S1: The following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: Hi, I’m Stefan Fatsis, and this is Slate’s sports podcast. Hang up and listen for the week of April. Twenty sixth twenty twenty one. On this week’s show, we’ll assess the extremely fast and incredibly delicious collapse of European football’s super league. Tarik Tonja of The New York Times will join us for that conversation. We’ll also discuss Stefan Curry’s ridiculous APR during which he’s averaged a damn near 40 points per game. And finally, we’ll interview transgender runner and medical researcher Joanna Harper about the fight over and future of transgender athletes in girls and women’s sports. I’m the author of the book Word Freak A Few Seconds of Panic and Wild. And Outside, I’m in Washington, D.C., looking at Slate’s national editor, the author of The Queen, the host of Slow Burn Season four, and my friend Josh Levine, who’s also in our nation’s capital.
S1: Hey, Josh, what a sweetie you are where we’re flipping things, switching things up for people. We’ve got to keep them on their toes. We call that muscle confusion. We don’t want people to just kind of get no complaints to say yes to the same mental exercises.
S2: Listener complacency is a bad thing.
S1: I feel like we need to be a little bit more harsh on our listeners. We just provide them with all this enjoyable content, giving me a little time yelling them and telling them how inadequate and adequate there.
S2: Yeah, we need to be more like, you know, a high school football coach. Speaking of high school football, Segre joining us from Palo Alto, California. Slate staff writer Joel Anderson, host of Slow Burn Season three and six high school football star subgoal.
S3: What’s up, man? How are you? I was wondering whether a high school football connection was coming in. I’m glad to be. You circle it back around to being a star. That was important because I’m more than high school football player. College football players. Yeah, not a star. No, no, no. Not that I’m
S2: not going to give you that. Journalism being the first draft of history, the full story of the Super League has yet to be told. But when it is this tale of arrogance, greed and incompetence by an international cast of billionaire oil barons, industrialists and financiers deserves to join the pantheon of all time marketing disasters alongside Heaven’s Gate, New Coke and I don’t know, the Hindenburg. Tarik Panj and Rory Smith of The New York Times produced the definitive tick tock of how the debacle went down last week. I particularly enjoyed this detail about how, despite internal doubts about the plan’s readiness, some of the owners of the twelve breakaway clubs from England, Spain and Italy said, screw it, let’s do this, and pushed out the announcement. It was made at 11:00 p.m. last Sunday in London, and Panj and Smith quoted one executive involved as saying it was dead in the water by eleven ten The Times. Tarik Panj joins us now. Welcome to the show.
S4: Hey, nice to be with you.
S2: Thanks for coming on. You guys wrote that the Super League is a story of egos and intrigue, avarice and ambition, secret meetings and private lunches, international finance and internecine strife. It was epic. It’s been a week. And I’m still asking myself, possibly rhetorically, Tarek, even by the standards of world football and self-delusion, but zillionaires, how did this happen?
S4: It’s a question that we’ll be we’ll be asking for several years. Like you say, it’s one of those collapses is one of those fiascos that that we haven’t seen the like of before. And this is a sport where we do have fiasco’s on the regular partly, I believe, is it it’s to do with the fact of the cost. You’re talking about billionaires and plutocrats, oligarchs and sheiks, et cetera, all in a room together. These are men and they were all men who always get their own way. And they thought, hey, guys, we’ve got a great plan where the smartest people in the room, we’re so rich. What I’m sure we can make it happen. And it was they forgot about the fundamentals, about global soccer. It’s the people’s game. They forgot about the people.
S1: You said exactly what my leader was going to be. It’s an important reminder of a maxim that I think we should all internalize, which is just because you’re rich does not mean you’re smart. And I also wanted to ask you a question kind of leading off how you ended your remarks, which is how important was the fan and player revolt here? Because that’s the kind of like romantic underdog story that we like to tell ourselves, is like, oh, the fans massing outside of Manchester United was what turned it or the players like where? Those shirts like is that just like kind of a nice, happy story about, like the little guy winning or is that actually fundamentally what happened? And that’s how this thing fell apart?
S4: Yeah, I think it’s a critical component. Despite it being kind of this happy clappy narrative, there is a there is an element of truth to it. And I think it shook executives certainly when it came to the English team. So I think we have to separate this out. There were six English teams, three Spanish teams and three Italian teams. And this battle for the soul of football was targeted and won in England. The the opposition in Spain and Italy wasn’t so vociferous, certainly not when it came to the people, the public, the fans in the street or the or the media as well in that in that sense,
S1: what that is?
S4: Well, a little bit to do with the dynamics of of of each of those countries. Of the three I mean, we’re talking about pan-European Superleague that only involved three teams. I mean, that’s a conversation that we can put a pin in and speak about a bit later. But but but you’re looking at the dynamics, market dynamics in particular in Spain. You have already essentially this Real Madrid and Barcelona duopoly that has disappeared and over the hill. And they’re kind of untethered from from the domestic competition already in many ways. And they were selling this idea that in order to continue being these mighty powerhouses and get this interest, they’ll be well served with being part of a European elite. And that opposition really didn’t exist in Spain at the media environment. Real Madrid is a institutional powerhouse. It’s beyond soccer, beyond sport. The power of Real Madrid has in Spanish society. And those are levers that it’s able to pull both with government and also particularly with the media. Real Madrid maybe has two newspapers that are seen as real as though there were political parties. Real Madrid and Barcelona would have its newspapers in the Catalonia region, which are the Barcelona newspapers. And these are sports newspapers, which are perhaps the most at the high circulation in Spain, at the sports press and then in Italy. Italy is this area has been a fiasco for for a really long time. The Italian league has been on its knees for a while. And in Andriana Ali, the president of Juventus, they’ve got used to this kind of drumbeat to secession, as it were, this idea that they were going to go away. And there just wasn’t that same kind of passion in England. There has been the fans like to be seen and have their voice heard, whether it’s hard or not like to be seen, to have the fan protests are probably as high as anywhere else on the continent, apart from Germany, which is why maybe you didn’t see a German team sign up immediately. But the fan, the fan revolt would have been an obvious consequence. These guys should have seen coming. And as far as the players were concerned, that really rattled the clubs as well. So if you look at this project that was launched when Europe was asleep Sunday into Monday night, by Monday morning, Monday afternoon, you had fans, players and coaches of the teams that were leaving, essentially the employees of these executives who had agreed to this revolting on the plans and adding a dose of social media amplification. And it was the perfect storm.
S2: There’s a lot of, I think, dancing on the grave of the Super League and some of that is natural and healthy and justified. And to follow up on the fan conversation, you know, what really needs to happen here and what the Super League demonstrated is that there are serious financial inequities in European football and the the changes that would need to happen to repair some of that, I don’t think necessarily would please fans. Right. There’s already been some dissonance here. You know, those Chelsea fans were protesting outside of Stamford Bridge last week. But how are they going to feel if the richest clubs are forced to restrain their spending to get things in the line? There was a I read a piece by a columnist in Liverpool who said the club could make it up to disaffected and angry fans by making some huge signings during the next transfer window, which is kind of how we got here in the first place.
S4: Yeah, and there speaks the hypocrisy and the one eyedness of all of this. Let’s see, as you say, if it is more of an equitable distribution of soccer’s riches. The problem, in a way, has been shaped by by the media in modern football as much as anything else. The stories that attract the most interest, the ones that get clicks and eyeballs, etc., are the ones that are the fantasy stories. Who are we going to sign? How much are we going to pay? Almost it’s almost a game in itself outside of what’s happening on the field. In fact, I would say those stories generate way more interest in actually what happened on the field on Sunday or Saturday night or Wednesday. And this is the kind of crazy situation that the game has found itself on, and I guess the fans now expect a quick fixes. And this is this is the maximum. You look at the state of Barcelona football club, for example, whose motto is more than a club because it means something. It’s it’s an institution to the people of Catalonia. It’s a bastion of of Catalan freedom in many ways. But but it is in a right pickle. It has overspent, spent money that it didn’t have. It’s borrowed against its future revenues in order to try and keep up, in order to keep winning. And then no one no one has asked themselves in the in the 80s. In the 90s. Barcelona didn’t have to win every game. Barcelona didn’t have to win every trophy. Real Madrid the same. This this this club only won its first European Cup, which is now the Champions League in 1992. This sense now of you have to win. We have to crush our opposition and we have to spend to to do that. This this this kind of arms race, it wasn’t a part of the game of soccer. Historically, it is a modern phenomenon, partly because of TV explosion of the TV market, but also a kind of a way of thinking that has engulfed the game, that is that, you know, spent when spend, when spend when. And that that is all that matters. And there are other currents that have pushed this this on as well. You know, I was just off the phone with a senior member of the European Parliament and they’re talking about, you know, safeguarding and regulations to protect the game, et cetera. Well, you know, where were these people before? Because one of the currents are these the arrival of oligarch’s nation states from the Middle East in buying local soccer teams, et cetera, and sort of pumping them full of their wealth. The oil they’re selling in the Middle East is now fueling the transfer bubble in Europe. You can argue that money is coming straight from Abu Dhabi and Qatar into the coffers of Manchester City and Paris and Yemen, for example. And that is inflationary pressure. And then if you’re Barcelona and Real Madrid clubs that can’t be sold, there are members, clubs. So how do we keep up with these guys? And it looks like they can’t without bankrupting themselves and we’re in this mess and in order. This was a quick fix in many ways. Let’s blame the pandemic for our mismanagement. Yes, the pandemic has been painful, but the mismanagement conditions preexisted the global pandemic and impact on finances from from closed stadiums. Let’s use this fig leaf and let’s escape from our catastrophic balance sheets by going to a Superleague, ensuring that we can then be profitable and powerful again and rid ourselves of all that red ink on our balance sheets.
S1: I just think it’s truly, truly beyond remarkable, like how poorly conceived this was from a marketing and salesmanship point of view. And I guess the question is, is there a way that this could have worked, that a European Superleague could have come together if the kind of puny brains that were behind it had been a little bit savvier or a lot savvier?
S4: Yeah, and I think that that comes with transparency might be the answer here. If this was a project to save European football, European soccer, which is what Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid president, seem to claim, he said by 2024, if we don’t do anything right now, if we don’t do this, our clubs will be busted and broken and soccer in Europe will be destroyed. If it was that existential, shouldn’t have been this grand conversation.
S1: Yeah, open the books, have a commission, even if you have the outcome preordained. And no matter what what happens, you’re going to do whatever you want to do to make it look like there’s a process at least, and that there’s a conversation.
S4: Well, let me let you into a little secret as well. There was a plan that just wasn’t actioned to have fan engagement at the center of it to explain why why they are going to do this, to explain not only to the external supporters and I guess customers, which we call them now, of modern sport, but also their own their own staff and people. There was a plan to do all of these things that would make sense, that might have had some Buy-In. I mean, the shocking thing a week after is not a single person was willing to be a spokesman for this project, not a single owner, but certainly from the English side was willing to. They were they were they were they were just fighting among themselves not to be the spokesman at that point. The alarm bells are ringing on. If we can’t stand up for our own project, if we can’t go on television to talk about this, to sell this idea, to talk to the press, who are we kidding? We can’t we’re trying to defend the indefensible by the sounds of it because we’re not willing to put our face to this. The only person that appeared was Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid president who’s dreamed of something like this for about two decades. And where does the hope is that a gaudy tabloid late night talk show that his friend runs? There were no difficult questions asked. He was allowed to just pretty much make things up that were not true. And the other executives were kind of sort of had their head in their hands. And thank God this isn’t good, but. Say to them, well, where were you, at least, at least this guy went on the TV and he made have made a fool of himself, perhaps, but but they were they were in hiding.
S2: It didn’t help that the American owners in England are among the most reclusive and least public figures in sports, John Henry, Joe Glazer and Stan Crunchie. And the impulse here and a lot of this has been blamed on the Americans for wanting to introduce a sort of American style league system here, where you have cost assurances, you’ve got shared revenue among the teams at the elite level that helps to foster better competition. But the difference, it seems to me, is that, look, it’s partly at the root of how clubs function and how they are governed across the continent in very different ways. But also, you know, there’s a salary control issue in some areas and most American sports that’s absent in European football. And I’m sure that Glazer, Cronk and Henry would love to see a salary cap in the Premier League as long as they could pocket a larger share of the revenues because they are the most elite teams. But those kinds of reforms don’t seem like the ones that are likely, even though they might be the ones that are necessary on a domestic level.
S4: I think that was one of the impulses that drove them to to the Super League. Looking at the plans that there was an element in that phase. It was called the financial stability section of this contract, whatever they drew up. And it was quite detailed to the point that it said only fifty five percent of the revenue should be spent on player trading and salaries, et cetera. These days we’re talking about something like 70 percent and rising because of the pandemic. You know, if Barcelona doesn’t fix itself, its revenue to transfer and salary spending would go to over 100 more than they earn, basically, and it would be they’ll be spending in order to keep up. So arguably, they say, look, we need to be saved from ourselves. We have we have no impulse control here. We’re so eager to to end the pressure of the fans is so high that we have to almost leave the structures of European football and create something that can be policed so hard that we all sign up to in order to do this. And for the Americans as well, that impulse is profitability, but also the valuation of their franchises. This at a stroke, the values of these businesses, Manchester United, Liverpool and Fenway Sports Group Arsenal would have would have mushroomed, would have been much, much, much larger. And if they’re looking at an exit strategy or looking for to recoup the investment they’ve already made, that would have that would have been hugely successful for them. The other reason is there are financial control mechanisms, both the Premier League level and crucially, European football level with the governing body, UEFA. It was called Financial Fair Play, and there were critical decisions, critical or indecision over over over this project. And again, I just want to talk about Manchester City and Paris and German. The teams are owned by golf royalty who appeared out of nowhere to grow into the biggest clubs in the world through the cash largesse of their owners and the other clubs, particularly the Americans. They didn’t see this coming. They thought, well, UEFA has the rules in place. Plus where the biggest teams, if we’re Manchester United or Liverpool, we’re going to generate huge amounts of revenue because we as American businessmen sweat the brand a lot better than whatever’s come before. And we’re going to be off to the races within this controlled environment. And then they expected that UEFA, the governing body of soccer in Europe, would police this financial control element of the sport a lot better than it did. Now, arguably, they’re right. We’ve seen Paris Saint-Germain essentially go through a process in which the investigators of these financial breaches said, ha, ha, we can show that you have breached our rules and you face sanction and in the end, get away with it through a little bit of chicanery and maybe a wink and a nod from UEFA itself. I think crucially, last year, Manchester City, which was caught in breach, according to these investigators, and again, get away with it, was hit with a two year sanction. The breaches were that significant. And again, UAF, his attempts to justify its position at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, essentially the Supreme Court of Global Sport, flopped spectacularly. Some would say we’ve seen some reporting or some some some commentary on this UEFA taking a dive in this case and these two teams. Powering on, so, yeah, there was some some pressure about cost control from these American owners, but
S1: then by talking about the zeal for punishment here, it started out with the punishment going in one direction, which is FIFA saying that clubs and players who participated in the Super League could potentially be banished from the World Cup. The conversation now has turned to this idea that clubs that joined the league, even though it doesn’t exist anymore, should be punished for their sins by the league. You have in your reporting, Tarek, at the Premier League holding a meeting without those six teams deciding what to do about them up for president, has come out and said that all of the 12 teams will face consequences for what they did. Is that actually going to happen? It seems a little unrealistic to me. I guess the bigger question is when, if ever, will this be forgotten or is this going to kind of hang over the head of these clubs, you know, forever?
S4: I’m going to reserve my judgment. Have been around too long. You know, these people took a very big game. And let’s see let’s see what happens when it comes to punishment. We’ve already seen some backsliding here from from the control bodies, particularly in Europe, where they’ve said, well, look, we have to separate. Yes, the 12 are going to be punished, you know, without providing any details of what type of punishment they’ll be.
S1: What would it what could it even possibly be like make the owners were done scalpers.
S4: Exactly. And equally equally, they’ve also said some of them have already apologized and we have to treat them differently. You know, we we are a football family, et cetera, et cetera. So the mood music to me suggests make
S1: them read an apology letter in the middle of the stadium.
S4: They’ll have to they’ll have to. They’ll have to do something. But it feels like a bit of theater, a bit more symbolic than anything else over the three teams. By the way, I still part of this zombie league, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus are still signed up. And, you know, if you hear the UAE for president the weekend, I think he was talking to the Associated Press and he said, those guys, you know, you are going to be kicked out. And I believe that threat feels a bit more real because these guys are still sort of clinging on like barnacles to this project that’s been disavowed by absolutely everybody else. So the punishments may be meted out to them differently. But, yeah, I mean, I see them being kicked off committees, for example, and we have to separate the clubs and the owners. To your second point, you said, are these clubs always going to be tarred with this brush as being these kind of, you know, evil incarnate, et cetera? But I think even within the clubs, I mean, take the example of the Glazers, they are persona non grata among Manchester United fans, certainly those in the UK since day one. This was a club that had no no debt. They bought it in a leveraged buyout. About a billion pounds has has gone out in order for Manchester United to be owned by the Glazer family. This is money that is left the club and solely gone towards the Glazer purchase. And for that, they will all never be forgiven. So in terms of how low their reputation is going to go among their fan base, I don’t think it could have gone any lower. So in the end, they didn’t have anything to lose. I think the ones that are suffering are others, particularly, I would say Fenway Sports Group, John Henry and Co. They arrived in 2010 promising to be better stewards than the previous American owners, George Gillette and Tom Hicks, who pretty much lost the club in court. Huge fan opposition to those. And Henry Coe spoke a good game about being good custodians, being an ear to the to the fans needs understanding the area. We’re going to we’re going to listen. We’re going to listen before we act, etc.. This may have been a rupture, a bridge too far. And I think, you know, Henry had to Henry famously, who didn’t want to appear on video or in the media to speak up for the idea 48 hours later. You know, he looks like a man bereft. He issued a video of apology. Yeah. Yeah. He looked like he was in a funeral home or a mortician’s officer there. And I suppose that kind of look at given that this project had died and that that’s what that’s what it felt like. And, you know, some some fans are saying, yeah, fair play. At least he’s spoken up. But I think most are saying it was largely performative and they had to do it. I think there is a great, great rupture there that may take a long time, if ever, to mend.
S2: Tarek Ponder’s, a global sports reporter for The New York Times. He joined us from London. Tarek, thank you so much for coming on the show.
S4: Thanks for having me.
S2: Coming up next, we’ll talk about Stefan Curry’s incredible April.
S3: So you think by now that Steph Curry could no longer surprise us in 2015, he was the first ever player to be elected NBA MVP by unanimous vote. He was the engine of the league’s most recent dynasty, leading the Golden State Warriors to five straight NBA finals, where they won three of them. And he’s quite literally revolutionized the game using unprecedented marksmanship from behind the three point arc to influence a generation of jump shooters. But you know what, Steph? Still has never been as productive, never been as potent as he’s been in the past month. Steph scored thirty or more points in 11 consecutive games, a league record for player thirty three years or older. And for April, Steph has averaged thirty eight point one points on fifty three percent shooting and forty seven percent from three. He put up thirty seven last night in a four point win over the Kings, which included a ridiculous nearly half court heave at the end of the shot clock early in the game. Just another one of his, you know, absurd becoming regular. But Steph is piled up these unprecedented numbers while his team has a record of thirty one and thirty, which is good for only tenth place in the Western Conference. So, Steph, in the athletics, Marcus Thompson wrote that years from now, basketball fans should be able to look up this year and see Jokic or somebody is MVP. See the Warriors record is mediocre and have the context of what happened completely lost in the data. So do you think this test performance this season will actually stand the test of time or will it be forgotten if he doesn’t win his third MVP?
S2: I mean, how do we forget this guy? I mean, did you see what Doc Rivers said the other day? I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like the run that he’s been on. Doc Rivers turns 60 in October. A few days ago, Steve Kerr steps coach said obviously nobody’s ever shot the ball like this in the history of the game. And then after Sunday night’s game, here’s what he had to say.
S5: I’ve run out of ways to describe Jeff’s play, so I’m I’m just going to stop trying and I’ll ask you to go back, I don’t know, three or four games to go look at my comments then and use those tonight again.
S2: Kerr went on to say, the shot making is just unbelievable and mind boggling. But I’ve used those phrases already. But I know you’ve got to keep asking. As long as he keeps playing like that, you got to keep asking. I got to keep answering. You know, Joel Marcus Thompson in that piece you quoted compared with Steph is doing this year to Wilt, Kareem, Michael and Kobe. And what’s different is that Kareem, Michael and Kobe, in their peak seasons, played for championship contending teams and peak Wilt in Philadelphia had to contend with Bill Russell Celtics. This depleted Klay Thompson with Golden State team is largely ass. And then, you know, they still could outright make the playoffs or qualify for the play in game or whatever the NBA is doing this year. Curry is carrying a team that everybody knows he has to carry and they still can’t stop him from doing what he does. And he has modified his game to accommodate that reality. And he’s been nothing but better than ever. It’s incredible.
S1: Yeah. I mean, the comparisons to Marcus made, I think are apt. But there are two that I thought of that I think captured the fact that his team isn’t that good. Russell Westbrook in twenty sixteen seventeen. When Russ won the MVP the year after Durant left, the Thunder weren’t very good. They didn’t make the playoffs lost in five games to. Houston Rockets and weren’t particularly competitive in that series and were never any kind of threat to make the finals or when a title or anything like that, but that was the year that Russ became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple double. And he was doing this from the start of the season. He had seven straight triple doubles as of December 9th. He was putting up, you know, fifty point, you know, games with triple doubles. I mean, he was doing some ridiculous, ridiculous stuff. And we I mean, I guess you don’t have the contrast that Marcus is suggesting, but it’s like nobody has forgotten that Russell Westbrook sees. And even though his team was bad, the other one is Kobe Bryant in 2006, which was one of those kind of like interregnum in between Shaq and Pau Gasol, kind of crappy Lakers teams. That was the year that Kobe scored eighty one in a game against the Raptors. They lost in the first round of the Suns. But has anybody forgotten the game that Kobe’s eighty one points against Toronto? Like these things are indelible and I’m not like people.
S3: What people, what people want that Jalen Rose, forget that Kobe scored 81 points totally.
S1: And I was not like a huge fan of what Kobe was doing. I mean, there’s never been a Kobe fan. I think what Russ was doing was extremely impressive. And I find him to be kind of magnificent to watch in maybe small doses. But Steph is the most entertaining player, I think, in NBA history. On moment to moment basis, his appointment viewing, he’s the only player in the league where I will just like seek out the highlights after every game. And Joel, you’re rolling your eyes because it is kind of a ridiculous statement. But you mentioned the shot against the Kings, where he collected the ball from past half court, dribbled it a little bit in the front court and threw the ball way up in the air. And it just swish through no rim, like not even close to hitting the rim. And is there has there been a better highlight the season? Has there been does he have the top five to 10 highlights this season? I mean,
S3: hey, hey, we did a whole Anthony Edwards dunking on somebody.
S1: I like that. I like this better than the Anthony Edwards dunk.
S2: Get out of
S3: here. OK, what can I just say? And maybe throw cold water all over this. All my doubts. Me probably. Yeah, I’m OK. But part of it is that my resentment and, you know, obviously have a bias here. I’m a Houston Rockets fan and the Warriors stood in the way of my rockets. But can I just say you you mentioned Kobe and you mentioned Russ. I’m a little sore that Harden didn’t quite get as props for shouldering this sort of burden for the last eight years.
S1: Yeah, it’s spectacular. Sucks to watch as the problem, but now that’s.
S3: No, no, no, that’s OK. There you go. See, so I’ll just take a look. Let’s be real quick. Let’s get some context in what James Harden did in twenty nineteen when he scored thirty points and thirty two consecutive games, the second longest streak in league history, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain, who did it for sixty five games in the nineteen sixty one sixty two season. And there’s no way to really contextualize world stats. So it’s almost like his stats don’t count. So like James Harden, you basically done something that was unprecedented in modern basketball. He did it while having a usage rate of forty two point two percent, which meant he took a shot or turned over the ball roughly two out of every five Houston plays. When he was on the court, it was like unprecedented usage, unprecedented efficiency. And people malign it by saying that he is shit to watch or boring to watch, which I dispute because watching somebody cook somebody’s possession after possession, James Harden isolates you. You know, when he’s going to do you have some idea of what he’s going to do if people can’t stop it? It’s like it’s like watching a running back in a dominant offensive line, just running the ball over and over again. I found that fascinating and I found it interesting to watch.
S1: Well, statistically, it’s unimpeachable. And you could argue and people have that here. If you want to throw at a similarly ridiculous statement that you can back up, it’s that James Harden is the best offensive player at his peak in NBA history. And I think statistically there’s an argument for that. But but Joel, like when Steph cooks somebody, it ends with, like this feathery three pointer, when when Harden cooks somebody, it ends with him swishing two shots from the free throw line. I mean, there’s no there’s no argument about which collection of highlights on a nightly basis you would rather watch.
S2: Right. Because this is about aesthetics, not just cooking. Right. I mean, we don’t expect Steph Curry to do what he does because partly it’s the way he looks. He wasn’t supposed to dominate college basketball. He weighed like one hundred and fifty pounds soaking wet. He wasn’t supposed to be great in the NBA.
S1: Let him soaking wetness.
S2: And this looks like he looks like, you know, he he looks like he is much shorter than he actually is. And it’s that it’s that quickness. It’s that unexpected movement. It’s the beauty with which he floats shots up that make us that draw us to him visually. And I think that’s what separates. And then the other thing that I think separates curry, particularly right now, is the way he has adjusted his game to, you know, to to be responsible for this whole team, which he didn’t have to do with Clay or with Durant. Certainly this is different. You know, he has changed his game this season. He is taking more step back threes, which he didn’t take so many in the past. He has become even better on deep threes. Oh, Ben. Ben Cohen of The Wall Street Journal did a really good piece looking at some of this stuff last week. And he discovered that Steph Curry has been more efficient from 30 to 40 feet than Tzion Williams and has been from inside five feet. That’s insanity. I mean, he has transcended what we conceive of as good shooting and beautiful basketball. He is the epitome of those things.
S3: I mean, yeah, and he’s doing it for tenth place team in the West. And again, I’m not trying to set this up as a harden versus curry thing, but if Harden had done.
S1: You’re not trying to do that.
S3: They’re failing. You’re failing to not do that. All of the miraculous offensive offense and his team, if Harden had performed in the same way and his team was in tenth place, people would have gone out of their way to dismiss. Can I just can I
S2: just ask you, though. All if they make the playoffs, do you want to play stuff on the Golden State Warriors in the first round or not?
S3: I mean, they just barely beat the Kings last night. And if you watch that game, Stefan, because I know you did. Those were not two good teams. It’s not like I like that game. It was a mess at the last minute.
S2: The balls went bad. A basketball game, as you could ever watch. And that just happened
S3: because of staff. Right. And I just like, yeah, I wouldn’t I’m sure the Lakers would love to play the Warriors in the first round or any one of the good teams would love to play the Warriors again. I don’t want to be the person that equates that to dismiss death. But I just I guess I find some of the praise of him are just a little over the top because we literally just saw somebody play at a high rate of efficiency in usage in sort of an unprecedented way. And all that anybody could say was who was born. James Harden figured out how to ruined basketball draw drawing.
S1: That is that is how I sound. I’ll give you
S3: that. Yeah, that sounds nice. Yeah, that was my impersonation of Josh. And so anyway, but I guess I don’t want to take away from what Steph is doing, but I also want people to be like, I think that stuff is getting like the cuddly, lovable, soaking wet phrase that a lot of other guys don’t get. That’s song.
S1: So the numbers with Steph on the court or that the Warriors averaged one hundred fifteen point six points per one hundred non garbage time possessions. I love I love all those caveats. And I would rank eighth in the NBA over the fall season. Even that’s not that great. I mean, if you if you only had the numbers where with a star, just like on the court and not on the bench, every team is going to be a lot better. And so having them be eighth in the NBA with Steph on the court, not actually that impressive. And the fact that they’re ninety nine point nine ninety nine point nine per hundred with him off the court, which is like extremely bad. I think the point to make here is that this is not really this is not a good team, but that bad teams like with Russ and like with Kobe can be platforms for great players. And what this suggests to me is what is lost when teams tank the Warriors and tank on purpose. Steph was out injured for a very long time. But when we’re talking about leagues and like the health of a sport, if you have teams that aren’t in the playoffs or aren’t very good that are providing this level of entertainment, then that is a sign of a healthy league and a healthy sport. When you have teams that are not competitive for trophies saying, oh, well, the smart thing, so I don’t know who I am.
S3: I don’t know if you’re doing an impersonation of this.
S1: This is an impression of yes, this is Joel doing the smart thing to do to sit our players and get the quality and compile many draft picks. So in twenty, eighty seven, we could be good. Like, it might make sense. I don’t like individual team basis, but as far as league health, I don’t want to say it’s catastrophic. I’m being very hyperbolic in this segment, but it’s not good. Like this is good. Like a bad team. That’s this entertaining.
S2: That is good. Well it’s good. I mean, it’s good for the Warriors business. I mean, whether the war. Thank God for that. Well, well, whether the war. It’s smart. You know, the Warriors have played in half of the NBA’s ten most watched games this season. They snuck in to watch Steph Curry because he’s fucking amazing and he’s thirty three years old. And we cannot be sure how much longer he will be able to perform at this at this level. So good for staff, for not, you know, either wanting to leave, wanting not to play, wanting to be benched, whatever. He is demonstrating that at the peak of his powers, he can have an incredible impact not only on his team, but on the whole league. And we’re seeing a lot of work.
S3: We’re saying all this. But I mean, by the way, Josh, you’re underselling what Westbrook and the Thunder did that year. They were the sixth seed in the West. That year you have to lose. And Kevin Durant, which is actually sort of amazing. So again, I’m not like Steph is doing great, but let’s keep it in mind that he’s doing it for the tenth place team in the West, which I’m not saying to necessarily diminish what he’s doing, but in terms of his impact on the winning, we might want to just talk a little bit about doh doh
S1: doh doh doh doh. Well, he draws so much attention.
S3: Oh, no offense. Nobody else does that. Nobody Joel can. I was the only person who gets doubled off the ball and everything else he gets,
S1: he gets doubled when he crosses half court, probably more than anyone except the except Damian Lillard. Can you imagine how bad the other players on the team? Essentially a four on three every time and not be good on offense, I mean, you can’t blame him for it. I mean, his teammates ability to hit open shots
S3: and a good basketball player and not as Draymond Green a good basketball player.
S1: He has a good basketball player, but he needs to be surrounded by shooters to be good.
S3: Andrew Wiggins. Andrew Well, come on.
S1: I’m going to argue that Andrew Wiggins
S3: is I mean, he’s not he’s not. I mean, he’s not he’s not a sub basketball player. I don’t think he’s I
S1: feel I feel like if you’re the strength of your argument as Andrew Wiggins, then I’ve already won. And so we can maybe move on to other subjects.
S3: No, let me just go ahead and just say, because I did want to say this, that I do agree with what you’re saying and that it is great that the Warriors are going out there and playing like it would been it would have been very easy for them. Well, actually, they could they really couldn’t take as long as stuff is on the floor. Right. And I think that they thought that their season was going to go a little bit differently. Obviously, Clay got hurt right at the beginning of it. But they had the number two pick in the draft. They got James Wisemen, who’s also, by the way, who’s also hurt. They got Draymond back. Not Steph fault. Not Steph fault. Right. And so, so, so you’re right. Like we’re watching them play these high stakes regular season games every night and that’s not as common as you’d expect in a time of like load management. Right. Every time, every night. Now they’re playing games that matter. They’re not good enough to pull away from teams. And you push this stuff to do and play in a way that we’ve all wanted to see. I think that’s what people were saying, you know, prior to keep getting there are like in the CD era, he was sort of diminished because they were like, well, you know, he’s had to he’s seeded some of the superstar responsibilities to Katy. And that’s a really good point.
S1: Like when he when he was there, he had to give up shots. Like if you want to see Steph at his best, you have to see him without other players on the floor. I mean, it’s bad for the team, but it gives us. And when they don’t really have a chance, like, what else would you possibly want to see from them than Steph just hoisting every time down the court, right?
S3: Yeah. Do you remember when, I guess LeBron in the 2015 finals, it sort of reminds me of that and would like it was sort of a fait accompli, like the Cavs were not going to beat the Warriors, but basically they gave LeBron an unprecedented usage rate and just say, hey, just fire it up.
S1: And another example of a thing that we haven’t forgotten, despite the fact that they lost like people were talking about him winning the, you know, MVP that year
S3: in a loss.
S2: Next, we’ll talk to Joanna Harper about transgender athletes and the politics of transgender sports. Earlier this month, The Washington Post’s Wil Hobson wrote a fascinating four thousand word story about a new cause for a group of Title nine pioneers regulating how transgender girls and women compete in sports known as the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group. The organization is led by some of the biggest names in the history of the equality movement Donna de Varona, Donna Lopiano, Martina Navratilova, who say they want to find a science based middle ground between outright bans and open inclusion of transgender athletes. But as Hobsons story reveals, the middle ground is complicated terrain culturally, politically and legislatively. And this group of advocates of women’s rights finds itself criticized by advocates of transgender rights. Joining us now from Korn, England, is Joanna Harper. She is a leading researcher in the area of hormones and transgender athletes at Loughborough University, as well as before and after her own transition. An elite level long distance runner. Joanna is also the author of Sporting Gender The History, Science and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes. Joanna, welcome to the show.
S6: Nice to be here.
S2: Thank you for joining us. Before we get to the politics and the politics are pretty ugly. We’re talking about discriminatory anti trans legislation. Let’s start with the science. The basic issue here is when, for how long and to what extent trans girls and women should be required to suppress their testosterone levels before being permitted to compete. Joanna, in that post story, you said, my agenda is to pull people toward the middle. The science leads me there. What does The Science Show?
S6: Well, first of all, to be honest, the science is in its infancy. And so the data that we have shows that hormone therapy will mitigate many of the advantages that any trans woman has passed through male type puberty will acquire, but it won’t eliminate all of the advantages. So it’s a complicated thing whether hormone therapy is required, whether it’s sufficient. And it’s also highly dependent upon the the the level that that one is is playing. If if one is talking about Olympic sports, then I think it’s it’s paramount that we create conditions under which female athletes can enjoy success if we’re talking about recreational sports. And I think letting people play where they’re most comfortable is more important.
S1: Joanna, you mentioned the distinctions between, say, high school, college and Olympic level sports. And a lot of the conversation that’s been going on here in America is about the high school level. Can you talk about your views on what should be done in high school particularly?
S6: Well, you’ve probably touched on the most challenging group to deal with. You know, adolescence mature as adults in very different ways in during their high school years. And those who are athletes progressed as athletes very differently to for for many, if not most high school athletes. They go for the teams that their friends are playing on. You know, they try and they yeah, they want to win, but it’s not life for them. But there are certainly some high school athletes who are achieving a very high level. And so there’s there’s this and then the rates of puberty, how somebody progresses from age 14 to 17 or 18 is highly individual. And then with trans kids, the question of what is appropriate hormone therapy for trans kids at that age is also a very challenging thing. And so you have all these these various complicating factors, and it makes it extraordinarily difficult to create a workable policy for for high school trans athletes.
S3: I had a question, but I want to kind of add on to that a little bit, because I’m reading a quote here from Joshua Sofer of the ACLU. And I think he said is that, you know, the important thing to consider here as it relates to high school sports and teenagers is are we addressing a problem that actually exist or are we simply addressing a fear? And that’s sort of the same question I have. Like when people are raising this issue here about, you know, high school athletes and the inclusion amongst trans athletes, what what is the actual fear here? Like what would you get a sense for? Like would. People are actually trying to stop,
S6: you know, first of all, the actual fear in many cases is the people are expressing fears aren’t necessarily being honest. Many of these people are using trans athletes as a political chip to try to advance anti LGBT policies. So did the actual fear and the fear that’s being propagated are probably two different things. However, if we’re talking about a realistic fear, it is is this that if we don’t allow trans girls or if we don’t require trans girls to go through hormone therapy in high school sports, that some of them will do so very well that that, you know, they will destroy any opportunities for CIS gendered girls to to earn things like state championships and college scholarships. And if we talk about that, clear for the most part hasn’t been realized. There are two girls in Connecticut who won several state championships between them and Connecticut did not require or does not require hormone therapy. And certainly I think that for many athletes, winning a state championship is a very it’s a huge thing in their lives. And so I can certainly empathize with that. The question of college scholarships is is a much different question. And I think the odds that a savvy college coach is going to offer an athletic scholarship to a chance growers have been on hormone therapy are very, very slight indeed. And in this particular case, the two transcripts from Connecticut were sued by three gender girls and four out of those five girls have since graduated from high school. And part of the argument, a persistent regrows, was that their opportunities for college scholarships were being taken away from them. The two CIS gender girls who graduated receive college scholarships, one to William and Mary, which is a terrific school and has a terrific track team to the two transgender girls. Neither of them were offered college scholarships, so this huge fear didn’t materialize. This hasn’t been replicated in any other state anywhere at any time. So so this this theoretical fear hasn’t really materialized.
S2: I think it’s important to note that according to data, there’s less than two percent of high school students identify themselves as trans. And the number of those students who play sports is is miniscule overall. And I want to follow up on the Connecticut case, because on Sunday, a federal judge dismissed it on procedural grounds. The judge said that the trans athletes had graduated, as you mentioned, and that the plaintiffs couldn’t identify any other trans female athletes who might compete against them next year. So the claims were moved. There no doubt will be similar challenges here. And that’s the bogeyman for and the excuse that particularly in conservative states and right in Republican dominated states are using here this notion that somehow women’s sports are going to be destroyed and opportunities are going to be denied. You know, it may be a fantasy. As an ACLU lawyer put it in that post story, LeBron James is going to put on a wig and play basketball with fourth graders. That’s not going to happen. But the the political issue here, and I’d like to pivot a little bit, is that the arguments that are being made by some of these Title nine leaders are being co-opted by the Republican side of this of this cultural war. And that feels a little weird and troubling to me that, you know, the notion that arguing that the trans athletes in high school are going to deny girls opportunities is now being seized on as a way to deprive rights to to trans girls.
S6: I mean, that’s certainly unfortunate. And it’s not the intention of the women’s sports policy group to to to have these ideas co-opted in this manner. I know a couple of the people quite well in that group and have a lot of respect for them. And I, too, believe in in this middle ground, but yes, there are definitely ideas that have been co-opted by by these people who are whose goal is is not women’s sports because they don’t really care about women’s sports at all. They’re not advocating for more funding, more support for women’s sports. They’re just using this to to push an anti LGBT agenda. However, I do think it is important to understand that there is a scientific basis for, you know, for the fact that if trans girls go through male type puberty and especially if they don’t go on hormone therapy, there is a hugely unlevel playing field. But as you said, trans people make up less than two percent of the population. Trans youth are only one sixth is likely to go out for school sports as a gender youth. So trans transsexuals are not going to be taking over girls’ sports. It’s going to happen. You may see a few isolated cases. And most of the time these trans girls, even in states that don’t require hormone therapy, are going to go on hormone therapy anyway because they feel better, they’re happier, they’re healthier that way. You know, this this Connecticut case, which was a huge outlier in many respects, but it does illustrate one of these girls competed in indoor track tequila’s her sophomore year, maybe her junior year on the boys team and then, with no physical changes, competed in so competed in boys track indoors in the winter and then girls track in the spring and went from being a pretty decent high school sprinter to somebody who is now setting state records. You know, I think that’s unfortunate. I think those state records probably should have an asterisk next to them. You know, I feel for the six girls who were in that position, and I don’t think that those rules were the best rules. But, you know, this is something that is is not likely to occur any time soon again.
S1: Joanna, how are your views informed by your own career as an elite athlete in your own transition? And can you describe to folks the kind of data that you collected about yourself?
S6: Yeah, first of all, you’re being overly kind to me. I never had a career as an elite athlete. I’ve competed for many years, the most money I ever won in a race with three hundred dollars. The most money I ever won in a year was just over a thousand dollars.
S2: But you ran it, but you ran a two three marathon.
S6: That’s pretty subtlely some elite and a career. I’ve had a career first as a medical physicist and now as a researcher into transgender athletes. Sports has never been my career. But, you know, I have been a pretty good athlete in in multiple sports for many years and especially as a distance runner. And yes, my individual path certainly, you know, forged a future for me. When I started my gender transition in 2004, I started hormone therapy and within weeks I was running noticeably slower. Nine months later, I was running 12 percent slower. And that’s the difference between serious middle distance runners and serious female distance runners. So I lost my complete male advantage within nine months. And as a scientist, I was intrigued by that. How could that happen? How could hormone therapy make so much difference so quickly? So I started to learn about the endocrinology and the exercise physiology involved. I very carefully monitored my own race times and and associated my times with with various metrics. And then I started to find other trans women, distance runners who had been through a similar process. And it took seven years. But I gathered enough data for a paper and in twenty fifteen I published the first quantitative analysis of transgender athletes, and there was literally nothing else like it in the world. And I remember at the time somebody said, well, you’ve gone through all this now what’s next for you? And I said, Well. I don’t know, it’s not like this publishing this paper is going to change my life or anything, but but it did. And so suddenly I find myself with more data on trans athletes than all the universities in all the world combined. And so. You know, I the International Olympic Committee, other world governing bodies started coming to me that the press found out about me and started asking questions, and I found out that that I have some gifts in terms of of media representation, in terms of presenting ideas to governing bodies. And so, you know, this this thing that just started out with, well, I can find data and get data that no one else has has has become my life now. And, you know, it’s gratifying. But certainly there are days when I just kind of like to be left to join.
S3: I want to ask you a question as a sub athlete, but I’m going to kind of disguise it as a rant. OK, so who gives a fuck who wins high school athletics? And so, like, I’m looking at I’m looking at Terry Miller and Andre Yearwood success. Those are the two Connecticut athletes who ran the trains are athletes that won the Women’s Spring Championships in Connecticut. And they were good. But we’re not talking about Shikari Richardson or Shelby Hoolihan here. You know, we’re not talking about, you know, future Olympians. So what annoys me is someone who knows that plenty of people will go to the end of the Earth to press all of their advantages from like trainers, exclusive travel clubs, moving and transferring in search of playing time, a certain level of competition. Why don’t they want to show up and compete against whoever the fuck shows up? Like if you’re good, if you’re a college level athlete, like you said with Terry and Andre, the girls that finish behind them ended up at least a couple of them got scholarships, one to William and Mary. So is an athlete like as a competitor doing it like back in the day, like, would you have been afraid to run against somebody that showed up in your district and all of a sudden, you know, I have to be worried about this this competitor here, like it seems like you would have just run, right?
S6: Yeah. You know, it’s certainly true as an athlete that, you know, the only thing you can control is your own performance. And a large part of, you know, of what motivates me as an athlete in many others is to try to be the best athlete that you can. But at the same time, one of my all time favorite races was a high school race that I ran where I was up against two boys at the time. They had both beaten me the year before. And then I came back and beat them the following year and I won this championship doing it. And so and it was that day that I knew that I could be a pretty good runner. And so, you know, so so high school sports do matter. You know, it’s it’s not the Olympics. It’s not like this is a professional. You’re going to get fired if you don’t, you know, are traded to another team or anything like this. So you do have to take this with a grain of salt. It’s also especially true that when you’re looking for college scholarships, they’re more interested in how these girls perform rather than whether they won or lost a state championship because they’re looking at girls from all over the that country. And so, you know, it’s how you perform in this pool of all the other senior girls who are then going on to college from anywhere in the country. So whether or not you win the state championship, does it matter for your scholarship? But by saying that winning high school championships you think they matter to are?
S2: We’re going to continue the conversation in our bonus segment for Slate plus listeners. But for those of you who are not Slate plus listeners, you can join to listen or just we’ll say goodbye to Joanna Harper. Joanna is a researcher on transgender sports. She’s also the author of Sporting Gender The History, Science and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes. The introduction to that book is written by our friend David Epstein, who was one of the first people to interview Joanna a few years ago. Joanna, thank you for joining us on the show. You’re welcome. And now it is time for after balls. On Sunday, the chief executive of Leeds United, Angus Kinnear, published a letter in the team’s game program for its match against Manchester United. He went off on the Super League. He called the big six English teams playground bullies, described their actions, is deeply cynical and seditious and reveled in their having to eat humble pie. He also wrote this astonishing engorge Daejeon. This has been the unexpected catalyst of creating a furious unity across nations, leagues, players, owners and fans. Engorge did you? And this got picked up all over the place, of course, because it’s weird. The only problem was that after I did a little Googling, I realised that the word is actually engorge did just the mess they left out the S. I have to imagine that Kamir or someone on the lead staff picked the word up from the Twitter account of an English lexicographer and media personality in England. I guess you can be both named Susie Dent. Last Monday, the morning after the Super League announced its plan, Dant tweeted in Gorgeousness as her word of the day. It got one hundred and fifty one thousand likes. The Oxford English Dictionary defines engorge digits as greedy, avaricious labels it obsolete, rare. The first and only citation for the word is from sixteen thirty seven and the first example for single digits. And this is seventeen thirty four shots to whoever on the Leeds staff who follows lexicographer Susie Dent and to Angus Kinnear of my new favorite club, Leeds, for approving the use of gorgeousness under his name. Josh, what’s your Angus Kamir?
S1: On Sunday, your LSU Tigers announced that they’d hired Kim Mulkey to be their new women’s basketball coach. From a competitive perspective, it’s an unimpeachable hire, maybe the best hire in college sports in recent memory, actually taking a coach who’s won three national titles away from the school where she’s won them. She’s the only person in the history of men’s or women’s college basketball to win titles as a player and assistant and head coach. She’s about to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Come on, Kim Mulkey, she’s good at coaching basketball from a non competitive perspective. All right. As Joe pointed out, she suggested in advance of the Final Four that the NCAA stop doing covid testing because then you got kids that test positive or something and they don’t get to play. Not great. Also, back in twenty thirteen, the best player that Mulkey ever coached at Baylor, Brittney Griner, said that her coach had told her and said that gay players like Griner and I’m going to quote from an ESPN story should not be open publicly about their sexuality because it would hurt recruiting and look bad for the program. Really not great. OK, so upon this hire, I wanted to learn a little bit more about this Kim Mulkey and where she came from. The literal answer to that is Tikvah, Louisiana, population six ninety four, Tangipahoa Parish, southeast part of the state north of Lake Pontchartrain. I have not been to tech for Louisiana, if you’re curious. The first newspaper reference I could find her came in July of nineteen seventy four in the Alexandria town. Talk to headline controversy brews over girl player. Mulkey was then twelve years old. She was playing on an otherwise all boys little league team and something called the Dixie Youth League. You can probably guess the politics of the league based on the name. Mulkey was a great player. She was hitting for seventy eight, but she got kicked out of an all star tournament, allegedly because she wasn’t listed on the roster properly. Her father, Les Mulkey, got a temporary restraining order allowing her to play. But then a story published the next day reported that last Mulkey had decided to stop the legal action because, quote, it would only hurt the boys on the team. So after reading that, I wondered, what is the deal with this less multi character? One deal is that he is an exterminator and tech for Louisiana. Another deal is that he is no longer speaking to his daughter again. In 2012, Berry Horne wrote a piece for the Oklahoman headlined Don’t Get on her Bad Side. That piece includes a story about Mulkey getting on her knees to beg for a five year contract to be the head coach at her alma mater, Louisiana Tech. She does not get that contract from the school president and has never spoken to him again. She went on to become the head coach at Baylor, won the title, etc.. All right. So that’s a little background before you get to the less murky story in that Oklahoma piece. Kim describes her father as a great dad and says, if I can be half the mother he was as a father when I was growing up, my kids will be good. But Kim Mulkey and her father had not talked as of 2012 for 25 years. The inciting event was Kim’s parents divorce. When Kim got married after her parents divorced, she did not want her father’s new wife to sit with the wedding party. Her father didn’t agree with that, did not go to the wedding, and they never talked after that again. As of 2012, less Mulkey had never met his daughter’s children. And that Oklahoman piece, Kimochi said, I had no control of the situation when he chose to break up our family, but I could control my wedding day. It was my day. He should have respected my wishes. He should have been there for me. This is an intense woman and maybe she could have benefited from writing The Dear Prudence. It’s just a suggestion. But yes, Kimochi very intense. I have not even mentioned the time she went for 23 hours and 55 minutes, a rolling roller skating marathon. As a 12 year old. People ask me why I skated for twenty four hours. She said that simple? I don’t say I did because I didn’t. In conclusion, Joel, I know you’re going to have a few thoughts here, but before you get to that, in conclusion, said where Kim Mulkey tells you to sit at her wedding.
S3: I mean, yeah, presumably, you know, she got divorced from that that guy this she got married to Randy Robertson, who, I’m sure. Oh, yeah. They’re not together. Yeah. Who was the starting quarterback for Louisiana Tech in nineteen seventy four. Seventy five. Which means he probably came up right behind Terry Bradshaw right around that time. Terry Bradshaw would have graduated from Louisiana Tech around that time. So a lot of you know, Kevin Bacon, six degrees of separation here with Kim Mulkey. But yeah man, I mean like a husband anymore too out of that in Chicago.
S1: So I forgot that part. So in this Oklahoman story, here’s a paragraph and I’ll quote from Shirley Robertson. So it was Robertson who instigated the divorce. She wanted to stick together. She said she was willing to go to counseling. She wanted she was willing to give up her career, but he, like, wanted out. OK, and so that’s the problem. Before this paragraph, Shirley Robertson must have at least suspected he had no relationship with his ex-wife and an exchange of emails, his preferred way of answering questions. Robertson wrote about the post break relationship. Life is full of surprises and unexpected twists and turns. Most people understand that good communication is a key ingredient to successful relationships.
S2: Well, maybe he should write Dear Prudence. Why not write down?
S3: This is very page six of after all, by the way.
S1: So this Oklahoman story, I mean, she talked to the to the writer, like a lot of this stuff is just coming from her. Like this is this is a very lengthy feature that has very many descriptions of Kimochi no longer talking to people. In some cases, I think warranted maybe in some cases less so. But like it it gets into it. I think she’s
S3: going to say, you think she’s going to cut off all ties with Baylor now that they like that she’ll never talk to anybody from Baylor again. I’m assuming she never talks to Brittney Griner again. That’s a question I would like to to ask a follow up question.
S1: Right question. Yeah. A lot of potential future troubles here. I will be following her her career closely at LSU. So, you know, Kim Mulkey probably won’t ever talk to me, but I’ll be I’ll be listening.
S3: Can I just say, without being too offensive that I mean, she found the one city that Ivy. Wait, wait. Go to Baton Rouge where I live. I know some people like those cities, but if she’s if she’s been sort of, you know, mean and grizzled over the years, I can’t help but think that’s because she spent the last twenty years living in Waco and is now moving to Baton Rouge. But anyway,
S1: the classic tech fodder rushed in to Waco. To Baton Rouge. Yeah, but maybe before we get too far into the stuff and you can hit us with the closing credits.
S2: That is so for today. Producer this week was Margaret Kelly to listen to bombshells and subscriber. Just reach out, go to Slate, dot com slash, hang up and you can email us and hang up at Slate dot com and please subscribe to the show and rate and reviews on Apple podcasts for Joel Anderson and Josh Levine. Stefan Fatsis remembers on Mulvany. And thanks for listening. And now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members. We’re back with Joanna Harper. Joanna, I want to continue the conversation where we stopped in the main segment of the show, talking a little bit about what matters in high school and from the position of transgender activists. What matters is that trans girls feel socially accepted and welcome and have a place to do what makes them feel good about themselves. And whether that occurs after a year of testosterone suppression or whether it occurs as they begin to emerge socially seems to be the distinction that a lot of people want to make here. And it’s a legitimate distinction, correct. But maybe not an important one.
S6: It’s a legitimate distinction here. You’re looking at a fairly gifted athlete. You know, more testosterone does not turn bad athletes into good athletes, but more testosterone will make good athletes and better athletes. For somebody who’s just going up for the bowling team because their friends are going up for the bowling team, it’s not going to matter one bit. And yes, it is so important the teenage years are so difficult for trans athletes are difficult, of course, for many youth. But it’s an especially fraught time for for transgender youth that, you know, the suicide rate set at that age are ridiculously high for trans youth. And so it is important that we give trans people the same outlets that everyone else has. And so for the vast majority of high school kids, it shouldn’t really matter whether they go on hormone therapy or not. But but unfortunately, it matters very much for some. Junior Eastwood is a terrific example. You know, her high school, eight hundred meter time when she was running in the boys category was the women’s world record. And so, you know, if suddenly June in high school, who was always transgender, says, you know, I want to compete in the women’s category and I don’t need to take testosterone. And she’s the women’s world record holder. And surely that can’t be something that is a reasonable thing. And in case it wouldn’t happen, because she wouldn’t have done this. But but if you had combined her athletic ability with somebody who is less cognizant of fair play, then this is what could result.
S2: And just to interject there, Jane Eastwood went to the University of Montana and in her junior year began testosterone suppression and competed in the men’s team at Montana and then in her last year competed on the women’s team. She was one of the first transgender athletes to compete in NCAA Division One in her sport.
S6: Yeah, and certainly given the times that she had run in the men’s division, there were people who are saying this is the next women’s fifteen hundred meter gold medalist and that she was going to destroy all the competition. But she wound up after hormone therapy as a successful Division One women’s athlete. And she had been a successful Division one women’s athlete or men’s athlete prior to hormone therapy. So, you know, in a larger sense, she was pretty much the same either way before transition and then after transition and after hormone therapy.
S1: One of the things I respect so much about you, Joanna Stefan said in the introduction, was how willing you are to acknowledge the complications and the trade offs of these issues. And I think I’m personally distrustful of people who, when talking about the things we’ve been talking about in these segments, want to convince you that they’re really simple and that there are simple answers and explanations. And often the people who are trying to tell you that they’re simple are the people that are opposed to trans rights and all sorts of different realms and sorts of different ways. And so I was wondering then, if you find it frustrating, how disingenuous so much of this conversation seems to be? I have found that a lot of the people who are speaking out in favor of these laws about transports that are happening in so many different states are using this rhetoric of how important it is to protect girls and women and sports people who I haven’t seen tweeting about the WNBA and I haven’t seen talking about. Women’s soccer. It just feels like it’s entirely phony to me and that it’s just become a part of this culture war where the actual trans athletes involved are just sort of collateral damage. And yet I’m wondering if that feels frustrating to you.
S6: It does feel frustrating, as you probably know there. You know, not that long ago there was a huge push by many anti LGBT movement people to to try to stop same sex marriage. They lost that fight. So but they have these well financed groups that had an agenda and they weren’t going away. And so they had to find a new target and trans athletes wound up being their target. And so, you know, it is disingenuous because they don’t really care about women’s sports. They are are just trying to find a wedge issue because, you know, most people are supportive of basic rights for trans people. But then when you get into this issue of of somebody who’s gone through male puberty competing in women’s sports, it strikes a lot of people as being unfair. And they understand this. And this is a wedge issue that they use. But I’d also like to say that there is a fair bit of distance, genuine ingenuousness, whatever, on on on people who also say it’s simple that trans women are women and trans rights tied up for debate and again couched their rhetoric in very simple terms.
S1: The people. Yeah, I mean, there are people that will say that trans women don’t actually have any advantage, which just as you found in your research, just isn’t true.
S6: Yes. Yes. And that is is definitely something that that people will say. And so you have these two. Hugely opposed groups that are there on two sides have been shouting at each other on Twitter basically, and there’s almost no one, it seems, trying to find some middle path and they can be a lonely place to be at times, trying to to to be nuanced and try to say that, you know. Yes. That this is not as easy as people on either side of the ravine want to make this. And it calls for nuance. It calls for it calls for some sort of challenging compromise. It calls for people to to try to see both sides of this. And it’s a very difficult conversation to get into. You know, I certainly would hope that at some time in the future, we can find more people trying to reach a middle ground
S3: where I actually enjoy shouting at people on Twitter. I see. So, you know, John, I was listening to a recent episode of the Burn it All Down podcast, Warframe. Jessica Luser interviewed two female track athletes from Washington University in St. Louis, and they’ve petitioned the NCAA to speak out against entrenched into legislation. And it occurred to me while thinking about this, like even politically, they’re not very many, like prominent college athletes or even like prominent professional athletes are figures that have spoken out in either direction about this. Right. And I’m just sort of wondering, do you think it would be useful or helpful at all if somebody like LeBron James or. Yeah. Dwayne Wade. Right, exactly. Well, fair point. Yeah. Yeah, right. Yeah. Megan Rapinoe, just this spoke out for about inclusion at that point. Like do you think like it would be useful at all in moving the dial here?
S6: Well, I hope so. You know, Dwayne Wade has made some very poignant comments. He’s been a wonderful spokesperson, but so is Megan Rapinoe. And Quinn, of course, has a trans daughter and Megan is herself an LGBT athlete. So so, you know, these are our prominent athletes, but they’re also athletes with a connection to the population. And they know, you know, it is enormously different, difficult to be different from from the majority of people in very many ways. Race, religion is anything you want to point out where where you’re in a visible minority. It’s a huge challenge in life that it is important to try to be inclusive of people who may not look like everyone else, whether, you know, whether that’s their trans or or their religious garb or their skin color or whatever to try to to be inclusive. It is an enormously important thing.
S2: Joanna, when you began your transition, did you imagine. We’d get to a point within a little over a decade where more than 30 states would be attempting to ban trans girls from playing high school sports, and that’s being used as this political, as you said, wedge. This latest outrage in the culture wars. And that must be deeply troubling as well.
S6: Well, you might not have as good a grasp on history as you maybe think. Maybe. I started my transition, certainly in terms of seeing a therapist in February of 2004. And at that time, trans girls weren’t allowed anywhere, almost anywhere in sports. So so it would not surprise me at all because I actually thought that I wasn’t ever going to get to race again officially in the gender that I presented. Then I. I remember in June of 2004, I brought a paper in. You remember papers, right. And I brought a paper and my therapist and said, look, the IOC is going to let trans people compete in the Olympics. And and this was, you know, three or four months after I had started therapy. That’s not hormone therapy, but that psychological therapy. And so this was a huge excitement when when I first came out to my therapist on trans people weren’t allowed at all in sports. So in some cases, we’ve made huge strides, positive strides. But there’s has been this backlash, which is is very, very unfortunate and very distressing.
S2: Joanna Harper is the author of Sporting Gender The History, Science and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes. We’ll link to that and to some of her recent research and other articles about the subject on our home page. Joanna, thank you again for taking the time to be with us today.
S6: Well, thank you for having me. It was a delightful conversation
S2: and thank you, Slate plus members for being Slate plus members. We’ll be back with more next week.