This is the first of two Best Of 2017 episodes. This week, the gang talks about our favorite sports stories from this year, we share three of our favorite segments that we recorded in 2017, and then we cap it off with each of us choosing our own favorite Burn Pile from the first 33 episodes of this podcasting adventure.
For timestamps and a transcript of the episode…
Intro (1:54) Our favorite sports stories from 2017 (8:50) Segment about Colin Kaepernick, race, and kneeling (22:10) Segment about mental health (34:36) Segment on women’s cricket and equity in sport (45:13) Burn Pile (55:16) Outro
Jessica: Welcome to Burn It All Down, the feminist sports podcast you need. We are so happy you’re here. This week is the first of two episodes where we will focus on the best of 2017 from the sports world and specifically at Burn It All Down. I’m Jessica Luther and I’m joined today by the whole crew. Amira Rose Davis, Lindsay Gibbs, Brenda Elsey, and Shireen Ahmed.
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Today we’re going to talk about our favorite sports stories from this year. Before we unveil and play for you our favorite segments from the podcast so far. Let’s get into it.
Okay friends, I’m excited to talk to you all about this. I’d like to start with one that works chronologically but that I also think is on everyone’s list, so I get to take it first. Which is that Serena won the Australian Open, beating her lovely sister Venus, all while doing it pregnant. I love that story so much.
Lindsay: It’s kind of hard to top that.
Jessica: I know. You’re welcome. Who would like to go next now that I’ve taken the best one?
Lindsay: On the tennis note, I’ll continue that. One of the joyous tennis stories, to me, was Jelena Ostapenko’s win at the French Open. She was just so good and to have this teenager come out of nowhere and look, she finished the year at the top 10 of the year end championships doing well, so she was able to really back up that performance by becoming a solid, elite, WTA player on a week in, week out basis. Her run was just … it was spectacular. We were literally seeing a star be born in front of our eyes. I loved it.
Amira: That’s great.
Amira: Yeah. Well, you know, my personal favorite, I’m not going to lie, was seeing my team come back in the Super Bowl.
Amira: Although I know that was many people’s unfavorite.
Amira: So I won’t even include that, formally. I have to go with two stories. One, Kathrine Switzer returning to the Boston Marathon.
Jessica: That’s a good one.
Amira: She was the first woman to run the marathon. That famous picture of the race official pushing her out of the way and she not only ran, but she finished the race with the time of 4:44, which is only 24 minutes difference than the time she ran 50 years ago. So, that was pretty badass. The real story that was my personal favorite was a story out of Iowa about Alexis Hernandez, who is a track and field runner who graduated in May. Her picture went viral. She did graduation pictures of her on the track with her cap and gown and they all included her daughter in the picture. It made me so happy to see her be celebrated and up lifted for her accomplishments on the track, and in school, and as a mother. I was also a teen mom. I had Samari in college and it’s just really great. It goes a long way for #NoTeamShame, and it shows you what you can do when you have a village behind you. So, that was my feel good story of 2017.
Jessica: That’s lovely. Shireen, what about you? What’d you love this year?
Shireen: I’ve got to say that one of my favorite things that happened this year was FIBA striking down their hijab ban, which automatically included tens of thousands of players. The most potential players, Muslim women, Sikh men, and Jewish men who choose to wear kippah, it was years in the making and the rule had effectively sidelined a lot of basketball players, so yay for the hoopers. This was a huge win for the basketball community, the global community and it was definitely one of the things … I can’t say it was a total moment of joy, cause I think there’s a lot of exhaustion behind it, just sort of relief. But it’s a good thing. I’m not a basketball player, but the ones that I know were thrilled and I was really happy about that.
Jessica: That’s awesome. Brenda?
Brenda: Yeah, well it’s a big banner year for women’s soccer, UEFA Women’s Championships were huge and wonderful, and they got just the right kind of coverage. The Women’s Mexican Profession League came out with a huge year. The attendance for the final was 30-40,000 despite the wacky beginning. That was a pretty awesome achievement for them. I enjoyed all those stories of women’s professional soccer both mobilizing and achieving this great success, but my all time favorite story is Leo Messi and his hat trick in October, in [inaudible 00:05:51], away in Ecuador to put Argentina in the World Cup. He’s gotten so much flack. He never represents the right masculinity for Argentines and he’s such an assist player. He’s such a play maker. He’s very selfless despite his tremendous talent. There was a moment in that game where he was just like, “Teamwork is great, I’m going to get it done.” I just loved it. I reveled in it. I watch the highlights whenever I’m depressed.
Jessica: Love that.
Brenda: Oh my god.
Lindsay: Look, after mocking Amira for her loves, I must say that the Tar Heels winning the National Championship this year was a really exciting moment for me. I’m a huge Tar Heel basketball fan and anytime you get to see your team win it all is … there’s just really no substitute. For me, even despite that, I think the college basketball moment of the year was Mississippi State taking down Uconn.
Amira: Yes, I was thinking that. How did nobody bring that up until now?
Jessica: Oh, man.
Amira: As soon as you said that, I was like, “Oh, my God.”
Lindsay: Morgan William, itty bitty, with that shot in overtime. I mean, I literally am getting goosebumps just thinking about it. That game was incredible. It was so much fun. I have to watch that fourth quarter again right now. That was-
Shireen: I’m sitting here in a Uconn Huskies sweatshirt being really sad, but that’s okay.
Jessica: Yeah, but that game, oh man. That was want we all want sport to be all the time.
Amira: Sports can be so good.
Jessica: Yeah. They really can.
Lindsay: One of my favorite moments of that was Geno Auriemma’s smile at the end. He had known that game was coming and he had done everything in his power not to let it come, you know? But he knew that this team needed a game like that and it needed a big test. He was devastated and mad, don’t get me wrong, but he’s also-
Amira: And promptly threw his player under the bus.
Lindsay: But, so … Yeah, and I mean, kind of. Just, what a moment. What a moment.
Jessica: Well, this has all been so lovely. I want to add, before we get out of here, that Sloane Stephens and her run at the US Open and those semi-finals with Madison Keys and Venus Williams. Sloane Stephens and getting her check and just everything about that was so much fun. The last thing that I’m going to add is, in the sports media world, Claire Smith getting the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, the top honor for baseball writer this year during the Hall of Fame weekend, quite a highlight. So, thank you all for a great conversation and for a great year. Now, onto our favorite segments of the year.
Brenda: Oh, episode nine. How I love listening to my co-hosts break down the era of Kaepernick in the most righteous of ways. Shireen, Jessica, and Lindsey, gave you one of the most potent discussions on why Kaepernick deserved to get a job and why the haters, including institutionalized football reporters, are just straight up racist mouth pieces for the NFL. Enjoy.
Jessica: So, this week, we’re going to talk about Colin Kaepernick. For those who don’t know, just in case, Kaepernick is a 29 year old, professional quarterback who made waves last season when he chose to first sit, and then kneel, pregame when the United States National Anthem was played at football games. So, he repeatedly and patiently told anyone who asked that he was making that choice because he wanted to draw attention to racial injustice in the country and especially police violence against black Americans. He’s also put his money where his mouth is. As of early last month he’s donated $700,000 of a promised one million to organizations across the country working towards social justice. This includes places like Meals on Wheels, Assata’s Daughters, Black Veterans for Social Justice, and The Center for Reproductive Rights.
He left his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, at the end of last season and he remains unsigned. Huh. Wonder why? So, the narrative, of course, is that Kaepernick is toxic, because his views turn off NFL fans. By which, of course, everyone means white fans. Also, he had the 17th most popular jersey during the month of May, so someone likes him. Chip Kelly, who was Kap’s coach last season in San Francisco, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter is past week, “We heard from the outside about what a distraction it is. Except those people weren’t in our locker room and it was never a distraction, and Kap never brought that and turned it into a circus or whatever people think.” The 49ers general manager, John Lynch, also went on record this past week to say, “I would tell you with my conversations with Colin, he is fully committed to wanting to be in this league.” Lynch went on to say that he told Kaepernick, “I think the way you could best help yourself is to not have someone talk for you, not have statements, but go sit down and do an interview and let people know exactly where you stand.” Because he makes a compelling case as to how bad he wants to be in the league when you talk to him.
Okay, so none of this, of course, from Lynch or Kelly, inoculates Kaepernick from media think pieces like Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel who, a couple weeks ago, wrote a piece titled, “Colin Kaepernick is Making His Choice, Activism over the NFL.”
Shireen: Oh. Groan.
Jessica: Okay, of course what Kelly said, what Lynch said, this doesn’t sell Kaepernick to the white male owners and general managers of NFL teams. So, I know we’ve talked about Kaepernick and everything around him before, but where are you guys with this story at this point? How are you feeling about all this shit with Kaepernick?
Lindsay: Yeah, I am just sitting here appalled by the conversation that’s going on. I think that, like you said Jess, what you’re having is a lot of these, I would say, institutionalized football reporters. The Peter King, the Albert Breer, the people who live their life dealing with these sources and dealing with access journalism. Essentially acting as a mouthpiece for the league, justifying why Colin Kaepernick isn’t signed. We’ve heard so many ridiculous excuses coming from these reporters, coming from sources. Whether it be that he doesn’t really want to play, which he has said is not true. Whether it be that his vegan diet is making him too weak, which people who actually train him say he’s in the best shape of his life. You know? Time and time again you’re seeing, whether it be, he can’t play anymore, he only will take a starting position. Well, we’ve also heard from his camp that, that’s not true, you know?
It’s just time and time again you’re hearing excuse after excuse and the dwindling amount of respect that I had for the league … and look, I’m a fan of a team with a vocal, black, quarterback. Not in the same way that Kaepernick is vocal, I’m talking Cam Newton, but I’ve seen up close and personal, because I’m a huge Carolina Panthers fan, and follow the news to a sickening degree but I see how every couple weeks there’s a story coming from an outside sources about what a bad leader Cam Newton is. How he’s getting paid too much. He’s too much of a show boat. There are letters to the editor in Charlotte. I see the scrutiny he’s under, and he’s trying to tone down the politics of it, which I don’t agree with, but I understand. So, the way Kaepernick is being treated is just, it’s appalling. He should absolutely have a job, you guys. There are so many bad quarterbacks in the NFL. There are so many bad quarterbacks in the NFL. It’s infuriating, it’s despicable.
I was really, really, really disappointed with the Seattle Seahawks, I thought that they were going to be the team that was going to sign him. It would be in a backup role to Russel Wilson, but Seattle is a very progressive city. Pete Carroll seems to like to let his athletes have a mind of their own, be able to speak their truth, but I have some suspicions based on some of the research I’ve done, as to why they didn’t go forward with it, which might have more to do with the dynamics of the locker room and the locker room not loving Russel Wilson as much and not wanting to give the locker room a reason to rally against their franchise quarterback, which I understand, but it’s just sickening. It’s just gross. Shireen or Jess? Somebody?
Shireen: I think, well, I know that Colin Kaepernick is the only reason I own an NFL jersey. He drew me in, because I like my politics … No, I like my sport with politics, is what I’m trying to say. Also, this brings us back to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, I’ve seen a lot of writing about him recently. This isn’t new. This type of black balling and maligning players and prominent black athletes is not new and it’s not new to American sports culture, we’ve seen it before and I really like that Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is coming out there and speaking about his experience. I’ve been following him for a long time and he has been far more vocal. I mean, obviously he’s been scared because his career was derailed, but he’s been far more vocal in the last couple years and a lot of that is because of the support that, perhaps, I’m just hypothesizing here, that he’s seen Kap get. I didn’t realize that his jersey was still selling so well. I’m excited to hear that, because I believe last year it was the top selling jersey.
Just really quick, I think it’s important to also recognize that, I saw this tweet and it really hit me. That we’re still not really far off from the death of Muhammad Ali, and he was referred and lodded in sports media for doing the same thing that Colin Kaepernick is doing. I just think the [inaudible 00:16:18] position of those two and how their treated is … Don’t get me wrong, the history of how Muhammad Ali, at the time, was treated, but have we not learned anything? Clearly not. For me, it’s appalling that the op-ed pieces, whether they’re about Cam Newton and what type of appropriate is show boating. We hear it about PK Subban. We hear it about black athletes. We don’t hear it about white athletes show boating. I’ve never read a piece … Can somebody, somewhere, a listener, I would love, or somebody, send me a piece about a white athlete show boating, because I’ve never read it.
Lindsay: It doesn’t exist.
Shireen: It doesn’t exist. Sorry, Jess?
Jessica: Yeah, I think that Abdul-Rauf is so interesting right now, because he’s actually back. So he is part of the big three league, which is this new, three on three, league that Ice Cube is running, is that correct everybody?
Shireen: Yeah, I love Ice Cube.
Jessica: He’s back doing his protest that he did while he was playing in the NBA, and I think that Lindsay might have some quotes that Abdul-Rauf said about Kaepernick recently.
Lindsay: Yeah, for Think Progress this week, I kind of wrote about this. He told the New York Daily News, back when the anthem protests started, that he expected for Colin Kaepernick to get black balled. This weekend at the big three opening he said, “He’s being black balled. I’m not surprised. As soon as it happened, I expected it. The same thing happened to me.” And this is what he said to The Undefeated in an interview from September last year, this is, once again, right after Kaepernick started his protest.
So, let me just read you this quote, cause this has really stuck to me. “They begin to try to put you in vulnerable positions. They play with your minutes, trying to mess up your rhythm. Then, they sit you more. Then, what it looks like is, ‘Well, this guy just doesn’t have it anymore, so we trade him.’ It’s like a setup, you know? Trying to set you up to fail and so when they get rid of you, they can blame it on that as opposed to, it was really because he took these positions. They don’t want these types of examples to spread, so they’ve got to make an example of individuals like this.” He told that to The Undefeated in September of last year and that’s exactly, pretty much, what we’ve seen happen to Kaepernick.
Jessica: Wow. That’s really powerful.
Shireen: It is really powerful. I’m grateful that he shared that and is on the scene. I love him. I’m so grateful to Ice Cube, cause we’re so close and everything, right? Me and Ice Cube.
Lindsay: Just call him Ice.
Shireen: I want to be friends with him so badly. My husband is like, “It’s never going to happen.” If he’s listening, call me. No, I think that this is so incredibly powerful and the fact that this happened 20 years ago to Abdul-Rauf, it’s still relevant and that’s the scary part. Like I said, I don’t think we’ve learned anything.
Jessica: I just think any time we talk about Kaepernick, and what’s going on in the NFL, it’s really important for us to say, again, what a lie it is that the league will do whatever it takes to make money. That’s clearly not true and Kaepernick has shown that. That they have limits to what they will accept in order to make money off of somebody. I just think, this whole thing makes me so angry, that it seems so blatant, what is happening here and people will buy any excuse, as Lindsay was talking about earlier. The whole thing about his vegan diet. I mean, they’ll buy anything other than that he is threatening because he’s pushing on systemic inequality and he’s being vocal about it and he is a black man doing that. I just think we have to keep saying this, over and over again about what he’s really revealing in this moment. About the league, but also about this country.
Shireen: Sure. Linds?
Lindsay: Yeah, I just wanted to quickly reiterate, there are so many people in the league who have been accused of domestic violence and sexual assault and they are welcomed back to their teams with open arms and not just the ones who are super talented and franchise players. I also want to point out that Kaepernick’s protest spread all across the country. They spread to high schools, to middle schools. You had middle schools having conversations about race and police brutality and what it means to be black in America, because of Colin Kaepernick. It’s incredible, the work he did and the impact that he’s had and I hope that he gets to continue to do that work and gets to continue to … I want him to continue to make money, cause he’s doing good things with his money. So I just hope that this can stop.
Shireen: Before we move on Linds, you had a fantastic piece about tracking the high school movements. The anthem protests. Did you not? For Think Progress.
Lindsay: Yeah. I spent about three to four months last year with an intern pretty dutifully checking and tracking all of the protests as they spread across the country and it was one of my favorite pieces I’ve done. Spoiler alert, I’ve got an update on that piece coming in the next month or two at Think Progress. We’re going to wrap that up. Things got a little crazy at Think Progress after the election and I never got to do the wrap up that I had planned on, but it’s been really amazing to revisit that piece over the past couple of months and continue to see all the ways that these protests have spread and just the conversations that have been happening. I’ve seen so many … schools have had special talks and special assemblies about police violence because one of their football players kneeled, because Colin Kaepernick was kneeling. It’s opened up these really tough conversations in places that usually don’t have them.
Shireen: We do a lot of really great work at Burn It All Down and we’re very proud of that, but one of the most profound discussions we’ve ever had as co-hosts is the one Lindsey, Jessica, Brenda and I had in episode 23 about mental health. We talked about our own experiences, we shared stories of athletes who had written about their struggles of mental health, and how we benefited from those. Hope you enjoy.
Lindsay: The first week in October was mental health awareness week. I have to say that behind the scenes here at Burn It All Down, mental health and our managing of mental health is a discussion that we have personally a lot. I know that I have been really inspired, both by talking to other people in the business, by talking to friends, and by talking to athletes and reading about athletes who are open about their mental health struggles. So, we’re just going to start by having a discussion just between us. Jessica, do you want to start us off?
Jessica: Yeah. I do, and I want to talk about an athlete and a piece that has meant a lot to me over the last couple of years. In September of 2015, Mardy Fish, who used to be a tennis player for the US, he wrote a piece for the Player’s Tribune called The Wait, and we’ll link to this. It was the day before what would be his last ever professional tennis match, that one played at the US Open, and he struggled in the previous years because of heart problems, but also anxiety attacks and as he neared the end of his career he began talking very openly about his mental health struggles. And so the month before, in August of 2015, at the time he announced he’d be retiring, he told the Washington Post, “I want people to know what I’ve gone through to be a role model and a success story for people that maybe struggle with mental illness and for people to remember my career in a positive light.”
I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in January of 2013 and I’ve spent many sessions in therapy in my life, decades of my life. I’ve been on and off meds. I am, every day, learning how to manage it all. The Player’s Tribune piece, it was Fish’s first person account of his own struggle with intense anxiety and it just really meant something to me. There’s such a loneliness to mental illness, as if you’re the only one and your experience of it is yours alone, and there’s a constant self questioning about whether what you’re experiencing is real or some drama that you’ve whipped up, and it feels so completely wrong when you have the worst moments and when things are going really well for you.
Fish discusses how the idea that I wasn’t good enough was a powerful one. That idea, it made him better, but it also never let him rest. I related in a truly deep way to his trouble sleeping and not being able to sleep alone. Needing someone else there. Night time is always the worst time for an anxious brain. He describes his anxiety attack as a spiral, which is the word I’ve always used to explain how quickly I get from anxiety to depression and why it’s so hard to stop it. Then, before I pass the baton here, I just want to read a quote from the piece. It’s towards the end and Fish writes, “I’m here to show weakness and I am not ashamed.” I’m going to cry reading this you guys. “In fact, I’m writing this, in a lot of ways, for the express purpose of showing weakness. I’m writing this to tell people that weakness is okay. I’m here to tell people that it’s normal and that strength, ultimately, comes in all sorts of forms. Addressing your mental health is strength. Talking about your mental health is strength. Seeking information, and help, and treatment, is strength. So, yes, this, all of this.” Thank you, Mardy Fish, for these words that I still think about over two years later. They make me feel sane, understood, less alone, and yes, stronger. So, yeah, that’s my athlete tie to all of this.
Lindsay: That’s incredible. I still think about that piece a lot too, Jess. I have to say, I actually interviewed Mardy Fish this summer and [inaudible 00:26:00] I asked him how he’s doing with his mental health, and he was just as candid as he’s always been. That he’s doing better, but it’s not a magic, “I’m better. I’m fixed. This is done.” And I thought, “Wow. You are so inspiring.” Anyways, Mardy Fish talked to me about how he had just gotten a job at ESPN and he was working as a tennis commentator and he’d actually just gotten back from Wimbledon and he just talked about what a big deal that was to travel over there, by himself, to work all those days in a row and be able to show up at work all those days in a row and be able to work under pressure and how much he really enjoyed it and, listen, that’s something that I can’t obviously really do, working a [inaudible 00:26:36] every day, but it was something powerful.
Lindsay: Alright, Brenda?
Brenda: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting for me because I’ve always struggled with anxiety and it’s sort of contradictory because exercise is one of the ways that I feel better. So, on the one hand, sports is this place where athletes are under incredible stress, you know, elite athletes and I think it really matters that a lot of them are supporting more than just themselves, so they feel extra pressure not to admit that they’re having problems and to keep it very inside. A lot of the interviews with athletes are explaining that they’re scared that if they come forward that they’re jeopardizing a career, which provides for more than just themselves. I feel for it. It’s such a contradiction to me, because on the one hand the experience at not an elite level, but just like a person struggling to keep an eight minute mile, is that exercise in the gym is such a wonderful, positive space for my mental health and it can be such a destructive space for some people.
It’s an interesting thing. I remember just about five years ago the chief medical officer of the NCAA, Brian Heinlein, declared mental health as the number one safety concern of the NCAA.
Jessica: Oh wow.
Brenda: He said that and it’s changed. It’s really caused a change, a shift, to looking at mental health as part of the whole health of the student athlete. I think that’s been really, really important, because we know that participating in athletics helps, particularly, women who have low body image and low self esteem. So they have body issues and we know physiologically it helps them to adjust that body image and yet, once again, really elite NCAA gymnasts report how terrible their body image is and that they’re feeling under the microscope. It’s a real pressurized situation and I think it’s just a fascinating process.
Shireen: One of my favorite athletes of all time is a former Olympian and Canadian athlete named Silken Laumann. She’s an oars woman and she is a single sculler. I think she rowed doubles. I’ve always been unbelievably impressed with her. She had an accident, I think, eight weeks before she competed in Barcelona where she won bronze. She is currently at number one and she pushed through and I think eight weeks later she recovered in that time. She had a skull go up through her calf and she recovered. Her memoir is incredible. In 2015, she started to talk about mental health issues and my challenges and my struggles with depression and anxiety were diagnosed much later. After I had children. So, she talks about being a mom and being a step mom. She has a step daughter who is severely autistic and she talks about how she was trying to manage her own mental health when she didn’t even know it. She talks about this, that her own mother had undiagnosed mental illness but at that time, women could be institutionalized against their will. Without getting proper treatment in a way that was more holistically understanding. Laumann’s memoir was incredible for me. Her speaking about her story is really powerful.
I’m just going to read this small excerpt that came out of her writing. It was on Huff Post and then CNBC News picked it up. It made a lot of headlines in Canada because she’s such a formidable personality here. “I knew how people might react. When I told my soon to be husband that I suffered from anxiety and depression, he looked at me with confusion. When I told him that I took a pill daily to keep my anxiety at bay, he looked a bit alarmed. ‘What are you like without your pills?’ He asked sheepishly. I felt angry and frustrated, but I got it. Many people have no experience with mental illness. They don’t understand that anxiety can be low grade and persistent and sometimes a person’s liver isn’t their best friend. I explained to him that an antidepressant didn’t change my personality, it didn’t make me any less, it simply lessened my feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed.”
For me, that was a lot of it. At times people were lik, “Oh, well you’re so busy. You have a parents that are aging or battling some type of illness.” Or whatnot. Or, “You a mom of four kids.” People were making excuses, but finally I got a doctor that said, “We’re not making excuses, let’s talk about how you’re feeling. Let’s talk about how we can manage this and there’s no shame in it.”
Also, being from a South Asian community, historically there’s a lot of shame around mental health issues and in terms of saying that. People always think, “Oh my god, she’s crazy.” That’s ableist and it’s unfair and for me to get someone, like a primary care physician who understood how I felt, and helped me. I started reading about it and I got more strength from Silken Laumann, and actually tweeted it out when I got her book, or Instagrammed it and she liked it and I was like, “Oh, yay. She liked it.” For me, that was very affirming, that her words … She was someone I looked up to for decades and her words meant so much to me and that feeling of her being honest about being overwhelmed and you feel … my shoulders get physically heavy. It’s hard to explain sometimes, but her explaining that exact same feeling was just, it was so important for me.
Lindsay: You guys are amazing. I wanted to give a shout out to Chamique Holdsclaw, who is a former WMBA player who has been very open about her own struggles with mental illness and a lot of other bad stuff in her life. There was a great piece by Allison Glock on ESPNW this week, that we will link in the show notes, but what really stuck out to me was the desire to make … She talks about the desire to make everyone around you comfortable. So, not talking openly about what you’re going through. Wanting everybody else to feel okay. I’m going to read this one excerpt, it says, “In 2006, Holdsclaw was rushed via ambulance to the hospital after swallowing several pills. She survived, but kept the suicide attempt largely private. The official story was she was sick and dehydrated. Paige says, ‘The team told media that Holdsclaw was out to take care of a family matter.’ Months later, Paige was one of the few peers to who Holdsclaw confided. She said she kept it from me because she didn’t want it to be a burden. Even after trying to end her life, Holdsclaw believed she owed it to her grandmother, her team mates, her coaches, everyone who banked on her, to keep up the façade. I didn’t want to seem weak in anyone’s eyes, she said. I put this cloak around me.”
I related to that, strongly, because I have battled depression, anxiety, and ADHD. A really fun cocktail, my entire life. I’ve literally lost, I believe, years in my 20s, because the depression just kind of consumed me and now I’m 31 and I’m as functional and as mentally healthy as I’ve ever been, and yet there are still many days where it’s a struggle to get out of bed. During these times, I really find myself distancing myself from those close to me. It’s really, a lot of times, it’s because I’m afraid that once I get on the phone with them, I’m not going to be able to keep up the façade. I’m going to break down and I’m going to have to tell them, because these are people I love so much and it’s so hard to let people in because there’s no easy fix. I’m on medication, I do go to therapy and I am, like I said, on a day to day basis, better than I’ve ever been and yet, there are still a lot of hard times, for sure.
Amira: Our next segment is from episode 12, when Shireen and Jessica discussed women’s cricket, but it’s more than that. It’s about the problems women’s sports face on a regular basis, which, as you know, is an ongoing theme here on Burn It All Down. Check it out.
Jessica: So, as we are recording this, across the pond in England, at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, England is playing India in the final of the Women’s Cricket World Cup. The event is sold out, with roughly 26,000 spectators watching the action. This is no small thing. Here is what Tim Wigmore of the New York Times wrote about this watershed tournament for women’s cricket. “For the first time since the Women’s World Cup began in 1973, the players have received daily expenses equal to those provided for men in international cricket council events and the visiting teams flew to England for the tournament in business class, as has long been the norm for men. Prize money has increased to two million, 10 times the figure for the previous tournament, which was held in India in 2013. The competition, which started among eight teams on June 24th, has so far attracted a global television audience of over 50 million, an 80% increase from 2013. Then, there are the more than 26,500 tickets that have been bought for Sunday, for today. A record for a Women’s World Cup match. It is also about six times the old high mark, 4,426, for any women’s match at Lord’s.
So, the World Cup has been played since 1973, but it’s been a rough go. Sometimes in search of enough teams. Most often they’re in search for money and resources. It’s actually only been since 2005, when the International Women’s Cricket Council and the International Cricket Council became one, that the Women’s World Cup has been held at regular, four year intervals and actually had secure funding. Here, again, is the New York Times Wigmore, “Perhaps most significant, has been the growing interest in women’s cricket in India. The economic powerhouse of the men’s game. In 2015, India introduced national contracts for its elite players, becoming the last of the top eight women’s teams to do so. Mithali Raj, the captain for India’s team, and a former Badass Women of the Week on his podcast, told the Times, “It would be a revolution for women’s cricket in India if we go on to win the World Cup. It would be a real big thing. We’d be in a better position to promote the game and create a brand value for women’s cricket. This just reminds me that women are never just playing sport for sports sake. They are always playing it for the future of the sport and for the girls coming up behind them. This is no different today.”
Now, I don’t want to pretend that I understand cricket, cause I have actually never watched a match in my entire life. That’s my American-ness shining through, but before I hand the baton off here, I do want to give a shout out here to India’s Harmanpreet Kaur, in the semi final against Australia last week, and let’s be clear, Australia is the most dominant team. They’re the defending champions, they have won six of the 10 world cups so far. Kaur was spectacular. Here’s how CNN described her play. “The Indian women’s cricketer, drew worldwide acclaim for her historic 171 knot out against Australia to send her country through to only its second ever Women’s World Cup final. It’s in innings that has been compared to some of the best in one day international history, only three players in the history of the competition have recorded a higher inning score. It shouldn’t have to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway, these women can play.
Shireen, I know you’re freaking out about what’s going on right now in the finals, so why don’t you tell us your thoughts on this Women’s World Cup?
Shireen: Admittedly, I’m of South Asian descent, so cricket plays a huge part into my family and I have cousins that play it competitively and the only reason, and they’ll probably kill me when I say this, that I got really interested in cricket at all was because of women. I started to follow Pakistan’s Girls in Green and that really started to have me pay attention. I was very confused by the rules of cricket and have been … I was really only in it for the food, the kabobs and the baradas at the family gatherings, let’s be honest. But I really, really started to get into it because of this and this particular Women’s World Cup has been very exciting, because of the amount of coverage. I followed the T20s, I wrote about the West Indian women last year and when they won. It was wonderful. I wrote for Gal-Dem about the women’s winning, because the men had won and the women had won and the solidarity was really incredible. I’ve seen the likeness of that with the Girls in Blue, the Indian team.
Harmanpreet Kaur’s achievement was incredible when they played against Australia. There were … Sachin Tendulkar was a former Indian player, he’s retired now. He’s considered one of the greatest. He was tweeting out support. Everybody was oohing and ahhing. As they should be. She was literally slaying it and it was so exciting to watch, because of the excitement, which I had never seen before. Cricket Indian is constantly tweeting about it. Mithali Raj had her own hashtag on Twitter. Her little emoji. And as you said, she was our Badass Woman of the Week a couple weeks ago. Also, the way that the women respect each other is incredible. After the match against Australia, Alex Blackwell actually gave her jersey to Kaur, in a show of solidarity and support, which I think is wonderful.
This kind of stuff is important. To encourage each other and it’s very, very competitive. Cricket, if we look at it a little bit historically, has long been in the blood and the veins of these women. It’s just giving them an opportunity to get out there and showcase their talent and show the world. I’m excited about all of it. I did not put this in the burn pile, but this morning ESPNCrickinfo website, when it listed the matches, it said there’s no current match happening. Right now, during the finals. So people are completely shutting them down. I mean, there’s still some work to do here, but this is incredible. It’s very, very exciting.
Jessica: Shireen, didn’t something happen with the Pakistani women’s team when they returned? I saw you tweeting about it the other day.
Shireen: Yeah. I was raging about this on Twitter. The Girls in Green, as they’re known, I love them. They’re led by captain Sana Mir. They’ve worked quietly and diligently and faced a lot of obstacles. They returned back to Pakistan after … They lost all their matches in this World Cup and it was … They didn’t do very well. Undeniably, it was a bit of a dismal performance, but when they returned back, there was nobody from the Pakistan Cricket Board. It was reported by the Tribune, I believe, that nobody was there to receive them.
Shireen: There wasn’t a member, there was no staff person, and more importantly, there was no transportation. So, one player actually called her dad, who came on a motorcycle and drove two of the girls home and there was a photo of that. Now, everyone started rage tweeting as expected, and this is not how you treat a national squad. This isn’t how you do it. You want to develop a team, you invest in them. Yes, they’re not going to win all the time but that doesn’t mean you leave them stranded. Then, there was rumors that the PCB was going to fire Sana Mir and replace some of the senior players. It was in such poor taste. It was really bad timing. They didn’t have a great run at this particular tournament. They’ll suit up and they’ll try again and they’ll do it again. Yes, Pakistan men have won the most recent tournament, but for years before that, they won nothing.
So I mean, I’m not trying to say, “Oh, it’s the same as the men’s game,” we know it’s different. Support for women’s sport is crucial and particularly when it is still developing. I was raging and the Pakistan Cricket Board did release a very … there’s no other word for it but meh, statement about it and said, “No, there was a misunderstanding and it was wrongly reported.” But, no. The source that reported that was legitimate. I was really, really angry about it because those women have gone without support and without enough funding for a really long time. The world of cricket, as exciting as it is, we hope that other countries and other boards look to the way that India is supporting its women and excited about it and hopefully they’ll catch on.
Jessica: Yeah, I think this is one of the really frustrating things about women’s sport in general. Historically, they’re massively under resourced compared to the men’s team, but then when they go out to play, they’re expected to always win. If they’re not winning every single thing, then somehow they are undeserving of the very little resources that they’ve already been given. It’s a horrific catch 22 that makes it really hard for women’s sport to grow. There’s no way to win in that set up and I feel like this is such a great example. They just didn’t care about them when they came home, because they didn’t win enough, but as you said, they haven’t been supported in their country in the way that they should have been for a really long time.
If you’re really going to grow a game, you have to take the losses with the wins. That’s part of athletics. The expectation for women is so incredibly high and all these Indian women cricketers, when they’ve been interviewed about what’s happening with their team and how well they’ve done, they talk about what it means for the future and how important it will be for the growth of the game within their country. That’s some immense pressure there to win. Not just be champions and the excitement of that, but the pressure to grow the game. It’s just so unfair to women’s athletes. It just shouldn’t be that way. I’m just infinitely frustrated at this set up for women’s sport.
Shireen: A lot of the cricketers that have been interviewed talk specifically about that. What you said is key. To grow the game, to inspire other girls to play and to get them involved and to let them know that they belong on that field. It’s so interesting that they’re never just focused. They’re determined to win, but they’re always focused on growing the game. It’s so key here. I mean, I fought about this with my cousin last night, actually. Who is trying to say well, small steps, small steps. But I mean, I want more steps. I want better steps to support women in sport. Sport development for women doesn’t work like that if you just expect them to win all the time, you’ve got to invest in them. You’ve got to invest the time. You’ve got to invest proper coaching, equipment. It’s only a couple years ago that women were actually given memberships to cricket clubs in Pakistan to practice. They had no specific field. It’s got to come and then at the same time, they’re expected to win everything. It doesn’t make sense. I hope that what comes out of this World Cup is excitement and understanding and a commitment to develop and invest further in these women.
Jessica: Finally, we want to end this episode with a look back at each of our favorite burn piles. First up is Shireen, from episode 21, towards the end of September.
Shireen: I’m going to join Brenda and throw the FA and the England’s Women Football Management Administration in the burn pile with their handling of Mark Sampson. Beginning with his hiring, as we know, and are discovering now rather. That he was totally unqualified and inappropriate as a selection, generally. So for those that don’t know, Mark Sampson has been the manager of the England Women’s National Soccer Team, otherwise known as the Lionesses. It emerged, I think, about five or six months ago, Eni Aluko, who was last year, one of the highest scoring on the team, she came out with allegations of racism and inappropriate, in the sense, I’m going to use that word because it’s what the British media uses, with comments and remarks. Something to the effect of when she told him her family would be coming to watch, he said make sure they don’t bring over Ebola. It’s disgusting. He’s disgusting. He refuted these claims.
The FA, this is where it gets great, did their own investigation on themselves and their employee, and found themselves to be innocent. This is excellent here. I love this. It’s like, reminiscent of FIBA and their bullshit. So, they ended up firing Mark Sampson, but not because of anything Eni had said, or another team mate came out to say, and what ended up happening was, they investigated the report again. They revisited the report that came out and he was fired because of his actions while a manager at Bristol, previously and his conduct with young players.
This could be anything from texting. It could be anything from … I don’t know the details. They haven’t emerged yet, of how bad it was, but it was bad enough for two chief executives of the FA, to come out of a UEFA meeting and conference and come back and deal with this. As we know, the FA is pretty substandard in how they govern everything. Like most men in the football governing world. So just torching that, and I hope … I’m also seriously unimpressed with the Lionesses generally in how they handled Emi’s case after they beat Russia six nothing, but they went and all hugged him after a goal, which Emi publicly stated was unfair particularly because she had been chosen as a liaison between management and the team before and it was like a slap in the face to her. It’s fine and good until you actually call the family out on racism. You can be part of the family until you talk about racism and systemic discrimination. Torching it. Torching all of it.
Group: Burn it.
Jessica: The next two are from Lindsay and Amira, both from episode 26, at the end of October.
Lindsay: The college of the Ozarks, it’s a unique, private, Christian, liberal arts college in Point Lookout, Missouri. It only has about 1,500 students. It proudly calls itself, “Hardwork U”. On Monday, the college announced it was requiring every freshman to enroll in a patriotic education and fitness program. This class is going to teach students about modern military customs, American politics, flag protocols and procedures. There’s also map reading, navigation, rope knotting, and [inaudible 00:48:46] marksmanship.
Amira: I’m legit shuttering. I’m never going there. I’m never going there.
Lindsay: There’s more to burn. There’s more to burn. The class seems to be a direct response to athletes across the country taking a knee, obviously. This is a response to Kaepernick. In September, the College of the Ozarks, which I might say, is a Christian college that was named the most unfriendly school for LGBT students by the Princeton Review. This school announced a no pledge, no play initiative in September, which not only requires Ozarks athletes to stand at attention during the Star Spangled Banner, it requires their opponents to stand at attention as well. The College of the Ozarks president, Jerry Davis, his quotes about this are, “We should be more intentional about patriotic education and from our point of view, that needs to occur from kindergarten all the way through college. Patriotic education is not inherited, it must be taught. It must be modeled and emphasized. It is the United States of America,” Davis said, “Not the Diversified States of America.”
Brenda: No. Burn. Burn that Confederate Flag.
Jessica: Wow. Oh my goodness. Okay, Amira, what got you in sense this week?
Amira: Yeah, this week I was really irritated to hear that junior Emily Nash in Massachusetts, who plays golf and has been playing with the boys team since 8th grade, won a golf tournament at Blissful Meadows by four strokes, and yet was not given the trophy or the change to advance for state. Why? Well, I will tell you. Because Massachusets Interscholastic Athletic Association, that’s the MIAA, their rules state that, I quote, “Girls playing on a fall boys team cannot be entered into the boys fall individual tournament. They can only play in the boys team tournament and if they qualify, they can play in the spring for the girls state championships, if so desired.”
So this means that her stroke counts for the team [inaudible 00:50:50] and if the team was to advance, which they didn’t, she could compete with them, but individually, and as individuals, she is not allowed to advance to states or get the damn trophy that she earned. And before you [crosstalk 00:51:07] as the boys, this is something that is getting more and more attention in central Massachusetts and her runner up tried to hand her the trophy, but she said no. It seems like it’s absolutely time for MIAA to revisit this rule. If she can play, then let her play and if she wins, give her the damn trophy. I’m burning it down.
Jessica: Burn. Give her the damn trophy.
Here’s Brenda from episode 18 in early September.
Brenda: The New York Times ran a story this week that broke my heart about a doctoral student named Christina Suggs at Florida State. She was running some courses in hospitality while getting her PhD and the article mentioned her as a single mom, but Suggs made the mistake of actually trying to teach. Asking the same things from all the students including the football players. When she reported the pressure she was getting from her supervisor and players to inflate their grades, the administration of Florida State did nothing to support her. In fact, very quickly, she found herself out of a job and out of the program. The New York Times actually published some of the students plagiarized work and it’s this cut and paste job from Wikipedia that if you’ve ever been in a college setting where you’re teaching or privy to this, is a classic device, right? Suggs ended up without the PhD, but with lots of debt and stress and shortly there after, in 2014, she died from an accidental overdose of prescription medications for pain, anxiety, and depression.
So, I just want to burn, burn, burn, burn the FSU administration and the whole practice of asking teachers to bow down to college athletics.
Julie: That’s awful. Burn it.
Brenda: It’s killing me this week. I can’t get it out of my head. So, thank you for that cathartic burn.
Jessica: Here’s my favorite of my burn piles, which is followed up by one of our favorite Burn It All Down moment from 2017. This is from way back on August 1st, in episode 13.
So, last weekend I wanted to watch a match in the women’s euro competition. I knew the game was on. I had checked the schedule earlier in the day, so I was confused when I brought up the guide on the television and I looked at ESPNs two channels, ESPN and ESPN2, to see which channel the game was on. To my surprise, on ESPN there was something called the basketball tournament, and on ESPN2 they had drone racing. I was so confused. So, I went back to check the schedule again, so it turned out that if I wanted to watch some of the best women football, soccer players, in the world, I needed to hook up my Chrome cast and stream the game from a device, since that was the only way it was available.
The quality was pretty low too, I just want to complain about that. It was pretty blurry. My husband suggested that this was on ESPN’s side, because so many people were watching that it was coming through blurry, which huh? Funny about that. And so I would, today, like to burn ESPNs coverage of drone racing over and above the women’s euros.
Group: Burn it.
Julie: Burn. It’s funny too, because ESPN actually showed cornhole/bags depending on what you call it. You know, the game where you throw beanbags through a hole? They had that on ESPN2 one morning instead of women’s soccer, which is just unbelievable.
Lindsay: Isn’t that just a drunk game?
Jessica: It is.
Shireen: Why don’t they just call it beanbag throwing? Why the fancy name?
Julie: We call it bags in Chicago.
Shireen: Is that fancy? Cornhole.
Lindsay: I don’t think cornhole is a fancy name.
Brenda: But it does make you think it might be more interesting.
Lindsay: I don’t know what you guys are doing up there in Canada, but cornhole is not fancy.
Shireen: I happen to love corn on the cob, so anything with food draws me in. So I think this is maybe it. I don’t know.
Julie: That’s probably why they call it that then.
Jessica: That’s it for this weeks episode. Thank you for joining us. And thank you to Hofstra University for their continued support. There’s so much more content than what we provided today. This is the 34th consecutive week that we’ve published an episode, so there’s plenty more where all this came from. We encourage you to look back at our catalog and see what from Burn It All Down you’ve missed.
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That’s it for Burn It All Down, for Amira Rose Davis, Shireen Ahmed, Brenda Elsey and Lindsay Gibbs, I’m Jessica Luther. Next week we’ll be back with our favorite interview segments from this year. Until then, and in this case, until next year, see you in 2018.