S1: The following podcast includes explicit language, including, well, you’ll just have to wait and see. Hi, I’m Stefan Fatsis and this is Slate’s sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen for the week of March 28th, 2022. On this week’s show, Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic will be with us to break down the all Blueblood Men’s Final Four, Duke, North Carolina, Cowboy and Villanova, Kansas, as well as the latest in the women’s tournament. New York Times national politics reporter, CNN political analyst. And for the purposes of this show, soccer fan Astead Herndon will be here to discuss the U.S. men’s national soccer teams, crucial five one blowout of Panama and other news and World Cup qualifying. Finally, we’ve got an interview with ESPN’s Bomani Jones about his new HBO sports talk show game theory with Bomani Jones. Josh Levin is enjoying a deserved break after editing my slave piece about playing that crazy word Bushveld at a Scrabble tournament. I’m really pleased with how that one turned out. Everyone should go read it. I am still the author of Word Freak. A few seconds of Panic and Wild and Outside. I am back in Washington, D.C. from Mexico City, where I watched the USA and Mexico play to a00 draw at fabled Estadio Azteca last week. Long way to go to see no goals from inside barbed wire in the upper part of the upper deck. But I’m glad I made the trip and I’ll talk about it in the after ball segment. Joining me from Palo Alto, California, it’s Slate’s staff writer Joel Anderson, the host of Slow Burn Season six, The L.A. Riots, which last week won an Emmy Award for Excellence in Audio as Best History podcast. Congratulations, Joel.
S2: Thank you. Stuff. I appreciate you saying that young man in your piece was great. Yeah, you should take a little exception to the idea that, you know, your piece was so grueling to edit that it sent Josh on a two week vacation. I thought it was a very it was delightful license.
S1: Josh, you have a couple of good suggestions. It wasn’t like he rewrote it or anything.
S2: Okay. All right. All right. I was like, you didn’t I don’t think.
S1: You wanted me to play off the fact that I was about to quit because I suck.
S2: So he said that, you know, Josh is really good for like, hey, man, don’t reveal your true feelings to people in your writing. He doesn’t he or in talking, he always he gives me that little pep talk to. He doesn’t like it when you admit to weakness. I don’t know if that is.
S1: He was right. I needed to get that up much higher in the story. Yeah. Yeah.
S2: Yeah, he’s good at it. A good writer, good friend. We’ll miss him this week, but I think we’ll make. We’ll make it without it. If you didn’t expect to see St Peter’s University playing Sunday with a chance to advance to the men’s Final Four, you were far from alone. Just 3/10 of 1% of entries in ESPN’s bracket challenge included the peacocks, who on Friday night became the first number 15 seed to reach a regional final. Alas, the Cinderella story came to an end in a 20 point loss to North Carolina. On the bright side, their demise set up one of the most dramatic storylines in NCAA tournament history, with the Tar Heels scheduled to face archrival Duke in the national semifinals on Saturday and the other semifinal. Top seeded Kansas will play against number two seed Villanova, another matchup of Blue, but it was also mostly chalk in the women’s tournament this weekend as the number one overall seed, South Carolina easily dispatched 10th seed Creighton to advance to its fourth Final Four in eight seasons and in the late game Sunday night. Top seed and defending national champion Stanford outlasted Texas 59 to 49 while recording before the other two women’s Elite eight games on Monday. NC State versus UConn and Louisville versus Michigan. Summing up a fairly predictable and lopsided weekend of results, our next guest tweeted this Sunday. The Elite Eight has not been elite. That would be Nicole Auerbach of the Athletic and Sirius XM. Nicole, thanks for joining us.
S3: Thanks for having me.
S2: For The Athletic, you wrote about the motley collection of Saint Peter’s believers and ended your story with a quote from a woman named Bandy Peacock who picked the peacocks to make it to the Elite Eight. They are such a fun team to get behind, she said. So let me ask you. Were you a little sad? Saint Peter’s was denied? Or were you more excited about seeing the tobacco road rivalry taking out to New Orleans?
S3: Well, I’m not a terrible person, so absolutely I was upset that same Peters lost. I wanted them to continue to win and win the whole the whole thing. But no, I think we all knew that there was going to be an expiration date on that run. It just went further than we’ve ever seen. A true Cinderella like that. A 15 seed has never made it to the Elite Eight. But, you know, you knew that it was going to come into play. North Carolina is on a heater right now. They’ve got great guard play. They’re great on the glass there. They were, of course, going to be the team that was going to knock them out. It’s wild to me and I guess it’s all crystalized in the last week or so as as Duke and Carolina have been stringing together these wins while that those two teams have never met in the NCAA tournament. So I like it. I know there’s rules around, you know, rematches and playing teams in your own conference in early rounds and different things like that. So I guess that a Final Four would be the most likely scenario, the most likely location for them to meet. But it’s crazy. It didn’t happen. Feels like we are in a simulation or somebody else is writing a story here about Coach K’s farewell tour ending like that. But so I’m with you. I mean, obviously crushed about St Peter’s. They were just such a great story. I want Shaheen Holloway to be my life coach, but I am pumped about that Final Four game. And in general, I think we all typically, as much as people love the upsets, I think we typically like the blue Bloods playing in those games that matter at the end because you want to see the teams with the athletes, with the dudes, you want to see the teams with the coaches that we all know. And I just think that’s usually a better Final Four. So I think it actually worked out pretty perfectly. This tournament where you’ve an all time Cinderella and you still have maybe the bluest of blue bloods final four.
S1: Well, and with Chayefsky playing every game, that might be his last game. I want to talk about the the the underdog making the run because it was kind of perfect. You’re right, Nicole. I think this is the ideal scenario. It’s better than just one upset in the first round, having someone win three games against the one against the two, three and seven seeds. North Carolina was the lowest seeded team that St Peters played in the tournament. But you go back and you look at the way these things and and they usually don’t end terribly well. George Mason got got hammered in the Final Four and I’m going to date myself. But this game really reminded me of another ridiculous underdog game, which was Penn against Michigan State and Magic Johnson in 1979. In the final for the final score, that game was 101 to 67. It was 42 eight, 52, 17. At halftime, Penn shot six for 36 in the first half and they missed a bunch of layups. St Peters missed a bunch of layups and shot seven for 31 in the first half. Joel, you actually tweeted like five consecutive missed layups in the game for the right to go to the Final Four. And it was like eerily similar. And clearly, like you get to this stage and there is some nerves. There are some nerves here.
S2: Yeah. I mean, I think that the tournament happened exactly the way that it should. Like, oh, we got enough for St Peters to fall in love with them and be charmed by the little story, you know, this gritty little school from New Jersey of only 30,000 students, but then, like, get them the hell out of here. Right. And games that we actually want to watch because I don’t know. Did you all watch the game against Purdue? Because that was some slop. And the thing is like, it’s not just St Peters fault. It was Purdue’s fault. Yeah. Jaden Ivey standing over the corner. If feeding the seven foot four guy who like I mean he made Mark Eton look look look like Joel Embiid you know what I mean? Like he was just so stiff and tell him to throw it there, dumping it down to this guy who’s turned these turnaround shots over, you know, a six foot five post guy. Purdue, what are you doing? Like, why are you following for this? Like, don’t don’t allow that to happen. So I just felt like St Peter’s mucked it up enough that I was like, okay, like, I don’t want to, you know, Armando be cut. Could take advantage of that in the way that the Purdue guys could. And I was like, Let’s just get that. Let’s get that shot.
S1: You want to move on? Once I’ve gotten back and look at the The Washington Post piece after the Penn loss, Magic Johnson said, I feel a little bad for Penn, but they have a good team. They didn’t make it here on a humbug, but we don’t want any close games if we can help it, we want to beat everybody bad. It was time for St Peters to get beaten bad.
S3: Yeah. I feel like it kind of sucks to be the team that knocks out the Cinderella that everyone loves. But it was time and we got to know that we usually don’t even get that second week with the Cinderella because it’s so rare that they that they win. So I feel like we we got what we wanted from them and we are still getting a great final four. Like this is exactly what they draw up when they want the tournament because we want to watch the early rounds. You want the people who filled out a bracket because a toddler picked the peacocks to have some fun with the tournament. But, you know, we want to see the better teams play at the end. And again, it’s only one one seed. But these are the programs that have won national titles in recent years. And, you know, they’ve all won one since since oh eight. A bunch of them have, you know, on the string in the 20 tens. I mean, this is this is exactly what you want. The only thing that, you know, obviously sucks is Villanova is dealing with a key injury. But these are the programs that when you think of college basketball today, you think of them. And I sort of wonder, the Duke polarization is so funny to me because I sort of wonder if everyone’s just been watching them all along because they were hoping it was going to be Coach K’s last game. And then they keep winning and then you’re like, Oh crap, now I got it. Now I got to watch the next one because he still hasn’t lost yet. It’s like, it’s so funny to have a team that everyone hates so much doing this and also being celebrated because this is, you know, a Hall of Fame coach on his way out.
S2: Yeah. And I also kind of think that, you know, about people hating. Like, I don’t think it’s like it used to be, but I think that the Mike Krzyzewski ness of this is what’s making people hate Duke. You know, I mean, there’s I think that people have gotten beyond the point where you hate the Grayson Allen’s but the Steve was of Koski is the Christian late and you don’t like that that’s not Duke anymore like that’s not who they are. That’s like more the pile of eyeshadows or whatever the Jeremy roaches or whatever. But I don’t, I don’t, I don’t think of Duke in the quite the same way. But because Mike Krzyzewski is so front and center in this that it’s really easy to rally against them, which is sort of funny because I mean, this is the winningest coach of all time. Usually we revere our icons, but like she said, she’s been around long enough that now people are like, I, let’s get this guy the hell out of here. You know what I mean?
S1: But there’s plenty there’s plenty to hate here, Joel. I mean, because it’s now distilled the chef thing, right? Tom Scocca did a piece for Slate last week titled Goodbye to the Source of Sore Losers. And this is better than them having, you know, Bobby Hurley or Christian Laettner to hate. This is like distilled to the guy that’s retiring that has been an opportunist when it comes to the rules and the changes in college basketball and one of the most self-aggrandizing and hectoring lecturing coaches in the history of the sport, there’s a lot of like Mike Krzyzewski. He’s a great coach. Absolutely. But this is the way this should end. And the problem is that he may win the national championship.
S3: I would also argue that announcing that you’re retiring and doing a retirement tour, farewell tour doesn’t help any of those things when you are someone who is loved, respected, but also hated. And you mentioned, you know, some of those some of those adjectives, because I think that was part of it, too. If he just if we just went through the season and then at the end he said, I’m retiring, we’d be like, oh, well, you know, but it’s like it’s this series of celebrations and remembrances and stories and all of these things. So all season it’s been about Coach K and I actually think a lot about the players and the pressure that they’ve been playing under to send him off in the right way to not lose certain games. Like, I mean, we saw how, you know, that Carolina game too and the regular season like that was just I said at the time, obviously we didn’t know they were going to meet again in the NCAA tournament, but like it was like that is the greatest win in the history of the rivalry. That is the most painful possible loss for Duke. So therefore so, you know, you’re going through all of this and it is so much about the coach. There was like a Coach K mega cast for that game. I mean it’s been like a lot. And so I think that the, the, you know, announcing it and then doing this whole year long celebration has added to that that element of like, if you didn’t like him, it just enhanced that and you were just going to hear about Coach K all season long. I think it is different when it’s the face of the program, it’s the coach, because if you hated them 30 years ago, he’s still there. Like you still have all of that versus one player who, you know, again, maximum is there for seasons.
S2: I don’t hate him like I did in 1991 when they beat UNLV. But it’s not like we’re talking about Bobby Knight, you know what I mean? Like, I don’t I don’t have I don’t have that sort of revulsion for him. I just want to pivot real quick, you know, talking about bluebloods or whatever, like pivot to Gonzaga. These are the.
S1: Bloodiest of the blue bloods, by the way, John. I mean, these four teams in the Final Four, one, three, four and 19 and all time college basketball wins.
S2: So obviously Villanova 19, right? Yeah. Don’t go see. Yeah, man. I mean, that’s yeah. I mean, it’s it’s it’s such a it’s it’s great. I mean, if you love college basketball and you’ve got, you know, these memories of it, it’ll be great to watch. But people expect the Gonzaga to be here and they lost to Arkansas. And it seemed to confirm a lot of biases among people, at least on social media, like, oh, they’re not real, they’re frauds, you know, whatever, whatever. And I don’t know what you think about that because I think that’s totally unfair. Like, I just don’t think it makes any sense. Like, I think it is as good as build, but it’s just hard to win a tournament, right?
S3: Yeah. I am all over the place on this one because. We went through so many different phases of moving the goalposts on Gonzaga, where it was, okay, you know, they shouldn’t get a good seed, they can’t make it through the first weekend, they can’t make it to the Elite eight. Mark Few’s the best coach to not make a Final Four, which the ultimate bad backhanded compliment in college basketball and really in all sports, the best coach to never make the final four. And then they do all those things and they are getting number one seeds and people are saying, you know, first, oh, they don’t deserve it with their schedule. And then it’s like, okay, actually they do deserve it. And that two month layoff, they can still play really well in the tournament. Okay. All right. So now they’re the number one overall seed. Okay. Now they’re getting to Final Fours. Okay. Now they’re reaching the national title game. So I think it’s unfair to use those talking points because we know how good they are. We know like I’ve been to Spokane, the investment on the resources there, it’s such a high level. You know, they recruited a ton of these elite international players to build. They had a great strength and conditioning program. A lot of players redshirted and got better. Now they’re getting number one players in the class. So all that to say, I’m with you. I think it’s really hard. This tournament does not always crown the best team when it picks it’s champion, it’s whoever gets hot, whoever is playing well and win six games in a row. The Yukon team that won with Kevin Ollie.
S3: Absolutely not the best team in the country.
S2: That means they were horrible, they were tired, that was terrible and they were not going to beat Butler. It was that team to be Butler. Was that somebody you know.
S3: That was somebody else. That was that team. Who did they beat in the final? That was a couple of years later. It was like 2014, but. Sometimes like the Villanova team a couple of years ago, that was just basically world leaders like that was the best team in the country all season and they were the best team in the tournament. And it was obvious, but that doesn’t always happen. So, you know, it’s the idea of measuring coaches only based on, you know, who has titles. It’s always been an interesting process. The one thing I will say is now that Gonzaga can get the number one overall seed plays who they play in November, December, getting the number one kid in the class. I think it is getting to the point where it’s fair to say like national title or bust and that if you don’t win a national title, it’s a failure. It’s kind of like an on the football side where Ohio State is, you know, it was a failure because they didn’t they go to the Rose Bowl, right? They didn’t they didn’t make the playoffs. And we’re in this world where it’s like, well, yeah, you know, their their season success is playoff like that is the bare minimum and we’re getting there with Gonzaga. Fair or not. But I think it’s because you’re getting the number one kids in the class. You’re get you’re doing all of these things. And we’ve seen those types of players carry teams to national championships. We know Mark View is a really good coach. So it’s got to it’s going to happen, but it’s wild that that is the threshold for success for Gonzaga. This program in Spokane, Washington. But I think we’re there because I think people are just going to dunk on them and you can say a lot of unfair stuff until they actually do it.
S1: All right. Let’s talk about the women’s Final Four right now. We have six teams actually. There are two more games on Monday that we cannot talk about because they will be done by the time most people listen to this show, South Carolina finally look like the best team in the country. On Sunday, they kicked again, 10th seeded. You know, we talked with your colleague Shantel Jennings last week about the rise of the lower seeds in the women’s tournament, the increase in parity, which you wrote about earlier this this month. Okay. It was nice that Creighton made it that far.
S2: But South Dakota.
S1: You know, it’s time. South Dakota. But it is time.
S3: Yeah. We’re definitely at the point where the blue bloods are showing up in the women’s tournament, too. And again, this is where we expected it. Even with depth in the women’s game, the depth at the top is still the teams that we’re talking about Stanford, South Carolina, teams that have got ones and two seeds. I mean, I think there were some teams that possibly on the three or four C line that could have had a chance, but you weren’t going to have double digit seeds, make the final four. You know, in women’s basketball there is still separation. Not to say that Creighton can’t beat the Iowa schools and do what they did, but I think at the very top, you know, we were probably predestined to get Stanford and South Carolina there. And I think that’s great. I think this is a tournament you’ve had 4 to 4 national champions in the last four. You know, UConn isn’t a one seed, even though they’re going to get to play at home and in the Elite Eight. So you have you have all of these different storylines, all of these different things intersecting, but you are getting the best players in the country and the best coaches and the best teams in the Final Four. And that’s part of the reason that this tournament has had such great Final Fours the last couple of years, because it is spread out a little bit. But you do have Stanford and Tara VanDerveer defending national champs, and you have Dawn Staley and Alicia Boston and all these incredible players. Everyone plays a little bit differently but is playing at a high level. And so I think this again, I think when you’re like writing out a tournament, you want some of the craziness the first two weekends, but you want the best teams playing at the end.
S2: Right? I mean, the funny thing is, is to, you know, you play all year, you get the top seed and then it’s like, oh, shit, I got to play UConn, who finally gets back, you know, Paige Becker and gets to play at home like that just doesn’t seem fair if you’re a top seed. But the thing is, I mean, to win a championship, you got to beat a good team anyway, right? Yeah. Inevitably got to be a great team. But like, that doesn’t matter. NC State kind of got screwed a little bit. I mean, just a tad.
S3: Oh, they definitely did. They definitely did. And I feel like on Selection Sunday that was like, Oh crap, that’s your draw. You know, you work so hard, you get a one seed and then to have a to get that type of home court advantage in Bridgeport, Connecticut, it’s pretty wild. But the basketball committee would say that they were following the S-curve. They would say that, you know, it’s it’s still, you know, okay, if you’re the number one overall seed, you’re not going to be the one that gets stuck with something like that, obviously. Of course. Of course. Of course. They’ll also say that Connecticut draws well, like because it’s near UConn, there’s there’s the fans and the audience, all these things that do matter because that is around for the women’s tournament that is at neutral sites. And you want good crowds. You want people to come but truly, truly wild. And if this happened on the men’s side, I mean, think about how much we’ve been hearing about that for three weeks. I mean, whenever it’s remotely close to like home court advantage for a lower seed, people freak out. So kind of crazy how this all played out. But I do think that the question of where you’re playing the games in the women’s tournament is such an important one that I can see why it got set up that way. I still think it’s deeply unfair to NC State that drew it, but I also think that like. The only way around this is to move Yukon to a different region. And then if that’s the case, does anyone come to these games in Connecticut?
S2: You want that atmosphere if you can have it right, no matter even if it’s.
S3: Rather play in a hostile environment than like one that had no energy.
S2: Absolutely. Nicole Auerbach, the Athletic. She’s going to join us in the bonus segment. But for now. Thanks for joining us, Nicole.
S3: Thanks for having me.
S2: In our next segment. We’ll welcome New York Times national politics reporter Astead Wesley to talk about the U.S. men’s national soccer team World Cup qualifiers last week.
S1: After the U.S. men’s national soccer team thumped Panama five one in Orlando on Sunday night. Someone handed the players two banners, both in all caps. Thank you. Fans read one qualified 2022 FIFA World Cup. Read the other, which gave me the shivers because while Christian Pulisic hat trick left the Americans in incredibly good shape, they actually did not qualify on Sunday for the World Cup finals in Qatar later this year. Sure, they’d have to lose by six goals on Wednesday night in Costa Rica to get dumped into a playoff game against either New Zealand or the Solomon Islands, which is very, very unlikely. But man, there was no need to tempt fate. The last time the U.S. played in Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying, it lost for nothing, which is not far from six. And strange things happen in international football, especially in the CONCACAF Confederation. I mentioned earlier that I attended last week’s game in Mexico City and so did our next guest. Astead Herndon, national political reporter for The New York Times and CNN political analyst. Welcome to the show, Astead.
S5: Hey, thanks for having me.
S1: Good to have you. We’re going against the grain here by not having a soccer writer on for this segment, but I am far less worried about that than about losing six or nothing in San Jose, where the U.S. has never won a World Cup qualifier. And I’m not really worried about that at all. Let’s start with the Panama game. Big picture. It was a clutch performance showcase, the evolution of the team from older players who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup to this new generation. And a bunch of players were hurt or sidelined by yellow card. So some dude stepped up.
S5: Yeah. I mean, I think that this was the U.S. kind of culminating into what we’ve seen over the last 2 to 3 years, which is, as you said, a real new generation of players who frankly wouldn’t have had an excuse to not qualify. They play at the top levels of club soccer. They are some of the brightest young soccer players in world football and frankly, should be qualifying for the World Cup. That, as we know, doesn’t always mean that you do. And so I think it still was a big relief for a lot of U.S. fans to kind of see them follow through and to do so, like in convincing fashion. I think this is going to be a U.S. team that once it makes it to the World Cup that the country really falls in love with. That has a lot of storylines and kind of a kind of and a kind of richness that’s really well made to show the growth of U.S. soccer. But the first step for them really was getting to the World Cup and and obviously reversing what was a big disappointment four years ago. And, you know, you know, yeah, they shouldn’t tempt fate with a van, but for all intents and purposes, we know they’re.
S2: I’m going to make a little boring personal anecdote about like my experience with this, because last week Stephan said, Well, Joel, you need to make sure you watch this because this will be determinative of what they’ll be in the World Cup. You know that you know that. We would know that by the time we were recording on Monday morning whether or not the U.S. men’s national team would be in. And then I come to find out, oh, no way. Actually, even if they win, there’s some sort of weird quirk that puts you know, it’s not quite determined until the next game on Wednesday. So I guess the thing for me is I’m always trying to figure out like where is the actual impact we gave is actually determinative which game is like provides a real referendum on the state of U.S. soccer. And it never seems to come it always seems to be the next game. Like this game tells us something about the U.S. men’s national soccer team. But hey, let’s say they go and lose three zero to Costa Rica, which is just enough to still qualify, but still embarrassing that I still I still don’t think people are going to be satisfied. Like, I just feel like that’s.
S1: The thing about international soccer. Every game is a referendum on, like, the state of the entire country.
S5: Yeah. It reminds me of, like, congressional reporting I like. It always makes me so annoyed when people say it’s the most important week of Congress because there’s always an excuse. That’s right. Like, there’s never it’s never actually the most important Congress. I mean, it’s true. Certainly certainly to any degree for the for the U.S. national team. I have to tell you, like I’m someone who watches international soccer a lot more dispassionately that I watch club soccer. But I also think that it’s partly whether even if they lose three nothing, the act of qualifying for the World Cup is is the growth point from four years ago. And I think I think that will be true no matter what happens in the Costa Rica match. But I do think expectations are going to start resetting because that was really the baseline for this team. They should go to the World Cup and it’s really about whether they kind of put things together enough to do well, because the U.S. should be a country that’s doing more than just getting there to be. But but but.
S2: But this this is what I’m curious about, because they’re not making the World Cup the last time was actually the anomaly. Right. Like that was anomalous. They usually make it. And so they didn’t make it last time. It was a bad cycle. They had some unfortunate, you know, they were old, all this other stuff. And so now they’re back going to the World Cup. It’s like, oh, well, the U.S. team is on is on the cup again. But like, they always I mean, it’s unusual for them to not make the playoffs again.
S5: It’s about how and it’s about who made it and who made it. And they made it with rice. It’s like it is it is undeniable that they are more talented than they used to be. It is like it is undeniable that they are a better team with a better collection of players playing at the highest levels of soccer on throughout the year. That that is the reason why there is such optimism around them and I think that’s distinct from even when they were making it before. But that’s why I talked about the change of expectations. Right. I don’t think this is going to be 12 years ago. Landon Donovan goal like you know, has soccer made it in America type of coverage? I think that’s a little old now, right? Soccer’s firmly in America here to stay. And there’s a real culture around the U.S. national team really for this team, they should be competing. And really, I mean, they we have to see what groups turn out and kind of the road and all of that stuff. But there is no excuse for this team to to be satisfied with just showing up. No.
S1: I mean, they’ve got guys play and we’ve talked about this before. You know, Christian Pulisic, who had a hat trick on Sunday night, plays for Chelsea and plays for Chelsea. Sergino Dest plays and plays for Barcelona. Gio Reyna is an up and coming star in in the German Bundesliga.
S5: Tyler Adams, Weston Mckennie like these are players who are like, who are, who are, who are at the top levels of European soccer, which the U.S. has simply never had before. Like even if they’re in the World Cup before, it was a collection of mostly MLS players and maybe a couple of players who have doing a little things in Europe which are considered to be those better leagues. As we know now, they’re at the top of club soccer, individual Americans. And so talent wise, it would have been no excuse for them not to. And it’s the reason why the optimism is right.
S1: I mean, where where the U.S. is still going to be hampered a little bit is depth. We’re not at the point where you’re picking from among 20 dudes playing at the very top level of European soccer. The one reason for optimism, Joel, is that in this qualifying cycle, the best players really didn’t play together that much. Weston Mckennie, who Astead referenced, he played in just seven of the 13 matches. Sergino Dest played in just six. Gio Reyna has been hurt a lot. He was great against Mexico with a spectacular run that went through six dudes. He only played in three matches. Pulisic has been hurt and had COVID came off the bench in three of his nine matches. So the expectations are sort of what build in and make fans sort of angsty and also optimistic. It’s like, whoa, if we get all of these dudes on the field at the same time after having played together a lot, they’re going to be really good. And for all the criticism that the head coach, Gregg Berhalter has gotten, the one thing he’s done is like he’s brought in a lot of players out of necessity, but also out of a desire to see and develop younger players. And he’s got a real pool of American players now from which to choose.
S5: The conversation around the U.S. national team has always been kind of a weird to me, and there was an open question like ten, 15 years ago, more about like what about why the U.S. wasn’t successful, about whether they were together enough that like kind of overlapped with these questions of like whiteness and and U.S. soccer and like whether the collection of the team was passionate enough for America and all of those things. And I think this this team also has beyond just being technically better at soccer, it’s also answered some of those questions about who kind of should be the face of U.S. soccer. Like this is a legitimate multicultural team that has a wide range of stories that actually really reflects the kind of fullness of what American soccer shouldn’t look like, which is taken one way too long for me and long for for American soccer to embrace that type of stuff, both because it’s obviously where we could have a better competitive, more competitive team and like it does in some of the I think it’s a good retort. The team itself will also be a good retort to some of the worse problems U.S. soccer has kind of had on the cultural front, too. Like the actual team is a really fun collection of diverse.
S1: I think like the team that started against Panama, I think it was nine black players out of the 11.
S5: Which is something that you have seen in other countries like the Francis team. And it’s just colonialism one on one. Right. But like. Yeah, but, but like, it is it is it has been weirdly late for the U.S. to be comfortable with and supportive of those type of like of that multiculturalism.
S1: And I mean, I said black players, players of color because there are players of Latino descent to honest.
S5: Yeah. That’s like a huge thing they should have done so long ago.
S1: Right. And they were talking about this. I mean, I started covering this in the 1990s and that was part of the conversation. When are we going to tap into the inner city? When are we going to tap into the Latino community? And it was kind of a pathetic 20 years of failure to find and identify and recruit coaches and players who could encourage young athletes to play the game. Yeah.
S2: Yeah. And I will say, watching the game, it it was noticeable the diversity of the team, but in a way that I had never noticed before in all the years I’ve watched it, I felt, wow, they got some brothers out there. You know, that’s what it’s like, I guess, with some Latino brothers, too. So that was shocking. But I just kind of want to pivot for a second because everybody is so high on the men’s team right now. Right now, I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, but I would just like to go back to Wednesday where you both were in Mexico City watching this game. And I feel like the response to that zero zero tie against Mexico, again, it seemed like, oh, wow, the U.S. really disappointed at this game. And it’s you know, this is a chance for them to take a step forward. And this is, you know, the kind of mired in the same mediocre cycle.
S1: Or are you reading.
S2: Well over Twitter? I guess maybe that’s not fair. That’s not fair.
S5: Yeah. I feel like yeah, I feel like there’s a thing there’s like a long arc of soccer fandom where you realize that like that, that, that there are some there are, you know, in soccer, there’s there’s much more of an acceptance of a good tie than there is in other sports. And I still think, like for as for as much as the U.S. did, outplay Mexico in the game that we were at had the better chances and all of that they did. So knowing you know, they did so. And even the strategy of the coach by the end of the match was a conservative one based on the knowledge that they had a home game left against Panama and that not losing was way more important to them than winning. And like, you know, in the best version of U.S. soccer, once you get one, you know, when you become the kind of powerhouse soccer nation, that’s less of a thought. But that’s not what we are. Exactly. Yeah. And so there’s still I don’t think anyone I don’t think anyone left that thinking panic because not losing was still considered a good result.
S1: Yeah. I mean, I don’t. Where are you sitting instead? Where you sitting in the American fan section.
S5: No, no, no. So I, so I actually I came late. I had to go to like a wedding, like opening thinking before. And so I had American Section tickets, but because I was really late and I was in like neutral colors because as I said before, like, I’m not like a not like a like a die hard on the national team side. I said they weren’t really enforcing tickets by enforcing seat sections by the time I got there. Yeah. And so I just mosey on to this section that was like lower and fully surrounded by Mexico fans. And it was super fun. I just kept my mouth shut and like, you know, like, I just kept my mouth shut, sit down and like, and like, got one beer and and shut up. And it was like, you know, it’s good because soccer body language is universally the same. You know, like you stand at the same times, you’re yelling, you’re like, get mad at the red car. But I was trying to make sure my like, Yankee ness didn’t become verbally clear. And so, like, I ended up having this, like, really fun experience, but I was by myself. I was surrounded fully by Mexico fans and like, I like watched the game in peace, not really, because it was really rowdy, but like.
S2: It was like a lot of fun in a jealous.
S1: Well, I’m glad that you got in, but disappointed we didn’t get to sit together up in the cage where I was with the American fans.
S5: For for me, it’s like who was going for full like bucket list Azteca like cultural experience. I liked, I loved it. I thought it was like the way I would I way I wouldn’t have experienced the stadium otherwise. But it was totally by accident only because I was like.
S1: Let’s pivot a little bit. Canada made the World Cup for the first time since 1986, which was their only time qualifying for the World Cup finals. And similar to the United States, this is a country that had more recently been pretty terrible generally, but they also embraced their immigrant culture, brought a new philosophy to how to play the game and how to recruit players that would want to play for the team. And like out of nowhere, Canada suddenly is, Oh, they’re the best team in North America, which is really crazy when you go back for a 12 years.
S5: Yeah, I think it’s actually I think it’s really cool. I mean, I think that it’s really cool, like soccer shows that like governments and kind of structures can invest in the grassroots and really kind of change a culture of a place. I mean, you know, you look at you look at, you know, Croatia at the top, you know, it was in the World Cup final. There’s no reason that can exist in the United States, in Canada. The reason that is. And is because. Of lack of structure, lack of development, and a kind of culture that makes it true. I think that Canada’s team is fine. Canada’s team plays really interestingly. You know, they have Alphonso DAVIES, like the like one of the coolest young players in world soccer, maybe the best left back of the world.
S1: Born in a Canadian refugee camp after his family fled the war in Liberia.
S5: And speaking. Yeah. And I was saying, speaking of embracing that kind of patriotism, speaking of teams that have some like fun brothers like Canada also. And I think that that has actually been part of a fun growth of soccer. And I and, you know, I was seeing some British across the pond, you know, like I can’t believe Canada and the U.S.. Are like acting like they’re footballing nations now. But I think that’s the kind of promise of if these countries stick with it, you know, there’s no reason why we should let these we don’t like. Like if America cared enough, if Canada cares enough, you know, they can be they can be right there every year and kind of producing that same level of talent consistently. And like, why not piss the Brits off? You know, like, I think it’s fun.
S2: Is it Canada? Globally, sort of a disappointment in every athletic competition. I feel like after the Olympics, their fans always like, Oh, Canada, you know. Yeah, well, hockey.
S2: Yeah, right.
S5: Yeah, it’s just hockey.
S1: Women’s soccer. There have always been good women. I feel like after going to.
S2: The Summer Olympics, there’s like there’s talk about how Canada is not tapping into its potential. But, you know, the thing that I thought about, it’s kind of like when there’s like a good college baseball program from the Northeast or like the upper Midwest, and you just ask them how they’re able to do that. It’s supposed to be cold there. But then I think, wait a minute, all those countries in Europe are cold too, as it’s not stopping them. So I don’t know why Canada has had this excuse for so long because it’s not like it just it’s not cold in like Russia. Yeah, you know what I mean? Like Switzerland.
S5: Yeah. I’ve read a crazy story about, like, how Belgium, like, basically created this historically good kind of soccer age group that they really have had to last like ten, 15 years, which is massive, like an intentional government investment in sport and like soccer club, local soccer clubs over the last 50 years. And it’s crazy to me how so many of these questions just come back to policy, come back to like whether the country has cared enough basically to consistently do it over a long period of time. And like, you know, Canada, you know, we know from the curling and hockey and all of that stuff like when they want to, they, you know, like when they when they when things are like invested in it, they can. But yeah, I frankly think also like hockey’s become such a moneymaking thing even in North America that there’s new club incentives for these countries also.
S1: All right, let’s finish up with ha ha team that’s not going to the World Cup, Italy for the second time in a row. So Canada going, the United States probably going. Mexico is probably going to qualify to suck it. Italy, they they lost to North Macedonia in a playoff and they had to play in a playoff because they didn’t win their group. And their group included Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Switzerland, which was not exactly a group of death. This is probably causing all sorts of handwringing, not probably is causing all sorts of handwringing in Europe. But I don’t know, man. It’s like we got plenty of European teams in the World Cup. They’re going to complain about Italy not making it. Whatever. Yeah.
S5: Yeah. I don’t care. I think, like, I think Italy. If you want to watch European teams play each other, there’s a great competition for that. It’s called the Euros and they like play every year. Italy wants to make it to the World Cup. They have to do the things that every other country has to do. And also, if they can’t win that group and they can’t beat North Macedonia at home. I think those are reasons why you don’t deserve to go to the World Cup. And, you know, I think that, like, there has been such a push and talk in soccer about whether to expand to include more teams. But, you know, I think like qualifiers have to have meaning. They have to have like risk, they have to have tension. And part of the reason we sign up for all of these crazy matches all year long is because we want the possibility of something like this to happen. And so, you know, I think Italy is probably a net positive at the World Cup. I like a good Italy match. They have a lot of rivalries with good teams. I totally understand why someone would emotionally think like, okay, it’s kind of a bummer. Italy’s not there. But you know, in the words of my parents, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves. So I. Yeah, I don’t I’m not spending much time being sad about it.
S2: Yeah. I mean, I’m excited. I’m excited for the next referendum on I think that this is the greatest game of soccer. I just love it that every time you lose a win, everybody gets to panic and it’s like it keeps you invested all the way through. So I just know that, you know, the next game they play. Oh, wow, Italy’s on Italy’s back, you know, something like that. Yeah.
S5: It’s also it’s also like very Italy. Like they waffle between being disappointing and then just being like the best villains in the world too, and just and winning, you know. And so it’s like they haven’t been in the World Cup, but the last World Cup they were in, they won it. And so it’s like then they won the Euros. It’s just like it’s also like not a country I feel full sympathy for because they have won things so much more recently did a lot of other countries are also the team is like a collection of notorious jerks and so like and Turks who are kind of like I’m not trying to doubt like jerks who are also cool, but jerks nonetheless. So like either, you know, in the same way they killed Ian, Baluchi would have laughed at England for not making it. Let’s laugh at them.
S1: Astead Herndon is a national political reporter for The New York Times, is also a CNN political analyst, but a breath of fresh air to have a non-sports guy on this show. So thank you so much for coming on, man.
S5: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate you.
S1: Coming up next, Joel interviews ESPN’s Bomani Jones about his new show for HBO. On this week’s bonus segment for our slate plus members, we’ll talk with the athletic’s nicole Auerbach about Urban Meyer’s disastrous year as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, including disturbing reports about the way the former championship college coach treated players and staff in the NFL. If you want to listen, you need to be a Slate Plus member. And if you are a member, you get no ads on any Slate podcast. You get bonus segments on this show and other slate shows, including Slow Burn, and you support and allow us to bring you sports talk every week. Slate Plus helps keep this show going. To sign up, go to Slate.com. Slash hung up plus. That’s Slate.com. Slash hang up plus.
S2: So it’s now been three weeks since our next guest talk show game theory with Bomani Jones debuted on HBO. If you’ve caught at least one episode, you know the Bomani is now firmly in his element clowning coach K breaking down complex social phenomena like cryptocurrency and generally having a good, fun time with guests like Stephen Smith and Vince Staples. And he was even able to get legendary hip hop producer Just Blaze to do the show’s theme song. This is the kind of stuff that he’s been doing on his podcast at ESPN the right time for quite a while, but only now is you sort of getting to do this work for TV for any number of reasons. But on his set on his show, Bomani gets to make all the demands, ask all of the questions. Today I brought him on to answer some of mine. Atlanta born sort of. Houston raised. Texas Longhorns fan, an economist by training, but a writer at heart. Bomani, welcome to the show.
S4: I almost hit leave meeting right then in there.
S2: Oh, you don’t like you don’t like being called an economist by training.
S4: I am from Houston and I don’t root for Texas. You lied as motherfucker.
S2: And we could put Carson on this podcast, too, so that that that helps.
S4: I mean, even if you couldn’t, it was going to happen.
S2: Man. But he’s a friend. He’s just trippin, you know what I’m saying? And he really didn’t grow up in Houston. But anyway, let’s move on to the first question.
S4: You grew up. Where where did you. Missouri City, comma. Texas, right. That’s what it says.
S2: From Missouri City. I say I’m from Missouri City. So.
S4: Okay, you say you’re not really from Houston. So outside of what you’re saying from the south side of Missouri City, you say you from the south side of Houston.
S2: I say that I’m from the south side. Oh, we don’t know what he said. What what? People don’t know what Houston is.
S4: People know. Oh, okay. Okay, okay, okay.
S2: All right. I’m right up. I get right up on Main Street. I can beat a stadium in minutes. You know what I’m saying? Yeah. Cool, everybody cool.
S2: Wala zone Bomani Jones. So are.
S4: You playing with me on a date that I clearly don’t want to be play where.
S2: He’s having a bad? We got started a little late you know so he’s and he’s a busy man. I’m trying to I’m trying to, you know, warm you up, man. You know, I’m saying people get to see you doing your thing. This is this is this is you out of your element a little bit. Well, I won’t talk about you being emotional because you’ve been unusually open and vulnerable as of late, at least in my view. Very different from the cat who once said, I view things pretty coldly and rationally, and it doesn’t mean that those things are in conflict. But I feel like you’ve been very vulnerable with the audience the last couple weeks. You know, you seem wide open to me, for lack of a better term. So let me ask you, how do you feel right now about yourself, about the show, about life?
S4: Well, I would say that the vulnerability isn’t terribly different. It’s just a matter of what you put in front of me. Like there’s not a lot of room for me to like be open and vulnerable. Talking about the Tyreek Hill trade, for example, that’s just not really how it works, like you gave me into topics, but that’s the space I go in, I’ll go in it, right? Like I don’t do myself as being one of those people that’s resistant to feelings necessarily. But no, this is just particularly like the first couple of weeks of this show we’re getting there. It was such an accomplishment in and of itself that I just made the call that I was going to lean in on enjoying the accomplishment itself. Like it’s a distinct possibility that I’ll never get another TV show after this one is a distinct possibility. I never want a TV show at the this one. And so I just really wanted to like lean in on that part. So for me, I really enjoyed doing this show. Like, it’s a stressful thing in its own ways, but just when something’s really rolling on this, I enjoy it in a way that’s different than the other work I’ve done, because the other work I’ve done is got to do it and go do it again and go do it again and go. This is a bit more of a process than anything I’ve done before and I enjoy like seeing things grow from while we thought that was really good too, man. We made this excellent and we wouldn’t even dare think about running that stuff that we thought was pretty good.
S2: Along those lines then, are you consciously trying to do something different for HBO or is the thinking that HBO is doing something different by bringing you on in the first place?
S4: Well. The only part that I would say is a conscious attempt at doing something different is trying not to do. What every late night show does. Ryan Like that would be it. And that’s a difficult thing to do because so much of what every late night show does, it’s done because it works, right? Like, you don’t want to get yourself into this situation of trying to reinvent the wheel just for the sake of but you do want to differentiate your product. The other thing is I am not a comedian, and the format for most of those shows are geared around comedians like you’ll find as you watch me do this, the parts where I’m probably the least comfortable is when I feel like I’m just dropping a one liner like comedian word, because even if I’m being funny myself, it’s not one lot of funny. Like that’s not really the way that I make myself do that kind of stuff. So like that one thing, when it does feel like we try too hard to reinvent something, it’s a reminder that the biggest difference this show has over any other is that the talent is fairly unique.
S2: In a profile you did for GQ in 2018, I got to say, I’m the one who got a look. You know what I’m saying? Like if you had had to go through me to get to you. But anyway, you talked about how there’s two types of people on TV. There’s some who envision themselves being the local nightly news anchor and think, that could be me. And there’s other kind of people who just sort of end up on TV, whether through luck or happenstance. You said you’re the second kind, but now that we’re a decade into you being on TV, have you transformed into the kind of person you think who belongs on TV and that it’s the best medium for you?
S4: Well, see, I never said I didn’t belong on TV. I said I didn’t care about being on TV. Right. And that’s the difference. And that honestly remains like I did six months off of television when I moved to New York and before Game Theory ran, I basically bit off television for five or six months at that point. I don’t miss being on TV. I might miss some of the people I work with. I might miss doing some of the work. But like the idea of being the person on TV and everybody seeing my face like attention and the drug for me in that way. So. But blog on TV. Yeah, I never had any question about whether or not I quote unquote belonged or whether or not I could hang on TV. Like from the first time I did it on down, I knew that like that that I didn’t think was was difficult to see. But I don’t get off on the idea of being on TV, I think, like a lot of people do.
S2: You’ve been on TV for a while now and obviously this isn’t your first show. As you mentioned, you are in high noon ESPN. So we’ve talked about it often a little bit about that time. But is there anything you did with High Noon that you regret or that you feel like you would have done differently if you had to do it all over again now?
S4: What I miss understood about a high noon going in was what the interpersonal dynamics and the hierarchy would be. And so what I mean by that is I thought that I would be kind of seen as like a team captain of sorts, right? I regard the staff that I work with on a day to day basis was relatively young. My co-host had never been a co-host of a full time television show or. And so I thought, given the ways that I see the way that people receive me and the rest of my life and adding all that together, I thought that people would look toward me as kind of a leader of sorts. Mm hmm. They did not. And so I’m walking into it thinking that. And in retrospect, I think that doing that, I probably violated something that I’ve always believed, which is you don’t come to the front of the room, you’re called to the front of the role. And the staff that we had didn’t really call me to the front of the room. And I think at some points I acted like I was at or I was at the front of the room. And that probably wasn’t helpful for people in dealing with the show. And it doesn’t matter whether or not you think you should be at the front of the room. They don’t want you. They don’t want you to be there in that capacity and they don’t want you to be there in that capacity. And I was probably and I proud I can definitely say I was slow on the uptake of that part beyond it. I did the best I could, and that’s really all you can ask for.
S2: So you didn’t realize it as it was happening. It took you some time to come to realize that. That piece of it.
S4: Yeah. I mean, because to me it just seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to them. It did not. And so, you know, I just I just I’d come back around on and just kind of realize now they don’t they don’t look at you like that. They don’t see you in that way. And once I fell back into what that meant, I don’t necessarily know if that made anything better, but, you know, it’s just kind of what it is.
S2: A lot of people talk about your brain. You talk about your brain. But I’m interested in your ability to talk extemporaneously and which I mean cleanly, crisply, confidently, compellingly. Like, how did you learn how to talk like that? Did you take speech lessons? Like, did you have to give presentations as a kid?
S4: No, I don’t know if there’s anything that I’ve done to actually sharpen that. I that’s always been I can. You want me to give you something? I can give it where I think I win out. Is that the transitionary stuff that I say, what I’m thinking about, what the next thing is, that’s what I’m good at. Like when people where it seems like they can’t talk extemporaneously is when they stop and say, Oh, and and everything else. But if you feel those with words, people think you’re not actually doing the exact same thing. And so I might throw a couple of phrases around why we’re getting the next one right. I think that that would probably be the superpower.
S2: So your parents are proud of you, man. And I know that that was really meaningful to you to say it in the way that they did on the show, on your podcast a couple weeks ago. And I can sort of relate to that knowing that your parents are proud of you, but like hearing it in that way had to be meaningful. But they came up hard, by which I mean they were activists and academics at a time when white people weren’t as nice as they pretend to be now. Oh, they did for a few years, you know. And I read that your optimism about race and the future of the country was at odds with your father. So I’m sort of wondering where you and him are with that now. Like, do they are they fundamentally suspicious of your money and the fame and the attention and all that stuff?
S4: No, none of it, actually. The thing is, my optimism and my dad’s outlook, they all collided in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. You ain’t got to worry about me being too out together again like that. That that that fix, that part like thing for me about here, my parents are proud of me and anything I’ve ever questioned. Like, it wasn’t like, wow, they finally said they’re proud of me. Oh, goodness, it was just me in that moment, just kind of thinking about the past and having more experience and knowing other people’s parents and knowing I kind of hit the lotto all mine and thinking that and where maybe they would not have been proud and how that could have got some people off the boat at some points and they did not. My dad was a real like overwhelming sort of thing, but I tell people a story about my dad. When I was living in Miami, my dad came to visit and he came to realize that I had dope spots in Miami. And so he come to the spot and he come out on his balcony. I got overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and it’s a sunny day and people got their boats out there and all of that stuff. And I just watched him stand out on the balcony for an hour with his hands on his hips, and he got back inside and he says. You know, I may have to rethink some of my feelings about the ruling class. A measure of a measure of his pride comes from the fact that he consumes the content. Mm hmm. Why? There would be a skepticism of what’s happened if he were skeptical of the content. And he’s not skeptical of the content. And that honestly warms my heart more than any of the other stuff could.
S2: Do you think you’ll ever get back to writing? And if you do, what do you want to write about?
S4: No. I mean, I’ll write again. I mean, I write all the time here. I’ll never write as a full time job again. It’s just not a good it’s just not a good fit with my personality in the way that I enjoy doing things. But they would be in writing is normally somebody comes to me with that opportunity and I say, okay, cool, I’ll go ahead and do it. So we’ll see what the next thing is that pops up. But I do a more writing on this job than I probably have since I was a full time professional writer.
S2: Okay. Last, I want to do a quick thing that your boy Dan Levy taught you to do. Just three quick lightning round questions. The trait you’d most like to borrow from a friend or family member.
S4: Joel Anderson hairline.
S2: Oh, really? Oh, yeah. I didn’t even know it was popping like this.
S4: To appreciate that is less about is less about people like you and more like the opposite of pop. Over here. It’s hard for me to hear, baby. It’s is awful.
S2: They hear the funny, but just. It looks good, though. It’s all right, you know?
S4: I mean, they still make it like that. Still they. You.
S2: Oh. To famous people who annoy you so much. You’d like to see them in a celebrity boxing match to the death.
S4: You would think about people who fit that description that I don’t work with. You know, at this age I’m getting more met of man, and I really like that many people that, like, annoy me so much that I would actually want to see him fight. But if we could get a couple of them Republican congressmen to scrap it out, I would totally enjoy seeing that. You can almost pick two out of, hey.
S2: Would you like to see Rand Paul get a little rematch against his neighbor?
S4: Somewhat that I don’t think Rand Paul wants to see that rematch. I like that you said I needed to people that I fight and annoy Rand Paul’s neighbor. I’ve never met the man, but I got no quarrel with him.
S2: Maybe I had a point. What was your runner up for? College choice.
S4: There really wasn’t a runner up. I would have visited. I would have visited my neck broke like eight times and was like, no, this is where I’m going. Yeah, I don’t think I think Southern might have been second place Southerners. Maybe because I want to go to the best schools. Maybe they would have the second place. But I only applied one school.
S2: And what’s home for you?
S2: Oh, I thought that was the Texas Bomani Jones game theory on Sunday’s on HBO, The Right Time podcast on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and sometimes the Evening Jones. Appreciate you joining us, bro, for real. And congratulations on all your success.
S4: Thank you for that. Congratulations, kids. My ass for the other stuff.
S2: And now it’s time for After Balls after USC sealed the deal in its 20 point win over St Peters on Sunday. I saw this tweet from At a Way Too Worthy, whose name appears to be Brian Ivers IV’s If I Got It Wrong, like Brian, where you write in and let me know. But the tweet read Saturday will be the 100th game between North Carolina and Duke since Mike Krzyzewski was hired in 1980. Naturally, the series has been close in that span that that dot wins. Duke 50, North Carolina, 49 points. Duke 7784. North Carolina 7763. That got me thinking not about Shoe Chayefsky’s 100th game against the Hills on Saturday in the Final Four, but the first one of his career in 1980, it was December 5th at Greensboro Coliseum in the Old Big Four tournament, which was then an annual tourney between the so-called Big Four ACC schools. And then in North Carolina, that’s NC State, Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina. And this was Tuesday’s third game on the sidelines as the head coach of Duke, the Blue Devils came into the game two and oh after season opening wins over Stetson in South Florida. North Carolina was four no and ranked 10th in the country befitting its status as one of the blue bloods in college basketball. The game that night turned out to be a nail biter. It came down to the game’s final seconds, with Duke trailing 77 to 76. The Blue Devils had possession of the ball and a chance to go ahead. But Vince Taylor missed an off balance 15 footer and Kenny Dennard was called for offensive interference with 4 seconds left, the heels hit another free throw to seal the victory. 78 to 76. There were two stars of the game for you and C James Worthy, who finished with 26 points, and the other was a freshman small forward Matt Doherty, who was a McDonald’s all-American from Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, New York. Stefan You heard of Hicksville, New York, before? It’s on.
S1: Long Island. Yeah.
S2: Okay. Did not know that. So Hicksville finest hit the go ahead free throw for the heels, putting them on top 77 to 76 before Duke’s final possession. And Doherty would actually go on to have quite the career in Chapel Hill. He’d end up a four year Letterman and become the second person in ACC history to surpass 1000 points, 400 rebounds and 400 assists in his career. Over Doherty’s four years at USC, the Tar Heels went 117 and 21 and won the 82 NCAA championship. He was a sixth round draft pick by the Cavs in the 1984 draft, but never played a second in the NBA. He went on to work as a bond salesman on Wall Street and then an executive search consultant, but gradually gravitated back to basketball. He worked as an assistant at Davidson in Kansas for a decade before getting the head coaching job at Notre Dame in 1999. He went 22 and 15 in his one and only season there, advancing to the finals of the and I t the next year, Doherty got the opportunity to coach at his alma mater after Bill Guthrie retired. This was an opening that many expected Roy Williams to take, but he passed staying at Kansas and opening the door for Doherty. It didn’t go well. Doherty went 53 and 43 over three seasons, even going eight and 20 in the 2000 122 season. That’s the most losses in any season for the hills in the first losing season in 40 years. He eventually resigned under pressure in April 2003 after a number of concerns about his treatment of and relationship with his players. But Doherty tried to bounce back, taking over at Florida Atlantic for a season before getting the job at SMU. He finished 80 and 109 there over six seasons with only one winning season. He’s kind of stuck around basketball ever since, working as a scout and TV commentator and then as the Atlantic Ten’s associate commissioner for men’s college basketball. So, you know, hey, man, all’s well that ends well. Something like that. I’m sure North Carolina is happy where it’s at and maybe Matt Doherty is finally happy where he’s at. So Stefan, what is your Matt Doherty? This week I.
S1: Covered the 1998 World Cup in France for the Wall Street Journal. Tough gig in those pre-Internet days, Joel I had to write two stories a week. I swear. One piece was about the very small contingent of Americans supporting the national team, which would get bounced with three straight, embarrassing losses in a sport where fans are popularly perceived as thuggish louts. I wrote a small group of Americans who follow the U.S. team’s every dribble form a sort of collective soccer anti-fan they don’t fight, they don’t drink excessively. They don’t taunt opposing teams or supporters. They’re mostly, well, nice. Most of that remains true. Traveling American fans don’t fight and are mostly, well, nice, but the rest is changed, especially the small part, as I did in 98. In Paris last week at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, I sat with the U.S.. Fans instead of a handful. This time there were around 1000, and there would have been more if the Mexican Federation had released more tickets. It was my first time at Azteca. I didn’t get a press credential because I was supposed to go with a friend. But his wife tested positive for COVID the day before the trip and he had to cancel. So I sat in section 423 and made some new friends and cheered as his reputation preceded it. An ugly, hulking, concrete bowl built for the 1968 Summer Olympics, a place the U.S. has never won a World Cup qualifier in part because of its intentional in hospitality. Games played in the heat of the afternoon and the Capitol smog. More than 90,000 Mexico fans versus a few hundred Americans. U.S. players struggling with the noise and the altitude and the occasional battery coin or allegedly bag of urine tossed from the stands. That wasn’t remotely the case last week. For starters, Azteca has been modernized modestly, with bars and restaurants and fan fun spots outside. For this game, the Mexican Federation limited ticket sales to around 50,000, largely to prevent the loud homophobic chant by fans during goal kicks that already had forced Mexico to play qualifiers in empty stadiums. The PR tried to drown out the chant with a blaring at Mexico, but you could still hear it. And the game started at 8 p.m. local time. The temperature was in the high sixties, perfect for the players. It wasn’t smoggy and the locals were sedate. Mexico fans are pissed about how poorly the team has played in qualifying. They chanted where I thought the get out, referring to head coach Tata Martino. They were so sedate that Americans could be heard throughout the stadium for.
S7: The also. Oh, yes, I know, she said. I will tell you.
S1: I know this was likely the last meaningful World Cup qualifier ever at Azteca as hosts. Both teams will get automatic berths in 2026, and the tournament’s expansion to 48 teams will make it all but impossible for them not to qualify from the region, and they might not even play each other in qualifying anymore. But despite the muted atmosphere, it was still worth the trip. The US contingent chanting USA, USA and Estados Unidos and other songs was escorted up a rampa cinco about an hour before game time by riot cops holding plexiglass shields. Local fans watched us less with hostility than curiosity. Many of the American fans were lanyards from American Outlaws, the biggest fan group, which organizes trips to games lanyards for a fan group called Outlaws is pretty funny and pretty American. And it’s also a sign of how far U.S. fans have come since 1998. Staring at the sun splashed mountains that surround the city from the very top of the southwest stands. We were spot frisked by cops. The U.S. was enclosed by an eight foot high fence topped with concertina wire. Dozens more cops lined every edge of the enclosure. We were effectively caged in and so far away from the field that you had no idea who watched the US’s two best scoring chances. A fan from Dallas named Lauren told me that this was way more security than for the last qualifier at Azteca in 2016. There was a reason the Mexican government didn’t want to risk any incidents after fan violence at a mexican league match in another city a couple of weeks earlier. But the half empty stadium meant there were no Mexico fans at all. To our left, just the media far away in the middle of the west side of the stadium, and none for oceans to our right. There were Mexico fans below us, but that was about a six foot drop with the riot cops on the barbed wire in between. Anyway, from the American side, there was no obvious threat. Outlaws members agreed to an honor code that bans throwing stuff on the field, using flares or smoke bombs in the stadium. Inappropriate chants, physical harm or threats of it, and disrespectful speech. And they can be banned from future games for violating it. The only interaction I saw was an American supporter of Mexico shouting at a U.S. fan. What are you looking at? You looking at me? I didn’t think so. That dude moved to other seats. Some Mexico fans gave the US fans the finger and a dude tossed a mexico cap over the fence. But the guy next to me caught very, very scary. After the game, the riot police formed a new phalanx at the top of the ramps and kept us from leaving. One drunk dude showed the cops his driver’s license and asked him to be let out. Another pulled out his phone and used Google Translate to ask a nice cop to let him go. She typed back, It’s for your own security. After an hour, the cops finally let us down the ramps. The American fans kept chanting Estados Unidos. And one guy said, gracious to every cop on the way down. And we marched out into the clear night. So it wasn’t the famed crazy, loud, threatening and tense, scary Azteca experience of law. I feel a little robbed. Honestly, one of my new friends, Russ from New Jersey, told me. And I did, too. But in terms of sports and human evolution, it’s better for fans not to throw urine or to feel unsafe at a sports game. For us, it’s going to be a more anodyne sports experience, and it was cool to be there for the end of an era.
S2: So I. I’m jealous that you got to have this experience. First of all, I’ve always wanted to go to Mexico City. And I think that, like, this is the great excuse to go like under these circumstances. I didn’t realize, although it makes sense, I guess maybe I never thought about how potentially dangerous it could be to go to another country, a host countries, a soccer game, and openly root for the opposing team. Though I didn’t ever, you know, I guess it never occurred to me, but it makes a lot of sense. So you go you went there expecting it to be much more hostile and got out relatively unscathed and feel robbed.
S1: Stefan I mean, I wasn’t really expecting it to be more hostile because I knew that they were reducing capacity. And I also knew that we were going to be in the upper corners of the stadium. And I suspected that it would be pretty isolated that the Mexican cops, because of this brawl at this other match a couple of weeks ago, we’re going to be really be on high alert. But it definitely lacked that sort of intensity. And, you know, it’s sort of like the journalist in you wants like the whole experience, right? You want to be part of the crazy. And that was definitely missing. And honestly, that hour at the end of the game, when they made a stand at the top there, felt a little bit excessive.
S2: But yeah, I mean, man, also, you know, it’s funny you mention I didn’t realize that there was this sort of gamesmanship that goes. On all over the world in terms of like, let’s have the game when it’s extremely hot like kind of high we how the how the states did having the game in Saint Paul and early in the middle of winter. I didn’t realize that that was a thing that they do all the time. Why don’t the soccer federations want to see these games played in optimal conditions? I don’t understand.
S1: Yeah, because they want to win. They want or they think that they are doing everything to maximize their team’s chances of winning. And the reality is, for the United States playing in these hot and altitude and less Central American countries, it can be it has been historically.
S2: So it’s like the NBA team. What do they say, the shares, NBA bet as a team playing a back to back in Denver after the game is like you’re probably not you might as well go ahead and count that up for the Nuggets basically. So yeah, I guess that’s the same concept.
S1: Except Nuggets fans aren’t throwing shit at the other team.
S2: That’s not shit. Are you in fear and I.
S1: So that is our show for today. Our producer is Kevin vendors who listen to part shows and subscribe. Go to slate.com slash hang up and you can email us at Hang Up at Slate.com. Please subscribe to the show and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts for Joel Anderson. I’m Stefan Fatsis remembers Elmo Baby and thanks for listening.
S2: And now for the bonus segment. Back is our friend Nicole Auerbach of the Athletic. And last week at the Athletic, they published a report about Urban Meyer disastrous one year stint in Jacksonville. And here’s a line from the story about Jason Jinks and Mike Sando. According to coaches, players and staff in Jacksonville, Meyer crossed the line from tough and demanding to belittling, demeaning and leading by fear, quote, the most toxic environment I’ve ever been a part of, a veteran member of the football operations staff said by far. Not even close to. You’re in Big Ten territory, you know. Worked on the Big Ten Network. Does this reporting align with the Urban Meyer, you know, and have covered for more than a decade now?
S3: Yeah, it does. And I think that what’s been really interesting about all of the stories that have come out about the way Urban Meyer treated people at the Jags, is that. You can treat people a certain way in college football because of the power dynamics and the way that people protect the coach. And this stuff doesn’t get out. I mean, this is this is an environment where the players are more important to the organization than the head coach. That’s why the head coaches move around so much. You’re not the most important person there. You’re not the most the highest paid person there. And these are adults. These are professionals. They have people they can go to to talk about stuff. They can get their side of the story out in a way that, you know, maybe a freshman long snapper who the coach doesn’t know his name can’t do in college. Like, there’s just a totally different situation. But these are the types of things that. College football writers foresaw happening when this when he took this job, we were all saying, as you were, Joel, I’m sure, saying that he was not built to be to coach in the NFL. He was built to coach in college football because of the power dynamics. And that’s that’s where all this started. I mean, he tried to hire a strength coach who had been forced out at Iowa, you know, over, you know, just treating black players differently than white players at Iowa and tried to just like kind of slide that in as if that was going to be okay. Didn’t understand the backlash. You know, and then the different things about, you know, not fly back with your team, the embarrassing videos, but again, like the way you treat specialists, all of these little pieces like you just can’t do that to adults and expect them to take it. But when, when in college, you kind of like can run your own little fiefdom, right? And it’s a totally different environment. So we just knew that that wasn’t going to translate. It wasn’t going to translate to a scenario where you’re treating players like equals and treating them not like they have to follow and do exactly what you say just because you say it or that you can throw some cliches on a whiteboard. And that’s coaching, that’s leadership. All of those pieces, a lot of that stuff that’s come out about the drills he tried to run and and and certain things like that. It all felt a little like hokey or just sort of like, oh, they you really thought that like professionals and adults would handle this stuff and and again, the environments. No, because you’ve been a situation you’ve been at these giant state schools where you’re the most influential person in the state.
S1: The highest.
S3: Award in the state, highest paid probate person in the state. You can do whatever you want and people are not pushing back on you. You got a lot of yes men around you. So it’s been I think it’s good that all this stuff is coming out because I think, you know, it forces people to reflect on the way that Urban has handled other situations in the past, including discipline, including Zach Smith, his assistant at Ohio State, because he just there was no pushback in any of these places until now. And so I’m just I’m glad that these stories are coming out. I’m glad they’re painting a full picture of the culture because I think it’s more important than, like him, you know, maybe not knowing who Aaron Donald is or whatever, you know, some of those anecdotes that popped out. And just, again, a culture of fear and belittling and threatening to fire your assistants all the time. Like that’s the full picture.
S1: It’s the combination, though. It’s the arrogance of believing that you can control professional adult athletes, multimillion air professional adult athletes with the lack of preparation. I mean. Yes, yes. Don’t kick the kicker. I mean, I’ll stand up for kickers forever. You fucking kick some dude, man. That’s just like, what are you doing? That’s crazy. That that reflects some sort of, like, intellectual deficit like this. Again, going back to Blake, feeling being a sort of self-aggrandizing leader of men that you can get away with anything. But it’s to me, you know, then you combine it with the lack of preparation. I mean, the athletic story says that Meyer was unfamiliar with star players around the NFL, including Deebo, Samuel Jamal Adams and Aaron Donald.
S2: Who’s the 99 guy with the Rams.
S1: Like, oh, I mean, what is that possible?
S2: Right, right. Yeah. How does that even happen in the thing? I mean, I think the two things that really stuck out to me besides the lack of preparation, which is this, it just gives so much upside, so much light on all the bullshit that coaches share about how hard they work, you know, like, you know, like, oh, we’re at work in the lab all day long at the office. Like, come on, a lot of the times I just fucking around, I got to be honest. But the two things that really stuck out to me is that people are saying, well, you know, I guess it he was not built for you know, he’s not built for the NFL because those are not real men. But we need to really think about those power dynamics of college and like wives acceptable that it’s okay for him to do this to college students, let alone college coaches or coaches around here. I’m shocked that he’s calling the guys around him on his team. That’s losers. And, you know, the way that he’s insulting grown ass men who have been in this profession like him, who are theoretically successful football players and get into coaching and they’re.
S1: Looking to hire them, I mean, in front of players, I mean.
S3: All that and that absolutely happened at Ohio State. So that stuff’s really interesting to me as well because again, I cover college sports, so my mind immediately goes there. When you have these situations of right, what are the avenues for pushback if you are a player and you are mistreated, like their college programs have really clamped down on access. So do you even know reporters that you could go to that you would trust to tell your story? Probably not, because you probably don’t have. I have a lot of interactions with them. Social media. That’s great. That’s. That’s something. So. So maybe you can get some of that stuff out there. But it’s just it’s this environment where you’re just conditioned to believe, you know, that you don’t have an opportunity to push back. I mean, I think some of the stuff is changing. The transfer portal and Niall are changing the dynamics. I think you have coaches. I mean, we’ve been seeing the shift right in the style of coaches like these hard ass coaches who it’s like just you have to do what I say or nothing versus ones that can really build relationships and connect with players these days. And you’re not even thinking of re recruiting them to stay on your roster, but you just have a good relationship and care about that. We are seeing a shift like that. Is how coaching has to work these days.
S1: At all levels. Yeah, at all.
S6: Levels, yeah.
S3: But I do think, you know, you certainly have an environment with with with everything tied into a scholarship, with everything tied into the way that your schedule works and everything revolves around it in the way that we we on the outside treat these coaches. There are different dynamics in these major college football programs, flagship schools that don’t exist in other levels of sports.
S1: I have a question for you, Nicole, which is, do you think Urban Meyer will coach again at a high level?
S3: I won’t I won’t say I never say never. Because, again, we’ve seen a number of schools try to hire Art Briles, and I don’t think that he should be coaching anywhere. But I’m going to say no because I don’t even think he can coach in college football. In this day and age. Since he’s left college football, the transfer portal has become a major focal point. Nicole Name, image and likeness has happened. I don’t think that he would be able to, especially with all of these stories. I don’t know if you’re an elite athlete, if you want to go play for this guy or be around this guy. But I also don’t trust if I’m an athletic director looking at this, that he is understanding that players have some agency and have some power and should be treated a certain way. And that is where the game is right now, because the dynamic is shifting and the players are finally getting a piece of the pie. But also, just in general, the portal. He’ll just lose his entire roster. Everyone’ll just enter the transfer portal. Like people are not going to put up with that if they don’t have to and they can go play for Lincoln, Riley or somebody else.
S2: All right. Yeah, he’s he’s kind of and I think he’s kind of become a joke recently. Like, you know, the videos that came out emerged to him at that bar and everything else. Like, it’s really hard for him to get back that reputation. We’re not talking about Urban Meyer of 2006 like you’re getting the Urban Meyer of 2022, and that’s a different dude. And the last thing I’d like to say too is that like the I was I mean, Steph and I were talking about this offline earlier. It’s unfathomable to me that people have just kind of come around to accept that he would talk to players in the way that he did, like black players particularly, like their grades are not right or, you know, we’ll send you back home. You know, you’re not you know, you would you could get a $15 job if you weren’t here. Like, it’s just the level of disrespect that goes on around that. And the thing is, it’s not just Urban Meyer like, you know, Gary Patterson was accused of saying things like this to players. Kirk Ferentz, his staff was accused of saying things like this to players at Iowa. So it’s you know, I hope this is like causes people to reflect a little bit on how college football players are treated. Because the fact that we’ve accepted this sort of stuff for so long is really like it was always disgusting. But like, really, hopefully you think now that now that it’s in the spotlight there, maybe people might take a little bit more of a look at it. So thanks, Slate Plus listeners. Thank you, Nicole. And we’ll be back next week.