S1: The following podcast includes explicit language not restricted to words, beginning with F. S, B and Q.
S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor, and this is Hang Up and listen for the week of August 3rd, 2020. On this week’s show, we’ll discuss the first week inside the NBA bubble. And Major League Baseball continued misadventures on the planet we call Earth. We’ll also be joined by UCLA football players Tito of Bosnia and Aleisha Guidry for a conversation about the We Are United with them, which athletes from the PAC 12 are threatening not to play if the conference doesn’t listen to their demands for reform. Finally, we’ll talk to our own Joel Anderson about his piece on Liberty University’s attempt to become a sports powerhouse and why black athletes have started leaving the school.
S3: I’m the author of The Queen and the host of Slow Burn Season four. I’m recording myself on my phone in Washington, D.C.. Joining me is D.C. legend Stefan Fatsis, author of the book Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic. Hello, Stefan.
S1: Good. Get that, Joel Anderson. How’d you pull that off, Josh?
S4: He was available. Yeah, I’ve made myself free on Monday mornings every now and again.
S3: Charles with us from Palo Alto, California. It’s it’s a chore to get up on a Monday morning special, does it? Because he loves us. He’s the host of Slow Burn Season three and the author of Slate’s Cover Story this week. Hello, Joel.
S5: Hello. I just want to before we move on, you said D.C. legend for Stefan. You didn’t give me Palo Alto legend, but maybe I haven’t been here long enough. So maybe I’m not a legend out here.
S3: You know, you need to be a Houston legend. You need to make you work for for Palo Alto. But I have something before you move on. I hope that I’m going to be able to be the one to break this to you, Josh, because it just came out this morning. Big, big X. I found this.
S1: Oh, OK. Whoa. What are you tapping your sources again, Josh?
S3: The X Files assets were purchased by a group including Dwayne The Rock Johnson.
S1: Whoa. Yes.
S4: All right. So now what?
S6: The X Files fortunes have turned around.
S1: Nothing that the Rock does has ever found the rock was involved in the original SFL.
S3: All right. Well, maybe that failed, but nothing else that the Rock has ever done has failed. This will be the ultimate test of the X Files penchant for extraordinary rapid failure. And just a box office gold.
S5: Yeah, I mean, this time I’m sure they’ll announce it. And then, you know, by the time they’ve left the dais, it’ll it’ll fold again. So he’s got quite a record of futility to match up to rock. I’m sure you can meet it.
S7: The NBA’s reopening night on Thursday featured a pair of very good games, jazz, Pelicans and Lakers, Clippers both decided by two points only complaint, not enough Zion. Come on, Pelicans. The day after that, there were two overtime games blazers, one forty grizzlies, one thirty five rockets, one fifty three mavericks, one forty nine one on like that. All weekend close and exciting basketball action featuring the NBA’s best teams and most exciting players. And yes, some weird fake crowd noise walls of virtual fans inside a bubble at Disney World like it was. It was weird, but it was good. Meanwhile, St. Louis Cardinals weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers canceled as at least three Cardinals players have tested positive for the coronavirus. A bunch more cancellations also due to the coronavirus. And investigation by baseball found that Marlins players went out on the town and congregated at their hotel bar before their own coronavirus outbreak. The players and the commissioner are now going back and forth about who’s to blame for this virus slathered in potentially virus shortened season. Stefan, the simple storyline here is that NBA is going great and baseball is a disaster. And this is a case where the simple storyline also feels to me like an extremely accurate storyline.
S1: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Josh Aaron judge homered twice on Sunday night, fifth straight game in which he’s homered. Did you see Mookie Betts, this throw from the right field corner to third base? Baseball’s fun. Baseball is back. Baby is back. I mean, you know, OK, unsuspicious. And Lorenzo Cain opted out of the season over the weekend. The Marlins are a coveted ward unto themselves. Rob Manfred, the commissioner, threw the players under the bus over covered protocol management. I only watched a little basketball, but apart from one weirdo player, Terence Davis of the Raptors, who cut a hole in his mask, he thinks that we should be spending more time on on nutrition. It look like the NBA was, in fact, doing pretty well.
S5: Wait, did you watch more MLB than NBA stuff? Is that how this worked out?
S1: It’s possible that I did, because the Yankees were on and it’s always nice to sort of root yourself once in a while. It’s probably about it was probably about 50/50.
S8: Look, Joel Steffen’s from a different generation. Yeah. Basketball didn’t exist when I was a child. Right. He still remembers the golden age of baseball asking about Reggie Jackson.
S5: I was going to say Reggie Jackson. Yeah, I’ve heard of that guy. Did he play football? I think it was a running back. He’s a point guard for the Clippers. That’s right. Yeah. I mean, I didn’t watch much baseball, to be honest, but the way that I’ve kept up with the sport is through the headlines, which is generally bad. I mean, and this is sort of what I wanted to ask you guys about, because beyond, you know, like the Mookie Betts throw maybe a few isolated moments. Is anything baseball done somehow beating out these bad coronavirus headlines like to the extent that we’ve heard about baseball in the national conversation, has anything that’s happened on the field made the concerns about their protocols and consequences for players that get infected? Has any of that stuff overshadowed any anything that happened on the field overshadowed anything like that? Right? I don’t think so.
S6: The Aaron judge homers were the only thing that I’ve seen that have really broken through and become not only just like a kind of national story, but even like a sports story. It’s like the only thing if you’re like on Twitter, that feels like the only thing that’s broken through. People like, wow, that was cool. And like people were playing clips of just like the sound of the crack of the bat when Judge Adam them run and how awesome that that sounded. But, you know, I guess the only other kind of vaguely positive thing was people saying after the first few days, like actually the X training rule where somebody is on second base is like not a total disaster. And it seems kind of fun. But other than that, it’s just really been like here’s another eighteen players that have tested positive for covid. Here’s the commissioner, like botching this and passing the blame and there being like absolutely no kind of central organizing principles here. And I mean, baseball seems like, you know, the way that baseball is being run. It’s like a microcosm of the United States government. It’s like no responsibility is being taken. No kind of rules were implemented from on high. Everyone was basically set up to fail. And then when the inevitable failure happens, it’s just blaming, blaming the victims essentially. I mean, the Marlins players are dumb for violating the protocols like that. They deserve you know, it’s a you know, a lot of a lot of blame, but it’s not like the commissioner’s office is taking any responsibility for anything that’s gone on.
S9: No. And the. The way that Manfred has is handling this is absurd, especially, again, in contrast to a commissioner like Adam Silver, Manfred hasn’t had a news conference since February. Apparently he went on ESPN over the weekend and talked to Carl Ravich and he said, quote, The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have to it, but it is manageable. I mean, the guy has worked at Major League Baseball for more than 20 years. He is the commissioner of the sport. Either he’s getting terrible PR coaching or he is so blind to the way his words are going to be interpreted that he’s incompetent. I mean, his comments to Ravich basically riled up the players. I mean, Jon Lester got pissed off. I don’t want I don’t know Rob’s situation and I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth on that one. But I do know we not only the players, but families are making sacrifices day in and day out. I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth. I guess I’ll stop there. Nobody is happy here and ignoring the the management labor back and forth. So many players, coaches, managers are talking about one thing, their reluctance to be doing this. Dave Martin, as the manager of the Nationals, nearly broke down at his at his zoom news conference, I think, on Friday, talking about his own fears and concerns about playing through this. The guy had a heart condition diagnosed last season. So it is totally overwritten baseball. And by the way, Mookie Betts, who made that great throw, hurt his hand on Saturday on the next day. So, yeah, whether he’ll be playing or not, we don’t even know. One of the management problems here, Joel, is that Major League Baseball developed this 100 plus page protocol manual, but it didn’t say what should happen after an outbreak, which is why we’ve had so much chaos with games getting canceled, players being quarantined in hotels in on the road, and an uncertainty about what the next day, let alone the next week or two weeks or months, are going to hold.
S5: Yeah, and it just seems really irresponsible, like maybe, you know, to be fair to them, maybe MLB thought, well, if we have an outbreak, there’s nothing we can really do anyway. There is no game plan for that. So we’ll just deal with it as it comes. But that’s not really good. Policy was something that could have long term health effects for your employees. Right. Like right now we’re talking about Eduardo Rodriguez, the Boston Red Sox pitcher who is not going to play the rest of the season because he developed coronavirus earlier this year. And he it led to an inflammation of his heart. And like that’s a long term health consideration that he’s going to be dealing with. And so essentially what the MLB is asking people to, like, take that sort of a risk that, well, we’ll see how it works out if you get infected, will adjust the rules as they go along. But the thing is along the way, you don’t know who you’re sacrificing in in trying to perfect your protocol. And so, I don’t know, man. I just I always go back to this and I’m going to be the broken record because I say I’m a broken record every episode. But what is baseball doing? Like, why? Like, is it worth? It is like I don’t know that this is such thing is irreparable harm to a brand during these times. Right. Because we’re going to have to recover at some point. There will be some normalcy at some point in the country, in the sports, whatever. Right. But the way that they’re doing this now, in the way that it’s happening now, like, I just cannot imagine that this is good for the MLB as a brand, as a company for labor relations. Anything else like I just don’t it just seems like maybe they should stop or maybe they should have never started in the first place, but maybe they should just stop. You’re a quitter at all. Yeah, you know, I mean, I’m suspicious, man. I’m just packing my shit and leave him, you know what I mean? I just. Who would make that? Well, why would anybody I could totally understand reading these headlines, looking at the news, seeing what other teams are going through, going to be like, what the hell are we doing here? They don’t have a plan. So like, why would I put myself in risk? Why would I put my family at risk?
S3: And the thing is, the suspicious thing is really interesting because, I mean, he’s had a really fraught relationship with the team for years now for it would take a whole episode to go through them all. But I think what we’re going to see, and this is a connect connects, I think, with the NFL and opt outs we’re seeing there is like, OK, the Mets are three and seven. Now, as teams start to pile up losses, players are just going to quit. Like, why are you going to stay out there? I mean, sure, guys are going to want to collect their their salary. So I don’t think every player on every losing team is going to abandon ship. But I think this is not going to be the last player who’s going to decide for health reasons because they don’t want to be apart from their families, because the show that baseball is running is so incompetent and inept that they’re just going to abandon. The sport, and I think it would look I mean, I tend to agree with you, Joe, that people have pretty short memories with this stuff. So I think that, you know, the long term damage to baseball’s brand, I don’t know how big of a concern that is, but I think it would probably be better for baseball if they’re the ones that pull the plug and then it’s not forced on them by every player quitting the game. That would probably be a bad thing.
S1: And Josh, the players that are going to quit are not going to be the lower guys that we’ve never heard of. They’re going to be name players. I mean, the two players that opted out, you know, we’re now two weeks into the season. We’re we’re we’re good players, honest with us. And Lorenzo Cain, these guys are big name, big money players. They will have they have the luxury of opting out. And if you get three or four or five more all stars starters, whoever, it’s going to be hugely damaging to the season. It already is. If you look at the standings and you know, the Mets are three and seven in the Marlins are two and one and the Phillies are one and two because they can’t play games because of the coronavirus outbreaks. And I do think you mentioned the NFL. Josh, I do think that what’s happening in baseball is being watched very, very closely by players in the NFL because they recognize that football, at least at this time, is trying to do it the same way, not isolate everybody in some sort of group bubble or even individual team bubbles. Though I did see over the weekend that there was consideration that the NFL may try to sequester the entire organizations locally in hotels for the duration of the season. So I think NFL players are looking at this going this is my future. And reevaluating the number of NFL players that have opted out is already above 40, including eight members of the New England Patriots. And again, some first and second year guys that are concerned about health or have family reasons, but also players that you’ve heard of, Patrick Chung, not the high tower on the Patriots, Marcus Cannon, TCU alum, Damian Williams on Kansas City, Nate Scholder on the Giants. These are Devin Funchess on the Packers. These are players that you know, and the reasons vary a lot. A lot of them are linemen because linemen are overweight and tend to have underlying health conditions or risks for future health conditions. So you’re seeing this attrition already and how the NFL is going to address that? Oh, no.
S3: Let’s move to the NBA, which is the success story here. And I have a couple theories as to why. And I think the one that I’ve felt like has been a little bit kind of under explored is the fact that this is what it looks like in a league with a deeper talent pool because it’s been contracted. The eight worst teams in the NBA are not in the bubble in Orlando. And we’ve talked to a bunch of times on the show about the issue of tanking and then eBay and and other leagues and whether it’s explicit or not, you do have a bunch of games in all sports and the regular season that just don’t matter. And the teams are just kind of playing out the string and aren’t trying, but also because of like the fact that we’re getting games back to back to back. You have this feel in the in these games, like it feels like what basketball should be like. It’s like the best players, only good games, only good teams playing a lot and making it easier for fans to watch. Yeah. And it’s like Rob Perez tweeted this just like, how do we make the normal season? Like, this is just such an amazing contrast where every other sport is just like screwing up so badly and then actually seems better.
S5: It’s also interesting to me to write because we talked a lot about player protest movement and like how much the games would deal. Would they not overshadow the players messaging off the court? Right. And I feel like that’s been a really good balance between both that like we’ve been we’ve been able to talk about Black Lives Matter and the slogans on the back of players jerseys. And we’ve been able to talk about how the players have looked and how the games have looked, which have all been, you know, as far as I’m concerned, fairly high quality. I haven’t watched every game, but they’ve all seem to have been really entertaining and well played games, which is a shot given that they took four months off. But it’s just been a really good balance of both that like they’ve balanced what’s happening in the bubble with what’s happening outside of the bubble. And it feels like possibly the best case scenario for any of the restarts that we’ve had thus far. But I mean, all we’ve got to come back to the fact that it’s early. Right. And we’ve already seen that. Lou Williams, we talked about him briefly last week who was excused from the bubble to go to a family funeral. And then it was found out that he was at Magic City getting wings. And he said, hey, I’m Joe. They are getting wings, I’m just getting wings, and then a dancer from Magic City told the L.A. Times that no, actually I gave him a dance while he was there. It was a socially distant dance. I said, you’re right, they didn’t touch each other. That’s fair. That’s just a brief interruption, Joel.
S8: But I think an incredibly telling contrast between baseball. The NBA is like Lou Williams goes to Magic City with a mask on and it’s like instantly recognized that on Instagram. It’s like sixth man of the L.A. Clippers, like the entire Florida Marlins franchise apparently is like going out on the town in Atlanta. Nobody reports on it. Nobody knows about it. They could have been wearing their full uniforms. For all we know, baseball players. They’re just like you and me. Josh but continue, John.
S5: No, but it seems to me, though, that, you know, Lou Williams is sort of you know, he’s been made an example of, you know, sort of being irresponsible and not necessarily following in line with protocol. But it’s early and we still like again, we just kind of come back to this like these are still human beings, like you just cannot predict with any one person is going to do. And who might eventually get tired. I mean, they got they got Terence Davis that you mentioned earlier, who has a hole in his mask. So who’s to say that, you know, three weeks from now, we’re not talking about somebody that we found out that they went on a bender in Orlando, which does have strip clubs, by the way, which does, you know, or just whatever all these other entertainment options.
S6: Yeah, but but, Joel, like, if one person like the NBA has such a strong system in place that if anybody breaks the protocol or if anybody gets the virus, they can do contact tracing, they can do like it’s not going to get as bad, as bad as it is.
S8: And in baseball, like it might still be a bad idea. It might go south. But like the NBA league has a plan, right?
S5: Well, it won’t it won’t be like MLB, right? That’s true. But we don’t know the ways in which it could look bad, you know what I mean? Does that make sense? Because we I mean, we still figuring out the disease. We’re still figuring out how the bubble is going to work. It’s just really early to declare it a success.
S1: Right. One lapse and it’s the coronavirus. It can spread rapidly inside this closed society. There are no guarantees here in the NBA after Terence Davis was walking around with the hole in his mask and telling people that all they push are masks, social distancing tests and vaccines, nothing about vitamins, healthy foods, our sunshine, the game is rigged. The NBA went out of its way to leak. To Mark Stein of The New York Times, the teams were notified to reemphasize the use of masks and to warn players that they were going to crack down.
S3: Yeah, Michael Porter Jr. of the Nuggets was also like spreading some conspiracy stuff, which is not great.
S5: We just, again, just imagine somebody going out, coming back. They don’t have to. I mean, do you really think that there’s nobody that’s penetrated the bubble that’s supposed to be there?
S3: Everybody know that the issue isn’t going to be one player because the players are being monitored like crazy. The issue is if a hotel worker, you know, there are a bunch of people that are allowed to go in and leave every day. I don’t know if it’s dozens or hundreds, but it’s like if one player does it and seems like kind of blaming, we don’t know.
S5: No, I’m not saying that. It’s a I’m not trying to say that, you know, put the burden on the players here that like if if it all goes wrong, it’s the players fault. But all it takes is one player to breach the bubble, come into contact with his teammates, and then we have an outbreak. You don’t sound like it’s just it just seems really early to say that this is absolutely a success. That’s all I’m saying.
S9: Let’s wrap it up by saying that the concentrated nature of this has helped magnify for the league. The other message you mentioned, the Black Lives Matter stuff. These news conferences have been so targeted that athletes and coaches that have wanted to get a point across have been able to and people are going to pay attention because everyone’s watching. Jaylen Brown talked about how Francis Scott Key on slaves and mentioned this third verse of The Star-Spangled Banner. Also mentioning slavery. Gregg Popovich was asked about Marco Belinelli status and went off on a long and thoughtful and cogent because it’s Popovich monologue about voting rights and and the repression of blacks rights to vote. A century ago, he mentioned a Confederate officer, William Guthrie. And then at the very end, after this long, rambling, wonderful monologue, said Marco Belinelli is out tonight. So the NBA’s bubble is working in that regard.
S1: You know, and also let’s not you know, hockey seems to be working. They just got started. The NHL soccer. The men and women both had great success there. And the men’s soccer major league soccer is not done yet in terms of working inside the bubble. So the NBA we’re going to focus on because we love the NBA and it’s the most watched sport. But these other sports that are doing bubbles are. Having success as well.
S5: Let’s be honest, it’s been a few years since the PAC 12 conference had a real impact on the national college football conversation. Not anymore. On Sunday, more than 400 players in the PAC 12 published a list of 17 demands under the hashtag We Are United. They range from simple request like health protections during the pandemic to more ambitious ones like 50 percent of the conferences, football revenue to be distributed among the players. If those demands are met, the players said, they are prepared to set out a fall camp in any game scheduled for this fall or next spring.
S4: Today on the show, we have two members of the group, both from UCLA. Alicia Guidry, a rising sophomore, defensive back from Long Beach, California, and Tito Obana, a rising junior defensive tackle from Houston. Thanks for coming on with us this morning. Senator, I guess the first question is, how did this group and the list of demands come together?
S10: You know, it was something that, you know, we we always knew, I think, individually and, you know, just team wise, that this is a sentiment that most people felt we were just waiting for an opportunity to get to get this whole thing going. And this started with, you know, with some are some of the guys from Cal who use this as an opportunity to to demand, you know, change, you know, and try to try to really get something done here. And I guess you could say by any means necessary. And we kind of deem this to be very necessary in this time, long overdue. And this is something that, you know, with the hard work of some of those guys who let this let this thing in the beginning and kind of just relentless efforts. And as we’ve heard, we’ve heard people, you know, kind of tell us that, you know, it’s not going to work and things like that, just keeping our in our heads down and getting to work with this and then know just doing cause really zoom that allowed us to do this whole thing and kind of being in a pandemic because otherwise it would be very hard to coordinate a movement this big in normal time. So I’m in a way, I kind of think that kind of thankful that we had pandemic you and destructive and, you know, in various ways. But it’s also given us this opportunity to do this in the way we’ve done it.
S11: Also, if I might add, I feel like just the the social movement or the civil rights movement, really, that’s going on. Our country also inspired. I feel like there’s a lot of inequalities that people are noticing, like people are being awakened to seeing some of the things that goes on in this world. And I feel like college football has many of them as well, just kind of the the big push back and kind of putting lives at risk with the Kobe, I feel like just not really addressing the elephant in the room with the I mean, the season on the horizon, you know, after, like, guys kind of I mean, guys have it. You know, guys guys want to I mean, we the cow guys reached out to people in the comments, kind of got their thoughts, and that’s kind of how the ball got real. And so I just I feel like this movement kind of mirrors the civil rights movement in the country as well.
S3: Aleisha, there are 17 demands on the list, as Joel mentioned. What are the top line ones as far as you’re concerned? What are the ones that you want folks to really be aware of?
S11: For me personally, I feel like they’re all important. I mean, definitely the the players safety with the code and ensuring that if a player decides to opt out is eligibility is honored and that he is to come back next year safely and not lose his status in the team as well, as well as the different things with like the getting insurance for players when they finish playing because football takes a toll on the body in the mind. And I feel like once a player is done, that kind of they kind of just kicked out, they kind of just done in the world without I mean, not a lot of guidance. And they did put a lot of that a lot into this football basket. So, you know, the kind of they kind of don’t really have an idea of what to do. And they kind of they might have some bruises and they might be affected mentally. So it’s kind of having that as well as I feel like the name, image and likeness is very important because players players deserve to be able to create well for themselves with this sport. I feel like a lot of players come from lower income homes. A lot of players have struggles that they have to deal with, and football is kind of their way out, you know, so just kind of having an opportunity to be able to affect their families and affect the communities and people around them with their sport, even if they don’t make it to the NFL is very important.
S9: Yeah, I was going to follow up on that by saying the demand that they’ve gotten a lot of attention, of course, is asking for fifty percent of revenue from the conference to be directed toward players. I mean, realistically, there’s no way that the PAC 12 leaders are going to agree to that immediately. So it does feel like by asking it, you’re bringing this out into the open. The idea that athletes. What are aware of the inequities here and that we’ve got to move toward some system that helps compensate them in some way? Is that how you view it or are the ambitions higher among the group?
S12: That’s exactly how we view it. I think when you exploit a group of people for this amount of time, it’s just kind of what you get. They had their opportunity to fix this multiple opportunities and they’ve kind of denied even trying. And one thing we as a group aren’t willing to accept is the idea that it’s not possible. This is this is a country who was brought up upon working hard and doing the impossible. And there are ways to get it done. And there is a number of plans that are being said. Another number of ways we can come to the PAC 12 and give them ideas. But the ultimate thing at the end of the day in regards to that 50 percent revenue is that, yes, it’s ambitious and it’s high and it’s asking a lot. But if you want to put us in the real world, which is the reward is what we are. And I don’t think we’re exempt from reality here. We live in this country just like everybody else. And in regards to name, image and likeness, you know, why should we be the only citizens in this country who are denied making money off of who we are on our behalf? Why is it that a kid at UCLA and musician team and go perform and make a couple of hundred bucks off of their name, image and likeness and maybe they might even be on scholarship, but when it comes on athletes, it’s a whole different story. So that argument from that, the whole principle of it alone definitely kind of angers people because I don’t see where the school loses money there. I don’t see where the reality reallocation of funds is there. So it’s good that it’s in progress. But it definitely brings up the question, why did it take so long? Why were they trying to deny this for four individuals for a very long time? And then and I think that’s where that social justice kind of comes in, right? When you deny a group of people certain rights, you start to wonder why you’re doing it. And so that’s kind of how we’ve paralleled this entire movement with the social justice movement.
S5: I want to ask you this is for either one of you guys a little more than a month ago, before even the United We Stand Movement, UCLA itself published its own list of demands. The football players publish a list of demands related to coronavirus protections. Right. So there was obviously like an activist streak within the team already. And I just was curious to know, where is the team with that? Does that sort of been subsumed by this larger movement that United We Stand movement, or is the team still pursuing these list of demands related to that earlier ask about a month ago?
S10: You know, I forgot to mention, you know, when you asked about the start of this movement, one thing those guys told us is that they saw our letter to our university. They saw what we published, and that’s the kind of took that leap from us. So that was cool to see that. And in regards to where we’re at now, for the most part, where we’re doing well in terms of guaranteeing covid protections and doing everything in our university in their power can do for us.
S12: And we’re taking a very serious approach to getting back to playing competition, if that’s even feasible. But our biggest thing know, I think as a university in an apartment was making sure the players are safe and if echoed that throughout the department and throughout the system, I think when people ask for further over things, it’s higher that it’s up. It’s much higher than UCLA. This is above UCLA. It’s above any one conference or anyone sports above any one person or any one culture. And it’s a conference thing. And the conference has the power to get some of these things done. As you as you’ve seen, the NCAA and the conference aren’t necessarily as joint as you as one may think. In a lot of times they work separately.
S11: And a lot of these a lot of these matters are kind of going up just like the cow guys kind of saw the things that we were asking and they just stop. And so, like, we really don’t we don’t necessarily have things like that, like we don’t have the same type of taste. And that’s kind of something we want because we feel like we’re taking this risk, coming back to school and trying to participate in this game. We kind of want to be liked as well. So I actually like just kind of seeing that and wanting to know, OK, like, is this is this how things are going to Oregon State? Is this how things are going in? Washington is kind of. Asking guys around, kind of kind of got I guess that’s kind of what got the ball going, you know, because I mean, at the end of the day, we all love football. We all spent so much time playing, you know, since we were kids. And we want to do that as safe as possible, especially during a pandemic. So I feel like just I mean, asking around kind of is what got everybody started and kind of got us all connected. And we realized that there were more issues than just with the covid-19 precautions. And so that’s kind of what brought us to forming the group.
S13: So I think it’s important for folks listening to us to understand how kind of amazing and unusual it is, what you guys are doing, even doing this interview, like there was a story recently about the University of Iowa. They don’t even let their players be on social media. I mean, the amount of control at these programs about what they allow you guys to say, what they allow you guys to to represent and do in public. It’s like so restrictive. And so the fact that you guys are talking to us about this, the fact that you put this message out, it’s for college sports and for college football, this is an enormous deal. And we’ve already seen, like there kind of varying reports about what’s going on in Washington state in your conference about potential repercussions for players there for joining this movement and for speaking out. And so are you guys at all concerned about potential repercussions from UCLA? And are you aware of the kind of power imbalance? I mean, your coach, Chip Kelly, was an NFL coach, is a multi multimillionaire, and you guys are you know, you could have your scholarships taken away potentially.
S10: Yeah. And I think that’s something that a lot of people consider when they’re joining this movement, I think. And when you try to join something with this magnitude, kind of get the idea of what you’re what you’re getting yourself into and you kind of make amends with that, with it, with the consequences of what you’re what you’re doing. But I think ultimately I’m at peace with myself anyway. And regardless, of course, I would love to keep my scholarship and stay on the team. But that’s not something that no. Our coach or our administration has ever echoed. They’ve never done this in that manner. And I don’t think they will. And it’s been relatively positive. And we haven’t seen any type of type of repercussion of retaliation from from anybody from our school. And it hurts to see that type of stuff being exemplified at Washington State because you tell people to stand up for what they believe in and in this world. And we want to we want to support something. I think you have the freedom to do it.
S12: And in regards to speaking out and, you know, holding your tongue and a lot of these things, I think that’s where the conferences and the universities and the hospital as a whole gains their control over individuals because you start to feel a certain way after you’re done with football, when you’re when you’re in the system and you feel silence, you feel like you can’t see anything. And that takes a toll on you. It definitely takes some for you mentally and taking a toll on me until I kind of had a realization of who I am and who I want to be in this world. And that’s not somebody who was silenced or who feels like they can’t be who they are because of what I’m doing. You know, I don’t think that’s what we signed up for. This doesn’t say that in our letter of intent. It doesn’t say that anywhere. So it’s not necessarily something that I think it’s just a flaw of the system and it’s something that we’re trying to correct. And you shouldn’t or anybody from freedom, they should have say what they want without feeling like they may get caught or that they may get blackballed by their team or their coach or whoever that person may be. So that’s why that Washington State situation is very significant in our eyes in this movement. We’re well aware of what’s going on and we’re trying to do the best we can to help those guys out there.
S11: Yeah, just following up on that. Like, I feel like it’s for real change to come. You know, you kind of got to put yourself out there. And that’s something that even I know I know a lot of guys in the group and even myself kind of had to battle like what was the worst case scenario, you know, and that’s kind of something I think some always in the back of your mind. But for me, I came to peace that if if I have to be sacrificed for to to to have a greater movement come, then that’s something I’m OK with. You know, if I can if I got to set out to help bring a change for my children or my grandchildren or to come or the next generation, you know, that’s that’s something that, you know, at the end of the day, it’s going to make things better. And if I if I have to be the one that has to has to be at that expense for that, you know, that’s something I’m OK with. So I feel like just I mean, just in terms of I say no, it’s very sad because those players, you know, they were they they stood up for themselves. They stood up and they believe then they stood up for what they thought was right and what a lot of people thought was right. And they weren’t even allowed to do that without repercussions. So it’s it’s something that’s very sad. And I don’t. Is should be acceptable and in a lot of people’s eyes, so, yeah, so I mean, this is. There’s a lot a lot to unpack with that with that situation up there, but I feel like that those players kind of got treated wrong and it just reinforces the the system of just having players just to play and kind of exploiting them for the talents and not really allowing them to be themselves, not really allowing them to have a voice not out of line and to pursue the things that they want to pursue because the time constraints and they’re kind of got the heavy eye on them and they want to play as a coach so much. But it’s just kind of it’s kind of keeping that cycle of exploitation, not something that we’re trying to eliminate with speaking out. And, you know, we really want to empower the athlete, empower the college athlete to be able to use their voice, to be able to unify among sports, not just football, but amongst all the sports at the school. And I mean, really, really being grow into the person that they want to be, because that’s what college is all about.
S10: You’re going off what he said. I think that’s the ultimate goal that’s not listed in those demands. And I don’t think people necessarily get that sense is that, yeah, we’re asking for all these things that are tangible that we see on paper. But at the end of the day, that’s that’s what we’re that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for a change of perception, changing and changing views. And we understand that people think of us a certain way because of what’s been projected. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We all know that you change can happen. You know, just who’s willing to do it and who’s willing to work for that. You know, like I said earlier, you can accept the idea that it’s hard or it’s too hard. I think everything’s hard. You know, everybody has difficult times. But, you know, you have to work to get to to change to change the world ultimately. And that’s what we’re trying to do here. China trying to change that perception and alleviate some of the some of the pain and discomfort that a lot of these athletes. We have it we have a little bit better than most do. But it doesn’t mean because you’re in a situation that you asked, it doesn’t mean you can’t, you know, try to change the imperfections that are that go along with that.
S9: You guys are very effectively identified and attacked. The main pressure point that universities have used for decades, which is that athletes are transient. They don’t stay very long. It’s difficult for them to get organized. And there’s the power of the institutions and the NCAA bearing down on them. I was impressed in the statement that and what you just said about preserving all existing sports. It’s not just about football and basketball. And you mentioned that in the statement. And you also attack that the argument that, you know, that that these sports are more difficult to sustain by saying that what you need to do is reduce spending on facilities and administrators and salaries. Lotito, I want to ask you specifically, you’re a shot putter. In addition to a football player with Olympic aspirations, you’ve experienced college sports from the perspective of an athlete in a big revenue sport and a nonrevenue sport. How has that influenced your thinking in terms of how you want this movement to go forward?
S10: It was eye opening. So, you know, when I first got here to UCLA and I wasn’t fully immersed in football for the first part of the year and I went over the track side and, you know, the sentiments they feel towards revenue sports is it’s great. And I’m not trying to speak for everybody, but the notion that I got was that we were spoon fed on a silver platter, that we got everything that they didn’t get, in fact, that we were taking away from what they also kind of, you know, in a sense, deserve to perform in training and, you know, and compete at the highest level. And to to an extent, that was true of, you know, and nothing’s perfect. But at UCLA, you know, we’re not they’re not they’re not feeding. The guys attract the same the same amount of music feeding the guys at the last minute. But at the end of the day, like, those resources can be allocated in a better way. So for us, people like to say that we have these facilities and things like that. And I agree, we do. But I think our biggest thing is when we get to these universities, it looks nice, you know, when you’re getting recruited and when you first arrive. But when you’re there, I’m sure you understand that that stuff doesn’t matter to win games. You don’t you have to have the best locker room to win games. You have to have the nicest patio or the slide in your locker room. That’s not that’s not what’s required to win football. Because you see that echoed at the national in the National Football League. Some of those facilities are no comparison. Don’t compare to what we have at the College of Collegiate Level in terms of facilities and weights and all those things. They have identified that to be a good football player. You don’t you need a field and a facility. And it’s a perfect in the NFL. No, I think they kind of echo a little bit better system in terms of how to use your resources wisely. I mean, being tools for activities. To see what ways they can preserve revenue sports, they say that you can’t compete if you don’t upgrade your facilities, but that’s the whole principle that’s wrong in this whole system. Right, of. We shouldn’t be trying to invest in all of the facilities. Why don’t you invest in people, right? You get on this. You say, how can people compete if we don’t invest in facilities? Well, it’s never going to be good if we keep spending money. You think we’re ever going to reach the amount of spending that the SEC does on the SEC does in recruiting or in facilities? I don’t think so. You’re not going to you’re not going to put yourself in a hole just to make sure that you can keep up with recruiting? I think we could we could reverse or reimagine the thinking there and and try to reallocate these funds in a better way and do it in a way that doesn’t require excessive spending.
S5: I’m just going to ask this. I mean, we’re right here early August football season is theoretically a few weeks away. Where do you think we’ll be in October? Do you guys think you’ll be playing football?
S10: It’s up in the air. I don’t think anybody can give you anything definitive at this point. There’s a lot of unknowns like everybody. Everybody’s understood. It’s just it’s just one of those things where it’s like you’re hoping you’re hoping that we can play them or also try to do it as safe as possible. And the way L.A. County is moving right now, we don’t see necessarily, to be honest, from our movement and we don’t necessarily see how we can move forward to go from the 10 members that we’re in right now to full fledged competition. There isn’t enough testing. We still have is a lot of things we need to do to prepare for that. And we’re not there yet. We can get there and it’s possible. But there’s also a chance it may not be possible.
S11: My mom’s actually a physician, so people like them that study medicine and kind of know how things work is still a new batch. But they know how they know how these things work. So we kind of got to keep their advice and ears there with how they’re feeling about it. If they don’t think it’s safe, I feel like we can’t we can’t try to force you know, we kind of got it kind of got to go. We kind of got to go at it in the safest way possible, because I feel like if we try to foresee we might have an MLB situation with a whole team gets in our teams out. Now, people are like this.
S3: This is really where I think Major League Baseball needs to listen to Aleisha, because when you screw things up really, really badly, then a problem with covid is now known as an MLB situation. That’s what you don’t want as an organization, is to be associated with screwing up so badly that it becomes tied as an MLB situation.
S1: MLB needs to listen to college football, needs to listen to you guys.
S5: Yeah. Oh, I shall tell. We are so glad to have you on with what you guys are doing is tremendously courageous. Thank you all so much for your time. And I hope maybe we can circle back around and check in on you all, maybe later and see how things are working with the movement.
S14: Yeah, no problem.
S3: All right, on our bonus segment for Slate plus members, this week, we are going to talk more about college football. We’ll talk about our reactions to the interview that we just did with the UCLA guys and just talk about what else is going on in the sport, which is being kind of upended as we speak with news about covid and players speaking out in ways that they haven’t before.
S15: So if you want to hear that, you’ve got to be a slate plus member, just thirty five dollars for the first year, you can sign up at Slate Dotcom, hang up plus.
S1: It’s been weird to see Liberty University try to turn itself into a competitive D1 sports school, but in the last four years, the conservative Christian University founded by right wing televangelist Jerry Falwell and run today by Jerry Falwell Jr., has spent one hundred and fifty million dollars on athletic facilities. It’s won a bowl game and an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game. And it’s done so by recruiting athletes who might otherwise not be considered a good fit black athletes. That is on an overwhelmingly white campus led by a man, Falwell Jr., whose political and personal beliefs might fairly be characterized as well. Racist, as Joel reports in his fantastic long form story that posted in Slate on Sunday, the social justice movement has helped clarify the place and views of black students on the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus. A series of racist comments and behaviors, including by Falwell himself, has led at least four black athletes to transfer, exposing Liberty’s efforts to go big time for what it is an attempt to use sports not only to slurp up some of the billions in revenue sloshing through the system, but to cover up the underlying realities of what the school and its leadership ultimately represent. Joel, first, congrats on this fantastic piece of reporting and writing around. Well done. Thank you. Thank you very much. Let’s start with one of the predicate incidents for the spate of transfers which you describe in the lead of your piece. It involves one of the athletes who’s transferring a football defensive back named Tavian Land. Tell us about land and what happened to him.
S5: So, yeah, Tavian Land, he is a rising sophomore, was the highest rated football recruit ever to sign with Liberty the year before. He’s on campus in mid-June for a summer math class. And while he’s in math class, the instructor makes a joke to one of his teammates that don’t be scared, I’m not going to pull out my whip and hit you. And this is related to a question he’d ask that player about whether or not he needed a tutor for class not. And a player was like, you know, he’s like, I’m not I’m not good. I’m not going to pull out my weapon, which obviously, you know, carries these really ugly racial connotations, slavery and all that good stuff. And it happens in this moment when liberty is already sort of roiling after President Jerry Falwell had sent out a tweet making fun of blackface. There had been all of these other incidents that had been building up over the year. And so by the time this incident happens in class with Tavian Land, the football player, he had enough. He was just like, I’m done. I don’t want to be here anymore. And four days later, Tavian puts his name on the transfer. Portale announces that he’s leaving and all hell breaks loose. That’s when everybody kind of gets to see that, oh, you know, liberty is losing. It’s the best football recruited server side. And he’s saying it’s because of racial insensitivity and cultural insensitivity. And so that’s kind of made me want to look into it a little bit more, because that’s not that’s players always whisper about that when they leave a program or they go somewhere else and they’ll say, well, I didn’t like it fair. This sort of thing happened to me. But for somebody to say it’s so explicitly and I say it so publicly at a school that is like very like pugnacious, you know, they’re like they’re like fighters, you know, Jerry Falwell tweets just like Trump. So for that kid to do that, that was a really courageous act. And that’s what made me want to look into it a little more.
S16: So so we just talked about this movement in the PAC 12, the We Are United campaign and the effort to kind of change the way that college sports are governed and the way that they operate. And I think the liberty story is useful in the way that it lays bare all the stuff that sort of underlies the relationships between athletes and the these schools. That’s like just barely below the surface. It’s it’s really above the surface at liberty. They’re trying to make themselves into a sports powerhouse in order to launder their reputation. It’s all very kind of explicit. And the athletes are very clearly being used by the school. And so I guess the question is and you explain it in the story, but I think it’d be useful for you to explain it here, just like why would a black athlete or why would any athlete go to liberty and sort of play their their part in this, including? You know, I think the easy answer would be because they believe what Liberty is saying.
S6: But I think some of these athletes didn’t even believe in it when they signed on in the first place.
S5: Yeah, no. And I think in the story we have to athletes I spoke to about the experiences there and they represent both sides of that coin. Right. Asia tied the women’s basketball player who transferred even a few weeks before Tavian land for the same reason and for Asia, the. Precipitating event was Jerry Falwell’s tweet about blackface, that was what caused her to leave, but she actually chose liberty like she had options. She could have gone to Butler, Florida, Gulf Coast, a few other schools. And, you know, she’s from a very religious family. Her father is a pastor. The coaches really liked her and she really revived with them and she chose the school. Right now, she didn’t have a greater appreciation for the Falwell family and everything that Liberty sort of represents. But, you know, they lead with evangelical Christianity and she’s a Christian. And she said, I could play basketball. I can, you know, practice my religion here. And, you know, maybe they’ll be people that are like minded like me. So she went. But Tavian, the highest rated recruit and liberty football history, he didn’t want to be there. He didn’t even know that liberty really existed or what it was about until his offer got pulled from the University of Maryland. So Tavian gets his offer pulled from Maryland, which had fired D.J. Durkin and hired Mike Locksley. And so the commitment, the verbal commitment that Tavian on land, basically it didn’t go away, but he knew that he wasn’t going to be welcomed into that recruiting class. So he had to find another school and basically a week in Liberty had some openings. Right. And so, you know, of the schools that were available, Liberty plays in the FBS, they have great facilities. Fantastic. I mean, everybody that you talk to about their athletic program talks about, you know, there’s nobody outside of the power five conferences that has better facilities and liberty. They’ve got all this money to burn and they put it into facilities. So and they started sending guys to the NFL. You know what? A couple. Yeah, they you know, they’re doing better than they had been. Right. And, yeah, they’ve got they had a guy that just got drafted in the fourth round by the Washington NFL team this past spring. So, yeah, I mean, he looked at that and said, well, this might I might as well go here. If I don’t go here, where else is he going to go? He might end up at school even further off the radar or someplace else. So liberty was his best option, but that’s not where he wanted to go. So he ended up there. So that’s that’s why I thought it was instructive, because you want for at least for me, I wanted to have an athlete that chose liberty because it was liberty and an athlete like Tavian who ended up there because for lack of better options, the thing that most schools do when they try to change their image is to at least pay lip service to the broader culture.
S1: You know, Baylor is a is a religious institution, and it has succeeded for decades in fitting in to big time sports. Liberty, though, the underlying ethos of the place. You quote a professor at a different university who studies religion, saying that the school was born out of a culture that was systematically racist and they won’t address that because they don’t even believe in it. So Liberty is making no attempt to create a climate that will make these athletes, these black athletes, feel safe. So, Joel, isn’t it wasn’t it inevitable? I mean, I’m not even sure that we needed George Floyd and BLM and nationwide protests to to to have this facade crumble as quickly as it seems to be crumbling. I mean, you point out in the story that 10 percent of Liberty students were black as recently as 2007 and the number is down to four percent. And of that four percent, I’d like to know, you know, how many are athletes that have been brought in for the purpose of trying to change Liberty’s image.
S5: So a lot of schools do the lip service to trying to engage in the culture and make the athletes feel welcome. And liberty possibly could pull that off if Jerry Falwell Jr. wasn’t the president of the university and he didn’t sort of overshadow everything that the school does. Right. Because they’ve got coach I mean, Hugh Freese coached in the SCC. You know, he’s familiar. He’s the head coach at Liberty for people who don’t know. And, you know, he was previously at Ole Miss. So he’s used to recruiting athletes like Tavian Land better athletes than TV on land. They can create a culture off campus and at the football facility that is appealing to athletes. But then it always comes back to Jerry Falwell in the sort of environment that he creates on campus, whether it’s welcoming, you know, sort of antagonistic conservatives like Charlie Kirk and Nigel Farage, you know, Candice Owens to even. I think the thing that really shocked me and I think maybe this is just because I’m of a certain age, whatever, but like the idea that their school of government is named after Jesse Helms really tells you something. You know what I mean? Like, I think if they you know, they they’re sort of leaning into this, you know, far right Republicanism that, you know, if you scratch a little bit beneath the surface, it’s I mean, for a black person like myself, like, you’re like, oh, man, that’s really racist. That’s like audaciously racist. But I think that if it was not. Jerry Falwell, they’re like, if somehow they had another president, that maybe some of that might turn a little bit and you know what I mean? Our colleague Ruth Graham, who’s written a lot about liberty, talks a lot about sort of the internal battle there on campus, that Jerry Falwell is a source of dissension among supporters and alumni, that a lot of people want him gone. But, you know, he’s in a position where most of the board of trustees, the people that owe their positions to him, and it’s up to them to make them to to make him do something or to make him leave. And they’re not going to do that because they’re Jerry’s guys. So that’s kind of the problem that Liberty has right now. Like Jerry Falwell sits at the top of this this pyramid, he makes a lot of money for them. He brings a lot of attention to them. But a lot of it is bad. And, you know, like they can be the school that he wants to be. But if they’re going to be like that is going to be really difficult to build the sort of athletic program that they’ve always wanted to build.
S3: Yeah, and I think that’s the the point to make, because Stephon, like so many of our institutions, are built on racist foundations and are going to be able to weather this even if they don’t change. Just because I think there’s a sort of like comfort is the wrong word. But if, like everyone is racist, then you don’t really stand out. And it’s remarkable that liberty is so racist that it actually does stand out among all these institutions that have these these racist histories and lineages. And I think that they would have and could have successfully laundered that with just a different person at the top and somebody who makes more kind of conciliatory public statements. And, you know, if you compare it, it wants its peer institutions to be places like BYU and Notre Dame. And BYU has had decades worth, if not more, of problems with trying to kind of assimilate that racist history and believe and beliefs of that church and institution with its desire to win basketball and football games. And there have been a bunch of really good stories written about that kind of path that black athletes on that campus have to walk and the like. Really horrible time that a lot of athletes have had dealing with honor code and all sorts of other issues. I think Notre Dame has been more successful. And maybe you mentioned Baylor. We all know what Baylor is kind of terrible history in the last few years. But, you know, Notre Dame has to take one example like a women’s basketball coach and Muffet McGraw, who’s like an outspoken feminist, and they’ve been able to recruit and attract an amazing run of players and one national championship. So you need to be able to or willing to make these kinds of compromises if you’re a religious institution that wants to win. And, you know, Liberty won an NCAA tournament basketball game and it looked like it was working for them. And as you note in the piece, Joel, when they won that game, like the vast majority of coverage of it, was like, what a fun Cinderella story. And, you know, what a what a great scrappy team. And it was if we needed any evidence that was, you know, pretty clear evidence that if you win, then it actually is an incredibly effective marketing strategy.
S5: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, you can I think you said launder the reputation is a really good way of of saying it because, you know, winning can cure a lot of that. And I mean, you know, one thing to think about with liberty is that it had the basketball coach, Richie McKay, black head coach, you know, and they recruit in much the same way as the football team. They recruit, you know, they’re going up against schools like Appalachian State, you know, East Carolina for athletes. And they beat them out occasionally because they’ve got great facilities and good coaches. And if you can just hang out at the athletic facility long enough, you know, it could feel like home. But once you step away from that, it’s difficult. But, you know, and I was thinking about this, is that liberty isn’t it’s not so different to me than Ole Miss was to me in the 90s. Like I used to look at Ole Miss and I was like, how could a black player ever go to Ole Miss? Because this isn’t too long after they were flying Confederate flags in the stands. And it just seemed like a really hostile place to black athletes. But, you know, I didn’t the administration and people at Ole Miss have worked really hard to make it a place that, you know, is welcoming to black and other and other students of color there. In the last 20 odd years or so. They haven’t think they have something like maybe 15 percent, maybe 20 percent of their undergrad body is black. And they’ve done all of these other things to make it a place that’s a little bit more welcoming, that sort of fights against that culture and the history of white supremacy. Whereas as we’ve mentioned, you know, Liberty is just not willing to do that. And, you know, it’s it’s tough to say that I don’t even think we’ll ever get to a point where they’re going to win so much that we’ll be able to forget that. They’re going to have kind of a cap on them, but I mean, they’re not in a conference right now and, you know, football at least, and just a lot of guys are just not going to want to do that. It’s kind of like BYU. You mentioned BYU, like BYU is not going to get Michy Williams, you know, the top basketball player in the class of twenty, twenty three. You know, that guy’s not going to be considering them because nobody wants to go through that. So there’s going to be a cap on the amount of waves are going to be able to make it that program.
S8: Well, BYU did win a national title in there in 84. Yeah. And if if the cap on Liberty is that they only won one national championship, I think they signed on for that. Right. Yeah.
S5: But, you know, so we have to go back and maybe that should have been our after ball if I’d done one this week, because I know people always look at that nineteen eighty four BYU championship and it’s just like well I don’t know if they were the best team in the country, they just happened to be undefeated that year. But yes that’s true. Yes. If they could win just one national championship that that probably would not qualify as a disappointment to Jerry Falwell. Sure.
S1: I mean, Joel, do you think that what’s happened in the last few months is a is a death sentence for Liberty’s future as a potential successful DAEWON program? Or is it possible that even with Falwell in charge, it could look at other schools, like BYU, like Clemson, you know, schools that have used religion as a way to attract top athletes? You know, obviously the politics don’t seem changeable with this guy or with the institution generally. How does that word spread? And does it mean that we’re going to see more athletes leave the school and fewer black athletes sign up? Maybe there’ll be fewer TAVIAN lands who are like, oh, I don’t know much about it, but hey, the football building looks good. I’m going to go there, right?
S5: Yeah. You know, that’ll be really interesting. I think that, like, certainly in the short run that they’re going to have difficulty. I talk with a few black alums who didn’t want to go on the record about how there are a lot of kids that just don’t want to deal with the liberty right now, I suppose, because people, you know, all of these issues about racism and, you know, institutions committed to anti-racism and ending white supremacy, like that’s at the top of the mind of the national conversation right now. So it is going to be really difficult for them to do what Jerry Falwell Jr. would like for them to do right now. But, man, you know, memories are short. We just talked about this with the the coronavirus segment that, you know, when I was growing up, black athletes were where you go to the University of Texas and Texas A&M. And, you know, they’ve got all those same Confederate monuments and cultures that are not necessarily conducive to welcoming black athletes. But somehow administrations change. Memories get shorter. You know, maybe you will get more used to the idea of seeing liberty on TV, playing football. You know, I mean, other schools legitimized them by playing them. You know, they play Virginia Tech, they play Auburn schools like that. And so people will get used to it. And, you know, who’s to say 15, 20 years from now that they’re not like the Sun Belt, but something like that and or, you know, a low level conference, USA program maybe that they’re competing at a really high level because I know all of these things change like so many of the schools that, you know, the the idea that the SEC is one of the nation’s most powerful is the nation’s most powerful conference would have seemed not implausible to me in nineteen ninety two. But I’m like, who the hell would black athlete wants to spend time in Tuscaloosa or Oxford, Mississippi, or all these other places that seem inhospitable to black athletes? And it all changed. So anything is possible, but it’s going to require Jerry Falwell to either make a 180 or for him to not be there and that another generation of athletes sort of come up and just get used to the idea that liberty is a is a is an athletic program that is open to them.
S16: It’s a great story to tell and we’ll obviously link to it on our show page so everybody can read it.
S4: Yeah. Thanks for picking it up, man. Appreciate it. Thanks for having me on. Good to join you guys this morning.
S17: Now it is time for after balls and you know, one thing that came to mind for me all during that segment and in reading your story was remember the scene in Hoop Dreams? It’s the documentary about the two great high school basketball players in Chicago, William Gates and Arthur Agee. And Arthur ends up having to go to junior college and he goes to his junior college. And this is this is from memory. But I’m like ninety nine point nine percent sure. That’s right. He goes to the school and there’s a place that’s called like basketball house or athlete’s house or something. And it’s like all of the black people that go to the school. And if literally true, but it’s like essentially true that they all just live together. And that’s one place it’s called Mineral Area Junior College that he went to and Missouri. And so, you know, just in and the way the story kind of like lays bare a lot of what’s under underneath college, where it’s that scene for me when I watch this is like a teenager really kind of exposed to me in a slightly different way. How colleges and college athletics exploits black athletes that, you know, if you’re a guy like Arthur Agee, you go to this school, it’s like a black basketball player and you’re like one of the only black people that goes to school and all of the other black people, you know, because they are on the basketball team, too. Right. And the name Mynor Mineral Area Junior College also just stuck with me. Where is it again? It’s in Missouri Mineral Area College. It’s a public community college in Park Hills, Missouri.
S5: Oh, Arthur Agee, man. You went to it. You went to Jonesboro. After that, he went to an Arkansas state.
S17: Arkansas. Exactly. Stefan, what is your mineral area?
S1: Well, we had an excellent conversation on the show last week about cracken, the name of the new NHL team in Seattle. I know Joel is fired up about fracking, but I have more thoughts. Slate’s Decoder Ring podcast, The New York Times Code Switch on NPR. They all have done pieces about the emergence of KARREN to describe white women screaming about having to wear a mask. And Starbucks are calling the cops on the black guy shopping or birdwing or biking or walking. The Times piece, though, by Henry Goldblatt, quotes a linguist saying that one reason that Cameron appears to be sticking is the way that it sounds. It has a voiceless, plosive, the harsh K that emerges with a puff of air from the back of your mouth like you’re spitting out the word. So it fits. Cameron that got me thinking about the crack in the plosive K and cracken is mitigated a little by the R that follows. You don’t get the same aspiration, the same boom crack in Cameron, but it’s still a hard sound and there’s the second K and crack and which helps salvage some of the lost plosive ness. In this case, the case don’t convey disgust liking Cameron, but toughness, which might explain why the team’s marketing campaign is all about the crack and rising ominously from the murky depths to devour all that crosses its path. You can’t spell cracken without Karen. Thanks to Ben Zimmer for the phony mixed lesson. Slate associate editor Seth Mackeson. Meanwhile, talk to me about one of the losing candidates, Sakai’s eyes, which I had endorsed as my top pick. You can’t spell hockey without Sakai’s eyes. And an H. S noted that the defending USA Ultimate Frisbee champs is the Seattle Sarki singular who defeated the Chicago machine in the twenty nineteen finals. And he wondered whether there might have been a trademark issue preventing the use of the name by the NHL team. I doubt it, but there already was a Seattle sock I’s plural team, a fictional professional hockey team in a series of romance novels by a Washington State woman who writes under the pen name Jamie Davenport. She’s written fourteen Seattle Sakai’s books, including Crashing the Net and Body Checking the covers, all feature of beefy white dudes fondling a babe shirtless toweling off or holding a hockey stick with the Space Needle rising practically in the background. In the intro to the first book, Skating on Thin Ice, which was published in 2014, Davenport explained that she was crossing all my toes and fingers, that Seattle will get a professional hockey team in the near future. So she decided to create that very scenario in my fictional world with the Seattle Sakai’s, the promo copy lays out the plot of the first book. He trusts his gut, she trusts her numbers, and neither trusts the other as a billionaire’s mission to bring hockey to Seattle. Clashes with his passion for the woman who holds his heart. Davenport created a logo for her çok eyes and started selling Sakai’s mugs, T-shirts and hoodies on her website. She told me over the weekend that she had planned to apply for a trademark for the name and then in late 2017 they had. I’ll announce that it was awarding a franchise to Seattle, so she sped up the process, Davenport got some coverage then and again in February when crack and leaked as the likely name. She got some hate mail on the assumption that she was blocking the use of eyes, which she said she wasn’t. She just wanted to protect her business. She said she even wrote to the NHL team saying she’d work with them on the name. When no one wrote back, she figured Cracken was the winner. Davenport told me she thinks Sakai’s was the better name. Cracken seems more Hollywood than truly representative of the Pacific Northwest, she said. And she correctly noted, as we did last week, that Cracken is going to invite all kinds of rude remarks and nicknames. But she told me she’s actually relieved that Sakai’s is lost if the NHL team had gone Matsakis. All I saw were headaches and expenses for me. Davenport has also written football and baseball romance novels about the Seattle Steelheads, Lumberjacks and Scum’s. That’s an A plus name, a snookums that schnuck word for, among other things, a Bigfoot like monster. But she said hockey romance is the best selling sports romance. And on Sunday she put the finishing touches on Book 15 of her Sakai’s series. It’s called Playmaker. It’s got a tad it up Bad boy on the cover and the Space Needle You can preorder now Book 16 Icing is due out in November. Davenport and her husband, by the way, have applied for season tickets for the cracken.
S5: Book is not about Michael Irvin, the playmaker. I don’t think he even makes an appearance. Oh man.
S15: That’s unfortunate that that is our show for today. Our producer is Melissa Kaplan hosting the Pasha’s and subscribe or just reach out to Slate Dotcom slash hang up. You can email us and hang up at Slate dot com for Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis. I’m Josh Levine, remembers Aliabadi, and thanks for listening.
S3: And now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members, how about those UCLA guys?
S5: Man, so impressive. I mean, don’t you wish you had been that impressive when you were 18, 19, 20? Maybe you were.
S9: There was no way I could have been that impressive when I was 19.
S3: So we want to talk a little bit about our reaction to that interview in the player movement. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on and college football right now. Stefan, do you want to kind of walk walk us through the big picture here and then maybe we can circle back to what we just heard from the UCLA players? Sure.
S9: I think we should definitely talk a little bit more about the Washington State situation that we discussed briefly with the players. The other big story last week was the the leaking of this recording of a meeting among football players in the S.E.C. and SEC administrators and officials, because that also laid bare what’s going on here.
S1: And I think the theme for all of this is how hard that college football officials want this season to be played because of the revenue implications for everybody to the point where you get the feeling that the return of the general student body population is being done as a way to make sure that football can be held in the fall. And the implications of that are pretty staggering. This SEC call, similar to our conversation with the UCLA guys, revealed that the athletes are more composed, more rational and have a better grip on the national situation than the desperate officials who want them back on the field so that they can collect television revenue so that key players in this closed door meeting were pressing SEC administrators, including some health officials from the conference and from various schools, about how is it possible that this is going to be safe.
S18: I’m asking very specific, direct questions about protocols and health and safety around football and covid that just seems like the schools and the conference were not able to answer effectively. And in the Washington state situation at all is that, again, there are conflicting reports about this. But what seems very clear is that players that were involved in this community movement in the PAC 12 were asked, are you a part of this movement?
S3: Seems like they were pressured by the school and said like, oh, if you want to opt out for health reasons, that’s OK. But if you’re going to be involved in this, there’s a unity push, then we’re not actually cool with that. And so the UCLA players are saying they haven’t heard anything like that from their school. Washington state players are saying something very different about what they’re hearing.
S5: Yeah, I mean, I think to briefly talk about Washington State is that I mean, that is a place that is one of the more remote institutions in the United States. And so they’ve sort of operated outside of, you know, scrutiny, and especially when Mike Leach was there because sportswriters media would just sort of enthrall with the quirkiness of Mike Leach. And it’s sort of overlooked everything else that was going on in the athletic department. Now they’ve got a new head coach, Nikolaevich, who’s from Hawaii. And I just as that story unfolds, I just think of not quite ready for prime time. That’s like sort of flashes in my head was like, oh, these guys are not that bright because or they’re just not used to this sort of scrutiny because it’s already very difficult to get people to go to school. They’re like, it’s not Washington State is nobody’s for very rarely some athletes first choice. But then you’ve got a coach that comes here from another remote place, goes to this other remote place, and he’s just sort of operating as if like he can behave in this way and it won’t have some sort of broader repercussions for the program.
S18: But, well, in a small town, in a small town like that, where like football, the only game in town, it is isolated. They probably feel like and for good reason historically feel like they can control the players even more than players are controlled. And like a big city program like UCLA, I mean, like where these guys are going to go, what are they going to do? And so that makes it even more brave for the folks there and Pullman to speak out.
S1: Yeah. And it could just be a matter of who these characters are. I mean, reading the transcript of the conversation, we backtrack a second defensive back named Cassidy Woods. That Washington state is at the center of the allegations that Washington state is trying to pressure or threaten the players who have joined the unity movement. He must have tape recorded his conversation with the head coach, Nikolaevich and. She told him that he was going to opt out of the season because of covid concerns and that recording, the transcript gets leaked to The Dallas Morning News concerning Woods is from the Dallas area. And you read this transcript and it feels to me like it’s another Boully coach. It’s a guy that has a warped sense of what his role is in terms of controlling athletes role. Vic is quoted in this conversation as saying, you know, he’s he he asks Cassidy Woods, are you opting out because of covid or because are you part of this group? And he says that’s going to be an issue if you align with them as far as future stuff, because the covid stuff is one thing. But I’m joining this group is going to put you on a that’s obviously, you know, you get to keep your scholarship this year, but it’s going to be different. So that’s a direct threat, right, to the kid. You know, it’s not subtle in any way.
S5: Right. You know what, though? Because you mentioned that they’re bullying and I think of a realization is happening on both sides, right. That when you hear what Nikolaevich is telling that kid, Cassidy Woods, that’s fear. It’s a fear of the that the system that they have gotten wealthy and gotten prominence and fame, all these, you know, everything that is built around them is at risk. When now now that the labor force has started making demands on them and making it public. Right. And so to me, that was like the last refuge of a bully, like, as you mentioned, that, you know, desperation is desperation, that this is the only way this is the only way that I can keep you in control is that I control your scholarships and I can control your playing time. Meanwhile, for the players, there’s always been a realization that they, you know, have brought value to the system that like that they’ve been undervalued. But now the way that the players are reacting to the conferences are reacting, the fact that they’re willing to risk them to say, you know, the thing about the SEC call is that it was just so callous. They’re like, well, some of y’all are going to get sick, you know, but like, that’s how important it is for them to keep the money machine going, that they’re willing to put them out there in a pandemic without any labor protections. Really no protocol. Like, no. Like we don’t know what the different protocols are right here. And I wish we’d had a chance to talk a little bit more with the guys from UCLA about what their protocol looks like, but that they’re just willing to put them out there. The players are saying, oh, all this stops like, you know, they’re depending on us in a way that is, you know, they’ve not really quite admitted to before, but now it’s all coming out into the open. And so everybody has this realization that maybe the power dynamics are not as fixed as we’ve always thought they were. Right.
S9: Josh, before you go, I wanted to you know, it’s it’s evident in what role Auvi-Q says to Kassidy Woods. You know, he says it out loud. This group is going to change, I guess, how things go in the future for everybody, at least at our school. There’s fear there that the system is about to change.
S3: Yeah. And I think what’s so important about what Otto, Analisa and other guys in the PAC 12 are doing is that once this conversation is out in the open, then the power of the coaches and the schools diminishes by a huge amount like the control that they are able to exert. It kind of flourishes in silence because of of silence. And we saw it from the SEC call that the thing that’s unique about what’s going on, the PAC 12 isn’t the conversation. It’s a conversation that’s happening everywhere in the big schools and small schools. All of the athletes are smart enough to understand that they’re being exploited and they’re being used. The only difference is whether they’re talking about it in public or not, and that the breaking of the seal here is, I think, going to be hugely important. And, you know, we mentioned the UCLA letter about covid from a month ago. We’ve talked on the show about the University of Texas and their demands. And it’s all kind of building and building and building. And the difference, I think, between what’s happening now and maybe a few years ago with the Northwestern unionization push or other kind of, you know, Shabazz Napier at the the Final Four is that there wasn’t the kind of cross conference, cross sport, cross country unity, and there wasn’t this kind of building and building that we’re seeing now. And I think once this thing is starting, it’s going to be hard to stop.
S5: Do you know what’s sort of overlooked in all of this, like zoom in group me and all of these things, the ability that athletes have to communicate with themselves? Because just going back to nineteen. Versus when I went to TCU, you might not even know the guys on the other side of town, like there was just no way to communicate with them. So like that was a way that programs and institutions could keep you apart because there was no way to organize like you just did not know these these people and there was no way to communicate. Phone calls cost money back then. Right. And so, you know, I thought it was really interesting when our teacher said, no, we’ve got Zoome, we’re at home, we’re all on the same calls, we’re on group me chats. And so like those tools and helping these guys to organize, it’s just really it’s like to me, it’s been sort of overlooked a little bit because. Yeah, I mean, the idea that you guys are talking to PAC 12 guys and that, you know, players at Washington State are talking to Gaza, Arizona, like that’s just something that wasn’t possible a decade ago. But now that they’re able to do it and they realize they’ve got common interest and like that’s something that the NCAA and all these leagues just can’t account for, that they can’t keep these guys from talking to each other. And now that they can talk to each other, they can organize and like that, it’s just sort of out of their hands. And like I never thought about that is like sort of making this power shift. Right.
S6: And they also have time, like they’re usually too busy to do anything but play football and eat and sleep. Yeah. Yeah. And go to class. Yeah. Yeah. Well, the football program would prefer that they focus more on football than going to class.
S9: Is true. I take it it’s not as if the seeds of this haven’t existed for a half a century or more. I mean whenever I think about movements like this, I think about the picture of the black athletes in 1966 67 with Jim Brown and the former Blue Alcindor and Ali gathering for that conference, you know, it has been successfully repressed because of the power of the institutions and the power of society. And as you both just pointed out, the inability of college age students to be able to focus beyond their own four years and everything in the system is stacked against them. The threat of losing your your spot in the institution on a team, the threat that you’ll have your college education pulled from you, which will affect your future and covid ends up being, for all the reasons we’re discussing, a catalyst. It touches on every key area here, the health of athletes, the revenue that’s generated by sports race and its place in our society, the recognition that this might be a generational issue. There’s a pause button here. You know, these guys are probably thinking, you know, we shouldn’t play this year, right? So if we don’t play this year, let’s use this opportunity to do something that athletes before us haven’t been able to do for these reasons. So athletes are recognizing that they’re part of something bigger than themselves and they’re reading things like this report that was produced by a long time supporter of college sports reform last week that concluded that over the last three years, college sports has transferred ten billion dollars of generational wealth away from mostly black players to mostly white coaches, administrators and institutions.
S6: And this is obviously a conversation that is bigger than even two segments on the Hang Up and Listen podcast. We’re going to keep talking about this in the words of Jay-Z, pay us what you owe us for all the years that you hold us on that note. Slate plus, members, thank you for paying us. Do you owe us? Who’s to say honestly? But we appreciate it. And we’ll be back with more next week.