S1: The following podcast includes explicit language, in other words, might get a little blue in here. Hope you can handle it.
S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor. And this is Hang Up and listen for the week of May 30, first two thousand and twenty one, I guess, since June 1st, 2021. But it’s the week of May 31st. Twenty twenty one. On this week’s show, we’re going to talk about Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open and what that episode reveals about athletes and mental health and athletes in the press. We also discussed the spate of atrocious fan behavior in NBA arenas. And Rebecca Schoeman will join us to talk about some unveils his latest feats of gymnastics excellence and whether international sport acrobats are out to get her. I’m in Washington, D.C. and the author of Queen, the host of Slow Burn Season four on David Duke, also in D.C., Back in our loving arms after two weeks away. Stefan Fatsis, author of the book Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic. Hello, Stefan.
S3: Hey, Joel. It’s going to be a double dose of sport, of erratic behavior. We’ve got the tennis and gymnastics.
S2: So I’m Josh. That’s Joel,
S1: by the way. Yeah, I hadn’t been introduced yet, but that’s fine. It’s his stuff. It’s getting back. And I know you did.
S2: Just getting here, just getting your sea legs.
S3: You know, Joel hosting, you know, threw me off.
S1: Yeah, well, that’s what we were trying to do to the listeners, not to actual, you know, panel. But, you know, you get to know it’s good that we’re good at misdirection.
S2: We’re all friends here. Joel Anderson, host of the upcoming Slow Burn Season six and the host of Slow Burn Season three. And he is on the West Coast and a Slate staff writer just going to throw things in and out in a random order.
S1: There’s a lot of things yet. You went with six in three normally. But again, it’s all all in service of keeping people off their feet. So that’s I’m with it.
S2: If I listen to slow burn season six first, am I going to be confused if I haven’t listened to slow burn season season three?
S1: And probably be really difficult because I think if you go to the slow burn field, there’s nothing up from slow burn six yet. But but, you know, you never know. I mean, you have to give it a shot. I’m still trying to catch up on podcast, too, right now. So you just never know. Maybe you should go to the feed anyway if you’re listening to this and see what’s there and listen to it. Just just to see season five.
S3: Now, last Wednesday, Naomi Hosaka said she wouldn’t attend post match news conferences at the French Open, writing on Instagram that I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me. On Sunday, she won her opening match and kept her word. The French Open find her and tennis officials threatened to kick her out of this and future events. And then on Monday, Osako withdrew from the tournament. She said she had suffered long bouts of depression since winning her first major in twenty eighteen and would now take some time away from the court. Joel, there’s a lot to discuss about the events of the last few days from athlete mental health. As Josh said in the intro to news conferences at big sports events to the treatment of black and women athletes, to the way athletes express grievances and the way that sports authorities respond to them. But I want to start here with the observation that is pretty banal, but I think encapsulates all of this. This whole episode just feels so profoundly sad and also so utterly avoidable.
S1: Yeah, I think, you know, first and foremost, like everybody, you know, I hope that Naomi Osako is OK and on the road to getting better, getting healthier and getting the help that she needs. At this point, you’d have to say this seems to be much more about her health than media access and post match press conferences. So, like, clearly, tennis can wait for another day and I should stay right up front. And I think people know this. If they listen to the show regularly that I’m not much of a tennis fan. I’m not I don’t I rarely watch it, with the notable exceptions of Serena and Naomi. And like a lot of black Americans who are sort of culturally removed from the country club sports, I’ve developed a rooting interest in her success. And it’s hard not to sound a little paternal when I say this, but she’s young and I’ve always sort of worried about her because she’s always seemed a little nervous, a little gloomy in the spotlight. Right. Like it was a chore for her. And so, yeah, it was just sort of hard to not want to wrap my arms around her after the twenty eighteen U.S. Open when she beat Serena Williams and started to cry because I think everybody sort of wanted to see Serena win a major and she denied her. And so it was like a lot of young tennis players. Senior was her idol. She felt a little guilty for denying Serena in that moment. So, yeah, I felt like, you know, I felt really close to her. I wanted to. Oh, man. I just want to hug little Naomi. Right. Also, it helps a little bit that Naomi actually looks like one of my friend’s daughters, but that’s neither here nor there. But I think what makes the most sense to me here is that we take Naomi Hosaka at her word. So if answering postgame press conference questions fuels her. Self-doubt and mental health issues, this she should take whatever measures are appropriate, and I guess, though I don’t understand how that is morphed into a larger conversation about the utility of these press conferences. She said it was an Naomi problem. She didn’t say that she’d been in conversation with the tennis players about this particular issue. And it hasn’t been a concern echoed by other major tennis figures at this moment, at least. So I think because people don’t like the press, particularly the sports press, particularly the European sports press and its previous treatment of black female athletes, that’s how this conversation has taken up. So it’s like, is it OK to just say that this is Naomi’s issue and leave it there for a moment?
S2: So I’m I’m with you on thinking that Naomi Osaka’s health and well-being is at the forefront and should be here. But the reason that the conversation went, the places I dead was because in her original statement explaining that she wasn’t doing press, Osaka did use the first person, plural. She talked about athletes collectively. We’re often sat here and ask questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds. I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me. She also talked about press conferences in terms of less about mental health and less about off court stuff and more in that initial statement about on court situations and about how they affected her ability to win matches. And so the kind of response that came was from the press saying you’re obligated to do that. Stop complaining, stop whining. But I thought interestingly from her fellow players talking about not being critical of Osaka, but saying. In less kind of harsh terms, this is an obligation we do this win or lose, and there’s this kind of cliche, Joel, right, about like what it means to be a good sport, like you should shake your opponent’s hand after a match. And it was kind of, I think, discussed in those terms, like if you win, you should talk about it and be a good sport and, you know, honor your opponent, everything. But also, if you lose, you should have the grace to appear in front of the press and answer questions. And whether it’s being tough or whether it’s being honorable or polite or whatever kind of values that these are, these are the things that we should expect of whether there are athletes or, you know, things that we’re taught as we’re kids. And so that’s kind of how it started off. And the second statement, Stefan, where she talked about being depressed since twenty eighteen and when she talked about things in a much more kind of serious and intense and personal way, I think the conversation then shifted. And, you know, I thought there was a there was a really good tweet from a woman named Hannah Wilkes. He said fun fact about depression and anxiety for those who never suffered the times when it’s most urgently necessary to ask for help, support, respite, the times when you need it the most are the times when you’re least capable of communicating what you need. And so I’m hesitant to say this is Naomi Osaka’s fault for not being as articulate as she should have been the first time around. I do feel like if everybody had talked to each other, if the Grand Slams of the French Open, if they had been able to have like a genuine exchange of views and ideas, rather than this being expressed through, like images of notes on Twitter, then maybe this could have all gone differently. But I do I do feel like the conversation that that came out of this was as a result of what Osaka said originally.
S3: I agree with you on that. And I don’t want to blame Naomi Osaka here for her statement for the reasons some of the reasons you just articulated. But what struck me is that this is the wealthiest, most successful women’s athlete on the planet. She has a retinue of people working with her. And it blows my mind that that this happened at all. I mean, yes, athletes now have much more agency and personal ability to say what they want to say on social media. But it seems clear to me that nobody, her agent or coaches, her corporate sponsors, nobody was involved in that first statement which read like it was dashed off on Instagram. And nobody and this probably shouldn’t have been Naomi Osaka’s job that nobody anticipated the potential for blowback and not just the fact of the blowback, but how the blowback might affect her emotionally. And, you know, we did hear from the French Open say that they did reach out to Osaka and presumably that means her people after that first statement and got no response to try to discuss this, because, you know, it’s so obvious here that even after even if you feel like the first statement was intemperate and too broad and too accusatory in general, there was room here to try to figure something out. And whether Osaka and her team tried to do that with the French Open is, you know, it seems like they didn’t. And according to the French Open, they didn’t. But it seems like there was room for accommodation here. As you said, Josh, if people had communicated before this blew up and now, yes, it is exploded into something that it wasn’t supposed to or feels like that it should be about whether athletes should talk to reporters, that seems to be the red herring that everyone is going to focus on as a result of Osaka saying that she does have these mental health issues and needs to step away to deal with them.
S1: I don’t think that anybody would have begrudged her in the first place. Right. If she had said, you know what, I don’t want to do this. I need some time off. I need some time off from this. It’s like if the second statement had been the first statement, I don’t think that would have been much controversy about this at all. Do you like I think that she she said, OK, I need some time off, like I’ve been dealing with depression. This is really difficult for me. I think we’ve kind of come a long way in a short amount of time, like on this sort of stuff. Right. Like obviously like somebody like Ricky Williams didn’t get opportunity in this atmosphere as that greenkeeper Jennifer Capriati, like people, notable athletes in our lifetime who have dealt with mental health issues. And had to sort of work around that, like Naomi has gotten a lot more sympathy for that, and I do think that people would have been much more willing to extend her some grace under these circumstances. But, you know, I find it interesting. You said that stuff like her team, you know, that maybe they should have had a conversation. I mean, what think about it, that those people work for her. Right. And so she’s in control of her career. And so it is possible that they couldn’t they couldn’t stop her from making that first statement. And then after the first statement and then when those other Grand Slams came up with sort of a very heavy handed statement and in response, then they had to bring it in and really back in. And I wonder I wonder if this is all speculation. Right. But I do wonder if she handled it at all in the first place. And then in between, there was a lot of talking and navigating the environment after that.
S2: So I’m going to just list a bunch of different stuff about Mary Issaka and then maybe we can talk about it afterwards. And this is, you know, an incomplete list of the things that are really notable and interesting and important about her job. You mentioned the twenty eighteen U.S. Open. Her first grand slam win came and the like kind of biggest crucible ever in modern tennis with Serena Williams getting into that conflict with the chair umpire and the crowd booing. Booing doesn’t really do it justice, but it was just the most kind of intense possible environment and the least celebratory environment possible for ones like Maiden Grand Slam title. You also have her being representing Japan internationally, but also being Haitian and being the sort of representative for all different sorts of people. And that’s like a mantle that she’s worn really proudly. But it’s also like a weight that she carries. On the other hand, the fact that she is Japanese in particular, I think has led her to have these enormous endorsement deals and made her one of the highest paid athletes in the world. And she’s taken on you know, she’s has equity and sweet green now. And there is a piece in The New York Times about her taking on that role and representing that company. She has talked about how she’s incredibly shy person and does not like to do press. And yet she has put herself in the position both by her success on the court, but also in developing all of these kind of relationships off the court where it’s an obligation that she has to be this like international face of not only her sport, but like she is also a sponsor of Levi’s and they’ve never had an athlete before. And so she’s just like everywhere on billboards and and all this sort of thing. And then just to talk a little bit about the more mundane aspects of her tennis, like she’s won the last two grand slams that she’s competed in and gotten to the end of, and she’s not ever had really good results on clay again. When this all started, Naomi and her sister Murray said this on social media, that they’re kind of inciting event, that they said the inciting event was that people were doubting her performance on clay
S3: and always asked her about it.
S2: And and Mari was saying even someone in her own own family had said, you’re not very good on clay. And so, OK, like, throw all of that stuff that I just said,
S3: you know, can we can I add one more thing just before you search, which is now she is also perceived as a voice for social justice based on her on her on her actions at the US Open last last fall.
S2: And Joel, you said, like very smartly around the US Open last year when she was getting all this attention and acclaim for having the names of victims of police violence on her masks, like, wouldn’t it be great if she didn’t have to do that if these incidents never happen? Number one. But number two, like if it wasn’t on her to, you know, if she could just play her sport or felt like she could just play her sport. Yes, that’s maybe the most important thing here. So, like, put all this stuff in like a pot and stir it up. And that’s like what you what you have with Naomi Hosaka. And so you can choose any one of those things and prioritize that like, OK, she has been open about her struggles with mental health. She’s had this burden of being a voice for like her generation. And on the other hand, she’s not very good at playing tennis on clay courts and doesn’t want to be asked in press conferences about why don’t you win on clay? And so anyone who’s feeling any particular way about Naomi Osaka can, like, pick and choose any one of these things and say, you’re being ridiculous. You’ve just got to, like, be brave and like deal with it. And you’re like super rich. And like, this is this is the thing that you can’t deal with. Or you can say, like, look at everything that this woman. This had to go through in her life and career and to have this burden, it’s just like too much for one person. And so I think your response to it is more about your perspective than about her or anything she’s done. And yes, if the second statement had come first, it would probably be a different conversation. And maybe that’s like a lesson for her and her team or I don’t know if it’s a lesson at all. It’s just like a thing that happened. But I think the way that we talk about it now and going forward again, it’s, I think more about who you are than about who she is.
S1: OK, you know, tennis is really unique among the professional sports, at least to me. I mean, I’m sure that, you know, I may be missing some of them, but really young athletes are thrust into high stakes and international level competition at a really young age. Right. So you can be a top ranked tennis phenom at 15, which doesn’t give you much chance to figure out who you are and what you’re OK with and how to manage your boundaries. And so, yeah, like you mentioned, Josh, like navigating that, dealing with that burden, we really have no idea what that is like to sort of live your life in the public spotlight like that. Like just because you happen to be good at one thing, does it mean that you necessarily want to live your life so publicly and to deal with this sort of scrutiny that you’re going to deal with if you’re the world’s highest paid female athlete? Right. One thing doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be good at dealing with the other. So I just wonder if she’s not really had a chance to sort of navigate this and figure out how she feels about it. And it maybe felt overwhelming at this point. It’s certainly I mean, for you to pull out of a major like obviously it was overwhelming. Obviously, it was really debilitating and she needed a time away. But you just kind of hope that it gives her a chance to sort of figure out who she is and what she wants to do going forward. But I think the reason we’re talking about this, right, is that we’re media people and this is interesting to us is a media issue. Right, because a lot of the conversation has been about the utility of postgame press conferences. And before I say anything, I’ll kind of throw it to you guys. But I think one of the disconnects here is that a lot of people comment on postgame press conferences without actually ever having been in one, having sat through one. And so they think that it doesn’t actually matter. And I’m here to tell you, as somebody that has been a beat reporter and a sports reporter for a number of years, that actually those access to athletes is helpful in helping people find out what goes on in sports and
S2: especially in tennis when there’s no locker room access like this is the only opportunity that you have to talk to these people unless you get a one on one, which is rare.
S3: Right. Except that there are these are not the most efficient ways to do this. And I think that particularly at big world sports events like the Olympics or the World Cup or Grand Slams, they are not efficient ways because you have a room filled with journalists who work under very different traditions and have very different standards and very different goals. And those don’t always align with what most mainstream American reporters view as their jobs and their way of approaching them. And, you know, the introduction of the the the televised press conference has been a detriment to journalism and to the athletes. Nobody likes the stuff. The NBA ones, Bryan Curtis pointed out in a really good piece in the wringer. If the NBA ones have turned into theater and the athletes who were the players, you know, who would talk candidly and openly and and, you know, with a sort of working knowledge of of of how to deal with reporters in the locker room behave totally differently on this day, as with a little bottle of water in front of them and these big these big world events, you know, at the Olympics, you’ve got the mixed zone where athletes can just walk past the reporters and choose to stop or not stop at the World Cup. You’ve got rooms filled with reporters from different countries. And the same thing is true with the Grand Slams. Everyone’s got different agendas. You’ve got, you know, English tabloid reporters asking sexist and awful questions. And that’s been documented historically. So what do you do? I mean, to just say reflexively that this is bad and journalists are bad is wrong. Are there other solutions? Probably. You know, could you do like pool reporters at big events, maybe three or four reporters per player, and the reporter requests the reporter’s requests who they’d like to pool for at the start of the day, maybe rotate that job among the biggest organizations or home country organizations. Let everybody else watch the feed of that interview. I don’t know. There’s got to be ways around it. And I think that that is a conversation that should happen. And it’s too bad that that wasn’t the conversation that happened between Wednesday and Sunday and. Now has to happen afterward.
S2: Well, it’s just hard to create rules that work for everyone, whether the everyone we’re talking about is the press or athletes. If the solution here was, you know, you’re struggling and so it’s fine for you not to do press conferences at the French Open. And then, you know what? If Sasha Zverev, who’s been credibly accused of domestic violence, said, I don’t want to do press conferences, then what? Then what would the rule be there? Or if there are members of the press who ask sexist or racist or ridiculous questions, should the rule be you can only come from an approved outlet? Or is it should there be more willingness to just ban individual people? I don’t know. It’s just hard to come up with rules that wouldn’t be taken advantage of. And so as much as we’d like to say, oh, it would have been, you know, if they could have just talked to each other, maybe that’s being naive. Like maybe there actually isn’t a really easy and simple and workable solution.
S3: But there are a lot of people just that just say these are useless, that any athlete should have the right to not talk to anybody at any time.
S1: And I think that that’s I mean, I think that a lot of people we’re hearing say that a fairly ignorant of what’s going on, because I would argue that there are a lot of athletes that are currently telling their own stories and communicating with their fans. And that’s not the same thing as media like. That’s like it’s always to me the difference between media and content. And I, I refuse to argue on behalf of less media access to athletes like and I’ve sort of been surprised at the number of media people, not even necessarily journalists who’ve been arguing on that. Like, it’s been weird to me. But what I would say is this it isn’t fair that the players are forced to speak with media while owners and other sport leaders and front office officials aren’t like, keep in mind that the people that Rollergirls didn’t answer any follow up questions about this the other day. Right. And so those folks should have to engage with the press as well. If access and accountability are the things that we talk about and like the utility of this stuff, that I do think that other people should have to play their role in this process as well. And like, it’d be real easy to look at them and say, well, hey, the players are always having to be made to go up there and uncomfortable situations and talk about things that they don’t want to talk about or face up in a really difficult time. But I also think that, like these people that are in charge of these events are team owners or whatever, that they should have to submit to an interview every now and again as well. And maybe that would help to level things out. But I don’t know, maybe I’m being nice.
S3: I mean, it was heartening to me that a lot of tennis players said that it is important to do these news conferences and talk to the media for themselves, for the events, for their careers. So, you know, I don’t think we’re going to get to the point where every athlete says the media is useless. I don’t want to talk to anybody. They recognize that it’s a part of sports and sports are a part of entertainment.
S1: So it was a little more than a week ago when NBA fans were rejoicing of the return of home court advantage after a year of empty gyms and the bubble playoffs of twenty 20. Finally, we had rollicking crowds at the Madison Square Garden, at the Barclays Center and even another NBA cities that aren’t New York. But it didn’t take long before we were reminded of the downsides of welcoming fans back into NBA arenas. On Wednesday alone, a fan in Philadelphia poured popcorn on Russell Westbrook. In New York, a fan spit on Trae Young. And in Utah, three fans were ejected for taunting John Moran’s family. Two days later, in Boston, a fan threw a bottle at Kyrie Irving as he walked off the floor. And literally last night, as I was writing this introduction, a fan was tackled on the floor in Washington, D.C.. I assume Josh and Stefan aren’t suspects late in the third quarter of Game four in the Wizards Sixers series. So, Josh, do you think this is a new worrying phenomenon or that we happen to be paying more attention to all of this stuff right now?
S2: I guess both. When I saw all of these headlines and we were preparing to have this conversation, a headline kind of came across and I say, do you guys? And I was like, this might not be related at all, but also it might be totally related, which is airlines saying we’re not ready yet to start serving alcohol on planes. And so it feels hard for me to decide. And I’m hoping you guys can help with this. How much of this is like people getting back into big crowds and just like acting insane? And how much of it is people being awful in ways that we shouldn’t actually try to explain away or contextualize or, you know, use extenuating circumstances to to try to, you know, frame. And actually, let’s play this clip from Kevin Durant after the Celtics Nets game on Friday. This was in Boston. And the context here is that Kyrie Irving, former Celtic back in Boston, after talking about his experience there and kind of suffering through racially inflected incidents and his time in Boston. And then Kyrie gets a water bottle thrown at him by a fan as he’s walking off the court on Friday. Here’s what Kevin Durant had to say about
S4: it being in the house for a year and a half with the pandemic, you got a lot of people on edge, got a lot of people stressed out. But when you come to these games, you’ve got to realize many these these men are human. You know, we’re not animals. We’re not in a circus. You come into the game is not all about you as a fan. So have some respect for the game. However, some respect for these human beings. I have some respect for yourself. Your mother would be proud of you. What about a basketball players and spitting on players or toss popcorn? So go fuck up and enjoy the game is beginning you.
S3: Yeah, you’d think people would be grateful just to be back in arenas and would have some perspective on life after a pandemic that’s killed more than half a million Americans. But now, yeah, that’s who we are as a culture. It’s who we are as a people. And unfortunately, I don’t think this is, you know, the result of being cooped up for a year. I think this is just a trend that has gone on in sports for decades, particularly directed at black athletes. The NBA has had, you know, more incidents than we can count of fans taunting, throwing things at diminishing, demeaning players. So I’m not surprised, but I do think that everyone’s radar is much higher because this is something we haven’t seen in a year or so. Punish the fuck out of these people. Don’t let them back into arenas ever.
S1: Yeah, I mean, I definitely think these fans know what they’re doing and they feel entitled and emboldened by the crowd. So, like, you know, it could be just being back amongst a lot of people, gives them the gives them the cover they need to act out in ways that they would not have acted otherwise.
S3: Like nobody has seen me doing anything for the last year when I’ve been throwing shit at my TV. So maybe they won’t see it at the actual players now.
S1: Exactly. Yeah, under the cover of darkness. Right. And, you know, fans have always engaged in this sort of behavior. And now I think we’re a little more attuned to it. And the reason I’m thinking of this is because over the weekend, a video of this of an incident from my youth started making the rounds again. And it was when Vernon Maxwell then of the Houston Rockets walked up into the stands in Portland and punched a fan in nineteen ninety five. And actually, with sort of amazing about it, is that very few people respond like it’s like Robert or he just runs up into the stands and walks him back out. Vernon sits back down on the bench and the game continues right now, though, Vernon got a 10 game suspension for that, which is amazing in and of itself, too. Like he punched a fan, only got 10 games and life got back to normal and the Rockets won a championship that year. But but the thing that sort of occurred to me is that Vernon has never apologized for it and in many ways feels vindicated by the events of the past few days. He tweeted this yesterday. He said, it’s just a bottled water. Right. And he’s referring to the Kyrie. But I think then if you feel disrespected, then do something about it or it will keep on happening. Guess how many times a fan made a comment about my stillborn daughter? It cost me some money and a suspension, but I sleep fine every night knowing I stood up for her. And so when I think about watching that and the malice at the palace, the one thing that I’ve thought about is that the players that were involved in that stuff, they’ve always after they’ve confronted fans for this sort of stuff, they’ve never felt bad about it afterwards. Like maybe they didn’t like, you know, the consequence, missing games, getting fined or whatever, but like there’s enough resentment from the players to the fans that act in this way that is built up enough that. Yeah, I just don’t think it’s you can’t just say that, oh, this is a result of the pandemic. This is something that has clearly been building for a while. And the players that have been in the middle of this crucible over the years, they’re always saying, well, look, fans have been doing this shit forever and sometimes you have to handle it yourself. And when you do, you’ll never feel bad about it at the end of the day.
S2: Well, I think one reason why the tenor of the conversation has been different this past week is that all of these players were and you hear this kind of talked about in a criminal justice context is like quote unquote, perfect victims, like they had this terrible shit happen to them, like Trayvon got spit on. Kyrie had a bottle thrown at him.
S1: He didn’t die like they did.
S2: They didn’t charge into the stands. They didn’t punch anyone. And so there wasn’t any of this kind of pearl clutching about did they go too far and how did they react? The focus has been kind of strictly and rightfully on the fan behavior without the kind of distraction of the conversation about what the players did. But I do want to make this one point I was thinking about, OK, what would the response be today to the so-called malice at the palace when Ron Artest, Metta World Peace, went into the stands after a fan threw a beer on him? And my memory of it was that the players were just like, really excoriated. But going back and looking at it immediately after that happened, this game was on ESPN. They like cut away to the ESPN panel show. And every single person on that panel should blame the fans and said that the fans were out of control. And so I think a lot of we like to think that there’s been like, oh, people are talking about this stuff so differently now. Like people a lot of people knew what the what the story was and what the deal was back in the 2000s or back in the 90s or back in the 80s. And so we’re not necessarily oh, we’re like so much smarter and more enlightened about how this stuff works. Now, it could be just that different voices are being elevated. Now, there’s like the opportunity for whether it’s players or members of the media to express themselves on social media or wherever. And like like I said, certain, like more reactionary voices are a little bit turned down in the mix or there are just like more of an opening for four more different people to talk about themselves. But it’s not like, oh, in twenty, twenty one, the like range of opinions being expressed is really all that different.
S3: No, it’s not. And Joel, I think part of it might be that we respect the players more today and I think we respect their restraint and we understand what they are faced with. So yeah, nobody twenty or thirty years ago would say the fans were justified or all those bad players, though, you know, David Stern certainly did victimize the the players or demonize the players, rather, in the malice at the palace, because I guess he had to do something. But I think part of it might be that we understand that the players have more agency and we see them being restrained and there is more respect for who they are and and what they do on the court and what they face.
S1: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, you couldn’t hear from Vernon Maxwell or whatever or, you know, in nineteen ninety five or even twenty four in the year, the malice at the palace, it just wasn’t quite the same avenue to get this sort of perspective and get it as often as we get it now. Right. And so we’re just hearing the people that are affected by this sort of behavior speak up about it more often and they’ve got more outlets to get it out there. And, yeah, of course, it’s going to sort of change the narrative. But I mean, again, even if you go all the way back to like. Jackie Robinson, any black player that has come up through the history of time and gone into these environments, they’ve been dealing with fans and terrible behavior, they’re entitled to them. So like like I said, this is about entitlement. This is about people who go to games and think that they can talk to mostly black players in this way and get away with it and that the crowd will be with them and that ultimately the league will back them up. And so, like, we have not quite I think people have a little bit better sense now. And like, it’s not quite as explicitly racial as it once was, but it still has remnants of that old dynamic. And that’s why I like when you get to these games. I mean, look, I mean, you go to a game we know who are at the fucking games, right? It’s not a lot of black people that an NBA arena is. Our MLB stadiums are NFL stadiums. Right. It tends to be largely white male audiences. And so, yeah, you’re going to get this sort of like it’s just said, racially inflected incident.
S2: I apologize for that. But Kyrie Kyrie did call it subtle racism and I was trying to remember what he had said. I didn’t want to say racially tinged, but this is just as bad as
S3: Kyrie to his credit. Recognized that right. He said it’s been that way in history in terms of entertainment performers and sports for a long period of time, just underlying racism and just treating people like they’re in a human zoo.
S2: So one of the more amazing moments that’s like parallel to this, like slightly connected is Kyrie stepping on the face of the African poor, looking at center center court. And you had former Celtics like Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis saying this is a good day.
S1: LSU, by the way, by the way,
S2: this is over the line. And like Glen Davis saying, it’s like you’ve stepped on every player who ever played for the Sonics. So, like, fans don’t have a monopoly on idiocy. And I’m thinking about like, oh, players aren’t behaving right. I mean, Kevin Garnett, I think it was Tyler Conway on Twitter. You pointed out saying to like a player whose mother had died, Happy Mother’s Day, like the most like vile shit that you could possibly imagine. Like Kevin Garnett has said to other players on the court in the realm of trash talk. And so for him to be like, you can’t step on the face of the LeBron, and that’s different. I respect that the game is incredibly rich. On the other hand, there is this sort of like bond and connection that players have with each other on the court. And like when you’re in the game, I think there are certainly different players have different standards. And people think like talking about a guy’s mother or like talking about whatever is like over the line. But when you’re like in the heat of battle, I think there’s a kind of allowance for some stuff, whereas fans like think they’re playing the game and like think that they’re a part of it. They just like they’re stupid or they’re deluded or and they’re drunk. And so there is a difference there. I’m not trying to say that a fan who, you know, taunts Vernon Maxwell about his stillborn child is like the same as if a player taunted somebody about their mother or about their wife, their their different things. And I think the players will react differently. But it is just still surprising to me any time, like a retired player just says something so stupid like that, like that. A dumb fan would say, like, who the hell cares about stepping on this stupid leprechaun? Like, do you actually believe it? I just cannot. I just don’t understand
S1: what I mean. Think about how many fights happen in football over, like, stomping on the midfield. But those are college kids. Yeah. Let me remember when Torello know Terrell Owens did it, too. He wasn’t in college. Yeah, right. George Teague acted up as a result. You don’t sense. I mean. Yeah, I mean. All right, fine.
S2: My caveat on that one is that’s Terrell Owens and it’s football. But no, it’s yes, it is stupid. It has happened before. But like, maybe it just seems more ridiculous because it’s a leprechaun if we’re being fair, being honest and lucky that it’s not like you’re stepping on Red Auerbach’s face or something like that.
S1: Well, you know, what’s interesting, too, is that like avid Boston and Boston had a hell of a weekend on the Internet. And I think like, you know, so I kind of get like the defensiveness that Boston, Boston fans and Boston players have about like Boston’s reputation for racism. Right. And maybe it’s fair. Maybe it’s not. It has developed a reputation of being notoriously hostile to black players.
S2: But Danny Ainge said was like. You could you could argue I’m not saying I’m saying this, you could argue that if Danny Ainge had said Boston fans have an undeserved bad reputation, you could argue that that was like within the realm of things that are reasonable to say. He said, I’ve never heard anyone right say this in my 26 years or her many years was which is just like your own players, including Marcus Smart, have said it. Are you just, like, not not listening to your own players? It’s just such a bizarre thing to say.
S1: You would think that Danny Ainge in Boston would be a little bit more attuned to that, even if only for reputation management and not because they think the behavior is truly problematic, because Howard Bryant pointed out that of like the last 40 to 50 years, only to black in their prime free agent athletes have ever signed with Boston. One of them was Al Horford and the other was Kemba Walker. Kemba Walker, who went to school at the University of Connecticut. Right. And I mean, I would like to note of those two players. Kemba Walker also was recently caught on camera walking in with a Don’t Tread on me jacket. So I mean, I don’t know if it doesn’t make it. It’s not necessarily a surprise that Kemba Walker would have been the guy that side with, but neither here nor there. But you would just think that just for self-preservation, just to make your job easier, just to make Boston a more attractive, free agent destination, you would at least pretend that it was a problem and that you heard of it before. You’d spoken with players within your own organization about the things that they have faced from the crowd there.
S3: Stephen said them mean yourself and to attract other players to the city that has this reputation. I got one last question before we move on, and that is this has been a run of of episodes during the playoffs at the time when, yes, arenas are beginning to fill up for the first time, but also when the NBA is most prominent on national television and in the media. Dave Zirin wrote on Twitter that if this sort of thing continues, the NBA could wind up like European soccer, with franchises getting punished for fan behavior and players walking off in solidarity in protest of racist and other and other taunts. Do you think that’s possible? And would that make sense? I mean, players are certainly more they’ve got more agents and they’re working together more than they ever have, particularly after the events of the last year. Could we see that with this?
S1: I mean, I don’t think so. Great. I’ve been I mean, I think that they acknowledge that it’s an issue, but I don’t think it’s an overall it’s that I don’t think that they’re considered with that sort of urgency. Right. Or import. I maybe I’m wrong about this. I mean, maybe if you were to ask a group of people that were all Russell Westbrook, then maybe maybe he might be willing to to to to boycott. I would like to
S3: see a team like entirely of West Russell Westbrook.
S1: Boy, that a lot of great shooting but a lot of intensity. Yeah.
S2: It’s really interesting to think about this conceptually because on the one hand you can say there’s this huge number of incidents. You can also and players have talked about. This is a problem in Boston. This is a problem in Utah. You could also say this is out of all of these huge number of incidents. What is it? Five fans total out of tens of tens of thousands. And so, again, I think different players would give you different answers if if asked, like, is this a huge, like, NBA kind of society wide issue that we need to take a stand on? Or is it something that can just be addressed by when this happens, kick the people out of the arena, take it seriously and ban them? I think my guess would be the latter, although if you have an instance where recurs and like, OK, there’s another thing in Utah and then another thing in Utah during these playoffs, or there’s like four more things in Boston, then the conversation could shift. But to the extent that it feels like it’s isolated incidents of fan behavior that accrete. But as long as it’s like I one fan here, one fan there, I think as long as the teams in the NBA is very clear and direct and like taking this seriously, my guess would be that you won’t see player walkouts,
S1: players like hostile environments like I mean, they they love a full gym and they don’t mind a hostile road crowd. It’s just, you know, when it ventures into the racism and the other sort of stuff that’s over the line. Yeah. Obviously they’re going to have a problem with it. But I mean, we were talking about how great Madison Square Garden the atmosphere was just a week ago. Right. And I think players don’t mind that at all. And yeah, I think that you’re right, Josh, that they’re probably more inclined to punish these, like, individual transgressions than thinking of some sort of larger collective action. Because, I mean, Trae Young was eating that shit up, man, he likes silence in the crowd. I mean, all players sort of like that to an extent.
S2: Up next, Rebecca Schoeman will join us to talk about the continuing greatness of the man Miles. The two thousand twenty one U.S. classic was the first major elite gymnastics meet since the start of the pandemic, which was the first time all the gymnasts vying to represent the United States in the Tokyo Olympics were all competing in the same venue. Well, that event, the U.S. classic, did not provide much clarity on who all is going to fill out the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. We do know who, barring catastrophe, will be the leader of that squad, Simon Byles, winner of four gold medals in Rio, likely winner of a bunch more in Tokyo, did all the things that she does at the U.S. classic, one of which was debuting the most difficult vault a woman has ever done in competition. A Yurchenko double Pike. Writing in Slate, Rebecca Schuman said it was the most unbelievable and the already unbelievable list of skills Byles has pioneered by multiple orders of magnitude. And we are all lucky to be alive. To witness it on Twitter, Byles herself wrote, I’m sorry, but I can’t believe I competed a double take on vault. Joining us now is Rebecca Shumann. Welcome back to the show, Rebecca.
S5: Always great to be here. Thank you, guys.
S2: Let’s start with the basics. What is your Jinko Double Pike? And why was even Simone Byles impressed with herself for pulling it off?
S5: Well, so the Yurchenco word refers to the approach onto the vault, and that just means that the gymnast is doing a back handspring onto the vaulting table. The vast majority of elite vaults competed today are that approach. And where Simone’s vault goes into truly unbelievable territory is that when most gymnasts compete, they do their little back handspring off the vault. They do one flip or somersault or salto, and then they add some twists to it. Nobody in the history of women’s gymnastics, with the minor exception of McKayla Maroney, once has ever thought to add another flip to it. Because you just need so much. You already need more propulsion than any human should be capable of, just to do one flip with some twists in it, but to do a whole second flip, you’re already starting upside down. So you’re not just it’s not really a double pike. It’s got two and a half pike. And so she little four foot seven Samon manages to pop herself off of that vault and then flip two and a half hole times in the air before she lands very upright on her feet. That’s where she actually separates herself from anyone else who’s ever done this before. And by anyone else, I mean a very small handful of men, the very small handful of men who’ve managed to crank this baby around have landed with their chests down and have not made it look good. And her execution is far and away leagues better than any anyone who’s ever done it.
S3: Right. So I think to put this in terms of another sport, this looks like something that you should do off of a diving board into a pool where you’ve got distance and you’ve got spring in order to complete all of those rotations. It is really hard to our, you know, untrained eyes to recognize just how amazing this is. But it’s not that hard to see how she gets off of a vault and how she spins around the sort of force that she generates.
S5: That’s the sort of tragedy of your Chanko double pike, is that it is lost on the vast majority of people who look at it. And yet it’s such an incredible feat that you all should look at it anyway. It’s a it’s a paradox.
S1: So I’m a novice here. Right. And so Simone Byles is at this point, she’s, what? Twenty four years old, am I right? Yeah, so that’s correct. Sort of like she’s what you would typically think is sort of the tail end of like being an elite international level gymnast. Right. Like that is an age at which you sort of Abe’s out of the elite part of gymnasts. Or am I wrong about that? Because I guess that was why now, like at this stage of your career, like, how does this pop up now? How do you get better? How does that, you know, get the sort of athleticism at this point in your career?
S5: Well, yeah, so that’s actually that’s a two parts, like two different questions. So until the last decade or so, women’s gymnastics was generally considered a teenager sport. But because of the so-called open ended Kotov points, when they changed the scoring away from the perfect ten, it did start rewarding sort of incredible feats of athleticism, really more than, you know, the sort of balletic elegance and grace that had characterized the sport for a lot of years before. And I’m not making a value judgment on that. It’s just a statement of fact. And because of that, a gymnast started being able to train in different ways. And there are now many gymnasts who are excelling all across the world into their mid 20s, late 20s, 30s, even 40s. The great Xanatos of Etana, the vaulting legend, is even older than me. And I’m forty four. So. I mean, I remember she was in the Olympics when I was like thinking delusional that I wanted to go to the Olympics. So that’s one thing. So the age thing is not as much of a big deal as it once was. The thing is that if Simon had come back and done exactly identically all of her routines from Rio in Tokyo, she had when she had enough difficulty then to blow the competition out of the way, she personally gets bored and she enjoys challenging herself and pushing the limits of the sport. And she started training this double pike to improve what’s called a block, which is just basically when the gymnast pops off the table with her hands, she wants to improve her block for other faults. And so she decided to start training, quote unquote, for fun, a vault that required a huge, huge block. And then suddenly they looked at her, landing it on a soft, soft mat and thought, you know what, you could do this. This is actually possible. And so, you know, she does these things because she can she does these things because she’s the greatest and because it would be boring for her to not push the sport as far as it can possibly go.
S2: Yeah, I mean, she raises and answers questions about why sports even are that she has taken things to such a level where for her, you know, we don’t want to concede anything here, but winning is such a given or has been such a given that it feels kind of beside the point. And for her, both with what she’s done on the vault and on the mat and on all the other apparatuses, but also what she’s done in terms of her outspokenness and her kind of pushing against the strictures of the sport, she’s achieved so much more than anyone. You know, who then you would think is possible for somebody who’s even won all of the medals that she’s won, that it just transcends the gold and the additional gold and the gold beyond that.
S5: Yeah, she really does. There’s really very little way to express how much better she is at gymnastics than anyone else has ever been at gymnastics. There’s no if you’re measuring athletic greatness simply by I mean, this is just one metric. But if you measure athletic greatness simply by the distance between first and second, the best and the second best, Simone Biles is by far the greatest athlete who has ever lived. There is no gymnast who can ever come close to touching her, you know. Yes, knock wood. God forbid if she fell six times in one meet, then it would be a problem. Even she is fallible, she is human and she does fall as we’ve seen. So it’s not you know, I don’t want to be the person going in and saying, oh, there’s absolutely no way she won’t come out of Tokyo draped in gold because this has been a year and a year before it was truly anything can happen. So we don’t know
S3: now comes the end yet part, which is that she is doing something that no one has ever done before and no one, conceivably, no one else conceivably could do. And yet there is a belief that she is not being rewarded for that. In terms of the scoring, can you explain the process by which moves are scored for gymnastics and why with the Yurchenko that BYLES is performing, she may not be getting her? Just do?
S5: Yeah, this is a big controversy in Somerville’s Byles world and it has been since twenty nineteen when she debuted a new balance beam dismount that is just off the charts difficult and it was valued a little bit lower than than people were expecting. So what is the what’s the word, how does that work. Yeah. So this you’ll be surprised to hear is not a very transparent process. What happens is that when a gymnast wants to debut a new skill and enter it into the code of points, they formally submit it with its specifics to the Women’s Technical Committee of the International Gymnastics Federation. So the Women’s Technical Committee meets and they decide, OK, if this gymnast can land and successfully complete this trick, it’s named after her. What how are we going to value it? And so what they do, new tricks are not always the most the hardest ones. They’re sometimes they’re just novel. And so there’s precedent because they can value it according to similar to similar tricks. But with smart Byles, it’s always harder. And so what they have to do is they have to look at the hardest existing trick and then think, OK, how much higher should we go for this? And because no one has ever on the women’s side even thought to compete a double Saulteaux, there’s just not much precedent for valuing a double flip. And so they valued it a. Couple tenths higher than the current most difficult fall, which is also a BYLES fault, which is now going to be the BYLES one, this will be the Byles to and so the BYLES one and the pro nova, which is sort of the the mirror image of the Yurchenco double pike. It has a front handspring double front. It’s actually a little more dangerous than the Chanko double pike because it’s very easy to over rotate and if you over rotate it you will break your neck. The vaulters death. The Valley of death. Yeah. And so the proto nova used to be rewarded for its incredible danger at a whopping seven point zero difficulty value. And what that brought upon was a lot of vaulters chucking it and chucking is it when you throw a trick that you’re not like you don’t think you can land, but you just feel like I’m going to try it. And then it’s valued so high that even if I landed on my posterior, I’ll make a final at all, maybe even get on the podium. And so the technical committee did not want people to be chucking vaults anymore, especially not to be chucking dangerous faults. And so they devalued the proto nova and they have been loath to high value really dangerous faults. Again, they valued the bills too, or the future bills, too. She hasn’t landed in international competition yet at a six point six, which is two tenths higher. And, you know, Simon and her team were hoping for a six point eight. I could see it valued like that. But, you know, these are human people. The technical committee is a group of human people and they all have their own interests. Some of those interests might be keeping the field competitive. Some of those interests might be, quote unquote, discouraging, dangerous tricks. Some of those interests might just be like someone’s been on top for too long and some of them might be just like, well, that’s the next set of numbers. And you don’t you don’t know what’s in the heart of this of this group of human people. But because it’s now the second incredible new skill that has come out with a value that’s a little bit lower, really a couple of tenths. We’re not talking points then Simmons team has expected it is looking a little bit like a pattern and like she might be being punished slightly for her difficulty. But unfortunately, this creates a narrative online of people saying these skills are banned. She can’t do them, she’s too good. And that’s also not true. None of the Bilel skills are banned and she competes, most of them.
S1: Well, let me ask you this. So it seems to me it’s looking from the outside that the absence of the Karoly family from USA gymnastics is influencing some of this. Right, because even from the beginning, Simon has sort of been at loggerheads with the Karalis, like they have sort of like a tumultuous relationship early on. And like now it feels to me like it’s not a coincidence that now he’s much more challenging moves are being that she’s attempting them now. Now that the Crowleys are no longer affiliated with USA gymnastics, is that sort of a fair observation or not?
S5: The line is not as direct as you’re painting it. But yes, the Karalis, the absence of the Crowleys is the best thing that has ever happened to the humanity of the USA gymnastics program. It was not a positive environment. It enabled untold amounts of horrific abuse, not just the kind that you’ve read about in the papers. The crawl is being gone is a net is one hundred percent net good. And yes, Marta Karoly did not want people doing super high flying dangerous tricks like that because they just weren’t a sure thing for medals. It wasn’t really like she was. I don’t really think she was really that worried about people getting injured because she made people train on injuries all the time, allegedly. So, yeah, it is more like there is no one around that can tell Simone Biles what to do. She’s the most successful and famous gymnast of all time. She speaks out against you, sag almost every day and they can’t do anything about it. And in a sport where gymnasts have mostly been told to be quiet and stay in line for like five decades, you love to see it honestly. And to have this be just like this, like smart firecracker black athlete doing it. I love it. I love it. You love to see it.
S2: How do you kind of pass bills is like clear annoyance if and maybe we could use a stronger word at the way that she’s being treated by this technical committee vis a vis the point value with the idea that she’s going to win anyway. And she’s for her like it seems like it’s about more than points like she’s doing this just because she wants to do it. It’s not she’s not doing it to try to maximize her points. And yet it’s galling to her, an offensive to her to feel like it’s not being scored correctly.
S5: Yeah, I mean, it’s a matter of principle at this point. Two tenths isn’t going to be, especially when something is valued at a at a six point six. And most people are voting at a five point four, that’s not going to make a difference. She’s going to likely if she lands that in competition, she will probably beat second place by a point. And so that’s not. Yeah, it is more I mean, after the double double dismount in 2019 was was felt to be undervalued, she was expecting it. And so it’s more just yeah, it’s a little bit of push back again. No one tells, not even the effigy, not even the women’s technical committee. Tell someone else what to do because even the slightly undervalued skill, she’s going to knock it out of the park and her execution is so beautiful that she won’t get docked on it. So, yeah, I mean, I think that if this was them trying to get her to stop doing things like this, it’s not the way to do it. I mean, I, I don’t think I don’t think humanity has it in us to get another BYLES skill between the teeny tiny time between now and Tokyo. But I you know, if anyone could do it
S3: for all of us, let’s point out that small miles is not superhuman. She did fall in this warm up meet. And yeah, it’s a warm up meet for the Olympics. And she’s still got a few months to be completely perfect. But mistakes happen in gymnastics.
S5: Yeah, they happen all more often than they don’t. And it’s very important for somebody like Simon BIO’s, who, as Joel pointed out, is on the older spectrum of sort of international elite gymnastics, has been doing this for years, has complained rightly all the time that her body is breaking down. It is really important that she not be training full routines very much because full routines on competition services are just injury opportunities waiting to happen. And even when they go well, they are so hard on the body and they’re so painful. And so someone’s going to make the team she’s going to lead the team. She has no she has nothing to prove at the warmup meets. And so these are just for her to shake out cobwebs and she does not need to be dialed in. Her mind was obviously on the double pike in this meet, as it should have been. And so, yeah, maybe she wasn’t thinking that hard about bars or which is her least favorite event or floor, where her new routine is really dynamic and it’s choreography and requires a lot more endurance than any of her other routines that I’ve ever seen. It’s also gorgeous. But so yeah, she doesn’t need to be hitting four four four here. Nationals’, to be honest, even at Olympic trials, she doesn’t need to be dialed in until she walks onto that competition floor. In Tokyo,
S2: Rebecca Schumann writes about gymnastics and appreciates some of miles for Slate. Always a pleasure, Rebecca.
S5: Thank you very, very.
S2: And now it is time for after balls and let us now praise old gymnasts, as Rebecca Schumann did in our previous segment, Oksana Cheesa, Latina, has competed for the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan and Germany born June 19th, 1975, which makes her about to be forty six years old. She has competed after becoming a mother, one of not many women gymnasts who have that distinction. She didn’t have a great performance at the World Championships in twenty nineteen, but she was good enough to still qualify for Tokyo when it was going to be in 2020. We’ll have to see. We’ll hope to see that this vault specialist will compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in twenty twenty one if and when they happen. Stefan, what is your Oksana. She’s a Latina.
S3: When it comes to protests at the 1968 Olympics, history has focused with good reason on the sprinters. Tommie Smith and John Carlos Smith. And Carlos finished first and third in the 200 meters and of course, raised their black gloved fists and bowed their heads on the medal stand during the national anthem that happened on August 16th. Two days later, the US Olympic Committee suspended Smith and Carlos and ordered them as if they were criminals to leave Mexico City within forty eight hours. The action came after the IOC threatened to kick out the entire American team if Smith and Carlos weren’t disciplined. The USOC caved in in spectacular fashion, issuing a fawning, apologetic statement apologizing for the discourtesy displayed by Smith and Carlos. In departing from tradition, it said that the athletes untypical exhibitionism violated the basic standards of good manners and sportsmanship, which are so highly valued in the United States. And it called the protest immature behavior. John Carlos said he wasn’t sorry. Asked if he embarrassed his country, he said, I am not thinking of my country now. I am thinking of its black people. More than half a century later. It boggles the mind what that day, October 18th, nineteen sixty eight in Mexico City was like politically and athletically. The expulsions and the statement came in the morning. Word spread quickly. A banner was hung from the sixth floor of the US dormitory, reading Get Rid of Brundidge, the IOC president, Avery Brundage. Reporters swarmed the complex, asking athletes what they were going to do to marquee events featuring prominent black American athletes. The long jump and the four hundred meters were scheduled for later that day. The favorite in the four hundred was Lee Evans, who died last month at the age of seventy four. Evans was among the black athletes, including Smith and Carlos, who were identified with the protest movement inspired by the African-American sociologist Harry Edwards. Then at San Jose State, John Carmichael of the Chicago Daily News described Evans as the number three militant among the black Olympic element after Smith and Carlos were banished. But before his race, Evans told reporters, if two men go home, perhaps all of us will go home. The Associated Press said that Evans was in tears and seemingly in a state of near collapse. But Carlos asked him to run. So Evans agreed to write. Before the race, the US’s president read Evans and the other runners the statement about Smith and Carlos clearly as a warning as he came on the track. Evans wore ankle high black socks, a protest gesture that Smith and Carlos had employed on the medal stand. As the sprinters warmed up across the track, Bob Beamon, regarded as the no formal attempt the Chicago paper said had jumped an astonishing twenty nine feet, two and a half inches, breaking the world record in the long jump by almost two feet, the four hundred runners had to wait for the crowd to quiet down. Evans walked into the blocks and waved toward the stands, apparently at Smith and Carlos, who had been secretive into a British television booth behind the press box. That’s where Carlos made his comments about not regretting his actions and thinking about black America. Evans then torched another world record, running forty three point eight in the 400 fellow Americans, Larry James and Ron Evans finished second and third. The tension over how the Americans would accept their medals was profound. Beamon took the medal stand with his sweat pants rolled up to draw attention to his black socks. Ralph Boston, who finished third in the long jump, went barefoot. Beemans said he was protesting what’s happening in the USA. Boston said he was protesting, too, and expected to be sent home. Neither of them was Evans, Freeman and James, who was described by another reporter as a non militant, took the medal stand wearing black berets and raised clenched fists and a black power salute. Evans wore a button reading Olympic Project for Human Rights that a lot of athletes were wearing during those games. But during the anthem, they removed their hats, stood up straight and face the flag, which seemed at least for the media and the sport of crafts to make a difference. Not quite the same thing. A photo caption in The New York Times read. The AP reported that Evans accepted his gold medal without incident at the news conference afterward. Evans and his cool medalists played down their protests. The Chicago reporter wrote that Stan write A black coach with the US team had told the runners right before the press conference, don’t talk about anything but the race. So they said the raised fists were our way of saluting. Asked whether the berets associated with the Black Panthers were a social message, Evans said it was raining. We didn’t want to get wet. Still, Evans added, I feel I won this gold medal for black people in the United States and black people all over the world. The message was sent after all you.
S1: It’s great and I would love to know more. And maybe Harry Edwards is the person that has to talk about it. But the tradition of black athlete activism out of San Jose State, I don’t live too far from San Jose State and there’s not a lot of black people out here. I would love to know how that happened. Oh, God, I may have just assigned myself a story. I don’t know the last thing. I mean, as much as like we talked about this before, as much as, like, the activism piece of this is great. I like to also just Lee Evans is an athlete is amazing. Like his record, his record in the 400 lasted for 20 years. Right. Like he was he was a generation ahead of the people that he ran against at that time, which is I mean, it’s to tell you something like not very many people can run forty three, eight in the 400 even today, like even among I mean, God.
S3: And I said it in the in the after ball, but what a day. Yeah. I mean Lee Evans running forty three eight and Bob Beamon jumping twenty nine plus like one of the greatest days and most interesting days in the history of American sports.
S2: That is our show for today. Our producer this week was Mark Kelly. Listen to Pasha’s and subscribe or just reach out. Go to sleep dot com slash hang up. You can email us and hang up at Slate Dotcom. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show and to read reviews on Apple podcasts, which helps us out. Joel Anderson, Stefan Fatsis and Josh Levine remembers Elmo MBT. Thanks, Ruth
S3: and Lee Evans.
S2: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members, and we all wanted to say a little bit more about Naomi Asaka and the controversies and conversations of the past week or so. One thing that I wasn’t able to say in our earlier segment is that Venus Williams, I feel like is an illustrative example here. She just lost her first round match at the French Open on Tuesday, still continuing to play at the age of 40. But she’s somebody who I think is pretty universally respected and generally thought of as a very eloquent spokesperson for herself and for her sport. If you guys have ever seen her in a press conference, absolutely dismissive of the entire exercise will not answer. Basically, any question will not engage at all. One word answers. I mean, even one word is sometimes more than Shell than she’ll give. And so I bring this up to illustrate that different athletes have different kind of coping mechanisms or strategies for dealing with us. And there’s a way to kind of go through the press conference and not give it any heed or any kind of time of day. And so that’s the strategy that Naomi Hosaka could use if she wanted to. But obviously not knowing with any kind of insight or clarity what’s going on inside her head, beyond what she’s expressed. I do get the sense that she feels a kind of obligation, to be honest, maybe, or like the she feels like she if she’s asked these questions, she maybe does need to answer them and treat them with the kind of respect and seriousness. Whereas other athletes and like I mentioned, Venus Williams, who I think everyone would acknowledge is incredibly smart and thoughtful when she chooses to be, does not feel that obligation is just like if I don’t want to answer your question, which she typically doesn’t want to do, she does want to answer it
S3: when then she alluded to that in her statement. Right. That that it gets to her. It doesn’t get to Venus. Clearly the disdain there. Some of it, yeah. Some of the completely reasonable is part of her coping mechanism. And Venus has lost plenty of matches. Serena had bristled for years when asked about beating her sister. Right there. Are there clips of news conferences where she just gets upset, whereas Venus typically would just roll our eyes about this stuff.
S2: There’s a really famous clip of Richard Williams when Venus was being interviewed on 60 Minutes talking about the interviewer, like needing, you know, hurting Venus, his confidence. And you don’t talk to a young girl at that point in this way and sort of being the protector for Venus and understanding the damage that kind of questions can do. And so Venus kind of had to grow into playing that role for herself. And now he’s obviously still very young and got really famous and became a prominent voice really early on. And so I think she’ll be different in five years and 10 years and handle this stuff differently than she does now.
S3: Well, I wonder, Joel, do you think that there’s a difference between sort of that example of Venus Williams when she was younger and soccer now? Because athletes now because they have the platform of social media and can speak directly to the world, feel some sort of agency or obligation to do so, whereas, you know, there were more barriers to get the Venus Williams when she was young than there are for Naomi soccer now. And if you’ve lived your life online, maybe you just feel like I have to be open or share or talk.
S1: Yeah, I mean, I think well, I think the one big thing for the Williams sisters is that they came through a very different crucible than like now soccer did. Right. That they they had a much different media atmosphere, that they had to deal with the questions that they had to deal with. And even like the response from fans like they, it’s easy to see why Venus and Serena might be a lot more defensive and how they deal with media then even than anybody. I mean, they had I mean, they had sort of a really unique situation, like maybe Tiger might be one of the few people that that’s analogous and sort of the environment, the media environment that they were thrust into. But, yeah, like I mean, if you’re Naomi Osaka, if you’re anybody that is a top. Elite athlete, a wealthy one at that, like you may just have a lot more resentment for the media because you probably feel like they can’t help you very much, that there’s not that you can get out your own message whenever you want. You don’t you don’t feel you might not feel like an obligation to grow the game necessarily, because you’re like, well, I’m the number two ranked player in the world. I do ads. I’m one of the athlete faces for social justice in this country. Like what more do I need to do? Like, why should I have to subject myself to this process? But yeah. So yeah, I guess I guess I can kind of understand where, you know, somebody like Naomi who’s sort of grown up like that now and is in this position, says, I don’t need this, I don’t want to do this. And that’s how, you know, Venus and Serena got there. But I think that, like, that’s sort of shortsighted. And the reason I would say this is that and you all probably have the same thing. My inbox is full of request from either lesser known athletes or retired athletes, going it alone, trying to get your your content in your your message out there on your own. Like it’s really, really hard. And there’s a lot of people clamoring for attention and like a piece of like, you know, this media landscape. And so, like, they can say that they don’t need it now, but inevitably, eventually they come back to needing the media and wanting to engage with the media. And I just think that, like, the way that they’re sort of dealing with it right now is a little short sighted. But hell, for all I know now, male sarcoma, you know, take her tens of millions when this is all over and never do with us again, which is totally her. Right. Right.
S2: So there are tensions and tennis that have been ongoing about the inequalities in the game around pay and attention. And it’s really, I think, alone in that. It’s a sport that’s tremendously popular internationally and there’s a tremendous amount of money circulating around it. But you can’t really make a good living at it unless you’re one of the top. 100 players among the men and 100 players among the women. I mean, think about any sport like the 100th best soccer player. That dude is like a billionaire and one of the best basketball player, the best. And we can get other sports that are less popular. But the point is tennis is really, really popular. And so I think there’s maybe an undercurrent here of other players. And there they’ve been very careful, I think, not to say screw you, Naomi, like do do this because we need you and the sport needs you. But there is a kind of like. We need to do this like this is important for the game, it’s an obligation, but like just below the surface is like. You’re incredibly rich, like you get all of this attention that we would be desperate for. And like these are champagne problems that you’re dealing with and like, I can’t even make a living and I’m number 150. And would somebody please interview me? I’d be happy to be interviewed after a loss, like, you know, come and find me.
S3: I was like there was a doubles player that I had never heard of named Nicole Malakar, an American who said who tweeted, I’d love to do press conferences. Can journalists and media start asking doubles players for more interviews? We’ve got our own stories to tell. And we’ve talked about the sort of efforts to give lesser known tennis players a voice and not just for their performance, but for what they go through on the tour. Right. We had that there was the Behind the racquet interview series that that that we talked about,
S2: you know, Ruben did who’s a lower ranked player. And that’s that’s actually an interesting intersection here, because part of that is like, oh, here are some players you might never hear from or may not get the attention. But it’s also, as Joel is saying, this is like player controlled media. These are people using social media to tell their own story as opposed to having one of us interview them and talk to them and poke at them.
S3: And but but aren’t that aren’t they using social media? Because one of us really aren’t interested in the hundred and 30th ranked women’s player who may not, you know, who may not who may have a story to tell, but it’s really not going to be that that grabby because no one’s heard of her. Yeah.
S1: And I you know, I kind of this is interesting because, like I mean, people talk about, you know, look what look what happened. Now, tennis doesn’t have Naomi Hosaka. And like, I would never deny her influence and impact on the game. But I mean, I you know, the games will go on, you know what I mean? Like, if Naomi wants to sort of bow out of it, like, I don’t think that’s going to stop tennis or its popularity. Right. Like somebody will fill that void. They will always find somebody else. Like we thought we would never see another Michael Jordan. And then we got LeBron James and, you know, you think we saw, you know, John Elway and then we get Tom Brady, you know, I mean, just whatever like there’s always going to be somebody else to sort of fill that void.
S2: And so there’s already a KOCHERGA who is the kind of young person being comforted by Naomi Osaka, just as Naomi Asaka was comforted by Serena Williams. I mean, that’s like we’re talking microgeneration here.
S3: Yeah. Yeah. And Cogo Goff, who’s played well leading up to the French and suddenly getting more attention than she has in the last couple of years and is playing with Venus Williams in doubles. So I guess the media will fill voids, right? There are no vacuums that won’t be filled by the media. But to what you were saying earlier, Josh, I mean, I think that’s why when Asaka skipped the media day on Friday, which I left out of my little chronology in the intro, no players really backed or everybody was was basically saying this is important. Ashleigh Barty, the number one seed on the women’s side, said so. Rafael Nadal, the number three seed on the men’s side and
S2: party to party, took a hiatus from playing tennis because of the stress she went to go play cricket. And so as somebody who has had her own struggles, right.
S3: So the the idea that and maybe, you know, she Osaka in hers in her second statement said that the way that the media is handled at big events like this is outdated. And she wants to try to change some of that. I mean, maybe it is. But listening to other players over the last few days, you get the sense that they sort of buy into this contractual and historical agreement, that part of their jobs does involve talking to the public through reporters at the event.
S2: Well, the Grand Slams are weird, though, because, I mean, I guess it’s the less weird than the Olympics, but you go through the entire year getting not that much attention playing on these like small outer courts, most of the time not doing that much press. And then you go to these four events per year and it’s like making up for everything else. It’s just like a kind of onslaught. And so I can understand that that feels like can’t we just like pass this out a little bit more throughout the year? But that’s just not how sports work. It’s like we have these big events. It’s like how there’s a tension around the Oscars and not attention around other stuff. It’s just like the way that news and entertainment and media all work. And it’s just something that’s not going to change.
S1: Yeah, I mean, you know, again, I mean, a lot of that, too, is, you know, just sort of the erosion of sports media. I mean, you know, maybe whereas 30 years ago you played a smaller tournament in town and a local. Media outlet and some other regional outlets can afford to cover it and send people there and do sort of in-depth coverage, and that sort of foundation isn’t really there anymore. That infrastructure is sort of going away. And so, yes, everybody will send all of their reporters and put all their resources into these big events, which is what I cover college football. It’s the same thing. Like you don’t go to every fuckin college game like but you will be at the Rose Bowl like it’s like when we are familiar with that, like the big events where there’s sort of a reunion of the media folks or whatever, because they can that’s where we can afford to go and send everybody. And so, you know, I mean, I just you know, again, I think it’s important because I haven’t said it again and I don’t I want to make it clear that, like, I’m I want Naomi Hosaka to take care of herself and to get the treatment that she needs. But, you know, the relationship between media and athletes is actually important. And I was sort of heartened, like looking at PR professionals or people that sort of deal with athletes on Twitter. Jones on the NBA’s one. That’s another one. And it was fancy tomboy, but you don’t have to look at it anyway. People that work in sort of PR and working with like, you know, publicity, they understand that the relationship with the media is a good one to have for athletes because inevitably, like, they are valuable in getting that narrative or their message out, even if they don’t necessarily have as much control of it as some of the top guys do. So our top girls do. So it’s just yeah, I don’t know, man. I don’t know that there’s a solution for it. But, you know, maybe maybe the solution is just that now we Osaka has to get the help that she needs to deal with her mental health challenges and then come back to the game when she’s up for it. But like, does it need do we need to reimagine media access? Yeah, but I would say that it’s we need more of it and not less of it.
S2: Thank you, John. Stefan, thank you. Slate plus members will be back with more next week.