Podcast Episode 22: The sports world is taking notice and making change

June 10, 2020
Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25th in Minneapolis, Minnesota we’ve seen protests, ongoing police brutality, and dangerous leadership from the White House. In today’s episode co-hosts Ellen and Steph talk about the progress that sports teams, leagues and corporations have made (and not made) to help the sports world change for the better. Tune in, won’t you?
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You can listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

(Edited for clarity)

Ellen: What's up, GISTers? Welcome to The GIST of It, the podcast where two gals and two pals give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: Thanks for tuning in.

Ellen: Steph, last week was a heavy one, but I think a really necessary one, and it seems like some really great headways are being made.

Steph: Yeah, totally. Last week we talked about how some athletes, some teams and, you know, some leagues are using their voices to call for justice against police brutality. And we're really hoping to keep that conversation going this week with this podcast.

Ellen:  For sure, and I think before we get into that conversation and really get into things here, as we said last week, because this is a podcast and people can't see us, Stephanie and I are white and we are learning the ways in which white supremacy shows up overtly and covertly in our lives and in sports. And we are dedicated to being anti-racist and are committed to fighting racism.

Steph: Mm hmm. A lot of us are unlearning right now and substantial change to address anti-black racism from a systemic perspective is going to take buy in and unlearning from teams, leagues and organizations, in addition to players and sports fans. And that's why today we're really going to be talking specifically about what teams and leagues have done or haven't done over the last week or so.

Steph: OK, Ellen, let's start with the NHL. As resident hockey bro, I'll start there. So here's what's new with the NHL. According to Axios Sports Data, 30 out of 31 NHL teams have made a statement on the George Floyd protests, which is an improvement from last week's 23. And that is the New York Rangers who are the only team to not make a statement.

Ellen:  Which is wild, and why wouldn't they make a statement, it's just a huge question mark for me. I do have to applaud those other teams that finally made a statement so that we're at 30 out of 31 now instead of 23 out of 31. And getting back to the New York Rangers, on Twitter, they have retweeted a post from Anson Carter. And on Instagram, the Rangers did post a blackout Tuesday Square, which in and of itself, those squares have been receiving some criticism and have really been indicative that it could be performative in terms of what they're doing. 

They have also posted one video about George Floyd specifically on their Instagram page, but they haven't had a statement from themselves yet. In the video and on their Instagram caption, it read a message from Anson Carter, Henrik Lundqvist, who is their goalie and voices from the NHL. It didn't say anything about voices from the New York Rangers. So here's the thing. I want to know their voice. I want to know where they're coming from, especially as one of the original six teams in the NHL and especially in a market like New York City.

Steph: I find it so odd. And I forgot the original six thing, too. I think that's such an important point. Like they are a legacy team, like a long standing team.

Ellen: Absolutely. They need to be part of this.

Steph: Yeah, that's that's so odd. We've talked about racism and hockey on this podcast before, and hockey is very racist. Racism is really steeped into the game itself. Former NHLer, Akim Aliu, has been talking about racism in hockey since, I think, what, November of last year publicly. And his piece, Hockey Is Not for Everyone, recently came out in Players' Tribune earlier in May of this year. 

So the NHL launched a council and three committees this past week to examine and take action on diversity issues facing the league and the sport. So the first being the Executive Inclusion Council, which will be composed of five owners, five team presidents and two general managers. The purpose of this Executive Inclusion Council will be to hear the voices of fans, youth hockey players and other stakeholders in the youth hockey system and their players. Three committees will then support the council.

The point of the council is that it will be listening to these three different committees. The first being the Player Inclusion Committee with current and former NHL players and U.S. and Canadian women's players. And then the second committee being a fan inclusion committee from the more of the marketing side of things.

So this will be mainly NHL chief marketing officers and they'll be asking the question, how do we ensure that our messaging is open and inclusive to all groups? And then the last and the third committee being the Youth Inclusion Committee, leaning on leaders from USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, parents and youth organizations. And this committee is mainly tackling the question, how do we create a stronger ability for kids of color, particularly Black and Brown kids, to feel welcome in our sport? 

The recommendations of these three committees will roll up to the Executive Council for action. So hoping to create kind of a bottom up system of change. So rather than a Top-Down, and these committees are largely a byproduct of the work that Kim Davis was tasked with last year by Commissioner Gary Bettman. And after several players reported racist language and physical abuse from coaches during their NHL careers, it makes sense that the NHL has been one of the first major leagues, so major leagues being NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB, to take action following the protests, mainly because this has been in the works for for a while now. And along with these committees, there will be a task force focused on development for minority coaches and officials.

Ellen: It's really great to see. And as you mentioned, I think that a lot of this change is thanks to Kim Davis. And if you didn't know, Kim is a Black woman and she's been with the NHL for three years now as their Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs. She's always been pushing for change now and to really impact the future and saying this is why it's so important now for us to act, because this is what it's going to mean down the line.

Steph: She's such an important voice to be listening to in this moment and always. Outside of the NHL, a group of seven current and former Black NHL players have officially launched the Hockey Diversity Alliance. The co-leads of this are San Jose Sharks player, Evander Kane and former NHLer Akim Aliu. The purpose of the Hockey Diversity Alliance is to help lead meaningful and required change within the hockey community. And the mission is to eradicate racism and intolerance from hockey.

The Hockey Diversity Alliance will operate independently from the NHL, which is important to note, but has the ultimate goal to work productively with the league in order to inspire change and create change. The committee stresses accountability on the part of the NHL and its fans to help develop inclusivity and safety for everyone in the hockey community.

Ellen: Yeah, I think that this alliance is so awesome to see and so interesting to see, especially because we just finished talking about everything that's happening within the NHL. And so I'm wondering, you know, what do you think of creating organizations outside of the league or let's say even if it's not in sports, outside of a corporation to keep people accountable?

Steph: Ok, so what do I think of creating organizations outside of the league? OK, so a top of mind example that I could point to here, which is very relevant in the news cycle, is would we want the cops investigating the cop? That's something that I can use as a metaphor or analogy here. I know it can be really frustrating to change an organization from within. There's a lot of invisible labor that goes through that. And you might be a little bit more cautious about speaking out if someone is relying on that person to give you your paycheck at the end of the day. 

But with that said, they still play. The players in the hockey alliance are still NHLers, with the exception, I think, of one or two who are former NHLers. So it's inside it, but outside of it, which is kind of an interesting point to make there. But of course, those seven Black players will know what needs to be done and changed in the world of hockey. They've lived it, they've experienced it. They will know what needs to be done. So it is interesting to have that dynamic of the players who are in the NHL as well as the NHL themselves kind of working alongside each other. I'm interested in how that dialogue is going to go about.

Ellen: Right. And hopefully it's good. I mean, totally, to your point, that's something that they have lived through and that they could see other kids living through and that hopefully they can really have a really great dialogue and relationship between each other.

Steph: Mm hmm. And jumping back to the approach that the NHL has taken and that Kim Davis has been speaking out about, is that the Executive Inclusion Council is hoping to be community led. So looking to the voices in those committees to help point them in the right direction. 

But I do have some reservations. The five owners, five team presidents and the two general managers who are going to be in that Inclusion Council will definitely need to be named. They need to stay humble. They need to listen. And they need to be ready to deconstruct the way that things have always been done. 

And how ever that's going to manifest and whatever suggestions come out of those committees, it's going to be the people in those committees who have everything to lose and not necessarily the people who are in charge or who are in that Inclusion Council. You could argue that the NHL is losing support and that they do have something to lose in this moment. But in reality, it's always the people who are speaking up in these moments that have more to lose.

Ellen: All right, so let's talk about the WNBA. Last week, we were all about the WNBA for being the first pro league to come out with a statement, and it is a big deal with them being the first. And they also have 88 percent of their players who are Black. So this is obviously very important to their players, and for the league to come out and to speak out. But something that we noticed and that the media started to notice, their players started to notice, and fans, was that as more statements began to come out, it became very clear that as much as the WNBA said the time for change is now, and that this is bigger than ball, they didn't and they still haven't said anything specifically about condemning racism and the continual systematic oppression of Black people. 

They've reposted a bunch of videos, articles and posts from their players. So you can definitely surmise, you know, what their stance is, but also without some sort of statement specifically from the league, you kind of wonder how their players and how the fans are really feeling about those things.

Steph: Our friend Lindsay Gibbs at Power Plays did a great deep dive on this and learned that the players obviously were upset about it. Diamond DeShields of the Chicago Sky told the Chicago Sun-Times,“You can’t tip-toe around it, like, it’s frustrating... For me to say ‘I’m frustrated’ is me putting it very lightly and nicely.”

So finally, on Thursday night, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert made a statement on her own Twitter. Part of it saying "As part of our commitment to make an impact, the WNBA will donate proceeds from the sale of its “Bigger than Ball” women’s empowerment merchandise to groups working against racial inequities. We will build on this commitment and support WNBA players in the fight against racial inequality. Enough is enough."

Ellen: Yeah. And look, we're all learning here. And also a part of that statement, they did talk about how they oppose racism in all forms and that they're going to really work towards creating meaningful societal change. And so, we don't want to be going after people for what they said or what they didn't say, because I think that for everything right now, the goal is for people to make an effort to learn and to be better. 

But I think that a lot of people, including us, are kind of disappointed with this statement and that the statement is coming from her and not from the league. And let's face it, the WNBA as a league has a way bigger impact than Cathy, just herself. They have way more followers, way more people follow them. And I think what people are really looking for her to do is to condemn police brutality as well, which was just not mentioned anywhere. So I think that this kind of ties back to what we were talking about last week with the NWSL.

Both leagues have always been great at coming to bat for LGBTQ+ communities, and we love that they do that and we want them to continue to do that. And it's clearly so important that they do that. But for leagues like this, it's important to pay attention and to stand up and use your voice for all. 

Equality is not equality if you're just picking and choosing who you're standing up for. So hopefully we'll see some sort of change from the WNBA. And what's great is that we're continuing to see their teams and their players really push for change.

Steph: Now it's time to really get into it with the NFL. Since we last touched base, here's what's new in the NFL. 30 out of 32 NFL teams have made a statement on the George Floyd protests, which is a huge improvement from last week's 15. With Washington and the Cincinnati Bengals being the only teams to not make a statement. Washington has reposted some player statements and participated with Blackout Tuesday Square, which we talked a little bit about earlier. While the Bengals have said nothing, literally just seem to be ignoring it.

Ellen: Yeah. No one can see. But I'm shaking my head so hard at that. I'm also shaking my head at Washington, like change your name already, every time we go through it. Change your name! We won't even say your full team name. No, no. Change your name!

Any way, as we said in our newsletter on Monday, following a powerful video created by several Black NFLers. The NFL responded with a video of their own that featured Commissioner Roger Goodell admitting that the league was wrong to have previously ignored its players, i.e. Colin Kaepernick, who started the Take A Knee movement back in 2016.

Steph: I literally screamed. I kept waiting for him to say Kaepernick. And I would lean into the computer, like is he going to do it, is he going to do it. So annoying.

Ellen: Such a shame. It's like, come on, you're almost there, you couldn't get it over the finish line, though, and actually shows some genuine change.

But anyway, he is encouraging the protests to resume and continue. Goodell also said that he would take part in necessary change and would be reaching out to all of the players who have spoken out. One thing that we didn't get into in the newsletter that has since come out is that the story behind the initial video, created by the players, is awesome. 

It actually started with the NFL social team member, Brendan Minter, quote unquote, going rogue. So Minter slid into the DMs of New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, which, by the way, is just a no-no for company policy across sports, mostly because of professionalism between the corporation and the teams. But he said, heck it, we're doing it anyway. And he went on to say, "Want to help you create content to be heard around the league. I'm an NFL social employee and am embarrassed by how the league has been silent this week. The NFL hasn't condemned racism. The NFL hasn't said that Black Lives Matter. I want to help you put the pressure on." 

So I think that it's so cool that he went out there himself and actually went out to Michael Thomas and said, OK, let's do this together. So in 15 minutes, Thomas wrote back. And within 24 hours, Thomas, as well as several other big name Black NFLers, had published a very, very powerful video that millions and millions of people have watched. 

If you haven't had a chance to watch it yet, it's on our Instagram and our Twitter feeds. And it's definitely a must watch. So I just think that it's so cool and also amazing  how one person's idea and one person really staying true to what he believes in, literally could have just changed the NFL and what the NFL will look like this upcoming September.

Steph: It was so interesting to hear Goodell from the NFL say that they condemn racism in the system, and systematic oppression of Black people. I don't think those are words that the NFL would have said a year ago. But I am still screaming because it's like, dude, you're the system. When you're talking about systematic oppression.

Ellen: Oh, yeah. Especially when you look back at exactly everything that happened in 2016 and 2017. That it's classic what happened.

Steph: Yeah. I want to mention here, too, that New Orleans Saints safety, Malcolm Jenkins, who is a co-founder of the Players Coalition, said that "until the NFL apologizes specifically to Colin Kaepernick or assign him to a team, I don't think that they will end up on the right side of history."

And then as a note, the Players Coalition was founded in 2017 and is composed of former athletes and coaches with the goal of making an impact on social justice and racial equality.

Ellen: It's going to be super interesting to see what happens with Kaepernick this season, and if he comes back. There's so much hot debate as to whether or not he's actually 'good enough' to come back to the league, which I scoff at. But let's hope that he can come back into the league somehow.

Since then, and since that video went out, the NFL called a Town Hall, and that's where Commissioner Goodell was said to be raw, and it's highly likely that this upcoming season, which again, as I mentioned, is still set to start in September with fans, don't know how exactly they're going to be doing that, but with fans, [Goodell] will kneel during the national anthem. So that's great that he is ready for that. 

The NFL has also donated twenty million dollars to charity. I think that it's important to note that this frustration in the NFL is not new. It's something that's been talked about for years and years and years. At its peak, being in 2016 and 2017 with the Take A Knee movement. And so it's no wonder that the frustration of all of the players and staff have finally boiled over. It's about time for change in the NFL.

Steph: All right, Ellen, we never really talk about CrossFit, but one of our GISTers, Deena, e-mailed us and was like, you might want to cover what's happening in CrossFit, and Deena, you are correct.

Ellen: Oh, she was so right. And quickly, before we get into it, for those of you that don't know what CrossFit is, including Steph, who was like what is CrossFit and why are we talking about it, they say that they are a 'branded fitness regimen.' And it was created by Greg Glassman back in 2002. It has very defined and set workouts and training and I believe a meal schedule as well. They focus on muscle building, it's less about what you look like and more about how you feel, which is really cool. It's not just about being skinny, it's about being strong.

And I know this first hand from my friends participating in CrossFit, once you do it, you literally become obsessed with it. It's almost like a cult-like fitness family.

Steph: I definitely have an image in my mind of what it looks like, but I was looking for that definition. Thank you, Ellen.

Ellen: Yes, I needed to go to their website to actually properly explain it.

Steph: So Saturday on Twitter, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation posted "Racism and discrimination are critical public health issues that demand an urgent response." So they posted a statement and an image with this information. And in response to that tweet, CrossFit CEO, Greg Glassman typed "It's FLOYD-19." That was the whole response.

Obviously cross fitters were outraged, human rights groups were outraged. Everyone's outraged, sponsors were outraged; major sponsors, including Reebok, have pulled out of being the title sponsor for the CrossFit games, and many local CrossFit gyms around the world are tearing down their CrossFit signs and putting out statements against Greg Glassman.

Ellen: And this is what you want to see. We should not be supporting companies and organizations that do not get it, that are not putting in the work and that are not supporting Black communities and aren't working to change the system. And this goes for sports as well as outside of sports. Will people stop going CrossFit altogether? I don't think so. CrossFit-people do love CrossFit, but will CrossFit look different? I hope so. Will the fact that so many corporations are pulling out make a change? I really, really hope so. Will there be different leadership again? We hope so. And we hope that those local CrissFuts will take things into their own hands. But who knows what's going to happen here?

Steph: We recognize that we've covered a lot already today. So to end our podcast, we want to give you some other quick updates on what's going on with the world of women's sports and activism. We want to give you the gist of it, if you will.

Ellen: Yes, the gist of it. Obviously, I love that. So in 2016, U.S. Women's National Team superstar Megan Rapinoe joined and led the charge of the Take A Knee movement in the NWSL. She is one of the athletes from the other leagues that were completely in support of Colin Kaepernick and everything that he was doing. 

So back in 2016, in response, the United States Soccer Federation, which, by the way, has essentially been funding the NWSL since 2013, they've put in something like 18 million dollars over the last seven years. So they're really running a lot of stuff over there. They put in a rule that required players to stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event where the federation is being represented, which includes the NWSL, which is complete B.S. 

In response now, with everything that's happening, the U.S. Women's National Team has called on the USSF to scrap this policy in the wake of George Floyd's death. And the USSF, so the federation, is said to be considering it, which is great to hear. 

We'll see what happens there. Would love to see that change. And also another note on Rapinoe, as well as the federation, is that Rapinoe is actually not going to play in the NWSL Challenge Club at the end of the month. It's a month- long tournament starting in June that the NWSL is playing instead of their season. And she hasn't come out with her own statement yet. But a part of the reason is because the federation funds the NWSL, but it's also the federation that the U.S. Women's National Team is under that 'gender equal pay/gender inequality lawsuit' against. So that's just another thing that Rapinoe is kind of standing in protest against with the federation.

Steph: In other news, Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud has made history as the first female basketball player to sign an endorsement deal with Converse. The 2019 WNBA champion, who is known for her work on the court, obviously is also very well known for her willingness to speak her mind off the court as a massive advocate for racial justice, equality for women, the LGBTQ+ community. 

Converse announced that it's looking forward to providing a space for Cloud's influential voice. Over a week ago, Cloud penned a very powerful essay for the Players Tribune entitled "Your Silence is a Knee on My Neck." In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, she shared her views on the current state of the U.S. and urged fellow athletes to speak up. 

In the article, she wrote "the biggest thing is for me to use my platform as a microphone. That's the goal. Be a voice for the voiceless." So, yes, Converse endorsed this woman. Put your money behind Black women and Black athletes that are speaking out and give them a bigger platform. Big yes to all of this.

Ellen: Huge thumbs up, double thumbs up. So speaking of women who speak out, Norwegian Ada Hegerberg, who I'm absolutely obsessed with, as she is arguably the best soccer player in the world. She just signed a 10 year endorsement deal with Nike, where she'll be making around six figures, so over a million dollars per year.

And it's the largest and longest soccer deal that Nike has ever signed with a woman. So this is a huge deal. We're particularly stoked about it because Ada is a fierce feminist. Even though men and women's teams in Norway are now paid the same, she didn't play in the FIFA World Cup this past summer because she was in protest against the treatment of female players compared to men, citing that it's more than just about the pay. So you have to love what she stands for and what she's doing. And you have to love that Nike is supporting a woman like Hegerberg in the same way that Converse is supporting a woman like Tasha Cloud. Let them have their voice. Let's amplify their voice and let's give them some money and the money that they deserve to be making.

OK, to start to close things up, we just wanted to give a huge shout out to all of the athletes, teams, leagues and people, including our GISTers that are out there using their voices, using their platforms, donating, making committees, sparking change and protesting. We absolutely love seeing WNBA Seattle Storm stars, Breanna Stewart MVP, who's finally going to be back this year after a really tough Achilles injury last season, and Jewel Lloyd out at the Seattle protest and speaking at the protest. All of this is so important and just amazing to see.

Steph: We are at a pivotal moment with racial justice and a pivotal moment in sports. Leagues are paused. Let's throw it to Kim Davis now. So paraphrasing Davis in an interview with the Athletic. We have the listening ear right now of so many people in positions of power, of white men in positions of power. Sports are paused. There is a different kind of attention now. It's just about putting our feet on the gas pedal and really beginning to move forward and execute.

All right. That's The GIST of It from Ellen and I. Thanks for tuning in. If you like what you heard, tell all your friends and subscribe to The GIST of It on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and Stitcher, and while you're there, please rate us five stars and leave a review. 

Ellen: And in case you missed it, The GIST creates sports content, experiences and community that's by women and for all sports fans. If you like what you heard today, you have to check out our free twice weekly newsletter where every Monday and Thursday morning we give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. If you haven't yet, subscribe at thegistsports.com. If you have a question or comment and you want to reach out to us, e-mail us at pod@thegistsports.com or DM us on Instagram at @thegistnews.ca or at @thegistusa

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