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Podcast Episode 34: Everything you need to know about the 2020 NFL season

September 10, 2020
Barry Wilner/Associated Press
Barry Wilner/Associated Press

 Listen to this episode of The GIST of IT here.


Ellen: What is up GISTers? Welcome to The GIST of It, I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz,

Ellen: And we're just two old pals and gals here to give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. Let's get to it.

Ellen: Ok, Steph, so we're coming out of the Labor Day long weekend, and there's a lot of things that have gone on, but something that just happened before we recorded this podcast was that Keeping Up with the Kardashians is going to be no longer after 2021. And I know that that's not sports related, but I just felt like it's kind of sports adjacent, considering Caitlyn Jenner and considering all of the athletes that the Kardashians dated. And so I just wanted to throw that out there that I'm kind of shocked that that's finally coming to an end.

Steph: Ok, I'm not saying this is a holier than thou instance because I love pop culture, but I thought it was already over. I didn't actually know it was still happening. So this is great news for me. I'm staying plugged, staying informed. Thank you for keeping me hip to the jive, Ellen.

Ellen: Yes, you've got it. That's what I'm here for. I'm actually the hippest one of my friend group, and I just keep everyone informed on pop culture. I actually found this from one of my favorite people to follow with respect to pop culture. Her name is Alexandra and Insta handle is @lexniko, and she took Kim Kardashian's Instagram story and then tweeted it saying, "There goes the Last Great American Dynasty," and that is fucking comedy gold. Absolute genius, especially considering all the back and forth between Taylor and the Kardashians. Lex, there you fucking go. Just go right into it.

Steph: I'm literally screaming, wow 

Ellen: Anyway, back to proper sports, as opposed to sports adjacent, but I felt like that was big news that we need to talk about 

Steph: Breaking.

Ellen: Yes, Steph. It was breaking. But outside of this Kardashian news, I spent a lot of my long weekend watching the US Open as well as the NBA playoffs. And I'm super struck by two things. One, that the Toronto Raptors came back to tie the Eastern Conference semifinals with the Boston Celtics 2 - 2, only to lose a horrible, horrible, horrible game on Monday night to the Boston Celtics to go down 3 - 2 in that series. They play in Game Six tonight, and they better freaking bring the heat because my anxiety levels are incredibly high.

Steph: I am so out of the loop. I didn't know that was tonight either. Dear God, I need to be near your computer more often.

Ellen: Yes, it's tonight. And then second, Serena Williams became the first player to win one hundred matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium, which is the prestigious stadium that hosts the US Open every year. And how cool is that? That you could win one hundred matches at one stadium? To me, it shows how dominant she has been for literally ever.

Steph: It's like one of those things where you're like, oh, I've had a friend for ten years. You didn't know you've been around this long enough to have that many wins. That's amazing. That says so much about how much of a fulsome career she's having, how she's truly the greatest of all time. So shout out as always to Serena Williams. And you know what? Speaking of everything that I don't remember and I'm out of the know with, Ellen, throughout all of these playoffs and all of this information that you're telling me, I legit forgot about the NFL season, that it was starting on Thursday. I texted you this morning"WTF, Ellen, football is starting." I am so out of the loop. There's so many sports going on. My brain can only have so many tabs open at once. Also, because the NFL didn't have a preseason, because of the pandemic, my brain was not primed. I was not ready for a season start date. It's happening so fast. So today let's go through everything that we need to know and dug up about the upcoming NFL season because the season hasn't started yet, and it's already a little weird.

Ellen: Ok, I absolutely love NFL football. I would probably not marry it, but I'd seriously be in a long term relationship with NFL football. That's how much I love it. And I'm so excited for the season to start. So before we get into the nitty gritty of the season, I think we should take a moment and set the stage a little bit and give the gist of everything with the NFL. So there are 32 teams in the NFL which are divided into two conferences, the National Football Conference, which you'll hear as NFC and the American Football Conference, which you'll hear as AFC and each of those conferences are further split up into four divisions, the North, South, East and West. So each of those 32 teams plays 16 regular season games from September to the end of the year, and games are mostly played on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays. There are a ton of big changes in this season, which we'll get to in a hot second. But in terms of format, this season's playoffs are going to be looking very different because of the league's newly signed collective bargaining agreement, often called a CBA, which we talked about last week a lot when we were talking about college sports unionizing. But anyway, the playoff format this year is going to be expanded from 12 to 14 teams. And there's also going to be a third wildcard team in each conference, which is accounting for that 13th team in the 14th team. And each conference's top seed will receive a first round bye. So previously there were only two wildcard teams that made it through, and the top two teams in each conference would receive a bye. So that's how it's a little bit different this year. It all ends on February 7th in Tampa Bay in Florida who are playing host to the Super Bowl. And fun fact, no team that's hosted the Super Bowl has actually made it to the final game. So the Buccaneers could potentially be shitting themselves right now.

Steph: Hmm. For a second I thought, oh, my God, Florida again, but then remembered last year with Miami and that the basketball bubbles are in Florida. My brain's all over the place.

Ellen: It is Florida again. Tampa is Florida. Miami is Florida, dear.

Steph: Holy moly. What city is it going to be in?

Ellen:  Tampa Bay.

Steph: Oh, shit.

Ellen: That's OK. Geography sometimes, you know.

Steph: Oh, gosh, OK. I know my 10 provinces and three territories, so at least I have that going for me. Before getting into more of the team and the personnel changes that are going on this year with the NFL, I do want to get into the COVID-19 protocols because the NFL is up to some wacky shit this year. There are no bubbles, there's no regionalized travel schedules. They're going to be traveling and hosting teams at their own stadiums as normal. With football being played only once a week, we can see how they might be able to get away with this. But it does seem a little bit sketchy, a little bit risky. So that's the first thing going on with COVID-19. Second is the NFL has left it up to each team as to whether or not they want to have fans attend their home games. We know that some MLS clubs have started to do this and some NWSL teams in the fall series might as well. The fall series did start this past weekend, by the way. So tune into that. But as someone who just went to the hair salon for the first time this past weekend during the pandemic, this just seems like a little bit too much too fast for me. In the NFL, the decisions among the 32 teams are wildly inconsistent as to whether or not to have fans attend their games. So I'm going to break this down from most cautious to perhaps least cautious in the NFL. So we have ten teams that have said no fans at their home games for the entire season. We have one team, the Seattle Seahawks, who said no fans for the first three home games, followed by nine teams who have said no fans for at least the first two home games of the season. Followed by five teams that have said no fans for at least their home opener, and then in in Ohio, Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns are allowed to have 6K fans at their first two home games, and then they're going to step back and reassess as to whether or not that's working for them. And then four teams will have their stadiums with between 15 percent, up to 25 percent capacity starting at the beginning of the season. So we have four teams going up to 15 to 25 percent capacity, and then lastly, we're missing one number here. If you've been keeping track and if you love math, you I know we're only at thirty one teams. So that 32nd team is the Dallas Cowboys who will allow fans into the stadium with distancing guidelines, but they've been extremely vague as to what that's going to look like for them this season.

Ellen: Yes, it's all over the place, and if I may be so bold, Steph, this strategy just seriously pisses me off. And I think that it's wildly unfair for some teams to have fans and not others. Of any sport, fans in football make the most difference. So basically the goal of fans when they're at games is to be as loud as possible when the opposing team is on offense. So this makes it super hard for the opposing team to speak in their huddle or for a quarterback to call an audible or to pay attention to the time on the clock before the play expires. The fans are so impactful when their home teams on defense that they're often referred to as the 12th man, so literally acting as an additional player to the 11 that are already on the field. And so the fact that some teams will have no fans, other teams will have 25 percent, and then the Dallas Cowboys, with those social distancing guidelines, could have potentially up to 50 percent. It's just absolutely ridiculous to me. I just don't see how this is fair and the game of football when fans make such a big impact. That said, to fact check myself and bring myself back in a little bit after I just went on this rant, the league has said that it will supply prerecorded audio to all 32 teams to be pumped into the stadiums and pumped into the broadcast streams and that the curated audio must be played in all stadiums that do not admit fans. And they will reevaluate this audio as the season progresses. But still how is audio going to replace the atmosphere of actually having fans in the stands that are rooting for you? I am just struggling with this 

Steph: This is a tough one to wrap your head around, too, because football stadiums are huge as coming from the hockey world. I have to take a step back and remember that, too. I haven't really been missing fans from a viewer's perspective in the NHL and the NBA bubbles. But I do really like how they've been using that sound to recreate the feeling of the game and the energy of the game in that home-like atmosphere. So I'm interested to see how they're going to translate this into such a different venue, being a football stadium 

Ellen: I miss the fans. In hockey and in the NBA. Oh, my God, I totally miss the fans. I feel like they add just a complete other element to the game, especially in playoffs when you're thinking about home court advantage or even home ice advantage. If you think about even the Raptors when they're shooting free throws. Right now, they just have a bunch of virtual fans trying to spook out the Celtics that's doing shit all, you know what I mean? And then there's also players who actually just so thrive off the energy of fans. And also, I just love being there too. I'm sure there's a lot of people that miss that, but I think that it adds a full extra element to a sporting event. I think that as a purist, I still enjoy the sport. But I love having the fans there. I think it's so much fun and I love the energy. 

Steph: Ok, I totally wish I was at a game, but just more so from a sitting on my couch perspective. I'm curious as to how people are actually going to be able to get into these games. Who's going to get these tickets? I just have so many questions. 

Ellen: And hopefully they'll have their masks on. Hygiene and get your clear bags ready.

Steph: Speaking of COVID-19 concerns, it is worth mentioning that players were able to opt out of playing this season in the NFL and almost 70 players opted to do that, which as a note, is only about four percent of the league. Just as an FYI. The first player to opt out was Canadian and Kansas City guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. He is a doctor who actually worked on the front lines when the pandemic started. And to me, that's very telling. So he was the first player to opt out and he opted out as a medical professional. Otherwise, the most notable player to opt out is New England Patriot Dont'a Hightower and eight other Patriots also opted out of the season 

Ellen: Speaking of the Patriots, the poor, poor Patriots, let's quickly chat about the major changes to teams this offseason. The biggest is obviously the changes to the New England Patriots and to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after spending his entire career and winning a countless number of Super Bowls with the Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady, who's also one of my beloved, moved to Tampa this offseason, garnering the new nickname Tampa Tom, which I love. And yes, Steph that is in Florida. And coming out of retirement to join him in Tampa is tight end Rob Gronkowski. So cool that he's coming out of retirement because Tom's like, "hey, buddy, why don't you move to Tampa, home of the retirees anyway." So he is actually so funny and so hilarious. I'm excited to see the two of them together again. So on the flip side, to fill the hole that is Tom Brady, the Patriots filled that with former NFL MVP and former Carolina Panther Cam Newton. And I bring up the Patriots because I'm really struggling. I would say I am or I was a Patriots fan. I'm not too sure. But here's the thing, Cam Newton drives me up the wall, mostly because at a press conference, three or four years ago, a woman asked him a question about routes and what he thought about different players running different routes. And his response was him laughing and then saying, it's funny to hear a woman speak about routes. And the minute he said that, I was like, no, Cam Newton, you're basically canceled to me. I'm absolutely over this. It was twenty seventeen or twenty sixteen. You know better at that point. There's been so many women working the NFL at that point, and for you to degrade her on national TV and say something like that is just absolutely ridiculous. So because of those incredibly sexist remarks, I just can't be a Cam Newton fan, which means I have a really hard time being a Patriots fan now too 

Steph: Oh, I didn't know that that was that guy, because that is burned into my memory, I will never forget that press conference ever 

Ellen: No, it's so bad. And, of course, there's so many other moves over the course of this offseason. Obviously, I'm biased against the Patriots and with Cam Newton because I have a fiery passion about both of them, but apparently not anymore. But otherwise, a big move that we should note is that former L.A. Charger and dad of nine, Philip Rivers, signed with the Indianapolis Colts this offseason with a one year deal, which is kind of meh in comparison to Tampa's moves 

Steph: I was expecting you to bring up your babe, Tom Brady. So now that that's out of the way, we can move on for sure. So move along. Let's get to some predictions. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, who, by the way, this offseason signed a 10 year contract extension worth a maximum of five hundred and three million dollars. Imagine, five hundred and three million dollars, and his team in Kansas City are the favorites to do it all again. Kansas City are the reigning Super Bowl champs. They defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl last season. And we expect them to make some sort of similar moves this year. Also this season, we are anticipating that players will follow Colin Kaepernick's lead and kneel during the national anthem. The league, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, have gone on record to say that they are totally on board with this action and will support a player's decision to kneel during the national anthem. And NFL teams did walk out and pause their practices to support and be a part of the wildcat strikes that happened back in August. So I am looking to see how else the players will be using their platforms and these games to help shift the culture and continue the conversation. So really interested in how that's going to play out this NFL season. And then from a league standpoint, the NFL did announce a commitment to donate two hundred and fifty million dollars over the next decade towards combating racism and social injustice in America. Definitely be tuning in to see how the players interact with the league and how the league tries to walk the walk after being on the wrong side of history with how they dealt with Colin Kaepernick's peaceful protests in the past. So it's good to see these moves in the right direction 

Ellen: Totally. I really hope that the NFL soon and again, maybe within the next decade, will become a socially forward league. And we associate  all the good work that the WNBA is doing, for example, with potentially good work that the NFL is doing. That would be the right trajectory for them to go on is to follow the WNBA's footsteps. So to stay up to date on all things football this season, Steph, I know you're already subscribed, but for anyone listening, subscribe to our free twice weekly newsletter at thegistsports.com. And also starting today, we're going to have a free weekly NFL pick 'em pool where you basically choose what team you think is going to win each matchup. And if you have the most number of correct wins, then you could win some sick prizes. So that pool comes out every Wednesday and your picks are due Thursday before the Thursday night game. And we'll be sure to link to that pick 'em pool in the show notes 

Steph: I love a competition 

Ellen: OK, so that was a lot of football and a lot of fun, and because it was a lot of fun, instead of doing our regular segment where we have been talking about things that put a smile on our face, I think that football put a lot of a lot of smiles on our faces today. So we're going to bring things back to the WTF moment of the week. So talking about things that made us say, "what the fuck?" And for this week's moment, why not lead into some sexism and racism in sports 

Steph: Yes, at the top of the show, El, we mentioned the US Open. So let's bring it back to that. In a fit of rage, Novak Djokovic pegged a lines person with a tennis ball in the throat. Obviously, I don't think he meant to do this and didn't mean to hit her. But obviously, you shouldn't just whack tennis balls. In a New York Post article about the incident, author Mark Berman wrote about how Novak Djokovic's excessive punishment is terrible for the US Open. And the article was accompanied with photos of Novak trying to help the woman that he whacked with a ball moments earlier, showing him tending to her wounds. Flashback two years ago when Serena Williams lost the US Open to Naomi Osaka following a few incredibly sketchy calls from the umpire. The same author wrote about how Serena was a sore loser. And The New York Post chose a photo of Serena pointing and raising her voice to accompany the article 

Ellen: Oh, God, there's obviously so many things that are wrong with this 

Steph: Yes, OK. I can't help but think of this quote from critical race scholar Brittney C. Cooper, which is "White anger is entertaining. Black anger must be contained." The portrayal of the angry black woman, which we've talked about here with Serena Williams. If you've ever read Michelle Obama's book, you would hear about it, too, it's so damaging and it's so infuriating to read articles where white male athletes like Mr. Djokovic are given the benefit of the doubt when we know the same would not be afforded to a black woman 

Ellen: Yeah, no, absolutely. And to add to that Steph, I watched all of Serena's match on Monday afternoon. And as I was watching, I was watching on my computer doing some meal prep at the same time. I actually wanted to throw my computer away because I was getting so frustrated with the calls of this game. Oftentimes, black athletes are called aggressive, powerful, etc. While many white athletes are called smart, thoughtful and tricky. And even in 2020, the amount of times that they called Serena Williams aggressive over how many times her white opponent, who also hammered her serve at one hundred and twenty miles per hour, aggressive, was just absolutely too much. And we need to start recognizing that all of this minor micro aggression in language matters and that we need to be aware of these things. And this type of language needs to be changed when we're talking about black athletes 

Steph: It's time to get some changes in the announcing booth. All right, sports pals that was the gist of it from Ellen and I. Thanks so much for tuning in. If you've got an opinion about what we said, leave us a review. You can tell your pals to subscribe to The GIST of It on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher. 

Ellen: And if you like what you heard today, you have to sign up for 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. As I mentioned beforehand, you could subscribe at thegistsports.com. Otherwise, Steph and I would love to hear from you. You can get in touch with us over email at pod@thegistsports.com, or DM us on Instagram @thegistnews.ca or @thegistusa. Again, I'm Ellen Hyslop. 

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: And this has been The GIST of It. We'll see you next Wednesday.


For Raptors, Canucks Today is Gonna Be The Day

September 03, 2020

The GIST: Summer may be winding down, but the heat is on for two Canadian teams and seven Canadian tennis players. And it’s all going down today.

Which teams?: The Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Canucks are the only Canadian teams remaining in their respective leagues’ playoffs. Both teams are playing for their lives...and the hopes and dreams of all Canadians. No pressure.

  • The Raptors are down 2-0 in the conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics. Despite a stellar regular season and a first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, the Raps are now struggling: Game 1 was a blowout, and Game 2 saw a fourth-quarter collapse.
  • Game 3 in this best-of-seven series is at 6:30 p.m. ET tonight, and though it’s not technically a must-win, coming back from three games down will be almost impossible. Sanaa VanVleet’s dad, Fred, will need to improve his shooting percentage and Kyle Lowry will need to lead the charge if the Raps want to defend their championship.

And the Canucks?: Their game tonight is a legit must-win. They’re down 3-2 in their best-of-seven series against the Vegas Golden Knights, and TBH, we’re surprised these spunky Canucks are still kicking skating.

  • They’ve been outscored 16-10 through five games, have been shut out twice, and in Tuesday’s Game 5, were outshot 43-17. Somehow, the Canucks still won that game 2–1, mostly because goalie Thatcher Demko stood on his head.
  • Tonight, the ’Nucks will be looking for a similar performance from Demko, a much better performance from the rest of the team, and maybe a few more pies from third-string goalie Louis Domingue. Puck drops at 9:45 p.m. ET.

What about tennis?: All seven Canadians remain in the U.S. Open. Unfortunately, two of them will be trying to take each other out. Milos Raonic (pronounced MIL-OSH RAU-NITCH) and Vasek Pospisil will face each other today in round two, and given that Milos has been on fire lately, we think he has the upper hand.


Colorado Avalanche Force Game 7 with Dallas Stars; Utah Jazz Singing the Blues Thanks to Denver Nuggets; Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka Victorious in U.S. Open

September 03, 2020

NHL: There was only one Stanley Cup playoff game last night, which is actually totally fine because it was a great one. Game 6 between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars ended with a 4–1 Colorado win to extend the series to a Game 7, and gave us this beauty of a goal from Mikko Rantanen. Goalie never stood a chance.

NBA: Game 7 between the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz was basically one giant highlight reel for Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell. We could’ve watched this series forever...but the Nuggets took it and sent the Jazz packing.

Tennis: So many goodies from the U.S. Open. Our faves? Andy Murray’s comeback from two sets down to win an epic first round match, Serena Williams’ record-breaking 102nd US Open match win, and Naomi Osaka’s victories in the name of social justice.

A Whole Latte Cover Ahead of the NWSL's Fall Series

September 03, 2020

The GIST: You know what goes great with pumpkin spice lattes? The NWSL’s new Fall Series. And lucky for us all, it starts on Saturday.

What’s the set-up?: Quick refresher: the league’s nine teams will be playing in regionalized “pods” of three (to cut down on travel). Each team will play two home and two away games (against their other pod buddy teams) over the next seven weeks.

  • And even though the series begins in just about 48 hours, we only have the first three weeks of the schedule, with Sky Blue FC (FC stands for Football Club) and the Washington Spirit kicking things off on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.
  • All games will be streamed globally (!!!) on Twitch, and CBS will nationally air one NWSL Game of the Week every Saturday, starting with the Sky Blue FC vs. Spirit tilt this week.

Sweet. Are all the big names playing?: Not all. Arguably the biggest name in American soccer, OL Reign star and captain Megan Rapinoe, is sitting this one out, just as she did for the Challenge Cup in July. She hasn’t given a reason, but we’ve seen her floating around the WNBA wubble lately supporting her partner Sue Bird. Couple goals.

  • In fact, a pretty significant number of players won’t participate in the Fall Series. Due to the uncertainty of the league’s next steps after the Challenge Cup, over 30 players have been loaned out or transferred to European, Asian or South American clubs, including USWNT and Spirit star Rose Lavelle, who will play out 2020 with Manchester City (whose season starts on Saturday). Oh, bloody hell.

Podcast Episode 33: Colleges are taking advantage of Black athletes

September 03, 2020
AP Photo/Tony Ding
AP Photo/Tony Ding

Listen to this episode of The GIST of IT here.

Ellen: What is up GISTers? Welcome to The GIST of It, I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: And we're just two old pals and two gals here to give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. Let's get to it. 

Ellen: Happy September to you, Steph, and happy September to everyone who is listening today. I've honestly felt like such a meme because I am that girl that's saying, oh, my gosh, I cannot believe that it's September already, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I cannot believe that it's September already.

Steph: I'm sorry. I can't hear you behind my itchy and watery eyes. It's allergy season. The ragweed is flowing outside my window and I am going to try my best to keep the sniffles at bay.

Ellen: Try your best at that, and I see that you're not wearing mascara, so that's probably a good thing during ragweed season. You've got to get rid of all of that. Ok, so Steph, since the last time we chatted, a lot has happened. Last week, we spoke about sexism and homophobia in sports, and since then there was basically another restart to the restart in sports with basically all leagues walking out and protesting following the shooting of unarmed black man Jacob Blake.

Steph: There is a lot to unpack with the wildcat strike. We covered a lot of this in our newsletter on Monday. You can read the newsletter at thegistsports.com if you missed it, and there has been some really great coverage about all of the strikes across sports media, as well as general news and non sports media. So we don't necessarily want to belabor the point, and there's definitely other voices out there who have already spoken to this, including our faves, Morgan Campbell, Kayla Grey, Marcus Thompson, as well as many others. But there are a few key points from these recent actions that we want to highlight here on the pod. First, the WNBA has constantly and consistently been leaders when it comes to social justice, including having started their season with the Social Justice Committee, which the NBA now is going to get. Their role in the strikes last week should truly not be underestimated, so just wanted to put the W at the forefront of our thoughts. Second being, don't protest shame or expect these athletes to fix the problem. They are withholding their labor. They are being disruptive in order to force the powers to be and the people with the pockets to make these changes. So hats off truly to those athletes. And then last, the NHL joined the protest, which is better late than never, especially as a league that is 97 percent white. They did need to show their solidarity and demonstrate to their league and their fans that they actually care about black lives. So better late than never.

Ellen: Exactly, better late than never. And also good on the Hockey Diversity Alliance for actually creating a list of demands and hopefully guiding the NHL in their next steps and actions. So it'll be interesting to see what comes of that. I'm very hopeful, so here here to basically everything that you've said. I'd also love to give credit to the NWSL. They're not playing right now. Their fall series doesn't start until September 5th, but even though they weren't playing, they made incredibly swift action to stand by all of the other leagues and to condemn the Real Salt Lake, which is the MLS team and Utah Royals FC, which is an NWSL team, owner Dell Loy Hansen, after his absolutely idiotic and absolutely racist rants about the strikes, he is now willingly selling those teams because of him coming under such condemnation. To that, we say to Hansen, don't let the door hit you in the back.

Steph: Good riddance. Speaking of collective action though, Ellen, and speaking of labor strikes, this feels like a fitting time to talk about unions in sports in Monday's newsletter, throwing it back to the newsletter as well. We broke down an interesting but also quite annoying new union coming out of the men's tennis world, but for today, we're going to step aside and dig into a call for college athletes to unionize. I'm ready for this deep dive. Let's get to it.

Ellen: Ok, so before we start talking about the argument or potential to have college athletes unionize, it's important to explain exactly what a union is and to kind of dive back into my undergrad class to understand what a union is. So a union is an organized group of workers who unite to make decisions about conditions affecting their work. The main purpose of a labor union is to give workers the power to negotiate for more favorable working conditions and other benefits through collective bargaining.

Steph: So for us non athletes, a real tangible example of what that could be would be vacation days, your health benefits, your wages, lay off grievances, et cetera, that all can get brought into that collective bargaining agreement.

Ellen: Ok, interesting. That's good to know. I've never been part of a union, so this was very interesting to learn about, and the reason why I do know unions is because they're super popular and super common and North American pro sports. So basically all of the sports leagues have players associations and those are tied to collective bargaining agreements. Outside of pro sports, unions are also commonly seen in workforces like the Teachers Union and Auto Workers Union, and Steph, you said that you're actually in a union, too.

Steph: I sure am. So educational workers are in unions, lots of unions.

Ellen: Yeah, lots of unions everywhere. So generally, once you work in a field that has a union, you pretty much have no choice but to join it. Generally, it's just commonplace that you do, and you also pay dues to the union on an annual basis so that the people slash lawyers who kind of organize and represent the union can do their work on behalf of all the workers that are part of it.

Steph: Yes, exactly, and today, after seeing Kim Kelly’s latest article in Teen Vogue, which we will put the link in the show notes for you to check out, we wanted to talk about how now might be the best time to create a union or have a collective bargaining agreement for college athletes. Thinking about COVID-19 and a return to play for college sports, how COVID disproportionately affects BIPOC communities and how the college sport system benefits off of these students. A new study was released by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the U.S. that showed that college amateurism, also known as not getting formally paid to play the sport and instead receiving different range of scholarship values that could be a little or a lot creates a system in college amateurism that transfers money away from poorer, largely black youth to wealthier, mostly white adults and students.

Ellen: Yes. So get this, as reported by our dear friend Kendall Baker at Axios Sports, shout out to Kendall, less than seven percent of the revenue generated by football and men's basketball at Football Bowl Subdivision schools. That's a lot of words, so we are going to say FBS schools pay its athletes in the form of scholarships or stipends for living expenses. Less than seven percent of the revenue goes back to those athletes, and this is a big fucking deal because on the contrary, when you look at NFL and NBA athletes, they receive about 50 percent of the revenue they generated for what they do on the field or what they do on the court. So all to say, these student athletes are missing out on a huge payout opportunity and the general full ride scholarship of what athletes could get, and generally what student athletes receive is the exact same as the way that it was back in 08. We know that they have earned the NCAA and their schools so much more money, but they haven't seen a lick more of it outside of those full ride scholarships and the stipends that you had mentioned before then. So, it's just kind of wild to think about with 2008 in my mind. I think, Steph, we would have been in grade 10. I would have recently had my braces off, and I would like to say, inflation and all of that has changed. Sports as an industry has just ballooned when you look at everything digitally happening, so it's wild that it's still commonplace. It's just like, oh, you get a full ride scholarship and you get some nice bells and whistles, and that's all you get. You still get seven percent of the revenue. Wild.

Steph: Ok, here's the thing, FBS schools generally have about 20 other men's and women's sports, but a little more than half of all their revenue comes directly from men's football, men's basketball. That money goes to coaching staff, athletic departments from football and basketball to other sports who often have athletes competing in them that come from wealthier backgrounds. Non revenue generating athletes come from neighborhoods with average incomes that are thirty seven percent higher than college football and basketball players, so think of non revenue generating athletes like golf players sailing, skiing, rowing. These are generally players who are very white and are playing very privileged sports and come from very privileged backgrounds, and look, we're obviously all for sports and the economy and sharing revenue and sharing love and money, but this demonstrates yet another case where underprivileged middle class and minority America is supporting the pockets of upper class white America.

Ellen: Ok, so Steph, a lot of what we just talked about really lends to the #WeAreUnited Movement, and this is a movement where a lot of college football players are threatening to withdraw their labor and are demanding a better environment for players to play during COVID-19, which is totally fair. The issue is that college athletes aren't recognized as workers by their bosses or the current labor law, so they literally cannot accept any payment from their labor, so it's also super hard for them to be able to strike because they're not pro athletes, they're student athletes. So the only thing that they will get, and this won't start until 2021, the beginning of 2021, and again, who the hell knows what's going to be happening with sports at that point. But next year, student athletes will be able to profit off their name, image and likeness, so they won't be able to earn a salary, but they'll basically be treated like Instagram influencers. That's basically the best way to say it, and they could be put on billboards and all of that sort of stuff. So they're marketable, but they won't be earning a salary.

Steph: A very small amount of them, too, would be able to make money from that.

Ellen: Yes, exactly. Only the very top. So you're thinking about the QBs, the main starting lineup of basketball. And, again, women are going to be largely left out of this.

Steph: Yes, and on top of the study from the bureau, it's really important to consider COVID-19 and how this pandemic is affecting everything. While two of the power five conferences, the Big Ten and PAC 12, have postponed fall sports, the three others haven't. The three others haven't, of course, because of the revenue that college sports and football brings into these universities, like we talked about earlier, but canceled or not, I want to flip it back to the players from PAC 12 and the #WeAreUnited movement's demands for a safer season. Basically, students want to play. Obviously, they want to play. They've played their whole lives and they want to do it, and as safe as possible. And the players that are part of the #WeAreUnited movement put together a list of demands, including COVID-19 specific health and safety protections and guaranteed medical coverage, which is so important as well as tangible demands to help protect all sports and help and racial injustice in college sports, and help push college athletes towards economic freedom and equity for their labor. So when PAC 12 sports were then canceled altogether, as opposed to meeting these demands, #WeAreUnited published a letter in response, part of that letter saying, and I'm quoting. It is obvious that the PAC 12 was woefully unprepared to protect college athletes safety in response to COVID-19 and could not address the basic and essential safety demands made by #WeAreUnited. College athletes deserve and need a real voice in the form of a players association. I think this is a really interesting thing that they are pointing this towards.

Ellen: That is really interesting, because I also think that and I feel like we've talked about this beforehand, Steph. I have said a round of applause to Big Ten, and the Pac-12 for saying that we're not going to have any sports this year because of COVID-19. Oh, same. Yeah. So this is kind of a whole other angle that I don't know if I fully appreciated beforehand, because I still think if they couldn't protect them or have the health and safety precautions that they wanted, then they shouldn't have gone on with the season.

Steph: Agreed, it's complicated. It's obviously not as simple as we probably originally had thought it to be, right. There are layers to this. It's not safe. There's a major pandemic with very serious health repercussions if players get sick, along with not having probably the medical coverage that they would need, but on the other hand, this was a moment for them to be able to have a list of demands met by the association in order to make everybody's working environment or labor environment, let's be honest, it's a labor environment better. It's complicated.

Ellen: Yeah, it's definitely not black and white, there's a lot of gray area between all of this, and I can appreciate the back and forth, and let's not get it twisted. Obviously the players want to play because they love it. As a former varsity Quidditch athlete, Steph, I can totally attest to wanting to get out on the Quidditch pitch all the time and try to make it. No, I'm just kidding. I was a varsity Quidditch player, but I will never understand what proper varsity players are actually going through. As a former athlete, a proper athlete, and even as a Quidditch athlete, I get that you just want to go out there, you want to go out and play the sport that you worked your entire life to get this full ride scholarship for and that you love and you want to be with your friends and all that stuff, but also because these athletes aren't getting paid, you know that the top players from these Division One schools and again, D1 is the top division in college sports. And then it's 2 and then it's 3. So generally, if you're going to move on to the pros, it's the athletes from the D1 schools that are going on to the NFL and NWSL and WNBA. They're in football gunning to get drafted by the NFL next year, and so if they're not able to shine or to make a case for themselves in their junior or senior year of this college season before the NFL draft, then they might be shit out of luck. They might be SOL in terms of them signing an NFL contract, and the majority of the colleges have said that these NCAA athletes, football or otherwise, would qualify for a fifth year of eligibility and the majority of them will be keeping their full ride or partial ride whatever type of scholarships they have for this year and for next year. But again, to me, this means that they're keeping all of the top talent away from potentially getting paid or not being able for the NFL, NBA, what have you to be actually seeing them. They're still going to earn all this revenue from the top talent. As an athlete, you're risking getting injured when you're not getting paid and without a contract for another year. And again, they're not paying their athletes. So as much as I think that this fifth year eligibility is great and the scholarships are great, though, those are those other considerations where not having this season could make it or break it for someone to go to the pros depending on what happens to them next year.

Steph: That fifth year is difficult for me, too. I think it's great, obviously, that most schools are honoring those scholarships and offering a fifth year because that was, of course, up in the air at the beginning. I hear your point on players wanting to be drafted, but to face the music a bit here, less than two percent of college athletes actually go on to play in a pro league, and we're talking about football a lot with the #WeAreUnited movement. That stat is even smaller for football players at 1.5 Percent. Playing varsity athletics is also fucking hard. It's obviously a huge time commitment, so even if you aren't playing for upcoming Fall 2020, you're still an athlete. You still have to keep in shape. It's a huge physical challenge. It's a mental challenge, and because of those demands, there are also low graduation rates for these athletes, and that remains a huge problem.

Ellen: Yeah, there's a lot to this story. There's a lot of pros and cons, and there's two sides. I'm having a little bit of a hard time, wrapping my head around both sides because I can understand where both are coming from, especially during this weird time that is a COVID-19 pandemic, but when we unwrap the layers in the onion as Donkey and Shrek would say, basically the structure of college sports is it's this massive machine that takes advantage of athletes, and as we mentioned before, especially black athletes who are mostly playing football and basketball, whose free labor is making millions and millions for mostly white people and adults. Here's where I'm having a little bit of an issue, too in understanding how we could change this, because college sports are so ingrained in culture and in society. A lot of people, including ourselves before The GIST, and before really diving into college sports more, didn't really have a clue about all of its issues because you just see what you see on SportsCenter, and that's an amazing game being played on the court, or on the field. It does kind of remind me of capitalism. It's almost like this is the way it is and you have to find your place within it and within the economy and capitalism or it's really hard to otherwise find a way to make it better. You just kind of have to work within this existing system, and even when you watch shows like QB1 on Netflix or we were just chatting about Last Chance U, college sports is basically seen as a stepping stone to the pros. Unless you're LeBron James, you're going to have a really hard time making it from high school to the pros. So what I'm wondering is, because college sports is so "it is what it is" and "this is the way that it's going to work." Will unionizing actually change all of the issues that we talked about here? Does there need to be separate players unions for each sport? We're really talking about basketball and football here, carrying the weight of so many other sports, which again, is I think that's a great thing, though. I also think that sharing is caring, and when we look at the government and we say the rich should also help pay for the poor and they should be taxed at a higher rate. It's that type of thing in my mind that I'm having a hard time grappling with, and I'm wondering, is there a more creative solution than potentially unionizing or is there something different that we could be doing here?

Steph: Ellen what I do know is that the players are sure as heck more creative than us.

Ellen: Yes.

Steph: And they are such forward thinkers, and the players in college and football and basketball have continuously shown so much courage too because they have so much on the line. These are essentially kids challenging adults. This is the first time you're stepping out into the world and in your own autonomy, and these players are itching to start tackling these problems. Talks about unionizing college sports have been in the works for years. If you look into it and you start to find really a lot of discussion, and this past week after the labor strikes in pro sports, a few sports journalists reminded us about the strike five years ago in 2015 at the University of Missouri, when black football players refused to play until the university's president was fired or resigned due to his negligence towards marginalized students' experience on campus, and it worked. The dude resigned, so I think we're talking about unions and not strikes right now in this particular moment, but I'm really interested to see how these athletes continue to mobilize their collective power and the relationship between the collective power of those strikes and the pro leagues and the strikes in college sports and how that collective power can be used in the momentum from that in this current moment, as we're in the COVID-19 pandemic. I'm seeing the cancellation of the college football season might not be entirely about health and safety like we talked about. It might not be entirely all about that, but also kind of about union busting. As players were starting to get organized in response to these inequities in college sports that COVID-19 exacerbated but already existed. Unions come about as a response to poor working conditions and unfair wages, so while I'm obviously no legal expert and I can't speak to the nuance of what unionizing would mean for public versus private schools in the states, national versus state labor laws, I don't know how all of that would play into this and whether or not each team needs its own collective bargaining agreement. But of course, unionizing would also take a lot of work and a lot of effort and planning, but because we're on pause or at least two of those three major conferences are canceled, maybe while college athletes aren't competing, the time truly is now to unionize and to keep the momentum going. So I don't have any of the answers, but I think the players have a lot of momentum.

Ellen: Yeah, it'll be super interesting to see what happens for 2020 and for 2021. There could be a huge change that we're just swimming right into and maybe we don't even know about it yet.

Steph: Woosh, OK, that was a lot to go through and to talk about, and our brains kind of hurt. So let's talk about something that put a smile on our face this week.

Ellen: Yeah, my brain kind of hurts, but I also learned a lot and I feel like I had a couple of light bulb moments, Steph. So I feel like that was a good conversation. I learned a lot. But anyway, something that definitely did put a smile on my face this week was seeing all of the NBA players reunite with their families and all of their kids. We've posted some content on our Instagram, so @thegistnews.ca and @thegistusa, and it was just so freaking cute to see the kids running to their dads or see the kids cheer for them courtside. I can't imagine how nice that must feel to be able to see their family while they're in the middle of this playoff and in the middle of their protests and in the middle of COVID-19 would just be such a huge kind of push for them to keep on going. Just so sweet.

Steph: I most certainly sent those videos in a couple of people's DMs to give them a little bit of a smile, so what a great time for them. Speaking of heartwarming family content, Monday night, WNBA player Courtney Vandersloot of the Chicago Sky broke the WNBA assist record, and she broke that very record on a pass to her teammate and wife, Allie Quigley, which, of course, is rom com level. Like you can't make this shit up type of movie magic, but to use some of Vandersloot's language that she went on to after the press conference, the real angle of the story here is that "this record was untouchable." Previously, Ticha Penicheiro held the assist record with 14, which she did twice during her career. Hats off to Vandersloot and hats off to this movie magic moment.

Ellen: Imagine if Disney made a movie out of this. Oh, my God. I'll subscribe to Disney+ if they do it.

Steph: Maybe there could be some sort of documentary that we could make. Maybe we should pitch it to Disney.

Ellen: I'm writing it down.

Steph: All right, sports pals. That was the gist of it from Ellen and I. Thanks for tuning in. And you know what? Thanks so much for leaving reviews. The GIST of It was ranked number 15 on the Apple podcast sports news chart in the U.S. last week, so keep the reviews coming. Keep telling your friends about us. Keep telling us that they can find us on Apple Podcasts as well as Stitcher, Spotify, and Google Play.

Ellen: Yes, and if you like what you heard today, you have to sign up for 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, and you could check that out and sign up at thegistsports.com. Otherwise, of course, Steph, and I would love to hear from you. Once you're done giving us five stars, you can get in touch with us over email at pod@thegistsports.com, or feel free to shoot us a DM on Instagram @thegistnews.ca or @thegistusa. Again, I'm Ellen Hyslop and I'm Steph Rotz, and this has been The GIST of It. We'll see you guys next week.