s important that we be focusing on young trans athletes when we’re having these conversations.
Katie: What I found in terms of, the amount of time I’ve spent with young transgender people and also this reporting on transgender inclusion in sport at large, is that what happened at the elite level, and the kind of conversations that we have about elite athletes where, regardless of whether or not we’re talking about sex and gender, elite athletes’ bodies are policed in a very specific and ongoing way, that is commonplace culturally. We wrap it up in this idea of fairness.
There’s an element of policing that occurs with elite athletes that is just a separate conversation, especially when we talk about monetary stakes, talk about what’s on the table. It’s just completely different than whether or not a 5-year-old who is thinking about gender differently can play against other 5-year-olds or if we need to sex-segregate at that age. That’s very different than a high schooler who is beginning a social, and perhaps a medical transition, wanting to run on her track team. A lot times, people will use comments like the ones that Martina made, and the authority that comes with that as both a former elite athlete and also a member of the LGBTQ community, to reinforce their own biases that they have about the topic to begin with, and then project that onto kids.
This idea of transgender women in particular, but trans athletes at large being cheaters, that accusation has been levied at Mac Beggs, the transgender boy who won two Texas girls’ state championships in wrestling. It’s been levied at Andrea Yearwood, who is a transgender girl running track in Connecticut, same thing with Terry Miller, who is another transgender girl running track in Connecticut. These accusations are used against kids as a means of pushing them out of sport or criticizing their existence in sport.
I think that is a real issue, because in particular, I find that, and Martina does this as well, where it’s to forecenter this construct of fairness, and what is fairness in sport, instead of centering the humanity of children and of people in general, and thinking about well if sport is one of these things that we think has all of these positive benefits for kids, why would we then create a system that requires certain kids to be left out instead of thinking about, instead of examining the system that is in place and what it is designed to do, and thinking creatively to solve some problems and learn more about who we are as humans, and just rebuild a system that is more inclusive for all kids.
Because we do know, the CDC just released a report, I think last month, that said that 3% of youth are identified within the transgender umbrella. And that’s a big, that’s a big number, and it tracks with another study that came out of Minnesota that said that 2% of Minnesota youth were identifying as trans.
Jessica: They wanna play sports too!
Katie: Exactly! So, these are questions and issues that are being examined in every single community, and when you have such a big icon like Martina, saying they’re cheaters, it just goes a long way to legitimize the barriers that kids already face.
Jessica: I would like to talk a little bit about the fact that she is intensely focused on female trans athletes, and that’s what she really cares about when she’s talking about fairness and that’s what she’s addressing, and I think that happens a lot of the time. Can you unpack that for us, why is the focus mostly, almost exclusively on female trans athletes in this discussion of fairness?
Katie: Yeah, you’re right that it is almost exclusively. I find that actually, the argument that Martina and others present is actually rooted in sexism. Culturally speaking, we have an unofficial hierarchy that we use to talk about athletes, and it’s as follows. So, you have male elite athletes at the top, followed by average male athletes, followed by below average male athletes, and then elite female athletes. So, there’s this assumption that any person who is assigned male at birth will be able to outperform athletically any person who is assigned female at birth.
And this is not limited to when talking about transgender inclusion, we see this about, with average dudes saying that a JV boys’ basketball team could beat the UCONN women in a scrimmage, and that’s just wrong. Or the idea that Maya Moore could not compete in a pickup game with male NBA players, that’s just not true. She may not dominate but she could compete. She’s six feet tall, it would be fine. A lot of this is rooted in that. And I think you see it when you look at the policies and the proposed legislation that have been through the states, the old IOC policy is that transgender men are often an afterthought, because the idea that someone who is assigned female at birth could compete with someone who is assigned male at birth on an elite level is just seen as ludicrous.
And Chris Mosier has talked about this, in regards to his own story. A lot of people say, well point us to a transgender man who can compete with men, and it’s like, well that would be Chris Mosier.
Jessica: Doing it over and over and over again, yeah!
Katie: Right, 9th in the world in his age group, that’s wild. And Mac Beggs as well, qualified four nationals in the boys’ category last year, out of Texas, which has got a lot of wrestlers.
Jessica: Yeah, it’s big here!
Katie: Yeah, right? So, what is frustrating about this focus on transgender women is that I find it as something that one just portrays a certain level of sexism, but two continues to peddle this idea of transgender identity as being invalid. And I go back to, again, centering humanity of athletes, and believing who they say they are. And if we start there, then we can reexamine what’s going on, and look at what the system is doing to people, and proceed accordingly. But right now, what’s happening is just a continued fear that somehow cisgender women are going to lose out on opportunities because of an influx of people who were assigned male at birth who are then stealing these scholarships. When we look at evidence of that happening it just does not exist.
So, you have a marginalized group, meaning women in general, cisgender women within sport, lashing out at a further marginalized group, meaning transgender women. And it’s unfortunate, and Mayarn Genel, an endocrinologist, who used to work at Yale University and has consulted with the IOC, in my piece about Mac and Andrea, talked about how the science just isn’t there yet in many regards, specifically around testosterone and the effect of testosterone on athletic performance rather than just the physiological effects of the hormone
So we don’t know enough to really design policy in this way, and we need to know more to have a better idea of what actually might be fair for athletes because right now, everyone is pointing to the science and using that to justify their positions that are actually philosophical and cultural, but I think that becomes quite clear in how Martina talks about trans athletes, in particular trans women, in this opposing, holding up Renee Richards as being a good example of a trans woman because she, to quote Martina, had done the deed, meaning had medical intervention in terms of surgery.
And then saying that Rachel McKinnon, who is another trans woman who won a world championship in cycling in her age group, somehow was not trans enough because of assumptions that Martina was making about the medical decisions that Rachel had made about her own body. And I don’t know what Rachel McKinnon’s medical status is, and I don’t think Martina does either. So that juxtaposition of people who have had surgery versus people who haven’t had surgery just doesn’t make sense and that’s not, and it also doesn’t make any sense when it comes to athletic performance either. Nor is it really anyone’s business as far as what people are doing with their bodies, and especially when you are trying to, as people have done, impose that standard on children, and younger and younger athletes.
Jessica: Katie, thank you so much for coming on and talking to us about trans athletes. I wanted to give you a chance right here at the end, you have an exciting new project that you’ve been working on, will you just give us a little teaser about it?
Katie: I do. So, ESPN has a 30-for-30 short titled Mac Russell, that is premiering at South by South West, in a couple of weeks. I can’t talk too much about the film, but it examines the journey that Mac went on for the last two years. In particular, looks at his quote-on-quote transition from high school to college, and I was an executive producer on the project and worked very closely with the filmmakers Aaron Singer and Taylor Hess. And so it’s very exciting, and just truly professionally gratifying, and moving that ESPN name to something that I find to be so vital.
Jessica: That’s wonderful, I cannot wait to see it. Thank you, Katie, for being on Burn It All Down again.
Katie: Thanks for having me.
Jessica: A final note, after we recorded this interview on Thursday evening, legislators in South Dakota debated in committee a bill to discriminate against trans kids in South Dakota who want to participate in sport. At least one conservative, Republican legislator mentioned Navratilova’s op-ed in arguing for the importance of this discriminatory bill. He specifically mentioned the notion that trans athletes are cheaters. House Bill 1.2.25 was sent out of committee without a recommendation and will now be debated on the South Dakota House floor.
Shireen: In our last segment today, Lindsay talks with journalist Susan Elizabeth Shepard, to get a media literacy lesson related to the news that New England Patriots owner, Robert Craft, was charged on two counts of soliciting prostitution in a sex-trafficking related bust at a massage parlor in Florida.
Lindsay: Hello everyone, I am here with Susan Elizabeth Shepard, a journalist living in Missoula, Montana. Susan most recently worked at the Missoula Independent, she has written a lot about sports for sites such as SBNation, and Sports On Earth, and she is the co-founder of Tits and Sass, a culture and policy site, by sex workers, for sex workers. Susan, thank you so much for joining me today.
Susan: Thank you for having me.
Lindsay: So, here’s the news that we’re dealing with. This week, the news broke that the New England Patriots owner Robert Craft was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution in connection with the Florida spa that has been tied to an international human trafficking ring.
So, this story, we found out pretty quickly, is not one that the sports world is really ready to handle. I think a lot of people had very fan-driven reactions, when this first, when the news first broke. Embarrassingly enough, even myself. And I think that the headlines were certainly written in a way to sensationalize this, so hopefully you can help us figure out how to talk about this. Let’s start at the beginning. In these stories, a lot of times sex work and sex trafficking are used as interchangeable terms. Can you help us break down the difference between sex work and sex trafficking?
Susan: Well, it’s the difference between any kind of labor and labor trafficking. Somebody who is sex trafficked is being forced into doing sex work, just as somebody who is being trafficked into agricultural work or domestic work is being trafficked into that work against their will. So, you have sex workers who are entering the industry or remaining in the industry of their own volition, and those who, for various reasons, are not there of their own choice.
Lindsay: I know back in 2014, you wrote a wonderful article for Sports On Earth called The Sex Trafficking Super Bowl Myth. In that article, you really broke down the fact that every year there is a Super Bowl, there are these huge headlines saying that how Super Bowls are this bastion for sex trafficking, in reality that’s not really true.
A few of my takeaways for the article were A. We shouldn’t really trust journalists when we’re reading about this cause journalists conflate sex trafficking and sex work, but also that police and authority figures can often conflate the two. Why is that, and how should that help us to understand what the authorities in Florida are telling us about this bust – about this sex trafficking bust?
Susan: Well, you’ll see a lot of headlines, and you’ll see the police announce that they’ve been operating a sex trafficking stain or that they’ve just carried out a trafficking bust, but when you look at the arrests that come out of those things, they might be a lot of arrests for solicitation or prostitution, and there could be no trafficking arrests or far fewer trafficking arrests, right? And that’s what we’d seen happen during Super Bowl enforcement actions, you’ll see a lot of adult sex workers getting arrested, you’ll see people getting arrested on solicitation charges, but you won’t see trafficking charges come out of that.
So, we can see something similar happening in Florida right now, where the cops have arrested more people on criminal charges than they have identified victims so far. And, they’ll – they’re being fairly candid about that, in the sense that they realize they have discretion, when they decide who is a victim and who is a criminal. And that’s because sex work is – that’s the one area of trafficking where you’re being trafficked into committing a crime. So if you’re being forced to engage in prostitution, depending on how you present to the cops, they can decide that you’re committing a crime, or they can decide that you’re a victim. And that creates a pretty complicated situation.
And so, one of the assistant state attorneys in Florida told one of the papers there that they are going to determine who is a victim and who isn’t. And that’s not something that you would hear if there was a trafficking bust, where agricultural or restaurant workers were involved, right, they wouldn’t be like, oh well maybe you were doing illegal restaurant work and you’re a criminal. And that’s what really complicates the situation is that they get to make this determination, right? And I think that’s one of the things that we can take away from all that Superbowl coverage over the years, looking deeper at what those arrests are for, and who’s arrested, and then what happens next with those people, which is the thing that you never hear about.
Lindsay: Yeah, and that was my next question, I know you had linked on Twitter and I’d been reading that a lot of the people brought in are immigrants, and one of the narratives that the police set forth and that got a lot of attention early on was that they were brought to this country by traffickers, a lot of times under the pretense that they would be doing legal work, that they were coming here for opportunities, and then once they were here they were forced into sex trafficking. Is that something that you see often, and what happens to those victims now?
Susan: If you look at, so The Appeal has had some great reporting on how this has played out in New York, and Melissa Gira Grant and Emma Whiteford have done some great stories about raids on massage parlors in Queens. And there is, actually an activist group that’s come out of that, where the workers there, Chinese and Korean women who work in the spas, have been really clear about the fact that these raids are not a way to help them, that if you’re going to try to help victims of trafficking, you wanna really take a right-centered approach, is what the organizations that actually work with them say.
Places like the Freedom Network, and the immigration attorneys that work with trafficking victims will say, what they need is assistance with immigration, and that’s something that’s obviously become a lot more complicated in the last few years, right, it’s much harder to get a trafficking victim visa and to get access to the kinds of services that they would need. So their position is, once these raids happen, they’ve lost, potentially, their source of income, and are vulnerable to deportation.
Lindsay: One of the things that I think is really important to stress is the fact that a lot of activists, and I know you’ve written about this too, have talked about how decriminalizing sex work would actually help end sex trafficking. Can you explain that a little bit?
Susan: Well, so that’s Amnesty International’s position, that’s not a fringe position at all, that’s a consensus with a lot of human rights organizations. And that’s because making it illegal makes things more dangerous for victims, and that goes for criminalizing third parties, too, even if you aren’t making it illegal to engage in prostitution, if you’re making it illegal to be a third party, be a client, be a manager, and run one of these businesses. If you’re increasing the risk for those people, they’re gonna place that risk on the people doing the work themselves, and as I said, when law enforcement gets – when they have to make the distinction between someone being a victim and a criminal, that is just a really thin needle to thread there, and can wind up in a lot of victims, at the very least, having a prostitution arrest on their record. If they’re an American citizen it’s gonna make it difficult for them to get work, if they’re not an American citizen, it’s really gonna hurt their chances of getting a visa.
Lindsay: For media members who are covering this story, and for, I know a lot of our listeners like to act as media watchdogs, let’s call the media and hold them accountable going forward. What would you like to see from the media going forward when covering this story?
Susan: Well some of them are doing, some people are asking these questions of law enforcement down there, asking them so who is a victim, how many victims have you identified, what’s gonna happen to them? And that’s, that’s great, and it’s good to see them doing that now, because in a lot of previous stories around trafficking, you would see this really uncritical reporting of the police narrative without any followup.
I would like to say the Deadspin stories have been really good around this, which has been great to see. They should ask questions about when there aren’t any human trafficking arrests, they should ask why it’s designated a human trafficking bust, they should ask about the potential involvement of federal agencies in these, like when Homeland Security is involved. They should ask about why, why it’s necessary to put out hundreds of solicitation arrest warrants, and mug shots in the paper, think about what that’s intended to accomplish. And they should also ask why these stories always, why law enforcement is so heavily focused on sex trafficking, there’s this prevailing narrative that that’s the most common type of trafficking, but that’s not true, it’s the most visible because of how it’s been covered and prioritized by law enforcement, but there is plenty of trafficking in domestic work, agricultural work, construction, that gets nowhere near the kind of coverage or law enforcement attention. There are a lot of questions that need to be asked about that.
Lindsay: There’s this other part to it, which is this morality police part of this that really ties back to Robert Craft, and look, let’s face it, this is gonna continue to be a big sports story because of Craft’s positioning in the sports world. I’m trying to figure out the best way to phrase this. What responsibility do the people who are going to these places to solicit, the Robert Crafts of the world, what obligation do they have, because obviously if they’re just going to pay for consensual sex work that’s not something we want to get up in arms about. But what responsibility do they have and what role do they play in the sex trafficking system?
Susan: Honestly, that’s a difficult question to ask, because you’re asking someone to potentially intervene in a really volatile situation. If somebody is trapped, if you’re a client, the only thing you can do is assess the situation as best you can. You shouldn’t try to rescue anybody, you could really be putting them at risk there. So, I don’t know that there really is… someone’s obligation when they’re hiring a sex worker is the same as their obligation when they’re hiring anyone else for their services, asking people on the client side to make these decisions about who’s there consensually, that could, that’s asking them to potentially make some decisions that could make a situation a lot worse.
Lindsay: So right now we’re seeing the next debate that’s happening in the media is Patriots fans all coming to Robert Craft’s defense about what a – not all Patriots fans, of course, but a lot of fans, and a lot of people in the NFL saying Robert Kraft is a great guy, defending him on all counts. And then you have this other, which honestly is coming from a lot of progressive media, which is saying hey, if this is all true, the NFL should ban Robert Craft because it needs to take a stand against sex trafficking.
What’s your take on those things and the next steps with the NFL and Robert Kraft?
Susan: I just, I don’t see why anyone would have any faith in the NFL, which has had this incredibly bad record knowing how to deal with, say dealing with domestic abuse within its ranks, to deal with a situation like this. I, it just doesn’t seem like something they have been or will be equipped to deal with while they’re obviously gonna give him a much greater benefit of the doubt than they would a player, right? There’s no reason, it’s not necessarily their job to do anything about it, but whatever they do, I don’t think we should expect any better than they’ve handled domestic violence issues.
Lindsay: Listen, Susan, thank you so much for joining us and helping us get a start on taking this story forward. We really appreciate your time and your expertise, and how can people follow your work going forward?
Susan: They can find me on Twitter, @SusanElizabeth.
Lindsay: Perfect, thank you!
Susan: Thanks a lot, Lindsay, I appreciate it.
Shireen: Now for our favorite segment of the week, the Burn Pile. Brenda, can you go first please?
Brenda: I can. Last year the death of University of Maryland football player, Jordan McNair, shed some light on the irresponsibility of university athletic programs, and the danger that young players face, and this ties in with our discussion at the top of the show about amateurism, and what happens to players’ careers, but also what can happen to their lives. So, a less reported story was Braden Bradford’s, of Garden City Community College in Kansas, who also died last year from heat stroke exhaustion, after showing signs of distress in a football practice precisely in which the team’s first practice involved running 50-yard sprints 36 times.
After a foyer request from Bradford’s mother, it became clear that there was no investigation, she was in New Jersey, she’s been trying to get out there, there was no investigation by Kansas police or Garden City Police Department into Bradford’s staff.
I’m just gonna say really quickly that his fellow teammate said, CJ Anthony said quote, I remember everything about it, the pain in his face, he couldn’t breathe, the coaches were telling him he was just being dramatic, to stand up, chewing him out, doing all kinds of stuff. I could tell he was out of whack, by the 10th one or so, he wanted to stop, but the coaches just chewed him up. End of quote.
So, I just want to say that Bradford’s mother has come out in the press following this foyer request that she’s gotten that shows the autopsy and shows that the university, well, community college, I’m sorry, junior college, and its association have done nothing to investigate this issue. So I want to burn this toxic football culture, the stonewalling of Braden Bradford’s mother in this investigation, and the excuses that we give the athletics programs at the higher education environment.
Jessica: Yeah, so, mine’s a short one, but should live perpetually in the burn pile. It’s been a rough year between wide receiver Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown’s looking to leave, the Steelers are wanting him to go, they’re just being picky about where he ends up. You can have whatever feelings you want about Brown, but he’s easily one of the best wide receivers in the league and the Steelers don’t seem much concerned about losing him. What I want to focus on in all this, though, is that there’s been one player that Brown has had particular issues with. Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. And if anyone wants to boo or hiss at that moment when his name comes up.
Group: [disgusted sounds]
Jessica: They beefed before, and then recently, on Twitter, when asked what the deal was between the two, Brown responded, quote, no conflict, just a matter of respect, mutual respect. He has an owner mentality like he can call out anyone including coaches. Players know, but they can’t say anything about it, otherwise their meal ticket gone. It’s a dirty game within a game.
Go ahead Brown. This prompted the Steelers GM, Kevin Colbert, Colbert, is that how you say it? I don’t care. To release a statement backing Roethlisberger, who he called, quote, the unquestioned leader of this group. He goes on to say that Roethlisberger’s leadership role can be, quote, a burden on him more often than he may like to admit, because he’s got 52 kids under him quite honestly. Wow, so, in defending his quarterback against one of the best receivers in the game, the Steelers GM referred to all the other players on his team as, quote, kids. I, these NFL guys, I cannot stand any discussion about Roethlisberger at all, especially any that puts him in a good light.
I mean, I don’t know how else to say that but fuck that guy, has any player benefited more from the fact that multiple women reporting that he raped them came before the Ray Rice video and the intense scrutiny that the media and public have put on the NFL over the last four years, last few years? No is the answer. The Steelers have NEVER cared about that part of Roethlisberger‘s past, ever, so anyway, I’m just, I’m sick of seeing his name this week, and how the higher ups in the Steelers organization defend him, I will never not be sick of it, and I look forward to the day that he retires, I am happy to say burn everything around the Steelers and Roethlisberger. Burn!
Shireen: In Kenosha, Wisconsin, Tremper High School. Now, Juliette McCurr of the New York Times wrote a piece about how an awards ceremony at the school went awry. And when I say awry, I mean horrible body shaming, and so inflammatory and offensive that the ACLU Women’s Rights Division had to get involved. So basically, when the awards were being offered out, the awards quote-on-quote, and now I’m going to actually cite from the article.
There was the big booby award, for the girl with the biggest breasts. The coach giving the award, according to several parents among the 100 people in attendance, made a joke that the girl risked a concussion when she ran because of her enormous boobs. Now, to all the lovely people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and I’m sure there are some, it’s North of Chicago, Tremper High School is a place where dreams can be made, where women’s confidences grow, they can be inspired. This is not the way to do it! So I just am so furious that this was allowed to happen, and the worst part for me is these are educators, these are people who are literally in charge of mentoring and coaching and teaching and showing by example, this is not okay and it’s so upsetting on many, many levels.
And shaming women’s bodies when, first of all, there’s such an aspect of cheerleading, in terms of the athleticism and teamwork that is completely overlooked because the sport tends to be so, so severely exploitative, so I hate this so much and it made me so mad, so I wanna burn all of that.
Amira: This past week in Oxford, Mississippi, Ole Miss basketball players knelt during the National Anthem while their team was facing Georgia, and they knelt because there was an ongoing pro-Confederacy march happening in Oxford at the school, and I’ll get to that in a second. I just want to remind everybody what an important, brave action this is. For those who don’t know or don’t remember, Ole Miss hired a new basketball coach, Kermit Davis, this past year who’s introductory press conference included a list of what his vision for the basketball team was gonna be. He said, quote, what is Ole Miss basketball gonna look like? It’s gonna be relentless, athletic, explosive, a team that’s going to have to play on and on and on to be, it’s going to be a team that’s unselfish, we’re gonna play fast and smart and transition, we’re gonna get easy baskets, we’re gonna try to play with great body language. He adds, we’re going to be a respectful team, that respects the flag and the National Anthem. All those things from culture is what we’re about – it’s who we’re going to be.
So, this is a program headed by a coach who literally in his introductory remarks framed his idea about a culture of a team around a certain respect for the flag and the Anthem, heading off protests before the season even started. So the bravery and the fortitude of these players who decided to take a knee is something I do want to salute.
And what I want to burn is the predictable reaction by many in the community and who viewed their kneeling on Twitter, reactions that trotted out the familiar things that we’ve become accustomed to hearing – you’re disrespectful, ride the bench, et cetera. I just want to think about the space in which they are occupying for one second. This is, these are black students, at a school whose nickname, whose mascot is literally the Fighting Rebs, glorifying the rebellious Confederacy. They have a Confederate monument at the center of campus, this is a school that needed a lot of prodding to integrate with James Meredith, who rioted and shot up the school in reaction to James Meredith integrating the school. If you want to learn more about that, you can watch the 35th documentary Ghost of Ole Miss, which looks at their football team alongside their integration effort at that time.
This is a place that I gave a talk at in October, and the Football Room that they put me up in contained Confederate flags everywhere. It’s… Mississippi is a very black state, it’s the state where my parents are from, from Nachess, and there is a long tradition of protest there. The fact that black students at that school who have to play for a team called the Fighting Rebs are supposed to sit idly by when Confederate protestors are literally marching on campus because they’re mad that a plaque gives historical context to the monument. The monument isn’t going down, mind you, there’s gonna be a plaque that goes in front of it that says, hey, this is part of a lost cause thing.
This is not, nobody’s actually taking the damn monuments down, even though people have tried and are threatening to, but this is the reaction from people even saying, hey this is a problem. And so I wanna burn down the audacity of people who fix their mouths to say anything to these young men who chose to kneel. Because what they are doing is more to uphold the tradition of protest and bravery and general decency that you envision the flag being about. So, sit down, have a seat, fall back. Kudos to those who took a knee, I see you, I respect you, I salute your bravery, and burn down all of the pro-Confederacy and people who would just rather have a quiet peace rather than actually getting rid of monuments that are just a testament to white supremacy. So, I’m burning it. Burn!
Shireen: Onto a beautiful part of the show where we get to amplify some really cool folks.
Honorable mentions start and go to the Manchester City women’s side for winning the Continental Cup in the English Women’s Super League, against Arsenal women, in a penalty shootout. It was an incredibly tense game, congratulations to Man City women.
Arike Ogunbowale, of University of Notre Dame, the super star is now the all-time leading scorer in the NCAA. Yes, I said Notre Dame.
Want to also shout out Angel Rios of Valley and Jaslynn Gallegos of Skyview who have advanced with a 2019 Colorado State’s high school wrestling tournament, making it the first time in the 84th year of this event that more than one girl competitor was still in contention for a podium at the start of the tournament’s final day.
Also want to shout out Louise Wanless, the head of media and communications at Sunderland AFC, who received a John Fotheringham Award for her superb contribution to football in the Northeast of the UK, from the Football Writers’ Association.
Also want to shout out the Laureus Sport Award winners, for those of you that may or may not know, the Laureus Sport Awards are an annual award ceremony that are actually, it’s held in Monaco. And I was really excited to be part of the nomination selection committee this year, so that was a lot of fun, and the award winners for this year are Simone Biles for sportswoman of the year, Naomi Osaka for breakthrough of the year, Henrieta Farkasova sportsperson with a disability, Chloe Kim action sports person, Lindsay Vonn spirit of sport, and then UO Organization in India for sport for good award.
Can I get a drum roll please?
I don’t know if that was a drum roll but okay, Badass Woman of the Week goes to Joni Taylor, head coach of the University of Georgia’s women’s basketball team, for delivering a baby and then heading back two days later afterwards to join the huddle and coach again. I don’t even know what to say about that.
Jessica: Yeah, what do you say to that?
Shireen: Congratulations, Joni, we wish you an excellent recovery, and congratulations of the birth of your son.
What’s good? Brenda, what’s good?
Brenda: My brain is saying not Messi, not Messi, don’t talk about Messi’s hat trick. The number of times he appears in my what’s good is pathetic, so, in lieu of that, I’m gonna tell you, it’s very good teaching Latin American cinema class, it’s not my specialism, but so far we’ve watched three amazing films, so if anyone’s interested in a different cinematic tradition, we’ve seen Que Viva Mexico by Sergei Eisenstein, The Young and the Damned, or LosOlvidados by Luis Buñuel, and Black Gods, White Devils, by Rocha, which is Brazilian, and they’re all on Prime.
I’d never really seen them before, so, I had to step in for a colleague, and teach this class, and what’s good is that there’s some really amazing film out there. Not Messi hat trick against Sevilla 50th hat trick. Just, thinking that more hat tricks than Wellback had on goals. Okay, that’s it!
Jessica: Yeah, so, I talked about it last week, but today’s actually Aaron’s performance in his little rock band, so I’m really excited about going to that. Shout out to my therapist, I had good therapy yesterday. I’m gonna make some blueberry muffins after this and then I wanted to mention that on Thursday, February 28th, here in Austin, at the University of Texas, I’m gonna be on a panel titled Broken Trust, Elite Athletics and the #MeToo Era. It’s at 2 o’clock, it’s at BMC 5.208, I don’t know what that means, but hopefully if you are on campus at UT you do, and it will also be live streamed, so I’ll be Tweeting that link out and I look forward to having that discussion.
Shireen: Awesome, for me I tremendously enjoyed the rivalry series that we talked about a little bit last week. Canada ended up taking the series two games to one. Of course, I’m gonna mention that ish, it was pretty awesome, it’s an incredible high standard of hockey, it’s really, really great. And I also wanted to say that I was visiting my old Alma Mater yesterday in Toronto, U of T, went back to some old hunts, the library, just walking around hard house, I really love that campus, I hadn’t been there in a really long time so it was fun for me to sort of wander around and take Instagram photos of these old buildings where white men had occupied a lot of privilege and taken up so much space.
So that was pretty fun, and I’m really excited to be able to go to my first ever Raptors game on Tuesday. My first ever! I’ve actually never seen the Raptors play in person so I am, I need Kawhi Leonard to be notified that I’m coming, and Serge Ibaka, I think I did tweet Serge Ibaka that I was coming, I might not have (laughing) but I just need them to be. And also, because Pau Gasol is in Toronto right now, probably, to watch Marc Gasol, his brother, so I’m all about that.
Amira: I wish I could teleport there and go see the game with you.
Shireen: Cause it is, and this is relevant to Burn It All Down, it is the Raptors playing the Celtics, so it’s basically Amira versus Shireen.
Jessica: What’s happening here? Now I’m nervous.
Shireen: So, whoever wins here it’ll be both of us because it’s just gonna be great basketball. And me, holding up a sign that I don’t know will say what yet, so, and of course I’m looking forward to New York City with my BIAD crew.
Amira: Yes, so, I’m gonna pull a Shireen and say that there have been a lot of good things that have started to develop in my life in the past week that I can’t quite say yet but just know that it was a good week, and part of that was, I think that sometimes when you work really hard on various goals and things they start coming, and opportunities start coming. I know I had moments of self-doubt where I was like, wow, am I ready for this? Or, I don’t really deserve this, and part of what made the week so good is that I was really fortunate to have a great crew, my state college squad around me, who were like, listen I understand self-doubt but your work is really important and you’re doing really good things. And so that was really great.
My family was hit with the plague this past week and so I literally spent four days in bed, all of us had the flu, it was awful. But shout out to Umbrella Academy on Netflix, because we watched it all, in our sick fog. Also, this will have already aired by the time you hear this, but tonight, Sunday night on February 24th on ESPN2 at PM you can see me in a documentary called Unapologetic, about black women athletes. It’s hosted by softball player AJ Andrews, it features Misty Copeland, Alison Felix, Nneka Ogwumike who else was in it? Oh, Laila Ali, the woman who does shot put that I can’t remember, and other people who are fabulous black women athletes. So they are talking about their athletic trials and tribulations, and I’m just chilling, doing historical contexts. But it will probably keep airing, so look out for it on ESPN2 or watch ESPN Platforms, you can also check out Arthur and Althea, which was a documentary on CBS network that aired this past week.
I was also a talking head in that and it’s just actually a really good package documentary about Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe and their legacies in tennis. And you can check me out being a talking head with Venus Williams and Billie Jean King. So, those are some things that have been happening to me, have been good in my life, I’m happy to not be sick, and of course, I’m super happy for New York, especially because I’m dragging all of my colleagues to (laughing) obviously.
Shireen: That’s it for Burn It All Down this week. Although we are done for now, you can always Burn all day and all night, with our fabulous store of merchandise, including mugs, pillows, tees, hoodies, bags – what better way to crush toxic patriarchy in sports and sports media but by getting someone you love a pillow with our logo on it? Our Teespring store is www.teespring.com/store/burnitalldown. Burn It All Down lives on SoundCloud but can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Tune In. We appreciate your reviews and feedback, so please subscribe and rate, to let us know what we did well, and how we can improve. You can find us on Facebook at Burn It All Down, on Twitter @BurnItAllDownPod, or on Instagram @BurnItAllDownPod. And you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our website, www.burnitalldownpod.com, where you will find previous episodes, transcripts, and a link to our Patreon.
We would appreciate you subscribing, sharing, and rating our show, which helps us to do the work we love to do and keep burning what needs to be burned. One more gentle reminder, if you’re intending to come to Columbia to watch us at the live taping, if you could kindly go to the Facebook Live event page and RSVP that would be great so we’ll know how many flamethrowers to expect. Thank you so much and on behalf of Amira, Brenda, Jessica, I’m Shireen, and thank you for joining us this week.