The How Bill Russell Changed America Edition

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: The following podcast contains explicit language. Hide your children.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Hi.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor. And this is Hang Up and Listen for the week of August 1st, 2022. On this week’s show, Bill Russell’s biographer, Aram Goudsouzian, will join me for a conversation about the life and legacy of the basketball legend and civil rights icon. Grant Wahl will also be here to discuss the English national soccer teams historic victory at the Women’s European Championships. And finally, I’ll talk with Andscape Jason Reid, the author of the new book, The Rise of the Black Quarterback, about Deshaun Watson six game suspension and about the controversy over Kyler Murray’s film study clause.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: I’m in Washington, D.C., and I’m the author of The Queen and the host of the podcast One Year. Stefan Fatsis Angel Anderson and Vincent Cunningham are all out this week, so you’re stuck with me and that illustrious panel of guests. In lieu of pre-show banter with myself, I am going to take this opportunity to tell you that in our bonus segment for Slate Plus this week, I’m going to talk more with Jason Reid about his book, The Rise of the Black Quarterback. Just a lot of really great history there. And we got into it more in-depth in our Slate Plus segment. And if you want to hear that and you want to get ad free podcasts across all of slate, if you want to get these both bonus segments every week, then you should sign up at Slate.com. Flash hang up. Plus that Slate.com slash hang up.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Plus, Bill Russell, who died on Sunday at age 88, won two NCAA titles, an Olympic gold medal and 11 NBA championships as a player. The last two of those coming when he was also at the Boston Celtics head coach. And despite a resume that makes Tom Brady look like a huge loser. Those accomplishments I just clicked off don’t come close to capturing who Russell was and what he contributed to American life. Joining me now is Aram Goudsouzian. He’s a history professor at the University of Memphis and the author of King of the Court, Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution. Aaron, thanks so much for being here.

Speaker 2: Josh Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: So Bill Russell joined the Celtics in 1956. He came out of the University of San Francisco. He retired in 1969 after beating the Lakers for the seventh time in the NBA finals. As you alluded to in the title of your book, The NBA and the sport of basketball changed a huge amount in that 13 year span. And much of that change. Was Russell’s doing.

Speaker 2: Right? Absolutely. In the book, I call it the basketball revolution, and I use that as kind of a shorthand to get at Russell’s impact on basketball in the larger society. Because, you know, during his career, which starts in 1956 and ends in 1969, basketball goes from essentially being a predominantly white sport where there’s just a handful of black players into a predominantly black sport, a sport associated with black American culture. It also becomes a much more commercially viable endeavor. It has the reputation of a so-called bush league in the mid 1950s, nowhere near the stature of baseball or boxing or even pro football at that time. And by the end of the 1960s, you know, major television contracts, modern labor relations, a rival league in the in the ABA.

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Speaker 2: And then the last sort of piece in that is the way that basketball itself transforms. Russell changes the way the basketball is played. It goes from being an earthbound, patterned game into what we think of as modern basketball now a much more high flying, dynamic game. It goes vertical and it gets wider, and Russell’s defensive kicks that off, so to speak. And the final aspect of that to consider also is the way the basketball gets politicized, because it is black athletes who are at the heart of the sport’s transformation, and it’s at the same time as the civil rights era. So they are politically active, led by Russell and outspoken in new ways for black athletes in American history.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: I want to get to the politics in a bit, but before we leave the court, I was just watching some highlights of him yesterday after hearing about his death. And if this highlight video came out now, scouts would be salivating. He looks like a modern big man with his ability to run the floor. His defensive prowess is legendary, obviously. But could you just talk a little bit more about how his peers talked about him, how he was sort of understood at the time as a player on the court?

Speaker 2: Mm hmm. One of the fascinating things to think about with Russell’s impact on the sport is that no one really could see it coming because basketball still then was regionally divided. He played his collegiate career at the University of San Francisco. He came to the East Coast and played at Madison Square Garden, I think just once during his college career. So a lot of the East Coast media were very skeptical that Russell would have this huge impact on the sport.

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Speaker 2: But what he did was especially by leaping to block shots, which was something that went against the conventional wisdom of the time, you know, when of. For the book. I dug up old basketball manuals from the 1950s, and they keep telling you, don’t leave your feet to the block shots. But Russell saw that he could time this and he could do this. And he and he was also springy enough. If the person didn’t shoot, he could jump back up again. And that erased the easy way up. The whole game has been built around sort of patterns and patterns to try to get an easy shot. And Russell forced people to shoot from further out. He forced people to jump. He basically his defense shaped what the sport looked like in terms of getting out of his impact.

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Speaker 2: To your question, Josh, there’s a great story that Ed McCauley talks about in Russell’s first game playing against the Saint Louis Hawks in his debut game. And McCauley came around to pick. He was about 15 feet out and he said Russell had no reason to be anywhere near me. He was guarding the center Charlie Share. And the next thing I know, I go up to shoot and I turn around and I see Russell dunking the ball on the other side. He blocked the shot and then sprinted down the court. He was the first sort of modern defender in the NBA, right. In his defense, it looks like what we think of as modern NBA defense.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: His ability to win and lead his teams to victory is mythical. In sports, you think of Michael Jordan with those six championships and having this sort of linear rise in the sport. But he lost a bunch of times, you know, to the to the Pistons or whoever before he was able to kind of attain those heights he lost in his last game in college in North Carolina. And Russell just really never lost. I mean, there are a few times, a few like maybe two seasons in the NBA where the Celtics didn’t win a championship but never lost a game seven. Kind of when you looked back at those individual games and individual seasons, what were the things that would happen in those games that Russell did that would just inevitably lead, whether it was San Francisco, whether it was the U.S. Olympic team, whether it was the Celtics, that they would just end up scoring more than their opponent in those final games.

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Speaker 2: To start to answer your question, I think we have to think about how why Russell dedicated himself to winning to such a degree, because during his collegiate career, he felt like he was entirely underappreciated, like he didn’t even win, like his league’s player of the Year and the Pacific Coast League’s Player of the Year, because they thought of the sort of conventional white forward as as what a basketball player is. He he felt like his coach didn’t even praise him and appreciate him as much as he deserved. He was very sensitive guy underneath that armor. And so he has this quote where he says, I decided in college to win that way. They couldn’t take it away from me. You know, they could take away individual accolades, but no one can take away championships. And so his entire career was dedicated to that. That’s why Focus could focus on defense and rebounding and not let his ego get in the way of, you know, trying to score more points than Wilt Chamberlain or Jerry West or what have you.

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Speaker 2: And so it was that commitment to being at first really a complementary piece to the Boston Celtics when he joined the Celtics. And during the 5657 season, they had all these great offensive pieces. Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsay Russell was the one who supplied the defense and the rebounding, but they needed to really be a complete team. He also saved his best performances for the most important times. You know, continually, as you were mentioning, his unblemished record in Game seven, I think I think I have this right. I think there were 15 times between college, the Olympics and the pros where it was a winner take all game. Whoever wins that game wins the champion.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: I think it was like 21. I think you’re under under 71.

Speaker 2: If you count all the all the playoff games in in college. I forgot if they lost there I think anyone m all right. And so you know he would he would probably just sort of miraculous performances like in 1962 they’re playing the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals in Game seven. And the Lakers were being touted as the team that was going to supplant the Celtics. They had Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor was just absolutely magnificent in the series. And the Lakers had a chance to win on the last second shot in regulation and missed. And Russell got something like 40 rebounds in this game, along with 30 points. And he was just so driven to the point of of absolute exhaustion by the end that he would do whatever it took for his team to win in as many epic battles with or with Wilt Chamberlain. That was the case as well.

Speaker 2: There’s a story that sticks with me from the book where the playing Cincinnati, which had Oscar Robertson and was also a know really excellent team in the mid 1960s and it was a winner take all game. And Sam Jones, who was an outstanding player, rated, he ends up as the second winningest player in NBA history. He was ten NBA titles all season and just, you know, a clutch performer in his own right before this winner take all game. He says, you know, he’s nervous and you’re sort of boiling over. And he says, But we have Russell, we have Mr. Russell. It all comes down to Mr. Russell.

Speaker 2: So here’s a guy who was like a seasoned pro, a champion in his own right, and he’s just like he puts faith in Russell, who’s his his peers, contemporary, almost in a way. Like like he’s a mythical figure. Right? His teammates believed that he would do what it took for them to win. And, you know, that feeds of the mentality of the Celtics. Right. You know, other teams talked about how the Celtics we’re lucky they caught all these. Breaks for Bailey Hall, who joined the Celtics at the very end of his career in the late sixties. At the end of Russell’s time said, I thought that too. And then when I joined the Celtics, I realized that they make their own luck, right? They believe that they’re going to win. They do the little things that turn the game right. They dive for that loose ball. They get that rebound when they need it most. And they have.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Russell Yeah, I guess the University of San Francisco is really lucky to too.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: So Bill Russell is born in West Monroe, Louisiana, in 1934. He grows up hearing these folk tales about slavery. His mother dies when he’s young. He moves with his his family, with his father, raises him in West Oakland, where there are more opportunities for for blacks in America, although maybe not as many as as are promised. And it’s not necessarily the promised land that it’s made out to be.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: He goes to high school there, ends up going to the University of San Francisco, as we’ve discussed. And at some point along this journey, he develops this racial consciousness and develops into the person who would become one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. And your research, is there kind of a moment or is that too simplistic to think about where that part of Bill Russell came from?

Speaker 2: I’m not sure that I would describe it to a moment. I think he goes through an evolution in a way that was probably similar to most African-Americans who were active in the civil rights movement by the fifties and sixties. And so that there’s this accumulation of experiences that season them to racial injustice, along with an expectation that they are entering into a new phase in American life. And Americans, you know, that there’s that there’s greater expectations as well that that that’s going to change. And those two things together feed the African-American activism of the 1950s and 1960s.

Speaker 2: You’re talking about how his mother died when he was young. And so, you know, part of Russell’s psychological makeup was that there was a part of him that was always that sensitive kid who lost his mom when he when he was young. But he was also raised in this really unique, all male environment. His father raised him and his brother. And when when his mother died, you know, the typical practice would have been for the father to send the kids back to Louisiana, where they could live with aunts and uncles. And, you know, a man doesn’t have to shouldn’t have to take care of kids, but his father was, you know, resolute that he would do so. He changed his job so that he could be home more. And and they figured it out themselves. So from the beginning, Russell also kind of learned the meaning of manhood, what it means to be a man, how to stand up for your family. And so those two things are really shaping him, right? Sort of this the sort of sense of being able to shape your own destiny as a man, but also this sensitivity of this lost relationship with his mother.

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Speaker 2: And then, of course, he’s you know, he’s a black man in the 1930 and 1940 and 1950s, a couple of years before he’s born, there’s a lynching in Ruston, Louisiana, not too far from West Monroe. He’s in Oakland, in West Oakland in World War Two. He writes in his autobiography about sort of the the casual N-word that you would hear on the streets, the way the police harass them. Right. So we’re very typical African-American experiences in terms of second class citizenship.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: You write in the book that more than any other athlete, Russell expressed the dreams of Martin Luther King while echoing the warnings of Malcolm X. Can you describe what you meant by that? Sure.

Speaker 2: Throughout his political life, while he was an athlete in the late fifties and throughout the 1960s, Russell was able to both express sort of classically liberal impulses in terms of American democracy, but also radical ideas. And in this way, he, in a lot of ways mirrored where many African-Americans stand and stood at that time in terms of sort of straddling those lines, though, thinking in some ways we need a wholesale reevaluation of American democracy, but also really believing in the principles of American democracy.

Speaker 2: And we see this in the way that Russell acted out in terms of politics. He was at the March on Washington in 1963. He went to Lyndon Johnson’s White House Conference on Civil Rights. In 1966, he was active member of the ACP in Boston. And it was really important to sort of a crusader to try to genuinely integrate Boston schools. There was a law passed that said schools should be integrated called the Racial Imbalance Act, but it wasn’t being enforced by the Boston School Board. And so he was in all these ways, he sort of followed the avenue of traditional liberal politics. He often expressed sort of the ideals of the American dream and talked about how it was important.

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Speaker 2: But at the same time, he was quite critical of the Black Freedom Movement. In his first autobiography, Go Up for Glory, which was published in 1966, he said he wished that the March on Washington had been an all black march and that, you know, nothing was going to really change American society except for black people standing up for themselves with black activism. You know, we can’t count on the good feelings of liberal whites or the or just the principles of the US Constitution. We have to force the issue upon them.

Speaker 2: And he was very. Adamant in terms of his support for Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, he would question the philosophy of non-violence as espoused by Martin Luther King. He said, if nonviolence doesn’t work, Martin Luther King has failed as a leader. He said that to Sports Illustrated in 1963, later in the 1960s, is very openly critical of Boston’s sort of racist government structure. And he so he’s he’s continually straddling those lines between liberal and radical.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: The thing that’s so amazing about him is that through his athletic excellence, through his intellectual excellence, just in basketball, he is a powerful figure demonstrating the abilities of black Americans. Right. And yet he’s not content with that. And he’s willing to challenge the country, challenge the sport, challenge everyone and kind of not rest on this image that he could have just as the biggest winner in all of sports. He seems willing to kind of throw that all away to risk his reputation by taking stands that contradict even mainstream liberal American thought.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: How was he perceived during his career and after his career? Would it be accurate to say that most Americans thought he was a great statesman and an A great player? Was he considered to be somebody who was a radical that I don’t know who people thought needed to shut up and dribble or whatever the equivalent was in the fifties and sixties.

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Speaker 2: You know, that’s a very interesting question. Let me go back first to the article that he wrote in 1974 for Sports Illustrated. He did that with Frank Deford, the great Sports Illustrated writer. And he has this letter and it says, I should embody the American dream. I should embody the American dream. Because, you know, as you’re suggesting, right, he was the greatest winner in American team sports history. He’s got all these titles. He’s got all this respect in the league. You know, every poll that’s done, if you could pick one player or two in a game seven, who would you pick? Everybody picks Bill Russell. You know, Wilt Chamberlain was supposed to be the you know, the unstoppable offensive force. And, you know, Russell was kind of became the hero in that rivalry by with through his defense of Chamberlain and the continued winning of titles. And then, of course, he’s the barrier breaker as the first not just the first black superstar, but then later the first black coach. Right. Or winning those last two titles with the Celtics. So in all these ways, he should embody the American dream.

Speaker 2: But at the same time, he’s going through this sort of personal sense of crisis spurred by the politics of the civil rights movement. There’s a scene in late 1962. He’s at Madison Square Garden that they’ve just played the Knicks and he’s signing autographs. And he says, What’s the meaning of this? He says it to a reporter as he’s surrounded by these by these fans. He says, what’s the. This doesn’t have any meaning. This is a shallow thing.

Speaker 2: Later, he says, playing basketball is just marking time, but it’s not doing something significant to change society. And this is very much spurred by the fact that, you know, the student sit ins and the Freedom Rides and James Meredith’s integration of the University of Mississippi, all these things are going on around that same time the Black Revolution is in place. And so it compels him to adapt. It compels him to change. He becomes much more conscious of adopting a persona that challenges white expectations. He refuses to sign autographs anymore. He got to sort of this scowling demeanor around people who are who aren’t his in his inner circle. New challenges, the white press more directly than he would otherwise. He gives these interviews to magazine profiles in which he is, as we’re suggesting before.

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Speaker 2: Right. Expressing more radical ideas. But all of that is combined with his sort of pure integrationist credentials as the leader of this team, composed of both blacks and whites. The Celtics continually have to be upheld as the greatest example in sports of interracial harmony in the 1960s. And the media continually brings that to the fore. You know, these are whites and blacks who get along and find ways to win together and really respect each other. So Russell has all these credentials, even as he has these elements of radicalism within him.

Speaker 2: Right. Stan Isaacson was a columnist for Newsday at the time, writes about how Russell is about the very end of his career at the end of the sixties, says that, you know, unlike someone like Muhammad Ali, who is just sort of, you know, pilloried by the white press. RUSSELL He’s something more than a pop off, right? There’s a guy who has developed a reputation and has earned a respect that whatever he says, you might not agree with it as a traditional white liberal, but you have to accept it on its own terms.

Speaker 2: Right. That he has proven sort of his his place in a way that some other black athletes along the lines of Muhammad Ali might be sort of dismissed by the white press. And so he has this level of achievement and respect. And then a sense of that. He is even after his playing career, he moves to Los Angeles after he’s done with with the Celtics in the early seventies, and he is constantly asked to be on late night TV shows. She hosts on radio show. He makes some sort of a little career in entertainment. And part of what draws people to Russell is they think of him as this really authentic person of the 1960s. Here’s a guy who is going to speak his mind. And this is at a time when sort of there’s a commercial boom in television and people are sort of talking about sort of the plasticity or the fakeness of of American life, of American consumer culture. But Russell seems real. Russell seems authentic. So that’s a complicated way of answering your question. But I think Russell is able to bridge gaps in terms of the larger American political discourse than some other athletes are able to.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Aram Goudsouzian is a history professor at the University of Memphis. The book is King of the Court Bill Russell in the Basketball Revolution. And I’ve really enjoyed digging into it in the last 24 hours since Bill Russell’s death on Sunday. Aram, thanks so.

Speaker 2: Much, Josh. It was a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Up next, Grant Wahl on England winning the Women’s European Championships.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: On Sunday and London’s Wembley Stadium in front of 87,192 fans. England appeared to be England ing it up pretty good after taking a one nothing lead in the second half of the Women’s European Championships. The Lionesses gave up an equaliser to Germany and looked to be winding their way inexorably to a penalty shootout that they would certainly lose with this being England versus Germany in a soccer match. But then in the 10th minute, this happened.

Speaker 3: Bouncing right dangerously in there and England poking in. Yes, I can. Katie and England needed extra time. My goodness me.

Speaker 2: Astonishing scenes.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Here. That was ESPN’s Ian Dark on the Call and England’s Chloe Kelly with the goal with a game winning poke. That was followed by Kelly whipping off her jersey in a scene reminiscent of Brandi Chastain in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final. If you’re English, another reference point is going to come to mind, though. Sunday’s two, two, one win clinched the nation’s first major trophy in 56 years since the England men won the 1966 World Cup. Grant Wahl was at the game in Wembley. He wrote about it for his website football with Grant Wahl three that pierce. You’ve got to subscribe and take my word for it. It’s worth the 50 bucks a year. Grant, thanks so much for joining me.

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Speaker 4: Yeah, thanks for saying that and thanks for having me.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: So let’s start at the very end with Chloe Kelly’s goal. What was it like to be there in that moment?

Speaker 4: It’s one of the cooler scenes I’ve ever witnessed in 26 years of covering this sport around the world. There really isn’t anything like being in a host country that does well in a major soccer tournament, whether it’s the World Cup or the Euros or what have you. And this was most definitely the case. There was really a sense inside the stadium of collective dread that what you were talking about, which is this game, go into penalties. And in the first half of extra time, England didn’t really look like a team that was going to score. And in Germany kind of didn’t either at that point. And so you have this feeling, if you’ve seen this enough of like, okay, we’re probably going to head the penalties here.

Speaker 4: So when England came out in the second part of extra time, there was a kind of renewed energy that actually signaled before it happened that they may actually be able to do something here. And they did. And it wasn’t a beautiful goal by any means, but it was a scrambling for out of the box after a corner kick. And Chloe Kelly got her foot on it after one save and ended up finishing. And I love that she actually checked to see if she was offside or not before she actually did the full Chastain celebration.

Speaker 4: But it’s funny, I ended up writing about this for my side in my story is even before that moment, all week long, I’ve been having flashbacks to 1999 in covering the U.S. Women’s World Cup win and how it took over the country and became this cultural touchstone event. And that’s what this felt like in England, at least in how people in England were responding to the success of this team. In a country that has always really been about men’s soccer, and it’s been even harder, I think, for women’s soccer to break through in England because of it.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Yeah. You mentioned in your piece the University of Michigan Professor Andy Markowitz had the observation that women’s soccer has struggled to break through in countries where men’s soccer was more successful. You look at the U.S. and Scandinavian countries where women’s teams have been successful because maybe they didn’t have that kind of burden of history on the men’s side. But yeah, let’s talk a little bit about those comparisons, because the women’s game in England is kind of first in some ways it’s further along than it was in the U.S. in 99. You have this women’s pro league that’s maybe the best in the world right now or the best in in Europe. And yet in 1999, the U.S. women had already won a World Cup. Talk us through a little bit of of what the similarities and differences are there.

Speaker 4: Yeah, I mean, infrastructure wise, the English Women’s Soccer League has been around for a little while. It’s gotten more investment in recent years from television, from sponsorships. And while they haven’t produced a Champions League winner in the Women’s Champions League in recent years, they may have the deepest quality of a league for women in Europe, and I think that could change. I think we could see even more investment coming now from television and sponsorships and clubs moving forward.

Speaker 4: The U.S. women obviously didn’t have a league when they won the Women’s World Cup in 1999, and the momentum from that tournament helped them start one. But keep in mind, it’ll only lasted three years before folding, as did a second professional women’s league. A few years after that, and only the NWSL, the third Women’s Pro League in the U.S., has had more longevity there on year nine. Now, that got help from the U.S. Soccer Federation subsidizing it, which is no longer the case. It’s on a bit more stronger footing these days. And I would I would argue that even though the impact hasn’t been linear of the 99 Women’s World Cup, that the NWSL is still a legacy of what was achieved that summer 23 years ago.

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Speaker 4: So I think similarities, you know, just the way that mainstream media here in England latched on to this story over the past month. And it built. And it built in. Built from game one. You know, they got 68,000 people at Old Trafford, Manchester United Stadium for the first England game that kicked off the tournament when they beat Austria. There were these sort of huge lasting images out of so many of the England games. You know, they beat Norway, which has won a World Cup eight nil and were up six nil at half time. It was just this stunning performance and then had other moments where they came back and beat Spain in the quarter finals with two late goals. And the way that England won that game was a little different and I think earned them even more fans in the country.

Speaker 4: And so by the time the final hit, you know, I think the television audience averaged 11 million, peaked at 17.4 million in England, in the UK, four for the final. And these are unheard of numbers for women’s soccer in this country. And, you know, we’ll see where where it goes from here now.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: You had a pretty cool collage on your side of tabloid newspaper covers in England. It’s history girls raw some. I don’t really like that one but not all the headlines can be could be winners.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Before we get too far into the history. Let’s talk a little bit more about the game. And the really disappointing thing was Alex Popp of Germany not being able to play the like classically a dispiriting injured and warm ups. I mean, how how bad can you get for her and for Germany, I think for fans of the sport watching her throughout the tournament. You never know what’s going to happen. But I got you’ve got to think the outcome of the game would have been different if she had been able to play.

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Speaker 4: It could have been, you know, I mean, Alex Popp had scored in every game of this euros that had never been done before and just has had this enormous impact throughout the tournament on Germany. With the tone that she sets, they have a pressing defense where they they play hard pressing defense in the the opponent’s end. And she leads that with her energy. So they were missing not just a goal scorer, but a tone setter in this game. And so getting injured in the warm up, it’s not the first time that’s happened.

Speaker 4: But before a major final, you know, she’ll she may never be in that position again. And to have the tournament she had, it’s just so crushing and disappointing for anyone who is interested in wanting to see the best final possible. And so Germany did miss her in this game. Her replacement, Lisa Schuler, didn’t really make much of an impact, got subbed fairly early. But I would say at least in this game that the the first goal scored by each team.

Speaker 4: So England scored first, Germany responded. They were both very well-taken goals. It was an overly physical game that had a lot of stops and starts and I think the referee could have done a better job to control it and set a tone early in the game and didn’t. But the goal for England the first one was just a brilliant pass from the midfield by Kiera Walsh and Ellington ran on to and had just a phenomenal finish where she chipped the keeper and I thought it was going to go over the bar and it just barely dipped in time to get under the bar. And the goal, but a phenomenal goal for a final and the German goal was really well taken and orchestrated as well. Coming from the right side, it goes into line and a goal and she had several chances in the game and was Germany’s most dangerous player and had a really nice finish. So, you know sometimes in finals it’s disappointing the quality of play and the quality of goals and I wouldn’t say that about this game.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Eric Betts noted in his Slate piece before the final that Alex Popp had missed the previous €2 with injuries, just like poor Alex Popp. I keep coming back to that and I thought my goal was actually really good this game. And England is just so deep. And one of the stories of the whole tournament, Kiran, has been they had the same starting lineup every game. Right. And they just kept bringing in these reinforcements who in some cases were probably better than the starters. And there’s a lot of youth on this team. There’s a good mix of youth and experience. Like if you’ve been watching women’s soccer for a while, like Lucy Bronze is a name that they you’re going to know and Ellen White.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: But it seems like this team is stacked for not just next year’s World Cup but for future World Cups for the Olympics. And there’s also just been so much investment, as we were talking about, into the infrastructure and not only in the Women’s Pro League, but just in around the national team infrastructure. There was a really good piece about that in The Athletic by Charlotte Harper that gets into a lot of these details.

Speaker 4: I mean, England’s totally been transformed on the women’s side in recent years. You know, they. Really were a disappointing team for a long time. England You know, they didn’t qualify for the World Cups in 91 and 99 and 23. They never got past the quarter finals until 2015 for the first time. And now they’ve been to the semis the last two World Cups. And that depth is the reason why, you know, they had an occasional really good player like Kelly Smith back in the day, but they didn’t have any depth. And now there’s so much depth when you look at the number of players, different players who scored goals in this euros.

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Speaker 4: And the question that you alluded to, which is even though they started the same 11 for every single game, the subs were so good that some I think fairly legitimate questions are being asked about like shouldn’t some of these subs be starting their like upgrades?

Speaker 4: You know, I think the last year Rousseau seems like she might be a better player than Ellen White at this point up front, but those are luxuries to have, especially when your game goes 120 minutes long and bring on substitutes who are just going to punish the opponent even more potentially than the starters.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Yeah, and it should be said, like just by my obsession with Alex Pop, Beth Mead, who who won the Golden Boot, goes out with injury, gets replaced and England still gets a goal. They were able to overcome that when Germany was not able to.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Let’s talk a little bit about the U.S. women who around the same time won the women’s CONCACAF championship, a tournament that got a lot less media attention, I think maybe even in the United States than the women’s euros did. I managed to watch much of it, but it was like a major struggle to find. It was on this like streaming platform called VIX. Except then sometimes. Sometimes it wasn’t. Anyway, it was. It was extremely confusing. And the competition was poor. The U.S. did beat Canada in the final avenging, you know, loss in the Olympics. But as you wrote for your site, it was a little bit of an underwhelming performance by the U.S. women.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: And I guess the question that I’m curious and is like, do we chalk that up to they have a year until the World Cup. A lot of players are out there trying to find a winning formula. Or is there kind of cause for concern with this team, especially considering the level of soccer that we saw in the Women’s European Championships? And you sat next to Vlad Kohan and ask he said he seemed interested to see how the competition was doing in this in this tournament.

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Speaker 4: Yeah, he was scouting games on site at the Euros with his staff. They came over here to England after they won the CONCACAF championship in Mexico. And to answer your question, I think it’s a little mix of both with the U.S. women’s team. I think there is some reason for concern when you look at the performances during this CONCACAF tournament and there’s turnover that’s happening, they probably stuck a little too long with some of the veterans for the Olympics and ended up getting the bronze medal. And that was a disappointing performance in the Olympics for the most part for the U.S. And then afterward, there was now reason to switch things up. And and yet there are still injuries.

Speaker 4: You know, Catarina Macario could end up being the best player in the world in a year or two. And she’s winning Champions Leagues already with Leone, but she did her ACL at the end of the season. And so she’s out for a little while now and wasn’t part of this CONCACAF team for the U.S. and she probably would have started in Alex Morgan’s place at Center Forward had she been healthy. So it would have been a very different look.

Speaker 4: And there’s still a mix of older players and young players and the mask seems to be going with youth on the Wings, players like Sophia Smith, Mal Pugh. And there’s really not as much of a place anymore for Tobin Heath, Kristen Perez before her injury. Megan Rapinoe has kind of stuck around a little bit, but she’s much more of a super sub. I don’t expect her to start any games, really. She’s not a 90 minute player, maybe even a 60 minute player anymore.

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Speaker 4: And the U.S. is still figuring things out clearly. And maybe they played down a little bit to the competition because there is such a gap in quality between the teams in the CONCACAF tournament in the euros. And when you saw the games sort of on the same day, you noticed that and that’s not necessarily the US’s fault. They can’t control that. There’s only two good teams in CONCACAF, but it did make you slog through some games that the U.S. won fairly easily, but you didn’t necessarily see much. And the final against Canada was finally the first time to really see the U.S. against a good opponent. And I thought the U.S. had a pretty good performance in that game and probably should have scored more goals, given the chances they created. And Dynasty certainly felt that way. But. There are still some questions about this US team coming out of the tournament and then the ended up saying, I don’t think we’re ready if the World Cup starts tomorrow, but it’s in one year and I promise that we’ll be ready and we’ll see if they are.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Yeah, I found it a little bit disappointing given just the level of excitement and enthusiasm coming out of the equal pay deal. This was the tournament where the U.S. qualified for the next World Cup and the next Olympics, and they wouldn’t have qualified for the Olympics straight through if they hadn’t beat Canada. So there were stakes there and just how difficult it was to follow the tournament.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: As you said, the kind of poor level of competition it does, I think, raise questions for me about some of the structural challenges that the U.S. women’s program has compared to their European rivals, especially. And it would be just so fantastic if what we saw in England kind of maintains and we’ve seen the rise of Spain, we’ve seen the rise of so many other countries in Europe, and they have the ability to play each other to get better. The domestic leagues there are getting stronger. Is there anything that the U.S. can do to kind of counteract that or is it just them’s the brakes?

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Speaker 4: I guess it’s just a little bit of difficult. You know, the U.S. can’t control the fact on geography, I guess, you know, and they’re still discussing that on the men’s side. The idea for a World Cup every two years is dead. FIFA was pushing that for a while. It died, but that idea is still alive on the women’s side. And I I know there’s a lot of disagreement about this in the women’s soccer community. I am less against a women’s World Cup once every two years than I was for the Met.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: A rousing defense. I am less against it. Why not be for it? I think there’s a good argument to be for it.

Speaker 4: No, I know exactly what the argument is, which is that women’s soccer is not the same thing as men’s soccer. And the World Cup from sort of a top down perspective has certainly incentivized and driven the growth of women’s soccer in countries where it hasn’t been very big in the past because now you have 32 spots in a women’s World Cup, used to be 24 and 16. And so new countries are now qualifying for the first time for next year’s Women’s World Cup and in their federations are starting to invest more because they’re taking it more seriously. So I think all of that’s good.

Speaker 4: And then whenever a women’s World Cup happens, you always see these records being set, whether it’s in Brazil or Italy or or wherever, for television audiences, for a women’s soccer game. So the idea of doing that every two years may not be a terrible one. You know, and I realize that’s damning with faint praise. But like, I also understand the argument against it, which is that the women’s club game is growing. We’d be better off starting in the annual Women’s Worker Club Women’s World Cup that FIFA would organize, which would be great because the women’s club game is sort of different in its geographical power base.

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Speaker 4: You know how it teams in the NWSL do against Barcelona in a competitive match and I think that could be a real in demand property that could sell television rights and all those things if FIFA finally gets its act together and does it. So if you have an annual Club World Cup and you have these Continental tournaments like the Euros and the CONCACAF tournament, where does the world at in there? And can you if you had a World Cup every two years, could you find ways to make it fit?

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Grant Wahl writes about soccer for his website Football with Grant Wahl. You should subscribe. Grant Thank you.

Speaker 4: Thanks for having me.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: A next Jason Reid on Deshaun Watson Kyler Murray and his book Rise of the Black Quarterback.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: According to reports from ESPN and The New York Times on Monday morning, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will serve a six game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. That suspension came from the league’s disciplinary officer, Sue Robinson, and follows a 15 month investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Watson for more than 20 women. Joining me now is Jason Reid is the senior NFL rater for ESPN’s Andscape and he has a new book out this week. It’s called Rise of the Black Quarterback What It Means for America, which we are going to talk about shortly. Jason, congrats on the book and thanks for coming on the show.

Speaker 5: Thank you.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: So let’s start with Watson. The six game suspension came out of an arbitration process. According to ESPN’s reports, the NFL wanted a full year suspension and a big fine, and Watson’s side would have been willing to settle for a 6 to 8 game ban. So given that it came out with six games, it seems like a pretty low number, doesn’t it?

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Speaker 5: Well, the situation was that Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy. And from the NFL’s perspective, because of what occurred, they, like you said, they what you laid out, they wanted a much a much bigger disciplinary situation handed down. And I think the problem, though, was. Two grand juries declined to indict. That doesn’t mean that something untoward did not occur.

Speaker 5: But because two grand juries declined to indict and you also have a situation which many of the civil suits against Watson, I believe there were 30 civil suits that were settled. I guess the you know, the person who made the decision did not feel that there was enough to warrant a full season and a hefty fine. So clearly this. Has worked out is the way Deshaun Watson camp would have preferred.

Speaker 5: Now the league does have the right to appeal, and it would not be surprising if the league did. But because of the fact that their that the grand juries, too, did not indict, I don’t know if this is something that is going to move forward with an outcome with a potential appeal that the league wants to see.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Yeah, I mean, there are a bunch of different ways to look at this. You could certainly make the argument that why should we expect the league to do something that the criminal justice system declined to do. You mentioned the civil suits getting settled. Lindsay Jones, third grade NFL writer, also tweeted that if you just look at the letter of the law, the personal conduct policy, that this actually seems like what the suspension should be. And then you have, you know, another great NFL writer, Jim Trotter says it’s crazy for the arbiter to say his conduct was egregious and then give him such a soft punishment. He blames the arbitrator for that. It’s a failure and our first significant ruling and the league should appeal it.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: It does seem like this worked out the way the Browns would have wanted to and the way that Watson wanted. And given the extremely harrowing reports, first person accounts from the women who say that he sexually assaulted them. For me, it just feels seeing Watson and seeing the Browns kind of come out as winners here doesn’t seem like a great outcome from where I sit personally.

Speaker 5: Yeah. And you know, everything that you just laid out there, I can’t argue against any of it, but everything you just laid out there is why I think this made it so difficult for the arbitrator because, yes, the personal accounts, you know, some of the things that that that have been alleged, clearly very disturbing. I mean, I don’t think anybody, you know, could could sit there and say, well, this isn’t something that’s disturbing. But, you know, you mentioned both Jim Lindsay were both friends of mine and they both explained the difficulty in this. And if you look at the personal conduct policy that OC.

Speaker 5: Yeah. I mean six games would seem to be in keeping with if you if you just look at the policy. But then, as Jim pointed out, how can you say that this is egregious behavior and then come down with six games? The fact that two grand juries declined to indict, the fact that so many of these suits have been settled, it just further muddies the situation in terms of try to get some clear outcome of what justice looks like. There’s justice from the criminal justice standpoint and is justice from the NFL personnel, public policy, those are necessarily those aren’t at all the same things. But I don’t know. What the appropriate outcome would be here. But I do agree with you. It doesn’t feel like this is right. It feels like this should be something more.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: So Watson has a contract with the most guaranteed money in the entire NFL. $230 million. And I believe that the new deal that Kyler Murray, the Cardinals quarterback signed, gives him the second most guaranteed money in the league. He also has now of an average annual value of $46.1 million, which is the second highest in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers. So this is rarefied air for Murray. And you would think, Jason, that this contract would have been a moment for celebration for him, for the franchise.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: And yet news comes out, I think, about ten days ago now that there’s this clause in the contract, essentially saying that Kyler Murray needs to do his homework in order to get paid. They need to have 4 hours of film study per week and then he won’t get credit for watching it. If he’s playing video games, this creates like a huge level of I don’t know if conflict is the right word, but outrage, backlash, backlash.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Yeah. And the thing that I’m kind of struggling to understand is that Murray holds a press conference in which he expresses kind of outrage. He talks about it as he says it’s a joke. The cardinals eventually removed the clause, but Murray and the Cardinals agreed to this clause. There’s some sort of disconnect happening here. So I’d love to hear your take on that. But also, I think it leads into a conversation about your book and some of the really pernicious stereotypes about black quarterbacks for generations.

Speaker 5: Yeah, you know, I’ve been asked about this a lot as well. I can’t draw a straight line from or even a crooked line for that matter, from the racism the black quarterbacks faced in the past as Kyler Murray situation. I think this Kyler Murray situation is specific to Kyler Murray. Now, if every black star quarterback had this language in his contract, had this type of contract addendum, this independent this independent study addendum, then yeah, then I think it would be just, you know, outright racist. But the Cardinals really stepped in it here. Okay. Because you don’t guarantee someone 160 million for injury and 105 million is signing, or at least you shouldn’t if you have questions about their study habits.

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Speaker 5: Quarterback is the most important position of the field, and quarterbacks are expected to do a ton of studying outside of the facility, team facility. And you know, Kyler Murray is a young player. He was the rookie of the year. He was a two time Pro Bowler. And the point he made is that he’s not a big guy in terms of hype. He’s like five nine. The prototypical size for that position is six three, you know, £220. That’s not who he is. And the point he made is for anyone to think that I could succeed to the level that I have at my size without studying. It’s insulting. He was very angry about it. Now, I think the Cardinals did him a service by putting that in there. I think his agent did a disservice by having him sign it. My guess is, is that, look, I don’t think that this was something that that was really highlighted or was really brought up to Kyler right before he signed the final paperwork.

Speaker 5: Okay. I mean, I think what was brought to the caller is the guarantee you have $60 million is the most fair, most in the history of the NFL. So, yeah, it was after the fact when this came to light, because these types of things are always going to come to light because the contract details get out. After it came to light was like, oh, boy, wait a minute. Here. Now, someone in the in the Cardinals organization or multiple people in the Cardinals organization who were up high enough to actually have input in the franchise quarterback’s contract clearly felt that Kyler needed to study more. I don’t think there’s any way you can look at it other than that, I don’t think we can take it. I think there’s another takeaway from this.

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Speaker 5: The best case scenario is that that someone or several people felt, look, Kyler can do great things in this league and generally were happy with how hard he studies. But maybe this is something we can just prod in the study a little harder. But you don’t put that in the contract. What you do is you talk to him privately and say, Look, dude, let’s do this a little bit more. So the Cardinals really messed up and they messed up so much with the backlash to this whole thing and Kyler being angry about it, they took it out of the contract. But this is the type of thing that can cast a cloud over the remainder of his career, because whenever he has a bad game and inevitably he will, because even the best quarterbacks, best players have bad games.

Speaker 5: What’s going to happen is that fans and the media well, the college study this week did he not study this week? And that’s just not the type of thing you know, you want to have hanging over your head, especially in what should be this joyous time. Like, look, if I don’t know about you, but if somebody guaranteed me $96 million, I just have a smile on my face. I just want to be happy. So it’s a problem, you know, and it’s it’s something it’s a problem the Cardinals created, and they’re going to have to live with it.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: So there was another press conference within the last couple of days, Patrick Mahomes, where he said, it is weird when you see guys like me, Lamar. Lamar Jackson Kyler get kind of criticism that other guys don’t. And I think that was in reference to this athletic piece. There was like quarterback tears where and this was only like one person saying this about Patrick Mahomes. He’s like the number according to this athletic piece. Number two, quarterback in the NFL. But you have like one anonymous person say he plays streetball. Then Lamar Jackson is like number ten on this list. He’ll he’ll be number one as a football player. Another anonymous person says, but not as a quarterback. And so it’s sort of like what you were saying before, Jason. We can, like argue back and forth is like, is that racist? Is that racist? Is that racist? But like, it’s it’s notable to me that Mahomes standing up at a press conference, he saw that I don’t know if took offense as the red phrase, but like.

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Speaker 5: No, I know I took offense is the right phrase.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Yeah. He read something into it, right?

Speaker 5: Absolutely. And as well he should I mean, look, you know, you can go back to to most of NFL history and black quarterbacks were the most marginalized group in the league. Now we’ve come a very far away. There are superstar black quarterbacks. You know, just you just mentioned Kyler Murray just got $260 million. Things have never been better for black quarterbacks in the NFL.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Yeah, if I can just interject quickly, like in your chapter on Kyler Murray, in the book, you say his presence among the league’s best today is proof positive of how much the game has changed in all the right ways.

Speaker 5: Yeah, it has. I mean, and just real quick about that, never before never in the history of NFL with a black quarterback was five feet nine inches tall be the number one overall pick in the draft it shows how the game is a ball. And you know, fast forward into this situation with the press conference you referenced with Patrick Mahomes. We don’t have a situation any longer where it’s there’s overt racism toward these superstar black quarterbacks. Okay. But that unnamed the anonymous defensive coordinator who listed Patrick Mahomes as a Tier two quarterback. If Patrick Mahomes is not a Tier one quarterback, there’s no reason to have that story about tiers because by any metric, Patrick Mahomes is, if not the best quarterback in the league, one of the top two or three.

Speaker 5: Okay. And the thing that was that was coded, that streetball comment in that the whole quote was nonsensical is ludicrous. Okay. Because what what the quote said was that, well, if you take away his first read, which, you know, conjures up images about saying that he’s not very smart to read defenses, well, then, you know, that’s when they lose, you know, when he has to play streetball.

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Speaker 5: Well, first of all, in the history of the NFL during the Super Bowl era, there’s only one quarterback who has a better record and 50 starts than Patrick Mahomes. That’s Hall of Famer Ken Stabler, who went 49 and one through his first 50 starts. Patrick Mahomes is 40, intense in his first 50 starts. So the quote on his face doesn’t make any sense because the Chiefs don’t lose very much with Patrick Mahomes. The guy has been to two Super Bowls. He’s been to four AFC championship games his whole career. He has at least made it to the AFC championship game. He’s at 24. He became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to have a Super Bowl trophy, a Super Bowl MVP award and a league MVP award.

Speaker 5: So when you look at that quote and it’s gutless, too, to do that anonymously. But that aside, I mean, you know, everybody has different journalism ethics, but that aside. The quote just doesn’t make sense. Okay. Because there’s no way you can say something like that and have it just not add up and not have them be like, what is this crap?

Speaker 5: The Lamar Jackson thing, that anonymous quote from another defensive play caller who the athletic allowed to to say this without putting his name to it. It was that he can’t win passing the ball. Last year against first of all the the Ravens have won many times passing the ball last week and last year week five of the NFL season Lamar Jackson led the the Ravens to a 19 point come from behind victory he passed for 1042 yards had an 86% completion percentage set all kind of records there are other games he’s had great you know, passing games. I can list a bunch of metrics to say how much he’s improved as a pocket passer. But look, I’d never sit here and try to argue that he’s the best pocket passer in the NFL. He’s not. So, yeah, Patrick Mahomes is speaking for every black quarterback. Past, present and future in saying that this is crap and this is crap that we only have to deal with.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: We’re going to talk about this more in our bonus segment coming up. But I just wanted to dig into a little bit of the history that you write about so well in the book, and there’s so many stories and moments that are just sort of jaw dropping that you go through. But the one that really struck me was about one man who we know as being a Hall of Famer, having one of the greatest careers in NFL history, not being drafted after being the MVP of the Rose Bowl. And this was in the 1970s. This isn’t unlike 1960s, 1950s. He refused to change positions.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: And you write in the book and this is what kind of hit me, he could have been the greatest player in NFL history. Theoretically that’s that’s not a wouldn’t be out of the picture for him. And it also struck me, Jason, because Warren Moon is somebody who spoke up and said how upsetting he found the contract clause and an Kyler Murray contract.

Speaker 5: Coal player of the year in a major conference who led his team to, I mean, at the time, the biggest bowl game the Rose Bowl. And things have changed in college football with the with the playoff system. But the Rose Bowl was such a significant game. And yes, he went undrafted. And Warren, I got to thank him so much because he gave me so much time for the book.

Speaker 5: And, you know, the anecdote about when he’s being booed at the University of Washington as a senior like. He was a quarterback for Universe Washington. It was like he was a visiting player. And, you know, racism had a lot to do with that. And he told me he want to flip off the crowd, give him the bird. But he didn’t do it, obviously, because he knew he couldn’t, because that would have create even more backlash. But.

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Speaker 5: You know, when you when you see someone like Warren Moon and when you when he talks about like this Kyler Murray situation, like, again, I don’t draw I don’t draw a line to straight racism. But I understand what he’s saying when he says this is this reinforces the perception that black quarterbacks generally, in a generalization, just don’t study hard and don’t don’t put in the time. And that’s unfair. And from that standpoint, yeah, it has cast a shadow over all black quarterbacks, even though again, I don’t believe that is specific to all black quarterbacks. I think it’s just specific to Kyler Murray that that’s what the Cardinals did in relation to him.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: The book is Rise of the Black Quarterback What it Means for America. Jason, we’re going to have you stick around and talk about it a little bit more in our bonus segment, but congrats on the book and thanks so much for coming on the show.

Speaker 5: Thank you for having.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: And now it is normally time for after balls. But we gave Kenny Sellers the week off this week as well. No Bennett Princess, no saying it was okay. And I think he’ll be back next week along with Vincent. That is our show for today. Our producer is Kevin Bendis. Thank you for being here again in Person of Hashes and subscribe or just reach out.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Go to Slate.com slash hang up. You can email us at Hang Up at Slate.com. And don’t forget to subscribe to the show and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts for Josh Levin. I’m Josh Levin remembers I’m a. And thanks for listening.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate Plus members. And as promised, back with us is Jason Reid. He’s the author of Rise of the Black Quarterback What It Means for America. Jason, thanks for sticking around.

Speaker 5: Thank you.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: So Fritz Pollard, what an amazing life and person. And I’m thinking about him because we talked earlier in the show, we did a segment on on Bill Russell, his life and legacy and Fritz Pollard as kind of the first black quarterback. You write about him extensively in the book. You know, you write about how he became the toast of black America. Can you just talk a little bit about the role that he played in the storyline that you’re laying out?

Speaker 5: Yeah, absolutely. First, Pollard is a fabulous story. I mean, the life he lived, you know, he he’s not a very big guy. You know, that five, eight, five, nine range. He’s bounced around trying to find a college lands at Brown in an era where, you know, people think of the NCAA and all these monumental changes occurring, you know, with things like name, image and likeness. But, you know, back then it was very it was kind of like the Wild West a lot to a degree. These these players, these vagabond players, they they bounced around looking for the best, you know, not necessarily going for schooling and education, but just to play football. And he was a bit brown and he was a because he.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Went to like five different colleges or something.

Speaker 5: Like that. Yeah. Yeah. You bounced around and of, you know, he winds up going to brown and you know brown and what becomes the Ivy League. And he’s not really wanted there I mean black players. There were black players in college football. But I mean, it wasn’t like he was he was celebrated, but he was a talk on his way into Brown. He gets in there and he gets on the team and he becomes a sensation. You know, he leads Brown to the Rose Bowl. You know, this is early in the last century. And he he really is a gifted football player. I mean, as a runner, he he’s a he’s just electrifying by all accounts. He winds up going into what is then the NFL and it’s in its infancy. And in the NFL, he becomes the first black head coach, the first black superstar and the first black quarterback.

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Speaker 5: Now, I got to I have to qualify this. He lived up in what we know as quarterback, even though the game looked nothing like it does today. But, you know, he he battles Jim Thorpe, the great Native American, an Olympian, you know, Olympic superstar. And they have a rivalry in the early days of the NFL. He he’s one of the first stars of the NFL. And when you think about the NFL and what it’s become for its power, being the first black star, first black coach, first black quarterback.

Speaker 5: He was such a trailblazer and his story was lost to history, became a footnote in history for a very long time until his told his family, his grandson really, you know, pushed to try to get him into the Hall of Fame. And and and he was to, you know, played a big role in getting his grandfather into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But, you know, there always has to be a first there has to be someone who, you know, blazes the trail. And for African-Americans, the NFL, not just a quarterback, but for African-American coaches and players, Fritz Pollard is the one who blazed the trail.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: So the NFL has its own particular history with segregation and integration as compared to Major League Baseball. There were black players in the NFL before this kind of informal ban that came in the 1930s. And reading about that in the book, knowing a little bit about it from Kenny Washington’s story, which we did a good feature on it at Slate and then kind of as it progressed, we talked about Warren Moon, also a guy like Tony Dungy who was a star quarterback in college but wasn’t able to play wasn’t allowed to play that position in the pros.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: I’ve kind of come to think of what the NFL did as more pernicious than what. Even baseball did because it fueled this sort of. Well, first, a guy like Fritz Pollard builds the NFL and then is just cast aside when Red Grange comes and there’s a white star to promote. So that’s pretty evil. Then you have this the pernicious ness of black players being allowed to play in the league, but not allowed to play certain positions. And it just fuels this idea among the fans, among people who watch the game, like, oh, well, if the league and after the decision makers think that they can’t play the thinking positions, quote unquote, then I guess they can’t. And that’s just that’s done not only damage in football, but just to our whole society. Right. Because of how we perceive the quarterback in America.

Speaker 5: Oh, America writ large. Without a doubt. Because you think about it like the quarterback is a uniquely American leadership position. When you’re in the corp, in corporate America, when somebody is leading a project, it’s that he’s quarterbacking the project. If you’re going in for surgery and as a surgery team, well, you know who’s the main doctor? Well, he’s my quarterback. Okay. Like quarterback signifies so much in America about leadership. And like you said, the fact that black men were excluded from playing that position, it it reinforced an image that was already prevalent in the country, obviously, that black men were not capable of being leaders, of being the person at the top of the chart. And that extends to everything to every walk of life.

Speaker 5: So, yeah, you look at NFL owners, they were actually very progressive at one point. I mean, progressive maybe in quotation marks, but definitely more progressive than Major League Baseball owners. And then they they switched it for 12 years, beginning in 1934. We got this ban. They just said, no, no black players. And there’s no documentation of this. There’s no smoking gun, at least none that’s ever been on Earth saying, oh, hey, look, this is the document that banned black players. It was more of a, quote unquote gentlemen’s agreement, but it absolutely had an effect on the country, even though football clearly was not the most popular sport at the time, that was Major League Baseball. The fact that the NFL had no black players, it reinforced perceptions about the black man.

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Josh Levine, Josh Levin: This is kind of a big question to end on, but it feels like the question that’s hanging over all these conversations, which is how do you square this idea and reality that so many of the best quarterbacks in the league right now are black? And we’ve named many of them. We haven’t even named like Dak Prescott, for instance. Like there are people there are so many amazing black quarterbacks now that you can’t even list them all quickly with the other reality, which is Colin Kaepernick. And you have a chapter on Kaepernick in the book like how can we be living in those two worlds simultaneously?

Speaker 5: Yeah. You know, the caption a chapter is one of my favorite, not the favorite in the book, because Colin Kaepernick risked his career to stand on principle. And I don’t know how many people would do that regardless of race, you know, and we are we are in the era of the black quarterback in the NFL. There’s just no way to discount them.

Speaker 5: When you when you think about there’s never been more superstar black quarterbacks in the league. There are young black quarterbacks now who, you know, Trey Lance and San Francisco, Justin Fields in Chicago, you have there’s a pipeline coming from college. You know, the young man in Alabama, the young man at Ohio State, the young man at USC, these football factories. And I’ll take it a step further. They’re coming from high school as well. I mean, there was a time when it was. That you would just never see a black quarterback in high school because those guys would all be moved to other positions. You go to these all star camps now. They’re coming there, too. So this pipeline is coming.

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Speaker 5: So we’re in the era of the black quarterback and in another five years you could have 12 to 16 superstar black quarterbacks, leading teams. But we’re also in the area where Colin Kaepernick has been shut out of the NFL. And how do we square that? How do we reconcile that, that you could have these owners now acceptance of black excellence at the quarterback position, the most important position in professional sports.

Speaker 5: But this black quarterback who was was good on the football field, Colin Kaepernick was a talent is a talent or was a talent when he played. But he can’t get another job because he took a stand against systemic oppression and police brutality. That angered the owners because the owners felt that he was, if not an existential, existential threat to the league’s continued growth, was definitely a threat to the league maximizing profits at that time while he was taking a knee in peaceful protests.

Speaker 5: I think the way I’ve come down on it is, and I think about this often, is that if Colin Kaepernick were as talented as Patrick Mahomes, he would still have a job like the league club owners would have overlooked. To a degree, the stance he took that that, you know, made them have to allay the fears of corporate partners and and many white fans. And I say white fans because this issue was largely comes down along racial lines based on polling.

Speaker 5: But. Colin Kaepernick wasn’t good enough just in terms of a pure talent to make owners overlook what he did make club owners overlook it. But again, if we’re talking Patrick Mahomes. Patrick Mahomes would still have a job if he’d done that because he’s Patrick Mahomes is too good to kick out of the league. Kaepernick, as talented as he is, wasn’t quite good enough. Wrong to say, well, we can’t live without Jason.

Josh Levine, Josh Levin: Thanks again. The book is Rise of the Black Quarterback What it Means for America. There’s a ton of stuff that we didn’t get to. Marlin Briscoe, Willie Thrower, it’s all in there. Thank you and thank you. Slay plus members. We’ll be back with more next week.