This is the second of two Best Of 2017 episodes. This week, the gang talks about their hopes and dreams for sports in 2018. Then we share three of our favorite interviews we aired on the show during 2017: Jemele Hill on college sports fandom, Sissi and Tafa on fighting for gender equity in sport, and Kelsey Bone on athlete activism.
For timestamps and a transcript of the episode…
Intro (2:38) Our 2018 sports wishes (10:33) Interview with Jemele Hill (21:41) Interview with Sissi and Tafa (36:36) Interview with Kelsey Bone (48:02) Outro
Lindsay: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Burn It All Down. It might not be the feminist sports podcast you want, but it’s the feminist sports podcast you need. I’m Lindsay Gibbs, sports reporter at Think Progress, here with everyone, all my favorite people, Brenda and Jess and Shireen and Amira. Hey, everyone.
Lindsay: I suppose I should start by saying, Happy New Year. It’s actually mid-December when we’re recording this, but it should be 2018 when you’re listening unless we’ve done something very, very wrong, or I cannot read a calendar. Both are actual possibilities. This is our second “Best Of” episode. On this week, you’re gonna be hearing some of our favorite interview segments from the first 33 episodes of Burn It All Down. Next week we’ll be back with our first original episode of the new year.
Before we all share our 2018 sports wishes, which is how we’re gonna kick this off, I wanted to take a second to remind you all about our Patreon campaign, which we just launched a few weeks ago. Patreon is really cool. You can become an official patron of our podcast if you pledge a monthly donation to Burn It All Down. Your donation can be as small as one dollar a month or as big as you can imagine. In exchange for the monthly donation, you get really special rewards from us. We record Patreon only podcast segments, and our first segment is already out. You also could have opportunities to add to the Burn Pile and receive a special newsletter curated by the host and more. If you go to our Patreon page, there are details for the tiers and more of the rules and regulations. This support from your Patreon donations allows us to continue to go forward week in week out, high quality editing, quick turn arounds, transcripts, which help make us more accessible, and maybe, achieve our dreams of hiring a part-time producer.
We’ve all put so much time into this in 2017, and while we love it, it would be so wonderful to have someone help us coordinate everything, and also, maybe, take this on the road, so we can see you all in person and record some live shows. Anyways, that’s all my … I forgot the word … when you’re begging, I guess, is the proper word. Gonna move on.
We thought it’d be fun to talk about our 2018 sports wishes. I would like to start things out, contentiously, and say that I hope that … Sorry, guys. Brace yourselves … that the Patriots don’t win the Super Bowl this year-
Lindsay: … and … Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it … That the USA women beat the Canadian women in hockey at the Olympics. Woo!
Shireen: Really just starting fires here, huh?
Lindsay: Let’s start this new year off with a bang. Amira, I will let you respond. Do you have any wishes?
Amira: I do not have the same wishes. I mean, yay, go USA and all that. I love the rings. I can’t help it. Anyways, my happy wish for the future is just this kind of … I wish that women’s sports, especially women’s collegiate sports just get more play in 2018.
Amira: Coming off of watching … I’ve gotten so into women’s college volleyball. This Penn State team has been so exciting to watch and Rec Hall here is this really dope environment. They have their own cheerleaders, their own band. To watch how many people get so invested in this team and how good the games are, how competitive they are, it’s just like … I just want it to be widely accessible. I want it to be available. I want them to get the shine. I really hope that going into this next year, women’s sports writ large just get more and more coverage, from newspaper coverage to on television.
Lindsay: Preach. All right. Shireen, I will now let you speak up for Canada.
Shireen: Yeah, I don’t actually need to do that, because we’re 3-0 against USA going into the Olympics, so my wish is not something I have to pray wildly for, because honestly it’s just going to happen organically.
Lindsay: That’s fair, that’s fair.
Shireen: My wish for this coming year, and I really hope it happens, just sort of building off the hockey thing, is for the CWHL and then WHL, I would love, love, love to see these players get living wages. I would love to see the women who are on the ice and are playing for sport … This isn’t specifically for only hockey players. In all of our wishes daily, in our little supplications, we pray for the decimation of financial abuse of female athletes and misogyny and sexism and the systems of racism as well, and transphobia, and homophobia. Remunerating the athletes and paying them for what they’re doing, if they’re representing regions, if they’re representing countries, I want to see these women get fair wages and I want their work and their sport to be amplified. That’s really, really what I want.
Lindsay: That’s a good one. Brenda?
Brenda: I want a really good lawyer to go to the Supreme Court and say that not paying NCAA players is a labor violation.
Brenda: And I want them to rule yes, that it is a labor violation and you can’t do it, so I don’t have to be part of the toxic system that has athletes making $0 and coaches like Nick Saban making millions and millions of dollars with zero risk. I want Russia 2018 to be moved immediately to a different place, where gay spectators can hold hands. None of that will happen, of course. I want the North Koreans to put their figure skaters in Pyeongchang. If I look with realistic glasses, I want Argentina to win the World Cup.
Lindsay: Do you have a thing for one of Argentina’s players?
Brenda: Actually, more than one. Just to tell you, I would also be pretty happy with Brazil because I’m a really big Paulinho fan. Yeah, I want Germany to go down. I’m not interested in long ball. I can’t believe that exists anymore, deft skills at dribbling etc.
Lindsay: All right. Jess?
Jessica: Yes, I have two big ones and then two smaller ones. I hope that we continue to see all this activism from athletes. I just find it so inspiring and I do think it matters. I think what they’re all doing has had a real tangible impact on the conversations that we are currently having in this country and we need it more than ever at this moment. I would also like to see, and I wish for, more accountability at the top of teams, universities, athletic departments, conferences, and the NCAA around the exploitation in the system. I’m talking about not just sort of the things that I often talk about, which are issues of gendered violence, but academics and the level of education that these players are getting, the health of the players. I hope that the people who are in charge of all this stuff, they are held accountable in the next year. Then my two small ones are going to be, no surprise to anyone who knows me at all, I am wishing for Serena’s return to the courts, and I am wishing for Venus to get a Grand Slam this year.
Lindsay: Yay. Absolutely. To kind of circle back to some non-antagonistic ones, or at least for this crew, for me, I’d love to see Colin Kaepernick’s lawsuit for collusion actually go through. I’d like to see the NFL have to go through the discovery process.
Jessica: We all would love that.
Lindsay: And I’d like to see him get a fucking job as a quarterback in the NFL if he still wants to. I’d also really, on a super serious note, like to see Michigan State and USA Gymnastics held accountable for their systematic enabling of Larry Nassar. I’d like to see some actual changes happen in both of those organizations and some actual contrition would be nice to see. In the Olympics, I just couldn’t really stop thinking about the Olympics, but there are two USA Olympians who I would really like to see win medals this year, Shani Davis, the great speed skater who did not medal in Sochi when the USA speed skaters had … I don’t know if you remember in Sochi, their suits were messed up and there was a lot of controversy, and so he was going … That was supposed to be his really big Olympics. Without Apolo Ohno there, he was supposed to be the face of US speed skating and then it was a really disappointing Olympics for him, so I’m hoping he gets back to the Olympics and is able to medal. And Lindsey Jacobellis, who if you know stories of Olympic heartbreak, you know she is one of the most decorated X-Games stars, but has had just heartbreaking finishes at the Olympics are kind of her MO. I would love to see her get that gold medal that her resume so deserves.
Any final thoughts?
Shireen: I just have a really quick one. I want to see more of Tim Duncan on social media. I know that he came out for a very important purpose of helping hurricane survivors and victims of those tropical storms in the US Virgin Islands, but I love seeing Timmy all over social media, so I’m here for that and hope it continues.
Amira: And can I just say I don’t know what resolutions will come true or not, but whatever it is, I cannot wait to spend 2018 recording with you guys and tracking all of the stories, good, bad, burnable or otherwise.
Lindsay: This was the highlight of my 2017 and it’s one of the most reasons I’m hopeful in this crazy, crazy world, I would say. Thank you all so much and here are some of our best interviews of the year, and we look forward to coming to you live next week. Thanks, friends.
Brenda: One of our great accomplishments this year was interviewing the whips smart Jemele Hill. Back on September 6, 2017, Jessica interviewed Jemele Hill, the cohost of ESPN’s Sports Center before the Trump administration’s ridiculous attack on her. In this interview, Hill explains the painful realities of being a fan of college football in the wake of sexual abuse and other scandals, all in the most funny and charming of ways.
Jessica: Welcome Jemele Hill to Burn It All Down. Thank you for being here.
Jemele: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Jessica: You recently participated in a round table for Sports Illustrated about being publicly political in this moment. In that, you said, “When you’re under the leadership of a president that refuses to condemn Nazis and racism, how am I supposed to function the rest of the day and pretend as if I give a shit about Blake Bortles losing his job?” So, Jemele, how do you do it? How do you give a shit?
Jemele: I have to say, some days it’s a struggle and it doesn’t just apply to the presidential leadership. When you look at what happened in Houston and these events that go, and when you’re in sports, everybody is like, “Oh, sports is an escape.” I’m just astounded by that concept, because, yeah, sports is what I do for a living, but I’m also a citizen of this world and in this country, and there are days it’s really hard to focus on sports. Last summer was another perfect example between what happened in Dallas and Philando Castile, it was tough. There were says where Mike and I came into work where it just felt like either we were in some alternate universe or we shouldn’t be there. It was just really hard. Maybe I’m envious of the people who can say, “Stick to sports,” or “Sports is my escape.” I just am not really built that way. Yeah, I try my hardest to, obviously, focus on the job and the task at hand, but it’s just not always very easy, especially given our current climate.
Jessica: In a moment like this, something I think a lot about at this point, what is the role of sports? For me, I’ve been watching the US Open this week. Tennis is my favorite sport to watch. It does feel like escapism, and then at the same time, I get on social media and I am inspired by what Kaepernick and other football players are doing. What do you think is the role that sports can or should play in moments like this, and maybe culture at large?
Jemele: I just talked about what’s happening in Houston is that I’ve been extremely inspired by what a lot of professional athletes have done, in terms of deciding among themselves, and not like they have some kind of secret meeting, that they were going to really lead the way, in terms of donations and getting the word out, and even seeing some of the videos that don’t necessarily make mainstream media, like Gerald Green, for him to be driving around in a truck looking for folks. I’m inspired by that. I’m inspired by the fact that they feel this need and obligation to be active. If you take that and, as you said, Colin Kaepernick, what he’s done, what he’s sacrificed, it’s hard not to be moved by that. And Michael Bennett, what Michael Bennett has done, the fact that he has kind of taken the baton from Colin Kaepernick and decided that he was going to be a voice, and the fact that he’s writing a book and doing all these different things. I am constantly in awe of their movement, because I think we went through a dead period in sports where athletes weren’t encouraged or didn’t feel obligated or didn’t feel like they needed to do that, and now it feels like there’s a different wave and a different momentum among them where they really feel like we need to be more than just people that entertain you.
Jessica: I wanted to ask you about being a fan. I think you know, and most people that know me know that I’m a Florida State alum and I have had a rough go with my relationship to the school over the last five years, and the athletic department, and making sense of the choices that they’ve made. You’re pretty famous for your fandom of Michigan State. Michigan State, back in the spring, there were two big simultaneous sort of scandals, abuse scandals that came out. One is still ongoing in the courts with Larry Nassar. He was the sports physician who has reportedly abused dozens of women over multiple decades. He worked for Michigan State. Some of these women have said they reported to the university and nothing happened. Then simultaneously to this, there were four different football players at Michigan State who were involved in two different sexual assault cases, three players in one, one in the other. All of them have been dismissed. There was an athletic department or football staffer who got involved in the middle of the one with the three guys, and the police said that he interfered. It was just like we’re just rolling it out, and I just saw that there’s an article going into the season sort of where are we now with sexual assault and football at Michigan State?
It’s so much. What advice do you have … I get asked this a lot. What advice do you have for people who it’s their school that’s in the spotlight or their team? We see this on the professional level too. How have you, as a fan, made sense, and what are you thinking going into this season for Michigan State?
Jemele: I think despite whatever fandom I have and obvious sentiment I have for my university, I still believe strongly they need to be held accountable like I would look at any university. You mentioned both of the scandals. Larry Nassar was a little different, because I felt like, as a university, as a school, that was very disappointing, and disappointing doesn’t even do it justice with how we handled that. What made that even tougher for me is the gymnastics coach, Kathie Klages, I know her very well. Me, Kathie, and another friend, we were friendly, we socialized together a lot. I was … Stunned wasn’t even the word to describe it, but her level of being tone deaf … I haven’t spoken to her since, not because it was on purpose, but I was still trying to process the fact that somebody that I socialized with on a regular basis could undermine and turn her back on women who were constantly telling her that this was happening.
That was much tougher to process than what happened on the football team, only because … We don’t deserve a cookie for this or a pat on the back, but at least with the football team, it was handled and dealt with in a way that made me have confidence that there was not something Baylor-esque happening there. Once they discovered that the staffer, as you mentioned, the assistant had been involved, had interfered, he was dismissed. My one dissatisfaction with that is that one of the players involved was somebody who already coming to the university had a history of sexual assault. Yes, sure, you could go with the whole second chance vibe, but the second chance doesn’t have to be you. I just felt like it was just completely unnecessary for him to even be at the university, and lo and behold, he did what was in his past and what was, in some way, very predictive. From that standpoint, I was very disappointed that Mark Dantonio even had somebody like that on the football team.
Does it diminish what the season is? For me, no, because, look, I’d rather us go 0-12 with nobody on the team that is sexually assaulting women. I’m fine with that. As long as I feel good about the players that are on the team, about the direction of the leadership, I’m completely okay with losing. Even though this season, from a purely football perspective, is going to probably be not so good, because those players were significant starters for us that were dismissed, I’m fine with that, because I don’t want to look out there on the field and feel some kind of angst or feel dirty about rooting for my own team knowing that there’s a player on the team that I feel like has abused women. I can suffer through this season.
But, yeah, I hope our entire administration, they realize the gravity of this, and for people out there everywhere. It was fine for a lot of people to point at Baylor and have the self righteousness about what happened there. Michigan State, much like what Florida State went through … It will happen at your university. It does happen at your university. It just maybe it hasn’t reached a point where it becomes some kind of public scandal, but this happens everywhere. This is not unique to certain universities.
Jessica: There’s a big Florida State football game coming up this weekend. By the time this airs, it will have played out. My husband and I have already had the discussion of are we going to watch it, and we are.
Jemele: Did you take a timeout from Florida State football for a while, or did you continue to watch?
Jessica: I used to be diehard where I would have the season memorized. I knew when we were playing Miami. Nothing was scheduled that weekend because we needed to watch the game kind of stuff. It was more like I would watch it if I had the TV on and it was on, but I couldn’t … I just couldn’t. I still struggle with it, because so much of what we found out about Florida State was systemic within the athletic department and a lot of those people are still there. That’s the kind of thing I think about. I have that angst, Jemele, when I’m watching. I just think it’s sort of you make do of what you can. Every kind of pop culture is problematic, right?
Jemele: There are certainly movies, there’s certain music that we listen to, it’s definitely some people that I can’t listen to or go see because it’s just so problematic. Somebody like R. Kelly comes to mind. I can’t. I can’t with R. Kelly, which is almost … It’s just really interesting, just because he was such a big part of when I grew up. Everybody was listening to R. Kelly. I can’t stand the sound of his voice now. Yeah, you’re right. In pop culture, we all make these choices and we make these deals with ourselves. There is a part of me that is just like, okay, well why does one kind of … I’m constantly evaluating why does one strike you one way and another one doesn’t? I just implore all my favorite actors and musicians, please god, don’t do anything, but I will quit you. I don’t want to, but I will.
Jessica: Yeah, I think that too. Whenever I like someone, I’m like, “Come on, Kevin Durant. Come on.”
Jemele: You’ve got to come through for me, man.
Jessica: Thank you so much for being on, Jemele. I just really appreciate you all the time and I love watching you on Sports Center every day. You always look so good. I know that’s not the most important thing, but …
Jemele: I try, I guess.
Jessica: Well, thank you so much.
Jemele: Thank you, Jessica.
Shireen: One of our favorite interviews of the year is definitely Brenda’s interview with Sissi and Tafa, two legendary Brazilian soccer players who are advocates of the women’s game and battling down and burning down toxic patriarchy and masculinity in Brazilian football. They talk about inspiring young women and fighting for their rights in soccer.
Brenda: Today, Burn It All Down is honored to have Sissi and Tafa, two legendary Brazilian internationals whose names topped the recent open letter from women’s soccer players to the Brazilian federation that we call CVF. Today, we’re going to talk to them about the letter and the reaction to it. Hi. Thank you both for being with us.
Tafa: Thank you for having us.
Tafa: Always good to talk to you guys.
Brenda: Both of your names top this open letter. Could you just describe to listeners what the letter is asking for?
Tafa: I start thinking about the letter, not exactly the letter, but … This is Tafa, by the way. I start to talk about some options what to do with Moya Dodd. She worked for FIFA before, especially in a Council of Gender Equality. After Emily Lima was fired from the national team, I felt that we needed to do something about it, so we contacted Moya and we asked her what we can do to make this go around the world, because I think it’s some kind of discrimination to fire Emily after 10 months of work and not enough time to implement what she had in mind. Moya gave some ideas and we brainstorm and we got to the point that we said, okay, what about if we do this letter? The next day, some players from the national team start to retire. Cristiane was the first one, then came Fran and the other players.
We thought that there was the moment, so we had to do something really strong about. We had to speak up and really be strong in our positions that that was not okay. That is when we start to figure out, okay, let’s put this letter in. Let’s see if more people can join the letter, giving some quotes so we can send around the world to the media around the world and CVF can feel the pressure. That is when we start to put our thoughts together and put in a letter. When we published, we were kind of expecting that we would get some support, but it was really, I think, beyond our expectations the support that we got.
Sissi: We did not know, at that point, that our letter was going to cause a big impact. I would say 24 hours we were very surprised. I think the fact that Emily was fired and the fact also that Cristiane decided to speak up, I think that’s when we finally realized we’ve got to do something. We had a very similar situation before. Tafa and I, when we were playing for the national team, there were a lot of things that Cristiane mentioned during an interview that they also happened with us, but we never thought that, at this point, a player like her is going to, at this point, come out and say, “Okay, this is how I feel. This is what we need to do.” I think this time maybe they’re asking why are you guys involved with this, because I think it’s not only because we live here, but we know. What we are trying to do is help the next generation. It’s give a chance for them to do something they love, but I think that’s the time. We have the chance to see what happened here in the United States. We hopefully can help the young players. We have a lot of problems in Brazil. [inaudible 00:26:05] we are very strong about that we can make things happen.
Brenda: For you both, what are the top changes? What are the most important changes you would like to see?
Tafa: The main thing, I think, is the structure. We feel that we have been playing soccer for more than 30 years. The first national team was in 1988. It’s going to be 30 years of the first national team to be selected. We didn’t see a lot of changes in these 30 years. Pretty much it’s the same with small improvements. I think the world is improving a lot. We have in South America Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador that have youth soccer is getting stronger and stronger each time, because they are investing in future generations. We see that Brazil was stuck in the same mentality and the same priorities. My point is we need to make sure that the future generation has a better structure than we have right now and that we had in the past. I think they have to have a better structure. They have to a more professional mind.
I think professionalism in Brazil is necessary, because right now kids that play soccer in Brazil, girls that play soccer in Brazil, they don’t have that vision of being a career in the future because we don’t have that structure. A lot talents are lost in Brazil because families don’t encourage them to follow their dreams. Families are saying, “That is not a career. That is not going to make you to survive in that macho culture.” First we need to open their minds to changing the mentality in Brazil and make sure that the families encourage the girls to follow their dreams, changing the structure that we have up there. Obviously we know that it’s not only CVF that needs to change the mentality. It’s all the organizations that runs the soccer in Brazil, these federations, these state federations, local districts that needs to encourage the women with tournaments and things like that. This needs to happen. It needs to change, because if not, we’re going to continue to suffer with the development of these girls and we are not going to have future generations to continue to do what we have been doing for 30 years.
Sissi: Also, we are looking to … Of course we want CVF to give an opportunity for ex former players to get a position. We know that they’re working together. They’re licensed, but also they are now getting a chance to work in Brazil. It’s all together.
Tafa: [inaudible 00:29:01] is a lot of pressure.
Sissi: It’s not fighting for the fact that Emily was fired. That’s not that. I think it’s everything. We are trying to make sure that that’s the time we want to see changes, but it’s not like that’s … [inaudible 00:29:17] We see here. We can see the structure, the opportunity over here. It’s ten times different than it is in Brazil. That’s what we’d like to see over there as well.
Brenda: Have you heard anything in response to the letter?
Tafa: After 24 hours that we wrote the letter and we publish in social media and New York Times also put it there … In 24 hours, the president of CVF said that he … I received a call from one of his assistants saying that he’s opened his agenda to receive a group of former players to discuss further what needs to be done in women’s soccer in Brazil. The meeting is going to be October 17.
Sissi: Next Tuesday.
Tafa: Next Tuesday.
Brenda: Wow. Are either of you going?
Tafa: We cannot go, but we’re going to participate through video conference, so we’re going to be videoing.
Tafa: Unfortunately, a lot of players that signed the letter are overseas. They are not living in Brazil. We’re going to have two representatives face to face and we’re going to have hopefully Formiga is going to be able to participate in video conference. We’re going to have three or four former players that signed the letter participating through video conference.
Brenda: Why do you think some well known players have been reluctant to sign the letter?
Tafa: That is a point … It’s hard to talk on that point because each one has their mind. I think it’s what you think about how you can help about. Some players felt that … Like Cristiane, I think she was for so long in the national team that she felt that this is the time that, for her, she needs to make an impact leaving the national team. To create this debate, she thought that she needs to leave the national team to create the debate. I think for the other players it’s more like I still think that they can make difference being inside. I hope so. I hope that those players really make sure that they make the impact inside, but we don’t hear too much about it. I praise what Cristiane did, because it takes a lot of courage, and I think when you are to the point that you live the women’s soccer for so long and all the problems that women’s soccer have in Brazil, you live that for so long that you feel that the way that you can impact is leaving your dreams, that for me tells something about your character, so I really praise what Cristiane did.
Sissi: I think the fact that maybe people say, “Oh, but Cristiane is at the end of her career,” that’s not exactly … I can see that she still could help the national team. We respect those ones that decide that the best thing is for us to do something, but with the national team. We respect that, but I think we’ve got to look over everything. Definitely, I think when I saw the video, I … It was very powerful because we can say Marta and Cristiane has been, and of course with Formiga, this generation’s … Especially Cristiane. She already did a lot with the national team. We felt that it’s not an obligation, but we felt that that’s the time for us to do something. I have to say, [inaudible 00:33:04] people to se how much they were willing to help, especially Tafa. I can’t believe it. It’s like 24/7 trying to contact people and figure out what we can do. It has been a lot of work. At the end, I hope we can make some change, we can see the change, because this is what we’ve been looking for for all these years. It’s tough, but I …
Brenda: What keeps you going? What keeps you going after all of those years? How do you find the motivation to pick yourselves up?
Tafa: Passion. [crosstalk 00:33:40]
Tafa: I think living here you can see also.
Brenda: Living in California, you mean?
Tafa: Yeah, in the United States you can see who much women’s soccer grew here. We know that Brazil is the country of soccer, correct? But when you think Brazil, the country of soccer, it’s for the men’s. That is the thing. When we talk about our experience in women’s soccer, they say, “No, I cannot believe that you guys went through that because Brazil is the country of soccer.” But I said, yes, but the reality for the women’s soccer in Brazil is completely different. If we think about women’s soccer, the country of women’s soccer is the US, because all the structure, all the levels, all the different levels, all the amount of kids, girls, that play soccer. This is the country for women’s soccer. When we think about women’s soccer, Brazil is still just in the beginning of the [inaudible 00:34:44] there. That is our fight because everything is slow there.
You don’t see a lot of changes in the structure because we live in a culture where it is a macho culture. It’s very sexist sometimes. We need to fight that because sometimes people think that the girls that play … They relate the girls that play soccer to sexual orientation or they relate the girls that play soccer in Brazil with a kind of sexual object. It cannot be like that. We need to change. Girls play soccer because they love soccer. They love the sport. It’s not because they want to make the sexual fantasy for guys up there. They just want to be able to play the sport that they love.
Unfortunately, in the macho culture that we live, we have to always fight for, fight for, fight for better quality of tournaments, or we need to fight for better structure, or we need to fight for better wages, or we need to fight for … We need to fight for everything up there. It’s 30 years of fighting, fighting, fighting. We are in a point that, okay, are we effectively changed with now, with FIFA giving the support, or are we going to be behind other nations a lot? Other nations are improving and we are not.
Brenda: Yeah. Well, I thank you both so much for your time today. I hope you know that Burn It All Down supports you and values you, and we admire you so much in your fight.
Tafa: Thank you so much, Brenda. Thank you for the opportunity. We appreciate it.
Brenda: Thank you.
Amira: One of our favorite interviews of this year is from episode 22, when Lindsay chatted with Kelsey Bone about taking a knee, athletic activism, and her time in the WNBA. The interview shines a much needed light on the often overlooked presence of women in discussions around athletic activism, and it’s a great conversation. Take a listen.
Lindsay: All right. Hello, everyone. I am here with Kelsey Bone, former WNBA all star, 2015 Most Improved Player, fifth overall pick, I believe, in the … Was it the 2013 draft, Kelsey?
Kelsey: That’s correct.
Lindsay: I wrote 2015 in my notes and that’s definitely not right, so I had to check. Kelsey was also one of the first, if not the first, I believe, WNBA player last year to actually take a knee and kneel during the national anthem. Kelsey, I just wanted to take you back to last summer. Midsummer you got traded from Connecticut to Phoenix. I believe right around that time was when there were two really high profile police shootings and players in the WNBA began wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts. What was that time like for you and what conversations were you having in the Phoenix locker room with your new teammates?
Kelsey: Well, it was a very, very interesting time for me, because you walk into a team such as the Phoenix Mercury, you have all these great players and you have this great tradition. This is one of the original organizations. There’s all this greatness that you’re surrounded by, and then real life happened. While you’re trying to fit in into all this greatness, things that really mean something to you and things that really matter, you kind of have to speak up.
I have a younger brother who is 16. My brother is today he’s 6’6″. I remember the shooting of Terence Crutcher in Oklahoma. I remember those cops sitting in the helicopter looking down and saying, “Oh, whoa, that’s a big, bad dude.” I remember thinking how do you know that? It’s funny, because I’m sitting here and I’m back in that moment. You talk about a big, bad dude, and you talk about what does that look like? My father is 6’5″. My stepdad is 6’3″. My brother is 6’6″. I have two uncles that are 6’7″ and 6’8″. I’m 6’4″ myself. What makes you big and bad?
Then I fast forward to this summer. I get a phone call from my mother that my brother is calling her from the mall to come pick him up because he’s been apprehended for shoplifting.
Lindsay: Oh my god.
Kelsey: Now, if you know my brother, that’s how you respond. I had literally just landed back in Las Vegas. I had just flown from Houston back to Las Vegas when I got this phone call. The emotion that I felt in getting that phone call, what could I do? I was stuck. My brother is a junior in high school. He just turned 16. He has a 3.8 GPA, varsity basketball player, number seven ranked kid in the city. He was racially profiled in Saks Fifth Avenue. Why did I kneel? What was going through my head when I kneeled? I didn’t care about who was going to be the president. I didn’t care about who felt what. I cared about [Donovan 00:40:18] Kennedy Williams. I cared about the little boy that is my little brother, because I felt that, in my heart. It is that easy for it to be my brother, and a year later, it was my brother.
Luckily, my mom is savvy enough and my mom works for the school district and she can go and get a lawyer, and she can go and get my brother out of this situation. If I never had this conversation on your podcast, no one would ever know that this happened to my brother, because my mom is that good, but everybody’s mom is not.
Kelsey: Kalief Browder’s mom couldn’t go just get him a lawyer. She couldn’t get her son off of Rikers Island and it killed the both of them. Everybody is not privy to the things that I’m privy to, so I kneeled for the people who don’t have anyone speaking for them. I kneeled … Colin Kaepernick was right. We need to talk about this. How do we tell these black men how to live, and how to thrive, and how to become successful part of society if all we do is show them images of them being gunned down? No matter if you’re right, no matter if you’re wrong, no matter if you’re good, no matter if you’re bad, you’re all susceptible to the same thing, death.
Lindsay Gibbs: Did you talk with your teammates about it before you took a knee? I know that you guys had obviously had … There had to have been some sort of conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement earlier in the summer. Is that correct? When you wore the shirts?
Lindsay: How did that go? I know because that was when you had just gotten there.
Kelsey: Well, actually, my teammate Mistie Bass, who was a big part of our players association and was very vocal in having conversations with the rest of the teams in the league on the stance that we were going take and the type of voice we wanted to have in the communities that we serve. Phoenix, DC, New York, Minnesota, a couple of other teams, we did the shirt thing. Yes, Mistie an I, we were two of the people who were very vocal in the fines. You’re going to fine us $5,000 a team, $500 a shirt. That was something that, even in that happening, and that being something that Mistie and I pushed very heavily, our teammates were cool with that. No one was upset about the fines. We all talked about it. Everybody was okay. The fines were rescinded.
I didn’t tell anyone that I planned on kneeling. My mom didn’t know. My girlfriend didn’t know. No one knew. I told no one that I was going to kneel, because I didn’t want anyone to, one, try to stop me from doing it, and for two, I just didn’t want anybody’s opinion about it. I didn’t feel that I needed to explain myself. I wasn’t in the place where I really wanted to hear, “Well, this might be the consequences,” or anything like that, because I was going to do it regardless, so I might as well not even listen to that part.
Lindsay: Right. What was the reaction from your teammates and from fans?
Kelsey: You know, for a very long time, no one kind of even noticed, because I lined up at the very end of the line, because I was new there, so I just got in where I fit in at the end of the line. A lot of times … I remember someone interviewing my coach, Sandy Brondello, and asking her about it. She had no idea that I had been kneeling. This was like game four at that time. She didn’t even know.
Kelsey: I’ll say this about my time in Phoenix, the best organization ever. No one made me feel any type of way about it. They were very supportive. No one asked me to stop. No one ever even mentioned it to me. Actually, I remember being at Penny Taylor’s retirement dinner and Sue Bird saying something to me about, “Good job kneeling, Kels.” Sandy, she tells me the story of, “Yeah, I didn’t even know you were doing it until they asked me the other day. Good job, Kelsey.” That was it.
The fans, I got a lot of support from fans on Twitter in the beginning, and then right around the playoffs, a lot of backlash started to come. I think our first game was Indiana versus the Phoenix Mercury. It was either Penny’s last game or Tamika’s last game. There was this whole big thing about if I were to kneel, it would be the most disrespectful thing I could do to such legends in the game, and then the entire Indiana Fever team takes a knee.
Kelsey: So it’s like, eh. I was told that I was looking for attention, I was doing this for this and all kinds of stuff. No, that was never my agenda. That was never my motive. I never had anything other than there’s a young black boy in this world that belongs to me.
Lindsay: Obviously, the anthem protests have been reignited. There were some players who were still continuing them, but with Trump’s comments, they were reignited. I saw you post on Instagram a picture of you kneeling last year, and you said, “They told me I was just looking for attention. 365 days later, everybody is awake.” What has it been like seeing this movement reignited, and do you think that the conversation is getting away from where it started and where it needs to be?
Kelsey: You know, initially, when I initially saw the clip of Trump saying what he said, calling the players SOBs and things like that, my initial knee jerk reaction was I hope every player of color kneels tomorrow, but I do understand. I’m a big proponent of do what’s for you. Everybody is not comfortable with kneeling. Some people might want to lock arms. Some people might just put their hand on your shoulder and show support and solidarity for your cause. But the issue I have with the situation is that the narrative has completely shifted. We’re no longer talking about the social injustice and the inequalities of people of color being shot and killed by the police, and the police getting away with it at alarming rates. We’re not talking about that anymore. We’re talking about Donald Trump. I know that I can’t be the only person in this country that is tired of talking about what Donald Trump has said.
Lindsay: You’re definitely not. There’s another one right here, yeah.
Kelsey: It’s literally driven me to a headache the past few days. I don’t want to have conversations about it anymore. That’s not what it was about to begin with. There’s no disrespect to the flag. When you protest something, the best way to do it is you do it in a way that’s going to get people’s attention. Colin Kaepernick wanted people to start talking. He wasn’t being disrespectful to the military, to vets, to anybody, to the flag. He wanted to spark a conversation. He didn’t say he was going to kneel forever. He just wanted to spark the conversation. Now, this man doesn’t have a job anymore, and we can kind of all say what we want to say about it, but he doesn’t have a job because he’s caused all this trouble. Okay, he’s okay with that. When you step out and you lead the charge, there’s a lot of consequences that come with that, and I’m pretty sure that Colin Kaepernick weighed those consequences before he took a knee, but I feel like we’ve definitely gotten away from what this was about.
Lindsay: How do athletes get that conversation back?
Kelsey: Because we’ve all seen every athlete that has kneeled, just about, or that’s done something has posted on social media. You have to push that narrative. You can’t talk about inclusiveness, and we’re all doing this together, and we’re united, because this is not a united front just yet. We are not united, unfortunately. We are not united. This is not a movement of unity. This is a movement of alarm. Hello. Wake up. Do you see us? Do you hear us? We are not trying to go back to where we’ve come from.
Lindsay: Okay, that’s everything for today’s episode. I must say it was very difficult to choose just three interviews to highlight. All of our guests in our 33 episodes have been absolutely, positively fantastic. We have been blessed beyond measure. I hope this gave you a little variety of the things that we’ve done. I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season. We’re looking forward to talking with you the rest of this year. We have some incredible things planned for January. Remember to review us on iTunes. Check us out on Facebook and Twitter. On Twitter, we’re @BurnItDownPod, on Facebook, we’re BurnItAllDownPod, and our Patreon campaign is Patreon.com/BurnItAllDown. Until next time.