S1: The following podcast includes explicit language not restricted to words, beginning with F. S, B and Q.
S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor, and this is Hang Up and listen for the week of August 17th, 2020. On this week’s show, we’re going to discuss the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues and what Major League Baseball should do to honor the games of black pioneers. The New York Times is. Rory Smith will also join us for a conversation about soccer’s Champion’s League, where an American shined and Lionel Messi went down to a humiliating defeat. Finally, we’ll talk with Luisa Thomas about losers. Dispatches from the other side of the scoreboard, a new anthology coedited by Luisa and Mary Poulan.
S3: I’m the author of The Queen and the host of Slow Burn Season four. I’m in Washington, D.C., where for the first time in a long time, the temperature is less than a billion degrees. Joining me from D.C., Stefan Fatsis, the author of the book Word Freak and a Few Seconds of Panic. And Stefan, I think it’s important for the people in Portland to understand we make the ultimate sacrifice for them. We turn off the air conditioning.
S1: Yeah, I’m in an attic. I mean, I’m glad to have an attic, but it’s fucking hot in this attic. So I will start sweating unless I turn on the air conditioner between segments, even on a nice, balmy day in the low 70s here in Washington.
S3: With us always from Palo Alto, Slate staff writer, host of Slover and Season three, Jóhannes, and so devoted to the podcast listeners that he doesn’t even have air conditioning. So he’s not tempted to turn it on.
S4: Yeah, I didn’t realize until I moved to the bay that air conditioning is considered an amenity. You know, that it’s not necessarily standard with your home. And the way I found that out was on the first day I moved here, it was ninety five degrees. And we asked our landlord, hey, where’s the air conditioning? It’s like, oh, we don’t have that. So that’s what I’m going through today. I live in a hot box.
S3: Joel, thank you for toughing it out. You’re an American hero. I am. I’m trying to do what I can. All right. So for the last four months, I’ve been saying that the coronavirus pandemic has made it a challenge for us to do this show in a financially sustainable way. I’ve been saying it because it’s the truth. And so we moved our full show to Slate plus every other week to try and encourage folks who lessness to sign up and support us. And a bunch of you did just that. And we are very grateful for it. And now, while America is still an enormous mess, colossal mess, it is again possible for us to do the show like we’ve typically done it. So that means no more slate plus only editions. So that is hopefully welcome news for all of you, for everyone who has subscribed to Slate, plus who’s done it recently or a long time ago. Thank you again so much. And we are going to keep doing bonus segments for you every week, including on this very episode. We’re getting it. You know, for better or worse, Joel, we’re getting into a very busy part of the sports calendar. We’ve got NBA playoffs that are starting this week. We’ve got no baseball season. We’ve got football probably starting. So we’re going to have a lot to talk about. And we’ve also got a lot of other cool stuff planned for our members that will be able to announce soon. But please trust that we want to reward you for putting your faith in us. If anybody else wants to sign up, please go to sleep. Dotcom slash hang out. Plus, it remains just thirty five dollars for the first year.
S5: You get extra episodes of every season of slow burn and additions and a whole bunch more from Slate. That Slate dotcom slash hang up plus.
S6: On Sunday, Major League Baseball honored the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues inaugural season. The teams wore special patches with the logo derivative of the one created by the Negro Baseball Leagues Museum in Kansas City. The league and the players union also made matching million dollar contributions to the museum and the NLE leading Marlins. Imagine that even more very cool looking uniforms celebrating the old Miami Giants, a semipro team that played in the city’s Overtown neighborhood in the 1920s. And it was proof that, yes, the Marlins can occasionally do something right. But as Kevin Blackistone wrote for The Washington Post, none of those tributes answer the question why did black ballplayers need the Negro Leagues in the first place? The original Negro National League was founded in a Kansas City YMCA in 1920. It was the first League of Black Baseball teams to last more than a season and to maintain some semblance of stability. But as Blackistone points out, black players only resorted to starting their own leagues after white professional teams barred them in eighteen eighty seven. Chief among those championing the ban on black players was Cap Anson, perhaps the most influential baseball personality of the 19th century. Major League Baseball hasn’t really grappled with that. So even as they touched on all the right notes over the weekend, there’s still a piece of the story missing. Stefan, what can or should be done to make it right?
S1: Well, the problem is that most of the grappling that MLB has done over the years has been done dispassionately. The so-called gentlemen’s agreement in 1887 that barred black players from baseball, the subsequent 72 years before every major league team had employed a black player. The effects of that segregation, they’ve all been treated almost clinically as historical facts. So we celebrate Jackie Robinson breaking the color line and retire his number. And baseball honors the centennial of the Negro Leagues. It’s given money, as you mentioned, here and there, to study the Negro Leagues and support Negro Leagues causes like the museum. Our friend Ben Lindbergh reported in the wringer last week that MLB is considering elevating the Negro Leagues to the status of a major league for historical and statistical purposes, which is good and tangible. And we should discuss that. Given where we are in America right now, it feels like what baseball really needs to do is confront its legacy head on, flat out admit that institutional racism was foundational to the sport and corrupted every game and statistic for decades.
S7: I think one issue here, and you mentioned correctly, Stefan, the clinical nature of the reckoning by Major League Baseball.
S3: But on the other side, there’s also the undeniable fact that the Negro Leagues were fun and that you have personalities like Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige, and they provide a sort of, you know, again, fun quality to this like old timey baseball history that we all learn about as kids. The uniforms, as you mentioned, all the high socks, the antics by Satchel Paige and calling the outfielders to come in and striking out beside the speed of Kaupapa Bell, the power of Josh Gibson. This is all baseball lore. And what’s missing there is the pain. Right. And the agony of the fact that the reason there is this law, the reason that there is the kind of obscurity and some of the statistics and the records is the fact of willful segregation by the major leagues. And so I’m not saying that we should not appreciate, you know, Satchel Paige and call Bobby Bell and Buck O’Neil for the kind of fun and liveliness and joy that they brought to the game.
S8: But I think there needs to be a reckoning with the pain and a discussion of the pain and more openness about it. And so how do we go about doing that? I don’t know, Joel, if you have any ideas, but we are in this period where we’re tearing down statues, where changing names of things. And and Blackistone writes in his piece about the Hall of Fame kind of resistance of even adding a note about Cap Anson’s part that he played in the segregation of the game to his Hall of Fame plaque.
S4: And I think also in general, take a sort of dim view of how the Major League Baseball sort of regards the Negro Leagues at this point, because even if we go back, let’s say we go back 50 years, let’s go back to when Jackie Robinson himself was part of the league. And I think in his final public appearance, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before game two of the World Series in Cincinnati. And he accepts this plaque honoring the twenty fifth anniversary of his MLB debut. And he said, I’m going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball. Right. And so there’s been this sort of shameless coopting of the legacy of Jackie Robinson. And you could imagine Major League Baseball like doing all of this stuff. Honor the Negro Leagues while not dealing with the still institutional problems within their organization now, it was just, what, a couple of months ago that we read the Howard Bryant of ESPN talking about, you know, the exile of the former ace catcher Bruce Maxwell, who kneeled before a game. And, you know, for a number of reasons, he’s not in the league now, but a lot of it stemmed from that protest. Right.
S8: He did get signed by the Mets since we had that discussion. He’s not in the majors.
S4: That’s true. That’s true. But, yeah, Major League Baseball, in addition to not necessarily doing a good job and honoring its past or sort of reckoning with its past, its not even doing a really good job right now. So it could be that they’re not even they’re not even capable of giving us what we want in terms of giving the Negro Leagues its due because they can’t even give black players their due right now. They can’t do right by black players now.
S1: Right. We’re still talking about hiring more black on an off field. Executives are still talking about the number of black players declining in Major League Baseball as a percentage. There’s still obviously tons of work to do and black players still feel the need or are now motivated to feel the need to get together and try to band together and push for change in the game. But it’s really this sort of to me, the Negro Leagues are so fundamental to baseball’s history. And yet there is this reluctance, it’s this quickness with which baseball has sort of tried to dance around the issue for decades. And I did some database searching over the weekend to look to see like if baseball’s actually ever apologized in any concrete way for how it was operated for almost a century. And, you know, the city council in Philadelphia a couple of years ago passed a resolution apologizing for the way Jackie Robinson was treated by the Phillies. Nineteen eighty eight, the Pirates honored members of the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues. And the commissioner at the time, Bart Giamatti, said, we must never lose sight of our history. And so far as it is ugly never to repeat it and insofar as it is glorious to cherish it. 1991, first time Major League Baseball ever had a formal event at the Hall of Fame recognizing Negro Leagues players, the commissioner, Fay Vincent, told 75 of them. As the commissioner of baseball, I say to you with sorrow and regret, I apologize for the injustice you were subjected to. Every decent thinking person in this country agrees your contribution to baseball was the finest kind because it was unselfish. That was 30 years ago. And it doesn’t encompass a sort of total educational reckoning for where the sport came from and what it’s been. And that, I think, is what needs to change in addition to all these other things.
S8: Well, so there is the annual Jackie Robinson Day.
S3: And I’m just thinking about this, that baseball is kind of managed to reframe its shame into celebration and almost I don’t know if this is exactly right, but it feels like it’s it’s mostly true is that it’s almost self-congratulatory around like aren’t we great that we allowed Jackie Robinson into the sport? And it’s you know, it’s obviously about Robinson’s heroism. And I think when you learn the Jackie Robinson story, when you’re a kid, you also learn about the abuse that he took and you learn that, you know, he wasn’t in the major leagues because of racism and segregation. But I think there is way more of an emphasis on the fact that Robinson is this as this hero. And isn’t it great that we integrated baseball, you know, hooray for us. And this story that Ben wrote, Ben Lindbergh for the wringer about regarding the Negro Leagues as a major league, it’s an example of a thing that wouldn’t fix anything. It wouldn’t make anything right necessarily. But it’s just so symbolic of everything that we’ve been talking about here, about how the people that created the baseball encyclopedia in the 60s, like didn’t even consider that the Negro Leagues might be on the same level, because that’s that’s when there was like an MLB committee when the book was being produced to try to determine what constituted a major league for inclusion in the statistical history of the game and not not even a conversation. And then there’s excuses like, well, the statistical record is not as complete as it is for the majors. Well, why do you think the statistical record isn’t complete? That’s because you didn’t allow them to play in the major league. That’s like punishing these players for the kind of violence that was perpetrated against them, for their for their exile. And so it’s fascinating to see these things being reckoned with finally that have never been reckoned with before, these kind of fundamental baseline things. And so that’s positive. It’s it’s progress. And again, it’s not like it would fix everything, but it’s like a thing.
S4: That needs to happen, right, and I mean, it’s not a surprise, I mean, you can’t just obviously lay this at the feet of Major League Baseball because it’s not like we’re a country that’s great with reckoning around these sorts of issues. Right. I mean, you know, the civil war, the civil rights movement, we celebrate the ultimate end of discrimination or institutional racism, but we don’t discuss much how we got to be that way. And that’s like any history course you take all the way up through high school is not really getting into the weeds of that sort of stuff. So it’s not a surprise that Major League Baseball hasn’t really been able to talk about how Cap Anson helped broker this gentlemen’s agreement amongst white professional teams and kept out black players and things of that nature. So, yeah, I mean, I’m not saying that baseball doesn’t bear its own responsibility for doing particularly poorly in this regard, but it’s not a surprise, given that it’s America’s game, it’s America’s pastime. So, of course, it’s not going to do really well with reckoning with its history.
S3: Right. I mean, Joe, I’m curious what you think when you look back at old coverage or photos or film of the Negro Leagues and, you know, in particular just the kind of enormous crowds of black American baseball fans and how just as it was for every other demographic group in America, basically that baseball was the sport in this country.
S8: I mean, does it just feel totally kind of alien to you?
S4: It does feel really foreign to me, and it makes me sort of like long. I makes me wish that I had, like, obviously I didn’t I don’t wish I was a black person in the nineteen fifties. Right. But, you know, I wish though you really want to go to a sporting event in a fedora like this. Right. Right. But I would love to, I would, I would have loved to have just I’ve been privy to that atmosphere and see what it was like. Like you mentioned it sounds like it was a lot of fun. And I mean, what’s the allure about Cool Papa Bell that, you know, by the time he turned out the light in his bedroom, he was already in bed, you know, that sort of stuff. So, yeah, it sounds like a lot more fun than the baseball that I grew up with. And even even myself, I was sort of a baseball fan growing up in my early years, like until I was about 10 or 11 years old. The Astros had a really good team. It had black ball players like Kevin Barsa, Billy Hatcher, J.R., Richard, you know, guys like that. But as I got older, like a lot of other people, my interest sort of waned. And I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t think of baseball as a black sport. None of my friends played it. I don’t know what. But yeah, I look back at that Negro League stuff and I’m like, man, that looks that looks like that would have been cool. Like I would have liked to have experienced that. And obviously this is just a different time. I mean, what do you all really know of the Negro Leagues?
S8: I was like an enormous baseball fan when I was a kid. That was kind of my entree into reading as well as into sports. And so you’ve talked about this all about the kind of like early reader type sports books that I think a lot of us read. And so I was like really deep into baseball stuff. And so I kind of consumed the Negro Leagues material in the way that I was mentioning earlier in the segment. Just the fun stories, the lore. I read that cool Papa Bell quote and maybe 50 different books like the stuff about Satchel Paige and about Josh Gibson and the Negro Leagues just seemed really kind of fun and cool. And I don’t think as a white kid growing up reading this stuff, I don’t think it actually served as an introduction or a primer until like the evils of American racism, it was more like when I was like a different kind of fun thing in the sport that I enjoy. And it’s fun to read these stories because I like reading funny stories about, like, old timey players.
S1: Right. And it but it goes back to the point I was making at the beginning, that we’ve historically sized it like we’ve accepted, like, oh, that’s just the way it was. You know, there were the Negro Leagues because, well, there had to be a league for black players because they weren’t allowed to play in the major leagues.
S3: Right. I think that just was not a thing that that was perpetrated.
S1: Correct. Not a thing that was perpetrated. And, you know, it’s sort of it’s almost a little bit of and this is not to sort of denigrate the accomplishments of these players who are who were extremely proud of playing in the Negro Leagues and knowing that they were better than most of the white players in big league baseball. You know, data shows that black teams went three, fifteen and to eighty two with twenty times against Major League Baseball teams from nineteen hundred through nineteen forty eight and probably even better. I was shocked to read that by the way. I know. Yeah, well I wasn’t shocked. I mean you sort of, you know, in the opportunities that black players were given to play against their counterparts and sometimes against all star counterparts, they just demonstrated that they were better, that they knew how to play and they dominated minor league teams. So it was always understood the way that segregation was understood by some people to be based, not on ability at all. And that’s the the great shame of all this, right, that the owners hated black people. More than they like money, yeah, and more than they like seeing good baseball, more than they want liked acknowledging that there were athletes that could help them win and that could actually draw more fans. I mean, we romanticize baseball in the 40s and 50s and, you know, as the American pastime. But then you go and look and see how many people were going to games. And it was four digits. Very often stadiums didn’t always sell out. And why? Because there was a huge segment of the population that loved baseball that wasn’t welcome.
S4: Yeah. And that way you can just sort of see how Major League Baseball ultimately hurt itself. Right? I mean, they I’m not going to say they destroyed, you know, a couple of generations of possible fans, people that would have handed down the game to them. But ultimately, like, I can’t even think of any black male my age who’s a baseball fan. My father wasn’t, you know, my grandfather. I didn’t know my grandfathers very well, but I can’t think of any uncles that are like huge baseball fans. And I have like about close to 20 uncles, very big family. So, yes, I mean, Major League Baseball sort of did it to itself. And so, you know, as a result, you know, a lot of this history is buried and, you know, a lot of people didn’t feel any connection with the game, sort of like me. And here you are where you have a league where seven, eight percent of the players are black. And, you know, there’s not very many in high profile positions throughout the game. And we also don’t have a way. I mean, unless you go to Kansas City. Right. And go to the museum, there’s just not many ways to which in which with which you can engage the game and get familiar with its history. And so that’s why, I guess the MLB doing the things like having starting up the website, doing these other things, like maybe this will be helpful in the future.
S1: But you can understand how baseball got to the point that it is right now when you look back at the history of the game, what do you think, Joe, that like some sort of grand reckoning, some grand statement by baseball sort of owning up to its history in a more direct way would be helpful. I mean, you know, should they pay reparations to the descendants of Negro League owners and players? I mean, I don’t know what the right answer might be, but it’s almost like we need baseball needs, like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to account for its past.
S4: You know, that’s interesting. I mean, I think that, like, it couldn’t hurt. But I mean, I guess the thing is in in developing the game and expanding its audience, like, really they have to focus on what’s going on right now. Right. And again, I have I know some people within the game that are working like, you know, they’re trying to get the sort of athlete that has a decision between, hey, do I want to be a wide receiver in college or do I want to do minor league baseball? And like, that’s the generation of people that they need to work on, the kid that’s just athletic enough that he could do anything great. While when you play baseball, I actually it’s interesting. I think a lot about like Kyla Murray, because calamari is the sort of dude that baseball had to have, man, and they just could not get him. And I just remember I was at the stadium with him the day that he signed with the A’s and then they said, oh, he’s going to go back to Oklahoma. And I was like, oh, he’s never coming back here. You know, I was the game that day. There was nobody in the stands. It was just kind of cold and just it just it was very boring. And I was like, oh, Collamore is never going to come back and play baseball. And of course, he didn’t. And so, yeah, I mean, the thing is, is that baseball is going to have to deal with this generation of kids who’ve just grown up. And it’s not really been that part of their fan interest, not part of that background. And also, I mean, all of the other institutional issues that make it difficult to get into the game.
S1: One other thing that I think would be cool if and when Major League Baseball acknowledges the Negro Leagues as a writer named Annika Orac, an illustrator who did a book about the women’s professional baseball from the 1940s, she pointed out that if that happens, three women Toni Stone, Connie Morgan and Mamie Peanut Johnson will be recognized as the first women to play in Major League Baseball because they played for the Indianapolis clowns in the Negro Leagues.
S9: Before we talk about the Champions League, just a quick note, Joel Anderson is going to duck out of the segment. He’ll be back with us in a bit.
S1: From the parochial vantage of North America, last week was a great week in the Champions League. Twenty one year old American midfielder Tyler Adams scored the winning goal to send upstart RB Leipzig into the semifinals against Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain and 19 year old Canadian left back Alfonzo Davies had the highlight of a match filled with them as Bayern Munich annihilated Barcelona 82. Bayern now faces Leon, which upset Manchester City. The semis are on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Champions League covid bubble in Lisbon, Portugal. Rory Smith is the chief soccer correspondent for The New York Times. He joins us from Yorkshire, England. Welcome back to the show, Rory. Thank you for having me back. It’s going to be the first time since nineteen ninety one that Europe’s biggest club semi-finals won’t include a team from England, Spain or Italy. We’ve got two teams apiece from Germany and France. Is this a sign of some tectonic shift or is it really just covid-19 scheduling? Rori Germany and France concluded their league seasons a month ago. The other three countries were playing up until a few days before the Champions League restarted.
S10: Yeah, it feels slightly counterintuitive because my sense before the tournament was that the countries that kind of went into it hot effectively would would have an advantage that they still had that kind of play in rhythm, that that sense of that level of fitness that you get from competitive action. And I really was sure that the French teams in particular, having not played since March, would be a real disadvantage. But that essentially shows what I know about soccer, because PSG, the UN didn’t seem to be at all rusty. They didn’t seem kind of off the pace they have built into the Champions League. They’ve been able to to kind of focus exclusively on this. They they played a number of friendlies before before the season restarted. They then had the French Cup final where they played each other. And then they Leone had a had a gameday event as the remaining game from the round of 16 to play. So they seemed to kind of have been able to build their way to this tournament and and kind of hit the ground running against the German teams, which concerned as well that their month long break between the end of the Bundesliga and the start of the Champions League might be a disadvantage. I think that’s probably easier to manage than the not having played for several months. So, no, I don’t I don’t see this as a sign that we don’t get kind of a period of French or German dominance of the Champions League. Bayern Munich being in the semifinals of the Champions League is relatively normal anyway. That’s not that’s not a particularly unusual state of affairs. And I suspect the rest of it can be put down to, well, partly PGS project this incredibly sort of lavish project finally starting to bear fruit. And and to an extent, just as you say, the slight strangeness of of the Crovitz situation with single leg ties rather than home and away knockdowns and the fact that they’ve all had plenty of rest.
S3: So if one result had gone differently, I think the top of the segment would have been very different. We probably would have been talking about Atalanta as the real underdog and the kind of inspirational team of the Champions League. But you made a comeback. And so we have there like, you know, billionaire kind of overdog team making it into the semis. And we have a different kind of underdog RB Leipzig, which is also a very well capitalized team. That’s not a traditional power, but, you know, it’s only been around for four decades. So. So what have you made of kind of the different types of underdogs in this tournament and how that’s played out?
S10: Well, I mean, Atalanta broke my heart, Atalanta. I don’t remember being quite so stressed out during a football match for many, many years, even a game involving a team. I support that as I was in Atlanta, because what that game and that team means to the city of Bergamo, which is where athletes are based. And obviously wisdom was one of the first town that was really hard hit in the West by all those scenes of of overrun hospitals off of sirens wailing through the night of military vehicles being used to transport dead bodies. They were all from Bergamo. That was out. Birdman kind of entered our consciousness. And to an extent, certainly in Britain, I can’t speak for the states, but they were the kind of nightmarish first scenes of the pandemic for us, because I think prior to that, it was it was estimated I went to Belgium a few weeks ago, and as the mayor said to me, it was something happening in China. And then you see this place, this if not familiar, then it kind of the iconography of Burma was familiar. You know, most people in Britain would recognize what a hilltop Italian town looks like. You know, that’s not it’s a foreign country, of course, but it’s not an alien place to us. And I think to see to see that place suffering as it was, was quite a powerful kind of signal of what was to come for us and for the rest of the world.
S8: And did the players kind of see themselves as being in this role and feel the weight of that?
S10: Yeah. So I could sit here and say that I think all players are all clops would have felt that. I don’t think that’s true. I think there is there is an unusually not unique, but there’s an unusually strong bond. Between Atlanta’s players and the place that they’re from, which is strange, just most of them are not from Bergamo and I think the majority of them are not from Italy, but they all stayed in Baltimore during the pandemic. They locked down in Bergamo, several of them locked down as Enngonia, which is Atlanta’s training ground. They spent their locked down period at the training ground. And I think that was really important for the people of the town because it gave them a sense that their players are of them and represent them in some way more than more than as mercenaries. But also it bonded the players to the place as well. They saw what the place went through, and I think they did almost feel a responsibility to come back from the pandemic when when soccer restarted in Europe. I think they felt a sense that they were playing for the not the pride of the place, but I guess the kind of offer some sort of solace to to Baltimore, which it seems seems a strange thing to assume a sport and do. But I think it does is kind of cheesy and cornball, as that sounds. And they were superb in Syria, are they? I think they won the first nine games back and then lost the final one. And they did sense that they kind of had they had this extra momentum behind them, this belief that they had to do something for the people of this place that had suffered so terribly. And although they lost in the most, as you mentioned, just the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable, I suspect now a few days later, they’ll feel incredibly proud of not only the fact that this tiny club with this tiny budget, certainly by kind of European elite standards, reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League, which is really not meant to happen anymore. This whole competition is designed so that that cannot happen. But they also run PSG incredibly close. And you know what? Eighty nine minutes and 30 seconds, they were in the semifinals and that would have been this incredible story. The pain will subside eventually, and I think the pride will will replace it. And as you say, now we have we have a very different underdog. It’s a is the big test, the final battle between, you know, which is mightier a an international drinks conglomerate or a nation state. And I think I mean, that’s really what sport’s about.
S1: And you’re speaking, of course, of RB Leipzig and the RBI doesn’t actually stand for Red Bull, but it was contrived to stand for Red Bull because you can’t put the name of a company in on a German soccer team. So Red Bull bought the license to a fifth tier team in German soccer back in 2009. Its progression has been astronomical by soccer standards. And they’ve spent a shit ton, I think, as the the soccer term of money to get to where they’ve gotten. And they’re not exactly the most beloved team in Germany, are they?
S10: No, it’s a really interesting cultural dynamic. So they are hated in Germany. I think that’s probably fair to say. I I spoke to an academic researcher on the fan scene in Germany who said that there is the certain issues that kind of the groups, the organized fan groups in Germany have really strong opinions on that. The kind of mainstream fans, the people who will watch on TV or might go with their family to the stadium that they kind of disagree on. So the ultras are really in favor of using pyrotechnics in inside stadiums, the majority of mainstream fans that keen on seeing fireworks set off. And he said that the one thing, one of the few things that everybody agrees on is that RB Leipzig about that is that is a kind of universally held opinion in Germany to British eyes and possibly, I think maybe to Americanise, although there is a degree of artificiality to a club that was essentially created to raise the brand awareness of of Red Bull, which is not something I have to admit that I feel really needs a huge amount of brand awareness. Given that we’ve all heard of them, it feels a little bit tacky maybe, and it feels slightly artificial. And it’s hard to kind of to imagine yourself like singing a song about the glories of Red Bull.
S11: But at the same time, there are things that seem more sinister, more worrying, more troublesome about modern soccer than the fact that, you know, the brand name is effectively, as you say, in the team name rather than just plastered plastered across the front of the jersey. It’s not it’s not that much of a kind of cultural offense to people outside Germany, but the way that they see football fans, soccer fandom in Germany, I think is different to how we see it, that it’s a much more active thing we think of fans has been the people who are either watching on TV or watching in the stadium. And it’s an inherently passive experience. Whereas in Germany, where most of the clubs are member owned, the idea of being a fan is that you can have you can take part in in the running of your club. You can help to make the decisions. You have a say, you have a voice. RB, Leipzig have kind of they adhere to those rules, but they adhere to them very much in it by the letter rather than by the spirit. So they have, I think, 19 vote members where by Munich Dortmund would have tens of, if not hundreds of thousands of voting members and who have done it so that they they always retain control, which makes them very unpopular. So I suspect that, well, to the rest of Europe, they will look quite a lot like the underdogs in Germany. They’ll probably be quite a lot of kind of one night only PSG fans on Tuesday night.
S8: So, Tyler, Adam. Came off the bench to score that goal, the game winning gold four for Leipzig.
S3: Stefan mentioned in the intro is a twenty one year old American midfielder, not a talismanic figure for for RB Leipzig, but a contributor. And for us American soccer fans, it’s great to see an American player scoring an important goal in the Champions League quarterfinal, something that had never happened before. And I saw a lot of people say, and perhaps rightly so, that it’s the most significant goal scored by an American player and club competition ever.
S10: Grunwald tweeted that tweeted his list, I think of the of the most important goal scored by Americans in club soccer. And I think it’s hard to think of a more significant one than Tandare items to be on the certainly on that stage. I remember John Herkes playing for Sheffield Wednesday, years and years ago, and I’m sure he got a few that were were significant. He had a great career. And and there’s been a sort of a nuclear attack against the Juventus for Clint Dempsey student UVA. And Dempsey was kind of the standard bearer, I guess, for quite a long time. Landon Donovan was here, obviously in England kind of briefly a couple of times. But I guess you’d have to say that there’s never been a gold stored on a on a stage that large.
S11: And also at the time it was stored, the fact it was a late winner in a Champions League quarterfinal makes it a significant goal by anybody’s standards. And the fact that it is for the first American story in the quarterfinal, but also the fact that it was it was such a dramatic win on a one off game as well probably means that it does have to top the list.
S1: We’d like for Alfonzo Davies to be American, but alas, he is Canadian. He was his his story is remarkable. He was born. His parents are Liberian born and a Ghanaian refugee camp, emigrated to Canada when he was six. And Canada, of course, not a hotbed, even by North American standards, for soccer and for for him to have risen as quickly as he has through MLS, where he started playing when he was 15 and then getting acquired by Byron and finding himself starting in the Champions League for what’s arguably the best team in Europe right now is remarkable.
S10: Yeah, it’s astronomical. His rise, I think he to an extent, I wonder if if how quickly he’s adapted his surprise by a little bit. I don’t know whether they expected him to be displacing David Aliber, who could well be the best, but the best left back in the world. For him to be displaced by Davis this quickly is extraordinarily rare.
S3: I mean, the normal story as you acquire a guy like this and you stash him somewhere. Yeah, yeah. For a bunch of years. But he is like on the first day a bayonet nineteen.
S1: And what he did, I mean, and everyone really should go watch the highlight of of the assists that he made against Barcelona. I mean he just destroyed Nelson Tomato. And I watch that thing like ten times and his calmness on the ball, he looks tomato in the eye, his quickness to juke and explode away from him and then his patients waiting to make this to pass into the center. He eschews crossing the ball, which I think 90 percent of players would have done, dribbles for the online and slides the ball into the center for an easy tappin. I mean, that was one of the most beautiful stretches of football that I’ve seen in a long time by especially by a nineteen year old.
S10: Yeah, it wasn’t it wasn’t one that Nelson’s tomato will will want to think about too. Now, I think he will not be watching it ten times, although the the one thing I would say in Nelson’s immediate defense is that it was it’s the thing that was most extraordinary to me, apart from Davis, is kind of power, his poise, the skill that it taught the, as you say, the patience as well to to wait to play the ball until just the right moment. It was the fact that he basically got from the edge of the basket on the box to the yard box and nobody thought I maybe should do something about this. He just kind of he was I mean, at the end, he was at walking pace. It seemed to sort of unravel in slow motion. Yeah. He’s made an incredible impact. And I think it’s it’s taken by by surprise, to an extent, the speed with which he’s adapted. I think he he now is almost a ton of a standard bearer for the rejuvenation of Bayern Munich. They have been worrying for quite a long time about how to replace that generation of Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller, who were kind of reaching the end of their careers, of the autumn, of their careers at least. And with players like Davis, it’s been a real kind of injection of purpose, I think, to the whole club. There’s this sense now that this new generation is coming through and he will be one of their most important players, I think, for the for the next decade, really, unless they get to a point, I guess, where they where they choose that they can make quite a lot of money from selling him. And I’m sure that there’ll be a queue of teams in the Premier League who would who would come in for him right now. It’s interesting that a lot of teams in Europe kind of looked at Davis when he was in MLS and I wonder how much his nationality chanted against him. There was a sense of kind of Canada does not produce footballers even more than America does. I think being American is still a bit of a drawback to a lot of European recruiting setups. There’s an innate suspicion about how easily you can tell talent, how easily to an. Identify talent when it’s in MLS, but I’m sure that being Canadian made teams, then maybe we don’t you know, we don’t need to take this risk and credit sabayon for for looking past that frankly, irrelevant factor.
S3: So a team that desperately needs rejuvenation, it looks like, as Barcelona and wonder if you could tell us, was there, if perhaps not the scoreline, but was this outcome predictable? And, you know, could I know that they were kind of at the top of La Liga for most of the season?
S12: But is this downturn something that that we could have or should have seen coming?
S11: Yeah, I think it has been coming. The storyline was just sort of jaw dropping, that it was really hard to it’s really hard to ignore that. And it often feels as though you should, just as I guess you should, judge a team’s success by its process. You should also Georgia teams drawbacks by that process. But occasionally a storyline is so kind of. Yeah, breathtaking. You just have to think. Rival Barcelona conceded eight goals in a Champions League quarterfinal, rip it all up and started out. And there’s no other way of looking at it.
S3: But the positive is that it’s going to force them to make changes that they maybe wouldn’t have been motivated to make if they had lost three to two or something.
S11: Yeah, there is potentially a silver lining in that in that you can’t you can’t ignore what the you know, what that storyline is telling you. The problem the Barcelona have is that I don’t quite know how they make those changes so that they don’t defy their coach and replace him with with one or two men. It looks like the veteran Holland national team manager who is next Barcelona player, but is not really a kind of Barcelona manager in the way that he approaches soccer. It feels a little bit like the board at Barcelona have looked at a list of people who used to play for the club and thought, well, that one will do. I’m not sure that’s what that’s what Barcelona desperately needs at this point in the appointment of treatment doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me. The bigger problem is that in terms of refreshing the playing squad, Barcelona has the highest average salary of any team in sports. So higher than the Yankees, higher than all of the NFL, higher than all of the NBA. The average Barcelona player earns more money than than than anybody else than the average player on any other team, I should say. And they are right at the limit of that kind of potential financial output that they can’t grow in sign three or four players who are twenty to twenty three, twenty four and say, right, you are our future until they can offload some of those high earning stars because those players earn so much money, the potential market for them is quite small. And I think that’s the real problem, that Barcelona are in the town of the very expensive petrol, because you you have to shift some of these older players before you can bring younger ones in. And yet shifting those players is is almost impossible unless, you know, unless you can find a team that wants to sign a 31 year old Sergio bookstands. He was a wonderful footballer. But the vast majority of teams now will not spend huge sums of money on players in their in their late 20s and early 30s. And it’s interesting that the one player we know Barcelona are going to sign is Merryland Peonage, who’s twenty nine and the eventers. And that’s effectively a swap deal for a 23 year old Brazilian. So they are basically doing the exact opposite of the sort of deal they need to be doing and hoping that for some reason that this will work out. And I really do worry that Barcelona, we’re always going to have a difficult transition from the sort of the period of Lionel Messi. But I worry that because of the way the club has been running in the last two or three years, it’s going to be much harder than it needs to be and much slower to get them back to where I think European soccer kind of needs Barcelona to be. You want a competitive Barcelona, and I’m not sure that at the European level that will be the case for for at least a couple of years.
S1: Well, the big overhanging question that you didn’t address, though, is will Lionel Messi be on Barcelona next year? There were already reports that he wants to leave.
S11: Marcello Beckler, who’s a Brazilian journalist who broke the name story of him down to PSG in twenty seventeen, said on, I’ve completely lost track of time in lockdown. I have no idea what day I think it was on Sunday. It’s Monday today. So that must mean it’s Sunday. I think Marcello said on Sunday that that Messi has told the board that he wants to go now that that isn’t there’s no reason to doubt most of his information. But that’s not necessarily as clear case as it might be, because, first of all, there’s not many teams in the world who can pay Lionel Messi his wages. And second of all, it could well be Massie’s way of saying to the club, there has to be structural changes. If you need if you need me to stay, it might be an ultimatum of some sort. I don’t think it’s a contract ploy. That would be my normal interpretation. But I don’t think Messi is likely to look at this and think the solution to this problem is me being paid more money. I think what Messi will want is to be on a team that’s competitive in the Champions League for the next year, two years, three years as his career draws to a close. And I suspect that what he wants is, is change at board level Barcelona and the implementation of a of a project that. You can believe in now whether Ronald Neumann is the manager to oversee that project that he didn’t believe in. I’d be slightly skeptical of the problem again with Messi, to be honest with Messi more than anybody else. Every team in the world would love to have Messi as he is, arguably, and certainly to my mind, the greatest player in history. But not every team in the world can afford Lionel Messi. And it would be interesting to know for all the teams that would look at him and think we would look to sign him tonight, how many would then go to their accountants and say, can you find a way to make this work?
S3: We need an energy drink to come in and save the day. That’s what we need.
S10: That’s that’s the future. It’s either a nation state or an energy drink. They are your two choices.
S1: Rory Smith is the chief soccer correspondent for The New York Times. The Champions League semi-finals are Tuesday. Wednesday, the final is on Sunday. All those games are going to be in Lisbon bubbling. Rory, thank you so much for coming on the show.
S9: Thank you for having me.
S3: And this week’s bonus segment for Slate plus members, we’re going to talk about what’s happening and what’s going to happen with college football, where Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields has started a petition to immediately reinstate the twenty twenty season.
S5: It’s getting spacy out there. If you want to hear about it, you have to be a sleepless member. Just thirty five dollars for the first year. You can sign up at Slate Dotcom and hang up plus.
S12: In the introduction to the new anthology, losers Louisa Thomas and Mary Pilon write that victory brings us closer to a fleeting kind of transcendence. But losing reveals something raw about what it means to be human. A fleeting transcendence would feel really good right about now. But considering the times we’re living in, I think we’re going to have to stick with the what it means to be human part. Like all great books, Losers features essays by Mike Pesca and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but also feature stories about basketball, sailing, table tennis, all of which are captivating and all of which have been curated for your enjoyment by The New Yorker’s Louisa Thomas and Mary Pilon. Welcome back to the program, Louisa. Thanks so much for having me. Of course, I want to talk about the essay that is in the pole position of the book. It was originally published in The Believer by Charles Bach, and it’s about the basketball legend Lloyd Daniels. It’s a really great piece of writing, which I imagine is why you wanted it to lead off the book, but also perhaps it exemplifies something about the kind of stories and the kind of people that you wanted to highlight. So can you talk a little bit about Lloyd Daniels on that story?
S13: Absolutely. So the first piece, the first piece in the collection is a piece about the relationship between the author when he was a teenager and this basketball phenom at the time, Lloyd Daniels, who is coming out of sort of a rough place, let’s say, in New York and was being recruited by by everyone, but settled in Las Vegas. And it’s partly about the city itself. Like one of the things that we talked a lot about when we were thinking about this book was different ways of being a loser and losing and winning and thinking about risk and things. And this piece for us kind of encapsulated so many aspects of this because it’s partly about this young kid who wants you dreams of being a basketball star himself, but has basically no skill looking at this phenomenal talent. But who is himself in some ways kind of a loser for some reasons of his own making and some reasons that are very much not and takes place in a city that is all about winning and losing and is very much the character in the piece. And I think there are moments that are very funny and there are moments that are certainly heartbreaking. But we wanted to sort of set up the idea that that idea of losing is really kind of like it’s an expansive thing. And I think that piece did it really well.
S14: I was fascinated by this essay in particular because did you ever read the book by John Valentine on Lloyd Daniels in the early nineties? OK, yeah. So like that book, I read that as a kid. And so it got me wondering if there’s a certain I don’t know what it is about basketball players that never make it like, you know, the childhood heroes. Right. That don’t make it. But that was sort of what was appealing to me because, you know, you think of Lloyd Daniels, think of all the gold Manigault, Connie Hawkins, Pee Wee Kirkland, all these guys that it was that was a piece of it, too, because it is something that so really interesting about the basketball phenom that doesn’t just pan out like I even think of, like Lenny Cook, the guy that LeBron went up against in high school, and that they ended up doing a documentary on his life because he never made it.
S13: Absolutely. I mean, to go back to a phrase used to describe winners is fleeting. There’s a fleeting transcendence of the basketball teenage phenom because, I mean, there’s something so like kind of pure and some kind of idealized sense about that, just like athleticism and the creativity that a lot of them have. But at the same time, there’s so much that they sort of have to overcome and they make bad decisions and they’re put in situations in which they’re unable to make that decision after bad decision. And so for a little bit of context, what happens is this kid, Charles Bock, as a kid, his his parents got him a membership at this this athletic club called the Sporting House. And there were like real basketball players playing basketball there because under the stars sometimes worked out there was like a nice athletic club in the middle of Las Vegas. And so you could find a pretty good pickup game with, like, legitimate promising NBA level talent. And here’s this guy who one of the details I love in the piece is that he used to wear these board shorts, these like long shorts, because he thought they look cool and everybody starts calling him Mãe. But I mean, you just I mean, he’s constantly living on the edge between humiliation and and transcendence. He’s like actually touching greatness and also just painfully aware of his adolescent self. And I think that there’s something kind of maybe that that’s sort of the phenomenon of the teenage basketball kind of in some ways embodies. But I think you’re right. I think you’re right. I think that there is something that I think speaks to both the kind of promise inherent and being young and being talented and everything, and then also the sort of like. Total collapse of that dream that these basketball teams can can tell us about it and really the real loser in that piece is the author.
S1: I mean, the realization that I am a teenage nobody is profound. I mean, there’s this moment in the piece where he’s at the gym and Sweetpea shows up and then these other players start showing up. And it’s clear that if he gets in line to shoot a free throw to make one of the teams, he’s going to be running with these guys. And Daniels actually approaches him and says, are you going to shoot? And and the author says, I got to get to work, which was kind of a lie. And also revealing because he knew that he didn’t belong.
S13: There is an amazing moment in the piece. And it’s one of these is actually one of these moments that I love and pieces like this. I mean, when it’s pulled off perfectly because it’s a real kind of climax. I mean, in some ways it’s such a mundane moment, right? He’s like, are you going to come, like, out? You know? I mean, it’s like nothing happens. But at the same time, it’s actually it’s Ernes like, the pathos at that moment is like really, really earned because, yeah, he’s looking at himself and he’s like, you’re a loser, you know, is looking at himself and saying that. And yet, you know, there’s a real kind of like heartbreak in that moment.
S4: There’s something weird about that, because you don’t really hear basketball origin stories like that anymore. You know, like in terms of the NBA, I feel like it was something that really happened in the 80s and 90s where you guys would be derailed by crack or, you know, or whatever. And now it just seems like there’s a cleaner, easier path for a lot of kids. Or it could be the basketball is more the domain of like a suburban, you know, suburban kids or wealthier kids that are able to get training and all that sort of stuff, because that was the thing that sort of also sort of brought back to me that, like, there’s a lot that has changed in the NBA. You don’t really hear about those those kind of guys having that sort of success anymore. So touching that you’re getting that close to touching the NBA like like Lloyd Daniels did.
S8: Yeah. And I think there’s something about the particular kind of athlete. The Daniels is the kind of genius who sees things differently. I mean, he a he’s physically six foot eight and, you know, a Magic Johnson with a jump shot he was described as. But the way that he could see things on the court. We like to think with the sports of this ultimate meritocracy and the people that have those abilities, that those abilities are going to win out. And unfortunately, that’s not always the case. And there’s also the story in here that I found really moving by Kevin Hall, this memoir, basically a short memoir of his career and sailing and how somebody who’s so accomplished, who actually does make it to the pinnacle of sport, could still see himself as a loser.
S13: I mean, that pieces Mary actually wrote a book about Kevin Hall. So she is a very close to him and always. And that piece is really heartbreaking that an Olympic sailor, he was one of the he was a he himself world champion. I mean, just a tremendous talent. And he really struggled with mental illness specifically. He had this kind of megalomania. He thought there was this director speaking to him, as they call it, the Truman phenomenon, like The Truman Show. And, yeah, I mean, he struggled his whole life with that, but in a much more kind of like mundane and really kind of relatable way. He also really struggled with this idea that he was nothing, if not successful, like he’d basically invested his whole life in winning an Olympic medal. And when that didn’t happen, he just saw himself as nothing. There’s an amazing moment in that piece where he is. He’s been picked as the second he’s the second choice for the American flag bearer at the opening ceremony. Right. And he’s walking in and he’s just like, you are selling himself. You are a loser. You’re not the flag bearer number two. Number two is not good enough. And he has enough wherewithal in that moment to say to stop, you know, enjoy this moment. They’re cheering for you, you know, but there’s that part of him that’s like there’s only one person who can win. And if you’re not that person, you’re nobody. And he’s and the idea also is that there’s nothing there’s nothing good enough like making the Olympics isn’t enough. And he has to sort of rebuild himself after this Olympic experience and sort of learn how to. Yeah. Live with himself as as someone who has done amazing things that maybe never did.
S1: The one thing that he thought would make him I mean, that that piece to me really reflected what it’s like to be in a super elite athlete and having no perspective on the world around you. I mean, you know, we hear about the super elite athletes who are crazy, obsessive and succeed beyond anyone’s. Imagination, you know, we just watched 10 episodes about Michael Jordan succeeding because he was so driven and I don’t think we ever really recognized that even in a sport that is 90 percent. Ninety nine percent of the world would say sailing what, that you can be as as overwhelmingly driven by. And then in Kevin Hall’s case, of course, it was compounded by mental illness and just difficulties coping with life, and that that combination is so toxic when you throw the the crucible of sports and the expectations that that you, yourself and coaches put on you to succeed, it’s it’s just devastating to see the effects in this sort of outlier case of a guy like Kevin Hall. It’s so sad.
S13: One of the things he actually talks about in that piece is that when you are an elite athlete, all of this sort of most selfish instincts that a person have are are encouraged and enabled. I mean, we celebrate, people are obsessed and we celebrate people who leave their family and sacrifice everything and put, you know, put in 12, 13 hours a day thinking about their sport and their craft and and sort of put that ahead of the family, friendships, birthdays, whatever. But once you’re left back in the real world, that becomes a kind of something grotesque, you know? I mean, it’s it’s really hard, I think, probably to move between those worlds in which you’re every kind of need is taken care of so that you can focus on this one thing that means more than anything. And then when that doesn’t happen, like how are you able to live with that kind of way of being in the world? It’s a it’s a it’s a really kind of jarring thing if you think about it.
S8: I have a question for you, Joel. As somebody who has experienced a lot of success in sports at the 10 year old level, for instance, know other levels. But did you ever think of yourself as a loser, like when your football career was ending?
S14: Yes, absolutely. Probably one of the tougher things for me in life was the last day that I played football, the day that I walked away from the locker room at TCU and I felt like a failure. And when I almost get choked up even thinking about it, because you just know, you spent so much, I spent so much of my childhood focusing on that. And, you know, I mean, I was I went to school and I had friends and I did all these other things. But there was always this something in the back of my mind that said, no matter what, you’re going to figure this out like you’re going to get to the NFL.
S3: I don’t know how it is going to happen, but it’s going to happen if you worked hard enough that it was going to work out.
S6: Yeah, absolutely.
S14: And so I just remember walking away and going back to my my my off campus apartment and calling my father just like breaking down, crying. And I was like, I’m so sorry I let you down.
S6: And so, yeah. And it just took it took me probably about three years before I was right with football again, that it just that I could just like watch the game and it didn’t make me depressed or well and it took about that long for me to develop a whole nother identity around myself, you know, because yeah.
S14: You grow up and you think of yourself as a jock, you think of yourself as one of the best athletes where you come from. And that’s something you talk about with your friends and everybody sort of looks up to you. And then when you walk away from it, you know, people start talking to you about that or they avoid it or you’re a joke, you know. So, yeah, mean not you know, I definitely thought of myself as a loser for a very long time. It took me a long time to get over that and to sort of wrap my identity in something else that wasn’t football.
S1: Louisa, did you find in reading and calling through potential pieces to include in the anthology making distinctions between failure and losing? Because I think there is an important distinction to be made. Do you feel that that’s sort of a theme of the book?
S13: Absolutely. That’s something that we actually talk Mary and I talked about a lot. And, you know, and I have my own opinions about the distinction between failing and losing. And there are a couple of essays that play with that very idea. Mike Pascoe’s essay, for instance, is about losing on purpose and what to do when you’re incentivized to lose and how that can kind of cloud the whole kind of problem. And there are a lot of times in which I personally think that I think that Joel’s essay about Michael Jordan, for instance, was really fascinating. And we can talk about the ways in which Michael Jordan, the greatest winner of all time, is in some ways someone who has lost a lot of things in his life and is in some ways a loser. I think that the distinction between failing and losing is is one that we should actually always keep in mind when we talk about winners, because it’s not as clear as it looks.
S4: I kind of want to ask you, too, about what made at what point in your career, where you did you realize that you were sort of drawn to the loser or the loser locker room? Right. Because I think it takes a while in a sportswriter’s career before you realize, oh, there are a lot more interesting stories over there in that locker room than in the winner’s locker room.
S13: I think probably one, you know, I am myself a tried and true loser, you know, I was someone who could blow any lead in tennis and things like that. And I also I mean, this is a little bit of a tangent, but I think there’s something a little bit maybe gendered about this, too. Like when I was growing up, I was really pressed upon me that you had to be a good loser. It was worse to be a bad winner than to be a good loser. You know, there was something like very kind of taboo about aggression and competitiveness and that if you lauded your skill over other people, that that was very kind of unattractive. I don’t mean in know kind of like male female way, but like, yeah, there was this sort of expectation of being a sort of generous person who wasn’t concerned with winning so much. But at the same, I was a huge sports fan. We’re obviously winning is everything. So trying to negotiate that within myself is really difficult sometimes. And as I watched things, I was often like the teams I rooted for, often lost, and the people I root for are often lost. And I lost a lot of things like the Olympics and tennis, which were filled with losers. I mean, tennis famously is there’s one hundred and twenty winners. Are people the start of a grand slam? They’re all elite athletes and there’s only one one person at the end and everybody else is a loser. And then they have to go out and do it again. So, yeah, but even beyond I mean, I wrote a book about the wife, the unknown wife of a president. I always sort of been interested at the person who’s standing next to the person in the in the picture of power or interest. I’m sort of I’m always more interested in the kind of inner life of the person who doesn’t exactly get what they want.
S4: Can I ask you, you mentioned the teams you rooted for what what team did you root for that lost all the time?
S13: Well, I was an Orioles fan growing up in the nineties and early 2000s and now and it’s sort of funny. And I I went to college and I went to Harvard and right when they started winning the World Series and playoffs and stuff. And so I had sort of also kind of like a front row seat. And to have Boston reacted to changing, turning from a loser city to inner city. And that wasn’t always pretty. And I was also more of an individual athlete fan than a person even with in team sports. Like I was a huge like Peter Forsberg fan, more than like a Colorado Avalanche fan. And there’s something I think that speaks to that, too. Like, I was sort of always more interested in how individual people handled success in that era than I was about in groups.
S1: I think because there’s more pathos and losing. Right. I mean, one of my favorite one of my favorite stories that I ever got to write was a piece I did at the Olympics in 2004 where I interviewed athletes who finished last in various events. And they’re usually from small countries and they were just glad to be there. But there was also, you know, there was this joy in having accomplished something, but with the recognition that I finish last, even though it was at the Olympics. But it was so sweet. I mean, I think that then we make distinctions when it comes to losing. Right. It’s you know, when losing at the highest levels feels like this colossal disappointment and this this life failure. But losing can also really be about succeeding, like having been able to compete. And there are, I think, some essays in this book that that felt like that to me, that it’s OK to lose sometimes.
S13: I mean, a lot of this what this book is about is what reference point, right? I mean, from viewpoint. Yeah. What is looks like losing to someone else to look very much like whining to yourself and vice versa to what looks like succeeding. And we talk about Kevin Hollick might internally feel like a colossal failure that can also be really difficult to navigate personally. I mean, I think especially as you’re growing up and trying to figure out how does the world see me and how much of that am I supposed to internalize or not? And how does competition play into this? I had a lot of fun thinking about different ways of winning and losing.
S5: The book is Losers Dispatches from the Other Side of the Scoreboard. So this week, it’s edited by Mary Pilon and Louisa Thomas, our guest. Louisa, thanks so much for coming on the show. Thank you.
S3: Now it is time for after balls and there are a lot of essays in the book, Losers, that we did not get a chance to mention, one of them is by Joshua Prager. It’s an excerpt from his book on The Shot Heard Round the World. The book is called The Echoing Green. And it’s an excerpt about the pitcher, Ralph Branca, who gave up the homerun to Bobby Thompson in nineteen fifty one. And the essay is titled Too Lucky in Love. And that was what Ralph Branca said when asked why he gave up the homerun. He said, I guess I must be too lucky in love. And the woman that he was in love with was his fiancee, her name being an M.V.. So the future Mrs. Branca and Mullavey, they were going to be married in 17 days, provided some solace to the young Ralph Branca. So let us honor and Mulva. And after all today, John, what is your and Mullavey Mianne movie?
S6: So time is now such an elusive concept that it probably started out really deep.
S7: Really well, did it?
S6: Is that. Yes, I was like, yeah, it’s like the dictionary describes the good, but so tough is now such an elusive concept that it probably seems like ages since you avid sports fan and hang up and listen.
S15: Listener heard this clip of Draymond Green on TNT is inside the NBA show is great to see book playing well in Phoenix playing well, but getting my man out of Phoenix it’s not good for him, is not good for his career. Sorry Chuck but well they got a good book out of Phoenix. I need my man to go somewhere where he can play great basketball all the time and win because he’s that type of player. Are you tampering? Maybe.
S6: Technically, Draymond was tampering in the NBA, later assessed him a fifty thousand dollar fine for those comments. At the time, Phoenix was riding a four game winning streak in Orlando. In fact Draymond forward for Golden State team that didn’t even qualify for inclusion in the bubble was offering postgame commentary after the Suns defeated the Miami Heat 119 to 112. The aforementioned Devin Booker scored thirty five points in that win. But though it seemed an odd time to criticize the Suns, Draymond comments on the franchise’s recent history of futility weren’t that far off. And the previous five seasons, Phoenix had one respectively. Thirty nine. Twenty three. Twenty four. Twenty one in nineteen games. That’s why the Suns newfound excellence recently was both a promising and disappointing development for a young team finally showing some signs of competence. They won the next four games, giving them the best record of any of the twenty two teams invited to the NBA’s Bubble Invitational. But it simply wasn’t enough to surpass Portland and Memphis in the Western Conference playoff standings. So unfortunately for the Suns and their fans, the NBA playoffs will start without them. Today, though, I suspect NBA fans are probably a little bit more excited about the prospect of Damian Lillard and the Blazers playing the Lakers in the first round. But anyway, do you know when the Suns were last this good? You guys know this? Good morning. Barely missing a play off, not make it right. Yeah, yeah. You probably done it. You don’t have to go back to Tom Chambers or Steve Nash, I promise. Anyway, I’ll answer for you way back in the 2013 2014 season when Phoenix went forty eight and thirty four, finished third in the Pacific Division and was rated 10th overall in the league in that rating. And guess what? That team didn’t make the playoffs either. The twenty thirteen fourteen Suns had the dubious distinction of being the winningest team in NBA history to not advance to the postseason. Do you remember those 2013 2014 Suns? Do you remember that year? Hmm hmm.
S3: Hmm. No, the Spurs won the title. Right.
S6: OK, there you go. Yeah, well you do OK. Well, you do sort of remember it.
S3: You just remember it based on where LeBron was. That was last year with the Heat, where the Spurs just destroyed them in the finals.
S4: OK, well, there you go. See, OK, Josh actually knows he ruined me. I don’t know. I don’t remember. I don’t remember who was on the Suns, though. I’ll tell you about that year.
S6: Kevin Durant was the MVP. Michael Carter Williams was the rookie of the year. The top playoff seeds were not LeBron in the Miami Heat, but the Indiana Pacers in the east and the San Antonio Spurs in the West. And it was the first time in NBA history that the Knicks, Celtics and Lakers missed the playoffs in the same year. And of course, the West was especially loaded that year. The fourth through eighth seed was separated by five games with the forty nine win. Dallas Mavericks edging out the Suns for the final spot. And those suns there were as good as they were nondescript. Probably the most notable star was the coach, long time NBA player Jeff Hornacek. Their best player was Goran Dragic, the Slovenian shooter who became only the sixth player in history to average twenty or more. Points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent on threes, Dragic was named the league’s most improved player that year and also made third team all NBA. Rounding out that lineup, Eric Bledsoe, PJ Tucker, Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee, who averaged a twelve 12 that year. And unlike this year, Suns, they were good all year until the very end. They lost three of their final four games, including one to the Mavs. The finish just outside of the playoffs. But hey, a good young team on the cusp of the playoffs. Surely they had a lot to look forward to the next year. Well, not really. They traded Dragic to Miami after the All-Star break for a collection of players you likely don’t remember. Norris Cole, Danny Granger. Those guys ring a bell.
S4: Oh, I remember Noris call. You played with LeBron in Miami. The Yeah. The orbit. Danny Granger was awesome for the Pacers. He was good. He was good for a little bit. Right. Well they got those guys, Danny Granger, who by that point was not the granny, the Danny Granger that you remember. He was Granny Danger, I think. Yeah. There’s a great exactly. And a couple of others in some draft picks. The Suns went on to finish that year.
S6: Thirty nine and forty three, six games out of the playoffs. And that was the last time they sniff the postseason until last week. In many ways the Suns sabotage themselves last time. They have this much young talent and hope so for their sake joke. Phoenix doesn’t take Draymond advice and again ship its best player out of town. Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, Ricky Rubio and the rest. They could have a bright future assuming there is a future of course stuff it. What is your end movie or who is your end movie.
S1: Oh what I’m going with what. In his 2011 takedown of college sports, Taylor Branch wrote that the term student athlete was, quote, meant to conjure the nobility of amateurism and the precedence of scholarship over athletic endeavor and quote, which was, he noted, and I’m paraphrasing here, bullshit student athlete was crafted in the 1950s. So the NCAA could argue in court that college athletes weren’t employees and therefore not entitled to workers compensation when they were injured. The organization quickly discovered that it was a simple way to justify the college sports grift. Student athletes were students first so they couldn’t be paid, but they were also athletes, so they deserved some slack when it came to academics. In his 1995 book Unsportsmanlike Conduct, Walter Byers, the NCAA first executive director, wrote, We crafted the term student athlete and soon it was embedded in all NCAA rules and interpretations as a mandated substitute for such words as players and athletes. We told college publicists to speak of college teams, not football or basketball clubs, a word common to the pros. Byers has been credited with coining student athlete, in fact, that long predates the NCAA. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the earliest known usage to 1885. The Philadelphia Inquirer used it in a story in 1896 about a rule adopted by Yale limiting participation in already corrupt college sports to undergraduates. Two years later, the same paper in a piece about young men heading to the Spanish American War, wrote the student athlete who can stand the hammering of revolving wedges, guards, back formations, masses on tackles and various other bone crushing moves will not falter at the report of the rifle or stop short of the ramparts until death claims him. The first ironic assessment of student athlete might have been in 1984, when a Pittsburgh newspaper put quotation marks around these student half of the term. I personally called student athletes a bogus term in a column in 2002. But just as J.D. Salinger wrote that quote, If you had a million years to do it and you couldn’t rub out even half the fuck you signs in the world and quote, Student athlete is entrenched in the language of American sports. The most glaring example of how the college sports industrial complex has duped fans, writers, judges and legislators into playing along with the charade of amateurism. But there’s hope. Last week, the Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, announced that it is banning student athlete from its pages and will refer to students who are also athletes as students, athletes, college athletes or players, quote, to accept the term student athlete. The paper wrote in an editorial is to accept the NCAA and the nation’s college athletic departments agenda that these athletes are not employees. And to silence the voice of these athletes, we think we should frame coverage using our own words instead. It’s a really well argued editorial and worth reading, and we’ll link to it on our show page. But I’m especially happy because I’ve known the student journalist who had the idea. And drafted the editorial daily, Tar Heel sports editor Brian Keyes, since he was a little kid, Bryan told me two things, inspired him to suggest the change to the paper’s board. The first was a class he took last spring on the history of college athletics, taught by Jay Smith, who co-wrote a book about uncowed paper classes, athletic scandal last decade. The second was the anti-racism movement, which made him think more deeply about who’s generating revenue for colleges and universities. The policy of amateurism, Brian wrote to me. While race neutral on its face, disproportionately disenfranchises young black men and prevents them from making money off their labor. So when we continue to use the term student athlete, we continue to uphold this system of amateurism that the NCAA has created and we don’t have to do that right on, Brian, Brian said. The reaction to the editorial has been overwhelmingly supportive. He said he was blown away when the copy chief for Sports Illustrated tweeted that the magazine was officially changing its style. But not everyone agreed. The UNC Student Athlete Advisory Committee wrote a letter to the Daily Tar Heel saying that student athlete is a badge of honor. We gladly accept. The group defended the hard work that students who are also athletes do as both students and athletes and claim that, quote, The term does not have the same connotation now as it did then. And quote, When the NCAA ended up in the 1950s, Brian noted that nothing has changed. Players still can’t be paid. He wrote, still don’t yet have control over their name, image and likeness. Rights and abusive coaching practices haven’t stopped that the USC athletes miss. The point is really kind of sad. The Daily Tar Heel wasn’t questioning their hard work. It was advocating for them to be compensated for it and explaining why. For almost seven decades, the two words smooshed together have been used by university presidents and coaches and lawyers and flacks as a way to deny them benefits and reforms. My advice to the USC Student Athlete Advisory Committee read the Taylor Branch article, talked to your activist colleagues in the PAC 12 and take that history class that Brian did. And my advice to the Daily Tar Heel.
S9: Keep it up.
S4: Right. And also to that council or whatever, just Google the name Kent Waldrup, if you want to know about student athlete, I won’t I won’t spoil it for you here, but it might help you to understand why it’s bullshit term.
S2: That is our show for today. We have left you with the research project. Our producer is Melissa Kaplan. To listen to Pasha’s and subscribe or just reach out to Slate dot com slash hang up. You can email us that hang up at Slate dot com for Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis. I’m Josh Levine, remembers MBT and thanks for listening.
S3: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members, and we’re going to talk about what’s going on with college football. It was still up in the air what was going to happen with the various conferences when we taped last week. And to some extent, it is still up in the air and the SEC and the Big 12 are still hanging on to the possibility of fall football. The big deal. What’s that? Don’t leave out the Sun Belt Conference USA. All right. What all set. The Big Ten and PAC 12 have pushed things off until the spring. And Ohio State quarterback Justin Field’s Heisman favorite. Is it fair to say the Heisman favorite, Joe Trevor Lawrence to him?
S6: Probably one or two.
S12: One of the Heisman favorites. He’s not happy about it. He started a petition that, as of the time we’re taping, has more than two hundred and thirty thousand signatures saying that we, the football players of the Big Ten, together with the fans and supporters of college football, request that the Big Ten conference immediately reinstate the twenty twenty football season. And so I would have thought, you know, maybe this is maybe you didn’t feel the same way, Joel. But I would have thought that Fields and the other players in the Big Ten and PAC 12 would have gotten on board with the idea that spring football was going to be a thing once it was announced or decided. We’re still going to keep hope alive, that there’s going to be a football season in twenty, twenty, twenty, twenty one, that they might have been able to get on board with that and say, yeah, let’s be safe, let’s do this, let’s figure this out. But in fact, no, that is not what’s going on.
S16: Yeah. I mean I guess that’s just another way to preserve some sense of normalcy. You know, they spent all summer in control. Yeah, right. You know, they’ve they’ve done all this working and they would like to see the payoff in the form of games. And they’re rightfully frustrated that they’re probably not going to have them. It all makes sense. If I was just in fields, I’d want to play football this fall, too. But there are a lot of things that I would like to do this fall that I would not be able to do. I will not be able to go home and hug my mother. I will not be able to go to the store and not be freaked out that I’m possibly, you know, being exposed to droplets, you know what I mean? So, you know, I think that. With their position is is predictable, but it’s totally in keeping with a country that has focused so much of its attentions on games and distraction instead of dealing with the problems and what a better position would be. Justin Fields and two hundred and thirty thousand people saying, hey, I’d like to petition everybody to wear them, wear their mask when they go out in public so that we could have football in the spring. But obviously his interest is somewhere else and I can’t really blame him. He’s a college student. But for other people to sort of use him to use his argument to make the case that the Big Ten did something wrong, I mean, you know, I mean, obviously there are people out there that are doing it. It’s predictable and stupid.
S1: Yeah. And look, I mean, the athletes are not thinking through this because they are in their own, to use a word, bubble. But that’s part of the issue here. It’s like the lack of education and the lack of broader thinking. And, you know, Justin Fields isn’t wrong and this petition isn’t wrong, that the athletes, if they are sequestered in the football facility, are safe and maybe even safer than if they’re allowed to circulate on campus and do what undergraduates are doing, which is go to parties. And there have been outbreaks of covid already, you know, in at Notre Dame, in Alabama. I think there have been several examples of schools. As soon as kids have returned to campus having outbreaks, unsee it, you know, said it, but wouldn’t say how many kids were involved in outbreaks in dorms. So the argument that they’re making might be true. Yeah, football players are safe. We’re playing in a bubble, but they’re making an argument for professional sports that, yes, if we could lock everyone down in one place, maybe we could play. That’s not the reality. When schools are talking about having kids return to campus, having players go to class or integrate with the rest of the campus and then having fans come to games.
S16: Well, I mean, Stephanie, this is the you know, the Ohio State, the alma mater of Cardale Jones, who said he didn’t go to school to play school. They go to play football.
S7: So a couple of things that are interesting that have come out in the last few days are this report on ESPN by Heather Dunwich that parents of football players at Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State are also speaking out against the Big Ten’s decision to postpone. And so, you know, we’ve heard all of the explanations about their players. They’ve been training. They obviously want to play. I would you know, he said you would feel the same way. You would like to think that the parents would be on the same side as public health officials saying, like, yeah, let’s wait until spring and and try to figure this out. But that’s not necessarily what’s going on. And then the other thing you know, we’ve talked about a couple of conference calls from the SCC where there have been leaks. The first one was about public health issues, the one that came this past week with coaches being pissed off about the SEC’s new scheduling formula and like the way that they allocated the two additional conference games. And like, you know, they’re still thinking about this in the exact same way they’ve been thinking about it. They’re focused on football. They’re focusing on competitive advantage, disadvantage. And that is just always kind of going to be at the forefront of coaches minds, of players minds and apparently of of parents minds.
S16: And I’ll even circle back. We talk about liberty a couple of weeks ago. And it was just this past week that Syracuse, you know, because they’re scheduled to play liberty this year and liberty, I think, of you freeze during a press conference had mentioned that they had tested their players early on and no but there were no positive tests. And so they stopped testing them and they said they would only test if you know somebody with something other than asymptomatic. And it’s like, no, that that’s not how it works. And that’s what Syracuse said is like, hey, look, we’re going to monitor this. This is very worrisome. But it all just kind of goes back to the idea that, yes, you can keep players at a bubble, you can isolate them from the rest of their students, and then they could play a program that either doesn’t have the resources or is just not as rigorous about testing and monitoring their players. And it could blow all this to hell because I mean, OK, Syracuse players, let’s say Syracuse plays liberty, some players get infected. Then Syracuse has to go play somebody a week later, you know, and then then you have an outbreak on several different campuses across leagues. Right. So it just I mean, it just doesn’t you I’m not surprised that players and players, parents and coaches are invested in this. But I guess I’m just the idea that they’re willing to just totally blow off the sign just because we need to play football and empty stadiums this fall is just sort of. Mind blowing, I mean, I just cannot believe that they’re willing to go through with it and get this far with it, you know, is this going to be harder for you to draw than, like, the NBA restart, for instance?
S7: Because like, let’s imagine a fall in which there is a big 12 and s.E.C. And HCC and Sunbelt, of course, football. And I know like how important just like it is for me. It is for you. Just like the fall Saturdays and and watching the horned frogs and watching, you know, some other slightly more successful programs. But well, put that aside for now. But, you know, is it going to be is the cognitive dissonance for you going to be more difficult? And how are you thinking about the practicality of, like, there being football in your feeling, like it’s kind of morally abhorrent for for it to happen as a consumer of football?
S16: Yeah, yeah. The difference with the NBA is that everybody is getting paid their, you know, isolated, like the NBA has gone above and beyond, went above and beyond. But they’ve done what they’re supposed to do to keep their players protected. Right. In college. You can’t say any of that. You can’t say to the players getting paid.
S7: They you know, but I was thinking about it more and then that’s true. But more along the lines of like college football and like what it means to you.
S6: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, obviously, like, I’m going to be hurt, you know? I mean, it’s going to be sad to, like, not see like I mean, is it going to be sad for you to actually have football? Where are you going to watch it? Yeah, I’m thinking so. I mean, that’s tough. Like, I it’s a question I’ve been rolling around in my mind. And I think the only moral thing for me to do is to not watch.
S16: Right. But like, what does football have to do with morality? Like, I already know that people are out there getting, you know, suffering traumatic brain injuries, you know, probably not getting the sort of treatment they need, but getting the sort of education they were promised. So you already make all these sort of compromises to watch college football in the first place. Right. This is just another one. But I would like to think that when TCU and SMU square off on September twenty sixth for the iron skillet and TCU lost to SMU last year for the first time in twenty years, and they want to win the iron skillet back, that I will have enough self-discipline to say no, that I will not watch, but it’s just tough to know right now because who who even knows what September twenty six is going to look like in this country, right?
S1: I mean, come on, Joel. I mean, there are some things in life that are worth risking the health and safety of hundreds or thousands of people in the iron skillet. Clearly one of those.
S6: Yeah, I think honestly, I’m sick of Shambhu, so I don’t want I don’t want him on the cover of Texas football. I think the TCU owes him one. I don’t want SMU fans to be happy, but. Yeah, no, I mean I mean, are you going to are you all going to watch. I mean, would you all watch.
S7: I think so. Just you know, for strictly for journalistically right now, this is more of a quandary for you now that you’re now that this isn’t your beat anymore, you could plausibly not watch college football and not have it be detrimental to your to your job performance.
S16: Well, I always tell always tell my wife, like, no matter what I was like, hey, you know, I’m watching football. This is for work, OK? This is just about work.
S7: It can definitely still be for work. I’m sure we’ll have occasion to talk about it. But no, I mean, we should check back in on this and a couple of weeks when it actually is more of like what if, if and when there’s something on the schedule, then we can talk about it real quick.
S16: Do you actually think there’s going to be football this year in the SSA for us?
S7: I think there is. I mean, I, I, I think there probably will be, yeah.
S1: I think that there might be. But if these outbreaks on campuses, which seem to be inevitable. That’s true. That’s true. Grow I mean, doesn’t even have to be exponentially. There’s going to be a point where they should just hurry up and play ten games this week just right. I mean, even university presidents in the SCC must have to, you know, consider the possibility of myocarditis on their three hundred pound linemen as a risk that’s not worth allowing.
S7: Well, we’ll see. And we’ll be talking about this more in the weeks to come. Thank you, guys, as always. Thank you. Slate plus members free membership. And we’ll be back with more next week.