S1: The following podcast includes explicit language not restricted to words beginning with F, S, B and Q. Hi, I’m Stefan Fatsis and this is Slate’s sports podcast, hang up and listen for the week of October 11th, 2021. On this week’s show, Slate’s Alex Kirshner joins us to discuss the racist, sexist, misogynistic, anti-gay anti Roger Goodell, anti anti-racism and pro concussion emails written by NFL lifer Jon Gruden and writer Roberto Joes Andrade José Franco will be here to talk about budding U.S. soccer star Ricardo Pepi, who was not responsible in any way for the national team’s pathetic one nothing loss to Panama over the weekend. And finally, we’ll break down the WNBA playoffs.• with Chantel Jennings of The Athletic. I’m the author of the books Word Freak, A Few Seconds of Panic and Wild and Outside. I’m in Washington, DC. Joel Anderson is off this week. Josh Levin is not. He’s Slate’s national editor, author of The Queen, host of the podcast series One Year. Hello Josh. Hey, Stefan, I forgot to say you’re in Washington, too.
S2: I am.
S1: On Monday night, just hours after the New York Times revealed that he had written years worth of truly offensive emails, Jon Gruden resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, as Alex Kirshner writes in Slate. The problem for the NFL isn’t that Gruden, as the league has protested, doesn’t represent the NFL’s values. It’s that he embodies them. Gruden, Kirshner writes, is a more comprehensive encapsulation of an NFL poster boy than almost anyone else on Earth. Alex Kirshner is a contributing writer at Slate, and he’s the co-host of the Split Zone Duo College Football Podcasts. He is here. Hey, Alex.
S3: Hey, Stefan Josh, great to be with you.
S1: Thanks for joining us. And for those who rely on hang up and listen for their sports news, Alex. First, let’s examine the content of Gruden outbox the first. The email dropped Friday when The Wall Street Journal reported Gruden in 2011, using blatantly racist tropes to disparage the head of the NFL’s players union, DeMaurice Smith, who’s black. Then came the Times report. No pressure to remember them all. Alex, we can take turns if necessary, but give us a rundown of the emails.
S3: Yeah, I wrote about this and I realized that I didn’t even get an adequate sampling. I didn’t mention I didn’t even touch every base and explaining all of the things that Jon Gruden had said in these emails. But he ridiculed the size of the lips of the black head of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith. He shared just some general kind of lewd mail office. Email Typekit like with topless cheerleaders of the Washington football team, including with the president of that team, which really, I think pushes this to a different level of inappropriate. He called Roger Goodell an anti-gay slur and a clueless anti football. Not sure which slurs are kosher on Slate’s podcast, so I will skip it. But it starts with a Pepi and you shouldn’t say it really in any setting, let alone a professional one. He criticized Goodell for pressuring the St. Louis Rams at the time to draft quote unquote queers, a clear reference to Michael Sam, who is the first out gay player to actually get drafted. Stefan I’m probably missing something. There were a lot. This was this was bulk quantity on Jon Gruden.
S1: Criticize Goodell for for working to reduce concussions. Mocked players who kneel during the national anthem said that Eric Reid, one of those protesting players should be fired, mocked the addition of women referees. Josh if I missed anything.
S2: I think you’ve you’ve hit the low lights. It’s important to note the context that this came as part of an independent investigation into that toxic workplace culture of the Washington football team. Six hundred and fifty thousand emails reportedly. And so one question that I have is why and how did this particular set of emails get leaked? I don’t believe the Times or The Wall Street Journal published the actual emails. They’ve just been characterized. And so I’m curious what else is being said on these threads, which include Bruce Allen, which include businessmen like the co-founder of Hooters, addressed. I got to say his name because we don’t want to leave him out. Jim McVay, an executive who’s run the Outback Bowl. Nick Reeder, the founder of PD. Q. Restaurants like the email forward chain from Hell. But there’s something perfect, Alex, like perfectly terrible about the fact that the Washington football team is kind of the nexus of this like awful bro racist, misogynistic, anti-gay behavior. And just from a journalistic standpoint, I’m curious what the next move is here. Are we going to have access to all these emails? Are we going to hear what sorts of egregious things other people said? Or is this just going to be a hit a deserved head on Jon, Gruden and all these other people who maybe said some other egregious stuff are going to skate?
S3: I don’t know. It is fascinating that the investigation that centers around Daniel Snyder’s football team would produce its first major news that seems to have nothing to do with Daniel Snyder and Daniel Snyder isn’t mentioned. Only his subordinate is curious. A more conspiratorial minded person might wonder about why that is and about who supplied these emails to newspapers that seem to focus this investigation into the end of the football team and to people who are not involved with their football team. It is curious to me
S2: the name Snyder does not appear in the Times story.
S3: Yeah, you just wonder. One just wonders. But OK, it could be a total coincidence.
S1: Well, I mean, the other thing that’s related to that Josh is that the NFL commissioned an outside law firm to investigate Washington’s workplace, and the reports about its workplace were generated by The Washington Post and The New York Times. It should be noted again journalists at the front of this. But it said that it would not produce a written report about the findings. Apparently, there were summarized in like a slideshow for league executives, and one of the reasons given was they didn’t want to intrude traumatize witnesses from the investigation. But it sure feels like they wanted to protect the ownership and others. The Washington team was fined $10 million. Dan Snyder was, you know, put in a corner and forced to wear a dunce hat for a few months. But there is nothing there. And, you know, on the record, and you do now wonder what the NFL found and if there’s somebody inside the league’s headquarters who is saying enough or if this is like a tactical release to turn out, to have it to get a drive by of somebody Jon Gruden while trying to protect other people in the Washington organization and in the rest of the league. I mean, who knows who else was on e-mails?
S2: Alex, he did a really good job in your piece of laying out that Gruden. I think actually before he was the coach of the Raiders in this current stint, he was maybe even a bigger face of the NFL when he was the guy on Monday Night Football with the Gruden grinder thing when he was hosting the Gruden QB camp series on ESPN. It’s not just that he was a famous guy and that he had a raspy voice, it’s that he served as the kind of front door and welcome mat for the NFL’s both to fans and to players like that. And that QB camp series, it’s like all of the current stars in the NFL. Like, there’s a kind of famous episode with Russell Wilson in 2012, where Gruden is basically explaining to them how to be an NFL player, but also like how to be a good football citizen. Like, you’ve got to study your film and you’ve got to do, you know, X Y and spider to Y Banana and everything that he said. And so the fact that it’s this guy. Is an indictment of the NFL and NFL culture and its representatives in a way it’s like hard to think of anybody else who it could have been that would have kind of gotten more to the heart of like what it means to be a football guy.
S3: Absolutely, Jon Jon Gruden was not some black sheep son of the NFL who said these things and no one ever liked him, no one can even believe they ever were friends with this guy. It’s not like that at all. He was more than most a vessel for a lot of the stories the NFL likes to tell about itself. Not just that you can teach quarterbacks how to read defenses, but that you can teach them how to like you just said, be good citizens and how to manage all of the pressures and responsibilities that come with being an NFL quarterback. He absolutely talked about those things with quarterbacks we had in the studio with him for his Gruden I Gruden QB camp series. And given that Jon Gruden was really just following what is a quintessentially NFL playbook and doing that and insisting that, you know, we’re building people or building young men, we are, of course, football guys, but we also try to be responsible citizens and try to represent ourselves in the league. Well, it’s impossible to decouple that from all of the things that he apparently thought for all of these years, and it’s worth noting that some of these emails are less than four years old.
S1: This is the image the NFL has wanted to cultivate for decades. You know, this is the quintessential football coach barking tough, deriding weakness, brag or too loud. This is the guy that the NFL wants you to think of when you think of the NFL, and what this does is undermine all of the NFL’s imagery. The fact that the NFL’s for years has gone after players for their behaviors, but now it’s clear tolerated and basically sanctioned racist, misogynistic, homophobic talk among its overwhelmingly white executives is an incredible indictment and a revelation of the hypocrisy that undergirds the leagues out facing behaviors.
S2: The league also wants to be known for its tolerance, at least in some circles. I mean, this is a league that when the WNBA stopped using the kind of social justice language, the NFL’s still has the end racism stuff on its helmets. It’s adopted that inappropriate of that and tried to make it a part of the league’s image. There was the really happy and positive story of Carl Nassib coming out the Raiders player. And, you know, we talked on on this show about how we wished that certain players like why weren’t all the star quarterbacks out there talking about what an amazing and great thing this was, but the organization the raiders said all the right things, they seem to be a supportive environment for him. Now we seem a little bit naive about that. Like that the organization was smart enough to know what to say in a public facing way. Maybe the same way that the NFL is smart enough to know what to say in a public facing way. But then you got the head coach of this team saying in an email that the NFL shouldn’t have forced the Rams to draft a queer quote, unquote Michael Sam. And so, you know, Alex, the questions that I think we should be asking here are what are the values of the people that run this league? I mean, the values of, you know, of Roger Goodell and the commissioner’s office aren’t hating Roger Goodell. So that’s there’s some daylight between Jon, Gruden and Goodell there. And I think it would be too cynical to say that the NFL is totally insincere on all things in all cases, but that dad ellipsis.
S3: Yeah, I think that it’s not that the NFL is a monolith and that every person involved with the NFL believes in a world where only two hundred and seventy pound white defensive linemen deserve to have a role in football. I don’t know that the NFL operates that way at all, but I do think that Roger Goodell wants to sell a version of the NFL that is among its, you know, most tolerant kind of sub samples of all the people in the NFL. There are plenty of good people in the NFL. I have had the the fortune to get to know some of them talk to some of them over the years. The NFL’s also like America. There are a lot of shitty people in the NFL, and they are a huge part of this league, just like they’re a huge part of everything we do in this big old country that we have here. I think the NFL in that way really is a microcosm of America. And you have to deal with that. And I think the NFL would rather not need to acknowledge that side of itself. But of course, it’s there. And of course. It’s not just Jon Gruden, it’s certainly many of his peers, it’s certainly people who own NFL teams. It’s certainly fans of the NFL as well, not to make the rest of us at fault for what Jon Gruden said, because these are his words. But what I keep coming back to is that on the one hand, it is poor judgment on Jon Gruden part to send these emails. Don’t you know that when you write something down, there might be a record of it that might come back and bite you in the ass? On the other hand, it’s not poor judgment at all because Jon Gruden is comfortable kind of in the firmament of the NFL. He knows people around this league or on its media apparatus, and he sent these emails because he had what he thought was a perfect judgment of how it would be responded to.
S2: Well, it’s a story about nepotism too, right? Alex Levin, his brother, was the coach of the Washington team. He worked with Bruce Allen in Tampa and with the Raiders.
S1: Allen is the son of an NFL legendary coach.
S2: I mean, it’s all it’s like the Enron emails or something somebody is going to have to do, like a dissertation on the like mapping the tree of nepotism that’s revealed by, you know, the connections and then in the CC line here.
S1: I mean, Gruden was sending these emails to an email address that ended with Dot Slur, the name of the Washington football team.
S2: I played an end in that slur, but it ended and at Slate.com. But, you know, we don’t we don’t need to get to know the truth.
S1: We don’t need to
S2: say we don’t. We don’t either.
S1: We don’t need to recon. Yeah.
S2: Can we are? We must not accept this segment without talking about Americans, quote unquote apology that he gave and the fact that he was allowed by his Team.• and by the league to coach a game. You know, did this on Twitter Stefan on Sunday. I mean, the absolute arrogance of this guy to come out and say, I don’t have a racial bone in my body, we can maybe play a clip from his press conference answer here.
S4: All I can say is I’m not a racist. I don’t. I can’t tell you how sick I am. I apologize again to the tardy Smith. But I feel good about who I am and what I’ve done my entire life, and I apologize for the insensitive remarks I had. No. You know, I had no racial intentions with those Renee
S2: this guy knowing what he’s emailed in the past, knowing that these emails are in the hands of people that don’t seem to be particularly proud. Jon Gruden just has the gall to say he doesn’t want to talk about it. He wants to move on. He wants to focus on football and gets away with it, at least for a few days. And it’s his players, the players on the team who are forced to ask, you know, be asked about it, answer for it. Would you like to play for this guy? How do you feel about this guy just so gross on so many levels? And you know, I think we shouldn’t let the content of these emails and how egregious they are obscure the fact that that was that kind of passed muster for a minute, and it seemed like it wasn’t even clear if he was going to get suspended.
S3: No, I think it works for Jon Gruden or he thought it would work for himself because of who he is in the nfl. He has worn every hat you can wear in this league for a long time, short of being the commissioner of the sport. And if you are as beloved in NFL circles as Jon Gruden appears to have been, and if you have been given as much money and as many opportunities in the NFL as Jon Gruden has been given, I can understand how at some point you get high on your own supply and think consequences don’t apply to you. Nothing matters. You can say whatever you want. The thing that did it was that it was bulk quantity I. He might have weathered it if it was just he was racist. In one email in 2011 because he was Jon Gruden. And the NFL seems to have a very high tolerance for just about anything Jon Gruden does and has for a long time. And by the NFL, I don’t just mean Roger Goodell or his spokesman who puts out appalled statements. I mean, the whole big thing because there’s a lot of people I
S1: think connected to that is the way that people supported Jon Gruden before the the full batch of the full bingo card of emails dropped on Monday evening on Sunday Night Football. Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy and Tony Dungy, by the way, has a history of making homophobic statements both on the broadcast rose up to defend the Gruden. We can listen to a clip of that,
S5: and I’m not going to chalk everything up to racism. I think we accept his apology, move forward and move on just like he did with his team. Yeah, I think in being honest with the audience, I should weigh in a little bit here because I was with Jon at that time of seven years as my partner on Monday Night Football, I probably know Jon better than anybody in the league. On a personal level, he said, he was ashamed by the comments in the email. The comments in the email are wrong, but my experience kind of parallels. Tim Barrow played for Jon Hall of Fame wide receiver. He said he never experienced or saw anything that would say Jon was racist in any way. That is exactly the experience I had those seven years of travel and three days together on the road every week.
S2: So to have a maybe an empathetic imagination. People, it’s like, Oh, he didn’t sexually harass me. So it’s possible. So he couldn’t have sexually harassed anyone in his life. Not saying that Jon Gruden is a sexual harasser. Just using an analogy. Yeah, Mike Tirico, maybe you don’t know him as well as you thought you did. And maybe the fact that this guy didn’t say racial slurs to your face doesn’t mean that he, you know, has the same, you know, uses the same language behind your back or anyone else’s back. And Bomani Jones’. Everybody should listen to his segment about this on the right time. Just he nailed this in so many different ways. But the comment about DeMaurice Smith and his lips just the kind of old timey like a minstrelsy sort of racism there. But that trope that anyone could listen to Gruden say I don’t have a racial bone in my body. Anyone who could listen to that and not just like laugh in his face is lying to themselves. I mean, the lips thing, are you? Are you serious? And saying that he referred to people who lie as having rubber lips? It’s it’s truly, truly remarkable feat of like lying and self-deception just and that Tirico and Dungy would go on TV and say that about him just is further evidence, Alex, of like the fact that Gruden was until Monday a made guy in the NFL and protected by, you know, pretty much the, you know, the most powerful and public faces of the league.
S3: Very much so. There are have been, at least in the last couple of years, four different Gruden assistants. By my count. Maybe it’s more who have had head coaching jobs with him in his forces since that is about almost one sixth of the league is Jon Gruden, or people who used to work for Jon Gruden leading NFL franchises on the field. He obviously sat in a media booth with Mike Tirico, who runs the studio programming for the game of the Week now, every week on NBC. He immediately succeeded Tony Dungy in Tampa. And I guess Tony Dungy doesn’t have any ill feelings about getting fired for Jon Gruden because they’re both kind of members of that club. As you just alluded to, his tentacles are everywhere. He has allies everywhere. And unless these emails were the only time he ever used any language like this and he never talked to anybody, the only
S2: times he ever did, yeah.
S3: If he if he never spoke like this to anyone else in the league who have stood by and publicly, then I guess congrats to Jon Gruden for being the world’s best compartmentalised.
S1: I’m going to give you the last two thoughts here to our missing colleague Joel Anderson. He tweeted on Monday evening. A couple of things that I think are worth mentioning. One is that this is the franchise that hired Tom Flores and Art Shell and Amy Trask in the front office and and supported Carl Nassib when he came out. Every franchise has blemishes, Joel wrote. But Gruden really soiled the brand here, and the second thing Joel wrote is that he’d like to see the NFL and other sports media ask white front office officials, coaches, players, et cetera, about Gruden comments. At roughly the same rate, they stick a mike in front of the face of black players. Alex Kirshner is a contributing writer at Slate, and he’s the co-host of the split on Duo College Football Podcasts. If you stick around for a bit, we’ll be talking with Alex about Alabama’s upset loss to Texas A&M in our Slate Plus bonus segment. Alex, thanks for coming on the show.
S3: Thank you for having me. Pleasure to be here.
S1: Coming up next, a conversation about budding U.S. soccer superstar Ricardo Pepi. On Sunday night in Panama, on the fourth anniversary of the worst night in American men’s soccer history, the US national team put on a performance as dismal as the one in Port of Spain, Trinidad, that kept it from advancing to the 2018 World Cup finals. Sunday’s one nil loss to Panama wasn’t fatal. We’re still in the early stages of the latest qualification cycle, but it was notable for manager Greg Halters decision to sit seven starters from a two nothing win over Jamaica last week, including the star of that game and of the previous qualifier, a four one road win against Honduras. 18 year old Ricardo Pepi Julián flemings
S5: out on the right hand side, still the same shape and his aronsohn breaking lines for the
S6: US. It’s becoming the happiest of habits.
S5: And that is why everybody is salivating over Ricardo Pepi and his future. Eighteen years old,
S1: Pepi, who for now anyway plays for FC Dallas of Major League Soccer, is seen as a great hope for two things the US man historically have lacked one a fearless and ruthless world class goal scorer, and to a Mexican-American star who chooses to play for the country of his birth, not that of his parents. Roberto Jose Andrade, a Franco, profiled Pepi for ESPN recently. He joins us now. Welcome to the show
S7: for having me.
S1: Roberto, this is a beautifully written and emotionally powerful story about soccer and immigration and the border and the pull of two cultures. So before we get to just how good Ricardo Pepi might be. Explain to us where he came from and why that’s important.
S7: Well, thank you once again for the compliment. So Ricardo Pepi comes from from the El Paso Juarez borderland, right? He’s raised, he’s born there. He’s raised just outside of El Paso in San Ysidro, which which people around here. I’m from this area as well. People from around here call this Finelli. And it’s it’s very much a type of life where you spend Monday through Friday on the north side of the Rio Grande there because you go to school, because you go to work. And then on the weekends, you return back with the family in Juarez. And that’s that’s that was my experience. That isn’t everyone’s experience here because, you know, for a variety of reasons, some people just just don’t go to Juarez. Some people have lost their connection or what have you. But that was pretty much his experience, right? And he grows up between these two. It’s not even between cultures. It’s more of a merging of cultures. Right. That that the American, the United States culture. Combines with the Mexican culture and and not just United States and Mexico, but also Chihuahua and Texas culture. And this is very much where he’s from and where he grows up playing soccer.
S2: So with these players who are eligible to play for multiple national teams, in particular Mexican-American players when they choose to play for Mexico instead of the U.S., it’s often described as a failure of outreach by the U.S. men’s national team program. And I’m sure there’s some of that and we can get to that later in the segment. But I think it’s also important to note just absolute power and emotional Paul of the Mexican national soccer team and its program for Mexican-American people. I mean, the Mexican national team is one of the most popular teams in the United States. Full, full stop. And for a guy like Ricardo Pepi, when you talk about these two different cultures, one of the strongest connections to the country of his parents were to Mexico is the Mexican national soccer team. And watching that Team.• with his family and so being kind of an American, if he had made a different choice as other players have made totally understandable. Right?
S7: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, in this piece I talk about I talk a lot with his father. And he tells me that that he grew up watching Mexican soccer, right? Whether it was the guy making the Mexican league or three and three is very much. Once they play, it becomes almost like a. Especially during the World Cup and all of these important tournaments, it becomes almost like a like a holiday, almost like a de facto holiday in both sides. Obviously, I live here in the United States, but you definitely feel it here, right? Yeah, it’s very influential. It’s one of those things as as Daniel says he he grew up, his dream was to see a son of his play for a dream. Once that decision comes, you know, it’s it’s one of those. We call it difficult because they’re definitely backing him. But you can in talking with them both, you could see that it was a difficult decision to arrive to to play with the United States instead of Mexico.
S1: It’s a complicated decision, right? David Ochoa, who plays keeper for Real Salt Lake, recently chose to play for L-3, and he said I realized that no matter how much I try, I will never be fully American, nor will I ever be fully Mexican. So it’s about where I feel more comfortable and something inside me feels more at home with the Mexican players. A lot goes into this, these feelings and and one that’s often cited is that there’s this perception that Latino players in city leagues are overlooked in favor of, you know, white kids that play on manicured fields in suburbia and that they feel ignored. Is that feeling changing? And is Ricardo Pepi a sort of a representation of sort of progress on the part of U.S. soccer in recruiting and making Latino players players of Latino descent feel better about joining the United States team?
S7: Well, I’m not sure if I’m qualified to answer that. I will say that that Ricardo playing for the United States is definitely going to to help to influence decisions, to kind of show that that you could actually play for the United States and be and be. And nobody’s going to question your identity, right? I mean, there’s always going to be some extreme fans that are that are still going to call him a traitor that are still going to, you know, basically call him everything that they want Judas or whatever. And but for the most part, from what I’ve seen so far, and of course, this is this is just in the qualifying stages, you know, maybe maybe once they actually get to the World Cup and Mexico plays the United States in games that that truly matter, you know, maybe that will change. But so far, what I see is is, is a lot of Mexican and fans kind of cheering for four or Pepi. They might not want the United States to win those games, but they’re definitely want Pepi to do well because I think there is a part of them there that understands them, right, that understands that struggle, that relate to that thing, that that that’s what you said about Ochoa, I think is entirely relatable, that even even if you grew up in a spanish-speaking household, if you grew up watching telenovelas with your mom, if you just speak, if everything is you’re surrounded by Mexican culture, even while living on the north side of the border, once you go back to Mexico, or especially if you go farther back and then farther south, then the border lets you know they do consider you different. They don’t consider you Mexican. They consider you a Ochoa is the word right? It’s kind of like Americanized Mexican that that has lost something of their culture just by the simple fact of being raised here in the United States. So, yeah, I think I think that is an entirely relatable person.
S2: At least with the highest profile cases, there does not appear to be a trend of players making one choice or another. You mentioned David Ochoa, also Julián Araujo, who plays for L.A. Galaxy very high profile prospect Just Joes Mexico did an interview with The Athletic that I thought was incredibly thoughtful and in laying out why he chose to play for Mexico was very positive about his interactions with the U.S. men’s national team. And with Gregg, Berhalter said they did everything right and basically made the exact opposite decision. The Pepi did, having a very similar background with parents from Mexico and having grown up watching, you know, Mexican domestic football as well as the national team. And so this comes down to individual choice. And where I think we want to get here is the feeling that players aren’t being neglected and ignored, overlooked because of their background and that they’re able to have the opportunity to play for whichever country feels right for them. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago, Roberto, that Jonathan Gonzalez, that American born midfielder chose Mexico despite having a lifelong dream of actually wanting to play for the U.S. and feeling like the U.S. just didn’t want him. And so that’s not what we’ve heard. With with Pepi or with Ochoa with Araujo.
S7: Yeah, I mean, twenty two to Gonzalez, I think that that became kind of like the symbol of of of Mexican American players being ignored, at least in his case. In that kind of symbolized of how perhaps the United States soccer system might be even arrogant, I think was the word that was that was commonly thrown around. Well, yeah. And talking with Pepi and Ty, obviously the examples you mentioned that seems to I don’t know if it’s changed completely by. I mean, listen, Pepi Joes, the United States, because he felt comfortable, right, more than anything else sold. And these were Pepi. They’re doing something right, right?
S1: And ultimately that’s going to be the driving force for players. And in Pepi Sky’s, this is an example of a kid who left home at age 13 to go from El Paso to join the FC Dallas Academy 10 hour drive, as you point out in the story. Six hundred and thirty five miles, you know of a planet away for them. And he said to his parents, And you quote this in the story when they told him he could come home, he said, I love you all. But this is my dream and I’m going to stay. I’ll miss all of you. Clearly, there’s a that’s an effort. And FC Dallas in particular has been great about grooming players, finding talent and raising it and making these guys feel like they’re part of the American soccer system. And that seems to be the case with Ricardo Pepi, and I wonder if that’s that that contributed to his his sort of state of mind, too.
S7: I think one of the things that as you point out the distance, that’s one of the things that I tried to write, and I hope it came across in the article that El Paso on Flores are right next to each other. But yet they’re isolated basically from from everything else to the closest large city to El Paso was probably Albuquerque. And, you know, they’re just isolated within their own countries within their own state. Even the Austin from El Paso is a 10 hour drive Chihuahua city from Juarez. The capital is about a six six seven eight hour drive, I believe. Yeah, you, you have to. You have to basically have to leave El Paso if you want these sort of opportunities. That’s changed a little bit because there’s now a soccer team here with the El Paso locomotive. But still, I mean, if if you want to play for, especially with an academy with the reputation of FC Dallas, I mean, there’s really no way around it. Yeah, that was definitely a sacrifice that. That his parents, Anna and Ricardo, made, and again, I mean, being 13 and growing up around the Dallas area and and essentially growing into young adulthood in this area, I’m sure that had a I had an influence of just being more comfortable around the United States system.
S2: The thing that I had to keep reminding myself of when reading your story was that that anecdote about what he said to his parents at age 13 and following his dream. That was five years ago.
S7: Right, right.
S2: I mean, that was not that distant from the United States is qualification failure in Trinidad. Like when that was happening, Ricardo Pepi was telling his parents, I’m going to stay in Dallas and follow my dream, and that the quickness with which he’s gone from being a kid to being someone whose national team affiliation wasn’t was in doubt to someone who’s become absolutely indispensable to this program, who feel it feels like a minor tragedy if he’s not in that in the starting lineup, who seems like he solves. You know, we’ve talked about how he could be this Mexican-American star that would be so important for for this team and for sports in America. But he like just from a strictly like on field contact he solves like a decades-long problem for this team of not having a true center forward. I mean, does it make your head spin too with like the kind of speed with which all of this has happened for him?
S7: Yeah, I mean, earlier, while I was explaining that he was raised in Dallas and coming into young adulthood, you know, as soon as I said that, I was like, Well, he’s actually right now, and he’s 18. He just graduated from high school this this past summer. So, yeah, it’s easy to look back, I think. I think overall, once you know you grow up watching sports and you just see these like 20 seven year olds that you think they’re owning have everything figured out. And it isn’t until you, you yourself turned 27, 30, 30, 35, 40 that you’re like, Man, these guys are 18 years old, and it’s got so much pressure on potentially so much pressure on them. And what Ricardo he seems to not just to. Now is that he seems fine with it, right? I don’t know if he’s comfortable with it, I’m sure he feels some type of pressure, but it’s not too much for him. Yeah, talking to him, talking to his family, this is something that that’s just kind of expect. They’re right because they’ve been working hard for it because they’ve made all these sacrifices to get here. And now that it’s here, it’s almost just one of those things like, Yeah, we’re planning for this. Well, yeah, to back to your point, he’s just it’s incredibly young, 18 years old, and he seems to to be the answer to all of these decades long problems that the U.S. has had.
S1: And let’s talk a little bit about what’s next for him. He’s been linked with transfer reports. I mean, to basically every big club in Europe now, Bayern Munich clubs in Italy, clubs in the Premier League. This is a now regular path for American players, obviously, and Pepi has the chance to to make a very big decision soon about what the best place is going to be for him to develop his talents in the next two, three, four years. You know, I’ve read quotes from him saying that, you know, the Netherlands might be a good place because strikers have gone there and develop their game. But then there’s going to be the appeal of maybe going to a big club and apprenticing and maybe getting time like other American players are getting. Do you have a sense of where he falls in terms of his preferences, his desires?
S7: No, the only thing I the only thing we spoke about that was that obviously this is his goal. This is his dream to play in Europe. His father is the one that kind of went into it more because Ricardo right now, he’s he’s much more diplomatic in saying, yes, that’s my goal. But also right now I’m playing with FC Dallas and and we really need to finish the season strong. But his father is the one that tells me or told me that, yeah, this is their dream. They think about it every day, but not not as easily like, Oh my god, what’s coming, what’s going to happen next? But more about this is the next logical step in the progression of where we ultimately want to get to which. Yeah. I mean, presumably for them to be among the best in the world, I’m not sure how how that happens, but yeah, the the thing is going to, I think. Just how much opportunity they get. What’s their best fit at this point? That’s that’s the that’s the retailer either from the
S2: and he is going to want to go to a place where he can get playing time like he doesn’t want to. I mean, FC Dallas has this relationship with Bayern Munich, but he’s not going to want to go there and set the bench or get sent out on loan. You know, especially as we ramp up qualifying and get ready for the World Cup like a striker needs to be playing the strike, strikers must strike, and he’s played three games for the senior U.S. national team. He looks like the best option and like a veteran out there, but like Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies, Juan Agudelo, like they were all scoring goals when they were young. Christian Pulisic was scoring goals for the national team when he was young, and those players have all taken very disparate paths and so, so many different things could happen with him and to him in his career. But it just feels like an Europes is just an amazing document of like where he is in this moment in time, and it’s just really been truly fun and amazing to watch and especially for our team, the national team, that’s often, you know, it feels more stressful than than joyful. And there is just like pure joy in watching him play in that Honduras and Jamaica game.
S1: So special and pure joy to Roberto in reading about his reaction and his father’s reaction to learning that he was going to start, you know, one of the qualifying games, there’s just that sense of discovery and and you know, you talked in your piece about the urgency that families feel to succeed to to make that make these dreams happen. And I feel like we’re watching that play out in real time with with Ricardo Pepi.
S7: Yeah, that’s the way they found out is, or at least the way that Neal found out his phone was, he works in Waco, which is about two hour drive from from the Dallas area for construction. And and they have this, I guess, tradition where every Kavitha calls them before every game and you just so happen to tell them he was going to start and and he had to pull off the road just to just to kind of process this right because the game before against Canada, the whole the entire Pepi family Joel or flew out there, they traveled out to to Nashville thinking that that was the perfect opportunity for him to play that that he’d at least get 10 15 minutes. Now, of course, he doesn’t play. And there’s just kind of like this natural letdown of of of having all your hopes up. And then all of a sudden, he just doesn’t play. Not just that, but you know, it’s it’s another disappointing showing for the United States. So Ricardo Daniel and his family weren’t really expecting for him to play much, and then he not only starts, but he seems to turn the game or at least help the United States. If you don’t do that for one, and you know, yeah, that’s that’s this huge moment of discovery, not just that we’ll finally hear about it like we we could actually keep playing as well as we’ve been playing at at this level.
S1: Roberto Joes José Andrade José Franco profiled Ricardo Pepi for ESPN. We’ll post a link to the story on our show page. You can read more of his work at Boxing and History.com. Roberto, thank you so much for coming on the show.
S7: Thank you.
S1: And coming up next, we’ll talk to Chantel Jennings of The Athletic about the WNBA playoffs. The Chicago sky has been the story of the WNBA playoffs so far. The team won 16 and 16 in the regular season and had to win two single elimination games to make it to an actual playoff series, one that in four games and now is two wins from its first championship. The team is led by 35 year old possible women’s basketball goat Candace Parker, who left L.A. as a free agent to perhaps finish her career in her hometown. In her way, Stefan fellow nominee, 39 year old Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins, Smith and the rest of the Phoenix Mercury Chicago won Game one of the Finals Ninety one 277. Game two is Wednesday night in Phoenix. Chantel Jennings covers the WNBA for The Athletic. Hey Chantel, thanks for coming on.
S8: Thanks for having me.
S1: All right. So big names, scintillating games, pretty much what any league could ask for, but the Candace Parker storyline has dominated the narrative. How important has her move to Chicago been for the sky and for the league this season?
S8: It’s been huge. I think, you know, so often in sports, we sort of see the narrative of the hometown star coming home and how often does that narrative sort of play out as quickly as this? This is a Chicago Sky team that has underachieved in the past. They haven’t been to the finals since 2014, when they lost to the Phoenix Mercury. Candace Parker joins them in free agency, and this team is a contender. They had a lot of the pieces before. Personally, I think they have the best point guard in the league and Courtney Vandersloot. And when you add it all of that together, they seemed like a really great preseason pick. Then they go through the adversity of Candace Parker being out sort of having this up and down. Season seven game losing streak, seven game winning streak. Just sort of all of those narrative pieces that you kind of think of in a season of the ups and downs everything has played out and the thought that it might culminate in a championship, the Chicago Sky’s first is pretty unbelievable.
S2: Courtney Vandersloot has talked about the difficulty that she’s had in recruiting other players to go to Chicago. What is it about that franchise? Why don’t people want to go there? It’s traditionally seen as like a pretty strong sports market, right? Is there something in particular to do with Chicago as a WNBA city that hasn’t been appealing to stars?
S8: I think there are other teams that have more to offer in terms of facilities or sort of the benchmark pieces in terms of the attendance showing up and the opportunities in the off season. Maybe. I think Chicago should have been a location that players wanted to play for, and maybe this is sort of the way it turns is that they realize with Courtney Vandersloot playing with other players around her who really can finish and be playmakers. I think Chicago is kind of flipping that narrative on its head, and one of my favorite stories of the season has sort of been the recruitment of Candace Parker to Chicago. Obviously, Candace wanted to come home. I think it’s been something that’s been in her mind for a long time. But actually, Courtney Vandersloot and her wife and teammate Allie Quigley sent a bunch of Chicago food staples to Los Angeles to end up at her Candace Parker’s doorstep. So she came home one day and found a bunch of Portillo’s, which is one of her favorite Chicago restaurants, and they had figured out exactly what her order is, which I could not repeat it to you right now because I have no idea what it is. It’s very lengthy and it includes a lot of food and definitely something called a chocolate shake or a chocolate cake milkshake, I think. But all of this was sort of waiting on her doorstep in Los Angeles as a part of the recruitment process to Chicago
S1: on the Phoenix side. Diana Taurasi is the story because she’s always the story. And look, she’s thirty nine and shows, you know, shows the ravages of injury. And then we’ll go out and, you know, dump 37 points in a in a game saving season saving effort. The story around Taurasi, I guess, is, you know, one another Olympic medal. What’s that? Her fifth and is the Gold Medal Stefan?
S2: Not just the medal.
S1: I’m sorry. Gold Medal. Gold Medal. Is this it for her? And you know, her drive to win is legendary. I mean, Candace Parker great story, you know, also very determined to win another championship, but I never bet against Diana Taurasi.
S2: Also to trust his wife, Penny Taylor gives birth immediately after one of these playoff games. You got to drop out and
S8: yeah, that’s the ultimate teammate, right? I think Diana landed in Phoenix six hours before Penny Taylor gave birth to their second child, a daughter. So unclear where Diana is staying right now in terms of getting restful nights. As a new aunt of a newborn. I know that there are are a lot of sleepless nights in those first few weeks, so not sure. About that haven’t done the reporting on that. Had a chance to ask her about that. But yeah, Diana is just one of those players where even things you wrote back in those you days is one of my favorite things that Geno Auriemma would do in interviews when she was at UConn is he’d be asked about, you know, some match-up that was really hard or playing someone like Tennessee or Notre Dame or something. And his answer would be, we have Diana and they don’t. And it was just sort of that belief that I think was fostered in those early 2000s when she was at UConn that had just followed her everywhere. And obviously, her resume, as you said, speaks for itself. But yeah, you don’t really want to bet against her. And it’s sort of like again, when you talk about the narratives playing into this, and that’s sort of how I see it as a sportswriter and a sports reporter, I see all these storylines playing out like she had a broken sternum at the beginning of the season. She had a sprained ankle coming into the playoffs.•. She has a
S2: broken makes me wince. I had I hate hearing about a broken sternum. I couldn’t imagine actually having one
S8: and then playing with one or recovering from and then playing after. And then she is now, you know, there’s a broken bone in her foot and her wife is delivering during the finals or right before the finals. And so there’s just sort of all of these pieces of adversity that you think, well, if there’s one player that maybe you don’t want to have all of that sort of tacked on to because they play better whenever it sort of seems like the cards are stacked against them, it’s probably Diana Taurasi.
S2: Brittney Griner is on the Mercury, obviously had a game saving block against Vegas and in that series. Who are the other players that we should know about in this series that haven’t been mentioned so far? We know about the van. So the world. I just like saying Vandersloot.
S8: Well, one thing on Brittney before we get to some other players is that she’s different this season as someone that’s followed her career. She’s in a different headspace this season, and I think a lot of that is that she didn’t go overseas to Russia in the off season. She left the WNBA bubble early and kind of went silent. She did not go overseas to Russia to play, and so she’s had a really long off season. She saw counselors and therapists this offseason to get her head in a place where she was ready to come back and play. And she said that has made a world of difference and I think you can see it in her play. Even going to Tokyo for the Olympics, she said, she was so much ready for that sort of bubble experience over there because of what she experienced in the WNBA bubble and how to prepare for that. But beyond sort of those three names that we’ve talked about so far for with Vandersloot, I think the players to know she Pepi is someone for the Phoenix Mercury that some people might not know, but she is a grinder. She spent the first 10 years of her professional career playing overseas. She was a 30 year old WNBA rookie, so she’s out here making all of us. 30 somethings believe that anything is possible in your life. She’s now starting for the mercury. She’s been a key player for them, and the Mercury are kind of this interesting Team.• in in terms of the financials of how they’re composed. And so they sort of have these the big three and a fourth and Bria Hartley and then everyone else is sort of minimum paid players. So it’s by design kind of a team of superstars and people that you’ve probably never heard of. Like she Petit, who overachieve Sophie Cunningham, had a really big game for them in the semifinals. And then on the Chicago side, I think collegiate copper is probably someone who is coming into the conscience for basketball fans more and more as she is at this point. I would say Chicago sort of most pivotal player. I don’t know if she’s the most valuable or the most important, but she’s kind of that she she’s just been that player who’s shown up for them time and time again in those big moments.
S1: We mentioned Diana Taurasi Sue Bird went out of the Playoffs.• in the one of the elimination games against against the Mercury, and I think a lot of basketball fans sort of put them think about them in the same breath and the talk around Sue Bird is similar now. You know, what’s she going to do? And Taurasi and Bird had that great on camera moment right after the game, and it feels like, you know, this generation of of women’s basketball icons, maybe nearing the end.
S8: I think you’re right. I think there’s sort of this point where we’re going to hit where these players who. Grew up kind of with the league right, and came into it, at least, you know, in high school and college at least and have been foundational players for this league. You know, they’re hitting their late thirties and forties and even someone you didn’t mention Sylvia Fowles, she was asked this off season one of the greatest centers of all time multi gold medalist in the Olympics. She was asked this season, You know, what are you sort of considering? And she said, You know, in terms of retirement, I just have to think about when I want to have children, which is a consideration that a lot of women in this league have to consider. With Diana, her wife has carried the children in their relationship, but a lot of these women kind of have to think about that in terms of extending their career, family planning all of that. But yeah, I think five years from now, this league is going to look very, very different. And sort of those players that built this league are going to be sitting on the sidelines cheering for this new crop of younger talent.
S2: So it wouldn’t be the WNBA, the WNBA playoffs if there weren’t some travel bullshit.
S8: There’s been it won’t be the WNBA. You don’t have to say playoffs.• Joes. It wouldn’t be.
S2: The WNBA was famously the the forfeit of a couple of years ago because of all that the travel was. There’s been, you know, there’s a story that Kavitha Davidson wrote in The Athletic a couple of weeks ago now about I think the headline was the WNBA shouldn’t have to fight for respect in 2021. Some of it was about the travel. Some of it was about Phoenix playing games, not in their home arenas. There was like a Disney on ice situation. I mean, I remember hearing about that. I think it was the last Sue like women’s basketball team not being able to host games in the NCAA tournament like maybe decades ago at this point because of something like that, a circus or Disney. And this stuff seems to happen over and over again and somehow some way it never seems to happen that NBA teams or men’s college teams have these arena conflicts. And so as understandable as it might seem when you look at the details of like they didn’t know they would be playing a home game until a week before these arenas, you know, need to book things to like, keep the lights on again. Still, somehow there seems to be a different standard for women’s teams and men’s teams, and arenas don’t seem to have the same, you know, requirements or needs when it’s like the Phoenix Suns that might potentially have a game as opposed to the Phoenix Mercury.
S1: Well, and I think that really came into stark contrast Josh when the the Mercury played a home game with the logo of some college on the court and
S8: reminded Canyon University, and
S1: it reminded me of the of the NCAA women’s tournament this year, where some first-round games had the local, the local decals on the floor instead of the NCAA tournaments.
S8: Yeah, it felt very reminiscent of that, I think my one of my least favorite experiences of covering a game during the pandemic was in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament for the women. This year, there was a game that was played on a court that had like volleyball lines on it, and the men’s and women like there were just so many lines that it gave you a headache to watch and you’re thinking, Wow, this is the NCAA tournament. The NCAA couldn’t have spent a little bit more money and made a bit more of an investment here, but I think that’s what it comes back to is sort of what is the level of investment and what are people willing to see a payoff? Because I think that is sort of the narrative that plays out in women’s sports that isn’t played out in men’s sports where it’s, you know, well, people don’t want to watch women’s basketball on TV. And the rebuttal is OK, but you’ve never really committed to putting women’s basketball on TV. So how can you say that I have a piece coming out this week about gambling that there aren’t interesting player props in the WNBA? Why is that? Well, people don’t want to gamble on the WNBA. Well, if there aren’t interesting lines and interesting opportunities to wager, how can you truly say that? And so I think it comes back to that level of investment. The travel part is different, and we can definitely get into that. It’s obviously a part of investment, but I think that’s one area where you can specifically say the negative negative things that come out of those travel issues negatively impacts the league. It negatively impacts the product on the floor. It negatively impacts the image of the league, and the players just feel frustrated and upset with it.
S1: And every at the collective bargaining agreement for the WNBA specifically prohibits chartered travel for teams. And the the rationale is that some team owners have more money than others and could afford it, and that would put other teams at a disadvantage. But then you end up with a situation like you had in the semifinals, where the Connecticut Sun and the Chicago Sky, after Game two, split up into three groups and left Connecticut from two different airports to get to Chicago on nonstop flights.
S8: I mean, this is ridiculous. It’s three groups each, so it’s six total, right? Right? So it’s and the reason why that’s happening is because the most recent CBA. Yes, it at bars chartered flights. But one of the improvements it did make was that players would not be booked in middle seats and they would not be booked in economy class. So that was something you had WNBA players flying before the CBA in economy class like, you know, row forty three center seat and you’ve got six foot nine players sort of smushed into there. Obviously, it’s going to impact them. So they move to this model, where in the CBA negotiations, OK, so no middle seats, no economy class only like Delta Comfort, United comfort, whatever those are all called. And so but the issue is that when you have either last minute flights booked or you’re dealing with weather issues and a lot of people are rebooking, there aren’t that many non middle seats in these comfort classes on flights. And so even on a travel group of about 20, which is what you’re looking at for a WNBA team, that usually means splitting up into groups of four to six in order to not have players booked in those middle seat economy class seats. And so it’s one of those like two steps forward, one point eight steps back sort of things for the league. I would say players are grateful to not be smushed into middle seats, but I don’t think there was a single player that was thrilled about how they had to travel from Connecticut to Boston via bus for their flight back to Chicago to then turn around and play a game the next day
S2: if you going to the tents playoffs.• on the steps back. I love that last thing I wanted to ask you about this L.A. dream brawl situation. There are a couple players that got in a fight Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford. They’re apparently not going to be back with the team next year. But in reading about this, like I saw a headline on ESPN.com I click through. I found it to be one of the most impenetrable stories I’ve ever read in my life. Like no explanation of what the fight was about, what the fight actually entailed. And so I was wondering, like, do you know actually what happened here? And does it seem like there’s some sort of effort within the team or within the league to like, keep it hush-hush? Like what is the what is the deal with the situation? I just found it so confusing.
S8: Yeah, so obviously, this is something I’ve been looking into because, like you said, it’s all very weird. So this video was leaked by a player who wanted to tell a funny story apparently about we got into a fight, one of the players disclaimer Yeah, never a funny story like that’s never going to fit. And then the video comes down and there’s sort of follow up reporting about it. But the players have not spoken the agent at one interview. But sort of the underlying piece in all of this is that there’s just a vacuum of leadership with the Atlanta dream right now. They have an ownership group, but they don’t have a president group they
S2: replaced by Kelly Loeffler. Situation? Yes.
S8: Right. And so this is also a team that sort of a year ago, we were talking as one of the most well-organized groups in sports right now. Fast forward a year. It’s a hot mess. Their president was installed about a month ago after not having won through the season. They didn’t have a game this season. Their head coach at the beginning of the season, Nicky Collins, stepped down to go coach Baylor. They installed an interim coach. He stepped down midway through the season, so by the end of the season, they were on their third coach, without a GM, without a president. And it’s a place their franchise is specifically siloed so that there’s business decisions and there’s basketball decisions. The agent has said that both Crystal Bradford and Courtney Williams have been told they won’t be returning to the team, but the question is, OK, who’s telling them this? Who’s making these basketball decisions? There’s word that we might sort of be seeing a head coach named today. But in terms of the reporting, it’s been very hard to get anything straight. I reached out to the Atlanta dream. They gave me a very sort of vanilla response. You know, we’re looking into it. We’re working with the league. But there hasn’t been any official statement from the league about what they’re doing and sort of how they’re moving forward with this. It’s a lot of sort of piecemeal. It’s been incredibly. Frustrating to try and try and piece this together, because, you know, the more we’re digging, it’s just it’s hard to find sort of what the pieces of truth are within all of this.
S1: It doesn’t seem to be helping that Renee Montgomery former WNBA player co-owner of the team. Also a ESPN analyst for the Playoffs.• A she on ESPN made what also was a pretty vanilla statement about what happened and how the team was dealing with this.
S8: Well, and they said that, you know, the franchise saw it back when the fight happened and they thought it was self-defense. And I’m the, you know, the pieces of it that I’ve seen. I’m wondering, where is that? You know, so I think, yeah, there’s
S2: just seems like an interesting story to me.
S8: Yeah, yeah, I know. Tell me about it as someone who’s been looking into it for the last few weeks. Yes, it’s a very interesting story that it seems to be trapped in a very locked box. But yeah, it’s definitely a
S1: lot of people in that video are just saying. Chantel Jennings covers women’s basketball for The Athletic Chantel. Thanks a lot for joining us.
S8: Thanks for having me.
S1: And you’re going to stick around because Josh has a little after ball treat that you will be part of.
S2: Now it is time for after balls, and as we just discussed, the Chicago sky could very soon be WNBA champions. And if they are, the James Wade would be a WNBA Championship head coach. He’s from Tennessee. He played professionally in France and Spain and Russia. He’s been an assistant coach for the San Antonio Silver Stars, the Minnesota Lynx UMC, Ekaterinburg, among others. He became the Sky’s coach in 2019 when he won WNBA Coach of the Year. All important biographical information. But the main thing I’m interested in is that the guy is named James Wade. It is very funny to me that there exists a basketball coach whose name is the combination of two of the greatest players in NBA history. Actually, the two greatest players in Miami Heat history Chantel. It’s sort of like if there is a basketball player named or a coach named Novitsky Don Josh as an exercise, maybe we can do on our own time. Are there any other basketball people whose names are the combined last names of two other franchise greats? I was actually thinking, there’s probably a Bryant O’Neal out there somewhere, maybe even an O’Neal Bryant. I actually don’t know the answer to this question. You can email. I said, Hang up at Slate.com if you’ve got one. If any of this actually isn’t the reason that I’ve asked you to stick around, find out. But here you guys are. Welcome to chime in. If you happen to know if there’s like, maybe there’s a Payton camp out there that that one just popped into my head.
S8: I just googled it. There’s a Bryant O’Neal, who is the SVP of Finance and Treasury at Fox Corp.. Not with sports, but definitely have that going for them. That is a good question.
S2: Something for everyone to think about while I do my real after ball Stefan.
S1: Mm-Hmm. I’m thinking, I’m thinking, Josh, what’s your James Wade?
S2: I thought you’d never ask. So there is a phrase in the world of football that I’ve always found to be entertaining, and it’s not the kind of after ball where I’m going to tell you about the origins of the phrase, because I didn’t bother to look it up. But the phrase is it’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s about the Jims and the Joes also sometimes seen as it’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s about the Jims and the Joes. There is sometimes a the in there, the the Jims and the Joes. Sometimes it’s just the Jims and Joes maybe attributed to Darrell Royal. We all know that quote attributions are famously iffy, so you’ll have to check on that or not trust it or whatever. Not important. The point of this phrase, as you can do all you want about scheming whatever sport you can coach James Wade can tell the Chicago sky to, you know, do whatever he wants to do. But if you don’t have the best players, you’re not going to do that well. But there’s a kind of male energy to this phrase, which makes sense because it comes out of football. It’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s about the Jims in the Joes. But I think that it’s about time that we bring this phrase into women’s sports, and that’s why you’re here. Chantel I want to try out some good. I want to try out some possibilities for you and tell me which one of these you think we can make the cliche for women’s sports.
S8: It’s not about the X’s. I’ve got my pen ready. I thought about
S2: the X’s and O’s Chantel and Stefan. It’s about the Jeni’s and the Jones’. OK, that’s the only example I
S8: think you can do Betts the
S2: only the only example I have of not real players. So there’s a lot there’s. One particular WNBA legend who whose name kind of fits well in this, and that is. You now are from the Minnesota length, you are from LSU, you find Tigers Samoan Augustus, type one of the great players in WNBA history and the top 25 Chantel. I think she is. She’s number 14 on ESPN’s West.
S8: I’m really curious to see where we’re going with, but keep going.
S2: So she fits right in here, both as an as an all time legend, somebody you’d want on on your team, but also as somebody who has a long a sound followed by an end in their name. So what about this? It’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s about the Myers and Simmons.
S8: Oh, oh, I like that.
S1: Yeah, that’s pretty good.
S2: That’s good. There is a there is some extreme skepticism coming out of your side, so that sounded better. So we’re kind of a little bit stuck with some down here, but some other options are it’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s about the team and Simmons shout out to Tina Thompson. It’s about the Lisas and Simmons. It’s about the Elena’s and Simmons. It’s about the Brianna’s and Simmons. If we want to get a little bit modern here and then just as a nod to the current WNBA Finals, what if we swap out Simmons with Jon qu’elle Jones’, right? It’s about Brianna and Jonquil Jones’. It’s not about X’s and O’s. We don’t want to be a prisoner of the moment. I don’t know if John Paul Jones is going to have the kind of staying power. But I also don’t know if I mean someone. Augustus isn’t like the best player in NBA history. So I don’t know if she should. She’s not like the logo. She’s not like the Jerry West of the WNBA. So what do you guys think? Do you think we’re we still have some work to do. I liked the response I got from Chantel on the Myers and Simmons. There is a kind of gut reaction of positivity there.
S8: Well, I think as someone currently living in the state of Minnesota, I had to positively reinforce your Lynx reference. So congratulations on that. I think that’s good. I think I think Jonquil Jones’ will have the staying power. So I think that’s something to go for in terms of that. I thought when you said Briana and Simon, I thought you could go for some alliteration, maybe the Stewie’s and Simmons now to just give it that extra flair. But I really like the Mayans Simmons. OK?
S2: I think that’s good.
S1: Stefan What about other sports? Can we do this for women’s soccer? It’s not about the Nationals, it’s about the president and the is and hopes.
S2: Definitely not about the herbs. I hope it’s not about the herbs. Yeah, for whatever reason, it sort of feels like you can fit in any like two syllable name into that first slot. It’s very versatile. But that second slot, it’s it’s hard to find. Yeah, something something that fits. So perhaps another exercise for our listeners emailed us and hang up at Slate.com. But Chantel, do you promise in your capacity as a basketball reporter to use this phrase? In a question or in print?
S8: Yeah. Do you? Definitely.
S2: Do you have any? I’ll send you any like friends in the coaching ranks that you can maybe get. You can get to drop it from the podium or something it would make. It would make my life turn to be able to be the person to have invented this stupid sports cliche.
S8: Let me see if I can talk to Cheryl Reeve about it. Who coached the Mayas and some Jones’. Let me see if I can. If I can chat to chat with her, see what she thinks. Maybe she has even a different take on it. Maybe she could add some flair. But yeah, I will. I will work on this and I will report back and
S1: record the conversation, please. So we’ve got audio.
S2: This can be an it’s going to be an athletic Slade collaboration collaboration. Yeah, we need more of that in media. Thank you for for being a good sport and thank you in advance to Cheryl Reeve for helping helping to popularize this.
S8: Thanks for having me.
S1: That is our show for today. Our producer this week was Kevin Bendis. To listen to past shows and subscribe or just reach out. Go to Slate.com. Hang up and you can email us at. Hang up at Slate.com. And please subscribe to the show Andrade and review us on Apple Podcasts for Josh Levin. I’m Stefan Fatsis. Remember Zelman Dadi and thanks for listening.
S2: Now, it is time for our bonus segment for Slate Plus members back with us is Slate contributing writer Alex Kirshner. He also co-hosts the Split Zone Duo College Football podcast. Alex, thanks for sticking around.
S3: Gentlemen, great to be with you as always.
S2: And we want to show you off for people who might enjoy a split zone deal, the greatest college football podcast and not the history of creation. So. This Alabama loss to A&M on Saturday, Alex, we can talk all we want about how this has been kind of a crazy year with parody Ohio State loses, Clemson looks like garbage, kind of bizarrely. Cincinnati is maybe going to make the playoff. But Alabama? They were Alabama, they were so Alabama this year, and that loss is something that I didn’t even it didn’t even cross my mind that it was a possibility. Yes, it was in College Station. Yes, CBS had selected it as one of its primetime games before the year started because this was going to be such a huge match up. But Texas A&M had lost to Mississippi State. They were having a bad year there, playing a backup quarterback. And so even when they went up, you know, 14 and half I had, I thought there was still zero chance that they were going to pull it off. What happened in that game?
S3: I think that this was the closest to a college football magic moment against Alabama in a really, really long time, maybe since the 2013 kick six for Chris Davis and Auburn, typically over the last few years.
S2: No respect for Chad Kelly. OK, we
S3: can respect in can respect.
S2: We can move fast. The strange Ole Miss series,
S3: actually, that thank you for calling me on that. I think the weirdest college football magic moment since then was Chad Kelly. It was the throw off a helmet that became a long touchdown in Tuscaloosa in, I think, 2015 for Ole Miss. That is correct. So it’s been maybe since 2015. But the path to beating Alabama for the last five, six years has really been pretty simple. It’s been to have some absolute dudes at quarterback and wide receiver who can just outplay Bama defense man to man and just beat him. This is what Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase and the rest of LSU’s world beating offense. Josh I know, I know where my bread is buttered here.
S2: Did Alabama had a great game? Great game, and I think
S3: this is what Clemson did a couple of times at Alabama with most recently, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Ross and Tee Higgins. Of course, Lawrence and Higgins. Jeremy and I found that Ross will probably be there soon. It’s what Clemson did back in the Deshaun Watson days to Alabama, and this was this has been the path has just been get generationally good college football players and sic them on Alabama. It’s not what I did. A&M beat them with some weird. They beat them with a kickoff return touchdown. They beat them with this backup quarterback, who might be selling insurance in Houston in three years, having the game of his life despite what looked like a possibly pretty serious leg injury at the very end of this game for Zach Kalsada. So a guy who
S2: really was who it looked like actively bad in previous games against Leicester.
S3: Yeah, he it was not wrong to dismiss him as any kind of serious threat to anybody, given what we’d seen in the four so games that he’d appeared in until Alabama. But in a way, this is what’s great about college football. This kind of thing can happen. It doesn’t happen a lot. I think people overstate how unpredictable college football is. Usually it’s pretty predictable. Alabama is going to win, but not always. And when you get a counterpunch like this, that comes really from nowhere. I shouldn’t say comes from nowhere because A&M has talent, but when it comes from close to nowhere, I think that’s very exciting.
S1: A&M wasn’t ranked, were they?
S3: No. I do think that A&M is one of the top 25 teams in the country in sheer talent. I think if you just look at their recruiting rankings, they’re probably even a top 15 team. You could even make the case that other than Alabama, there’s nobody in the AFC West who has more talent than Texas A&M, but they’re in a reduced state. They have, you know, they have had significant defensive troubles stopping the Mike Leach area the week before. Arkansas had really bullied them at Jerry World in North Texas a couple of weeks before that. So or one week before the Mississippi State lost. So they just were a bit out of sorts. And it’s unusual to see Alabama be the getright game where a Team.• gets it together after not really having its business together for a couple of weeks before that.
S2: So Jimbo Fisher had talked before the year about like kicking Nick Saban’s assert, whatever it was, he said, in front of boosters. That is kind of the canonical thing that one says in front of boosters that you’re going to kick Nick Saban, that but that’s what he was hired to do. And there were like a hundred and six thousand fans there to watch him try to do it. And this is an extremely competitive division in an extremely competitive conference. But it’s just, you know, with a with a couple of exceptions that you that you listed, it’s mostly just been a fight for second place. And so the question here is. There’s two kind of contradictory things happening here, like A&M is building a program, it’s better under Jimbo Fisher. It’s spending a lot of money, it’s recruiting a lot of talent, it’s getting enormous crowds, it’s fielding more competitive Team.• and. We see those results. There’s also just feels like an extreme outlier of a team that actually wasn’t playing that well and had no business being being in this game. And so which of those do you kind of way most heavily? The bigger picture trend where like, maybe A&M is going to be like, you know, winning the West now or the like smaller bore kind of situation where it seems like this is a team that just got lucky.
S3: I think its mix and the game is hard to put into a narrative box because obviously cows out of the quarterback played out of his mind. He may never do that again, and that probably will be the peak of his football life. A&M’s defense is very, very real. I mean, there is talent at every level of that defense. Four and five stars abounding. And Mike Elko, the coordinator, is pretty well regarded. He was previously at Notre Dame. If you see list, certainly of the highest paid, but also, I think just consensus list of the best defensive coordinator in college football, Mike Elko, would show up on a lot of people’s lists. The question going forward for me is if A&M can sustainably keep a defense at roughly that level and they gave up thirty one to Alabama, which really is a feat considering what Alabama’s firepower looks like. I mean, thirty one, you think that’s there was forty one?
S2: Yeah, right?
S3: Thirty eight, excuse me. They gave up thirty eight to Alabama, and that sounds like, oh, you know, it was a shoot, which it was Alabama could. If you’re keeping Alabama out of the 50s, you’re doing something right unless Alabama just completely let its foot off the gas at the end of the game, which they do do sometimes. And you have to remember that seven of those Alabama were on a punt block that was recovered in the end zone as well, which is a credit to A&M’s defense. So I think that if A&M can sustain defensive play of the type that it has put together this year, then the distance to put together a good offense is a lot shorter in modern college football. I mean, if you just get the right QB in the right couple of receivers in one year, you get something like, again, what else you did in 2019 when Joe Burrow stopped where he was there for two years. But Joe Burrow, as we know him, was really there for one. And you know, they had a good enough defense to get over the hump with an all world offense. Jimbo Fisher, his contract is, I think, $95 million right now. If, if, if he can’t get a quarterback in there who can score enough points to support a top 10 defense, then well, you tried, you did everything you could. So I think the pieces should be there for them to be pretty competitive for a long time. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they’re going to win the West because I think as long as Nick Saban remains in Alabama, that’s a foolish prediction to go against him in any given year. But it wasn’t a completely one off thing. That means nothing, in my opinion. Even if at quarterback, it might never happen again for them.
S1: What does it mean for Alabama? Is there any concern that a second loss will somehow doom them from from from the playoff this year?
S3: Probably so. I mean, I think that there’s a case that if Alabama loses another regular season game but then somehow were to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship, which is going to be the matchup they’re assuming Alabama gets there, then maybe they’d be the first two loss team to make the playoff. I could see that happening if there was a two loss SEC champion Alabama and a one loss non champ Georgia. But I think the bigger, immediate concern for Alabama and especially for Alabama fans, is that this defense should be better than it. They have a coordinator, Pete Golding, who’s been there for a few years. He’s provided a little stability after there was kind of a revolving door of coordinators on both sides of the ball for Alabama for a while. And if you have an Alabama fan in your life, congrats to you and you will understand that they are not happy with Pete Golding, the defensive coordinator for Nick Saban. I’ve always questioned exactly how much authority the the defensive coordinator at Alabama has, because Nick Saban is a defensive backs coach by trade and is known to be quite a bit hands on with that side of the ball. In a way, he isn’t necessarily with Alabama’s offense. They should get some things fixed. There’s no reason. I mean, there’s there are probably six future NFL players. Maybe more on Alabama’s defense this year, and you would rather not care about one. Granted, again, seven of those were on a kickoff return to a team like Texas A&M with a quarterback in the situation that A&M’s quarterback situation was for
S2: all the talk about chaos this year. Alex, I mean, I think there’s still a realistic scenario where the playoff is Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State. I mean, there’s a realistic scenario where it’s not any of those teams, too. So there is just a kind of level of excitement and uncertainty this year that’s more fun and interesting than in previous years. Even if I still believe in my heart of hearts, that the most likely scenario is that Alabama is going to win the national title with one.
S3: I have started to let myself believe that the College Football Playoff will have at least one non-regular participant this year. I’ve started to let myself believe out, George, this Georgia count. Yeah, I mean, they’ve only been once they were there in 2017, so I don’t know if they count as a regular participant or not, despite all the talent that they have. But there’s a chance this year that Cincinnati represents the group of five conferences in the playoff. I’m not all the way there yet. I think that the playoff committee will probably work very hard to find a way to not put Cincinnati in that field. It is not completely impossible that Iowa comes out of the Big Ten. I don’t think it’s likely because I don’t think they have a big enough gun on offense to stick with Ohio State in the conference championship. It’s possible if you can let yourself believe that maybe Michigan would make a run this year. They’re halfway there to being in the Big Ten Championship, and I see Josh as face looking very scared as I say that. So there’s a chance that somebody other than Oklahoma, Alabama and Ohio State is involved in this playoff. In fact, there has to be at least one of their Team.• because they’re four spots. We’ll see who it is. I do think that there is more parity this year in college football than there’s been in a while. And if you have gotten a little sick of the state order of things in that sport, then should be a breath of fresh air. It’s a lot of fun.
S2: You can listen to Alex on Split Zone Duo and you can read them on Slate. Thanks again, Alex. Thanks to you both. And thank you, Slate Plus members. We’ll be back with more next week.