- Amira Rose Davisassistant professor of history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University and co-host of the sports podcast Burn It All Down.
We continue our look at fallout from the women’s U.S. Open final Saturday, where tennis star Serena Williams lost to 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, after accusing umpire Carlos Ramos of sexism. On Monday, the Women’s Tennis Association came out in support of Williams, with chief executive Steve Simon suggesting the umpire showed a different level of tolerance to Williams because she is a woman. During the final, Ramos gave Williams a code violation after he deemed a gesture made toward her by her coach to be “coaching,” which is banned during a game. Ramos then penalized Williams a point after she destroyed her racket in anger, and docked her an entire game after she subsequently called the umpire a “liar” and a “thief” for stealing her point. We speak with Amira Rose Davis, assistant professor of history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University and co-host of the sports podcast “Burn It All Down.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to look at fallout from the women’s U.S. Open final on Saturday, where tennis superstar Serena Williams lost to 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, after accusing umpire Carlos Ramos of sexism. On Monday, the Women’s Tennis Association came out in support of Williams, with chief executive Steve Simon suggesting the umpire showed a different level of tolerance to Williams because she’s a woman. Serena Williams spoke at a news conference after Saturday’s match. She was asked why she called the umpire a thief.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Because he took a point from me after—he alleged that I was cheating, and I wasn’t cheating. And then I had a good conversation with him, and I said, “Listen, you know my character. You know me really well. Like, you know that I don’t even call for an on-court coach. I don’t even do that.” And he’s like, “You know what? I understand.” He’s like, “You’re—” I don’t know if he said, “You’re right,” but he understood. He’s like, “Yeah, I get what you’re saying.”
And then, when I sat down, I said it again. I was like, “Just to be clear, I can understand what you saw, because it may have looked—just because I look at my box, it may have looked like I was getting coaching, but I’m telling you, that’s not what I do.” And I said I’d rather lose than have to cheat to win. I don’t need to cheat to win. I’ve won enough, and I’ve never—that’s never been something I’ve ever done, you know? So—and he was cool. He was like, “Oh, I get it.” And we had this great exchange, and we were on the same page, and we understood each other. And I felt that that was—yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our conversation now with Amira Rose Davis, assistant professor of history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University, currently working on a book entitled Can’t Eat a Medal: The Lives and Labors of Black Women Athletes in the Age of Jim Crow. She’s co-host of the sports podcast Burn It All Down.
Professor Davis, it’s great to have you with us. Thank you for continuing this conversation. So let’s talk about this a step at a time, what Serena Williams was talking about here with the coach, and, for people who don’t understand tennis, the escalation of the penalties against her, the coach—the umpire first taking a point from her. Well, first, he claimed a warning, then a point, then an entire game during this women’s Open final that she ultimately lost.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yeah. So the coaching violation is really what started this whole thing. And so, you’re allowed to have one on-coach moment during a match, but Serena Williams never really takes that. And so, it was that violation that first draw her ire towards the umpire.
She was on the far side of the court, and her coach was in her box. Her coach has since said, “Yeah, I was coaching, like every coach does 100 percent of the matches,” and Serena Williams may or may not have seen him, because, as you see her approach the umpire the first time, she’s saying, “We don’t have a code. He’s giving me a thumbs up. He’s encouraging me. But that’s not a code.”
And you can hear how sensitive she is to this allegation of cheating. Both her and her sister Venus particularly care about this perception of them. And this is not borne out of some paranoid sense of people being labeled a cheater. This is because they have felt very real ramifications, people yelling at them, accusing their father of cheating. This has been a long history with them in this sport. So there’s even a clip of Venus with this same umpire, who warned her about coaching, and she’s saying, “You’ve known me. You know”—it’s very similar to her sister—”I’ve been doing this for 36 years. I’m not cheating. I’m not a cheater.” And so that’s what really started it off.
And as you can hear Serena saying, “I talked to him. I said I understand you didn’t know that we didn’t have a code. But I wasn’t cheating. That wasn’t coaching.” And certainly one of the conversations this expands within the tennis world is: Are we going to do something about coaching, which happens every match and is selectively called? And so, it was kind of that call at this stature of the match is what some of the initial kind of confusion around this point was. And that’s when she received the first code violation.
Now, out of frustration later in the match, because Naomi Osaka was absolutely dominating this match and playing out-of-her-mind tennis, Serena was particularly mad after a bad service game, and she slammed her racket, breaking it, which results in another code violation. Now, in Serena’s estimate, after their conversation, she believed this should be a warning. And certainly, for Carlos Ramos, he understood it to be her second code violation, which comes with a point penalty.
And that’s where this really escalates. That’s where you hear some of the exchanges between Serena and Ramos, which continue to say, “I didn’t do that. You owe me an apology. I am not cheating. You stole points from me.” And we only hear Serena’s side of it because the mics don’t pick up, for instance, Ramos’s tail of that conversation. But we know that it continues to escalate, up until the point where she says, “And you’re a thief.”
And at that point, Carlos assesses the third violation, which for a third code violation is a game penalty, and he does it for verbal abuse. And at that point in the match, it’s a critical point, where at the time it was 4-3 with Serena potentially serving to tie up the game, and with the game violation, it went to 5-3, putting Naomi Osaka just one game away from the title, which she would eventually go on to win.
AMY GOODMAN: So he penalized her—after the point, he penalized her a whole game.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, compare, Amira, her treatment to the treatment of male tennis players.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yeah. And I think you could even hear her on court saying, “Why am I being treated like this?” Particularly here. She has a long history with the U.S. Open. And I think one of the things you see in her postgame conference is addressing this very issue, that she has heard male tennis players say a lot worse, even sometimes to this particular umpire, without being handed a game penalty. And certainly male players have come out in defense. Andy Murray, James Blake have said, “I’ve done loads worse than that.” And there’s clips online where you can see, even over the past year, male players, particularly with Carlos Ramos, who is a kind of stickler for the rules, but having exchanges with him that includes profanity, that includes direct tirades at him, in which he has either been hesitant to assess harsher penalties or given them a kind of verbal warning, letting them know, “Hey, you’re approaching the line where you’re going to get assessed a penalty.”
And I think part of the conversation that Serena is generating is: What are male players allowed to do? What is the leeway given to them? If they have an outburst, is it seen as they’re just passionate, they’re just frustrated, and therefore let’s tell them they’re approaching the line they need to calm down, before changing the game in this way? And I think her feeling, and certainly everybody who’s come out in support of her, is that the leeway that she had to have those emotions was very tight. And as she kept escalating it and Ramos kept escalating it, what it resulted in was a very swift game penalty at a critical juncture of the match. And I think that that is really surprising, and that’s pretty rare.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you think of people like, well, going way back, John McEnroe—I mean, a celebrated bad boy tennis player, and the kind of abuse that he’s just spewed at these umpires.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Precisely. And I think you hit the nail on the head when you said he’s tennis’s bad boy. There’s a way in which male athletes who do behave like that are still seen as like, “Oh, they’re just the bad boys.” But it doesn’t—they don’t get questions in press conferences about how their behavior—how they’re going to explain their behavior to their daughter, for instance. And so you can see in the presser those lines of questioning, this idea that she was acting without grace or class, and somehow that takes away from the game, in a way that male athletes in that moment are seen as like, OK, they’re the bad boys of tennis, but they’re playing with passion.
And I think that’s one of the responses. It’s one of the reasons Billie Jean King has weighed in, or the WTA has weighed in, and said, “Yeah, I feel like there’s a stricter guideline for behavior, for dress, that women players have to adhere to.”
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the emotional postgame ceremony, Serena Williams trying to calm the crowd as it booed her loss, but, of course, that comes out as booing Naomi Osaka. So here you have Serena Williams offering comfort to this visibly upset winner, Naomi Osaka, who had just become the first Japanese-born player—she’s a Japanese Haitian American—to win a Grand Slam final.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Congratulations, Naomi. No more booing. … I really hope—I hope to continue to go and play here again. We’ll see. It’s been tough here for me, but thank you so much.
NAOMI OSAKA: I know that everyone was cheering for her, and I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just wanted to say thank you for watching the match. Thank you. … Well, it was always my dream to play Serena in the U.S. Open finals, so I’m really glad that I was able to do that, and I’m really grateful I was able to play with you. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So, there they are, Serena Williams comforting the winner, Naomi Osaka. And Naomi Osaka, an amazing woman in her own right, and she’s saying, “This has always been my dream.” She says she played tennis because of her, Serena Williams’ inspiration. Amira Rose Davis, talk about this moment in—and let’s not forget it—Arthur Ashe Stadium, at the U.S. Open, and then the history of this young tennis player who’s just won the U.S. Open, Naomi Osaka.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yeah, and that’s part of the sadness of this whole mess, is that it really overshadowed such brilliant tennis by Naomi in a dominant Grand Slam final. She played amazing. And so, it was so emotionally charged. And you can hear Naomi—one of the things that she’s saying over and over again is how much she looks up to Serena. She beat her, of course, back in Miami earlier this year. And Naomi is very affected by this, and she says, “As a fan, I wanted her to get that 24th title.” And so there’s a lot of emotion that goes into this.
You can hear her apologize. This is something she also has done at the Australian Open, beating a crowd favorite there. But that fierceness and composure on the court, however, is what helps her through on the court. But I think that there is such a significance here. This is the second straight year we’ve had all black women in the final—last year Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. And I think this also points to blackness in the diaspora, this idea that Naomi Osaka, born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, a father who used Richard Williams’ blueprint of getting his black daughter into tennis, and having—being on Arthur Ashe court and embracing—and like Naomi said, “I felt like a kid again.” And I think that there’s a lot of symbolism in that embrace, and really also a passing to the future. Naomi is very much the future of this sport, and I think that’s really significant.
I also think that despite playing on Arthur Ashe court and despite having two black women in the final, one of the reasons Serena—one of the things you can hear Serena saying is, “Why does this happen to me here?” And that is speaking to a legacy at the U.S. Open, in particular, that hasn’t been the most friendly space to her. Now certainly people might remember and want to bring up her particular altercation with a lines judge, but there was also a match even before that where her calls were so bad that the U.S. Open actually had to issue her an apology, a formal apology, for the way that her game was called versus other games, because it was outside of the norm. And so, to think about what that means to be playing the Grand Slam on what should be your home court, and have that be a more hostile place than, say, playing at Wimbledon or at the French Open.
And I think that, in and of itself, is really indicative of part of this problem, which is that you have two women who are feeling both crowd love, but certainly relegated to continue a perpetual outsider status, even when you have people like the Williams sisters who have been in the game, who have made the game go to the height that it is, in many regards, but still things like this happen that I think puts them right back in the mindset of Venus when she’s 16 and her beads flying out of her hair, and she gets called for a code violation for interference, and she’s just as frustrated. And so I think that that is what I read into that moment when they embraced. It was just—it was super significant and also carried with it a long legacy of black women in tennis.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Davis, the issue of the erasing of Naomi’s Haitian identity? I think if a lot of people were just reading about this, they wouldn’t even realize she was black, that she was also Haitian.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Right. And Naomi, for her—you know, Naomi will not let you forget that. There’s many clips of her telling reporters who want to ask her questions about how she navigates dual citizenship between Japan and the United States—she moved to the United States when she was 3. And Naomi is very good about saying, “Well, yes, I am part of both of those cultures, but also I grew up in a Haitian household.” Or she’ll say, “My dad is Haitian, so represent.” And I think that that’s really powerful. She is somebody who will not permit the erasure of her blackness. And despite her best efforts, I think in the wake of this we’ve seen a bit of erasure, whether it’s the line continuing to celebrate that she’s the first Japanese-born player to win a Grand Slam final or, as I mentioned, the vile cartoon in the Herald Sun that almost whitewashes Naomi and puts her in the background in a victim sort of role and pits her against Serena, when everything that these women have said to each other, about each other, the embrace they have—they are not at odds in this. They are both kind of united in the future of the game.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a cartoon you referenced in Part 1 of our conversation, this Australian cartoonist coming under fire for his racist, sexist depiction of Serena Williams published Monday in Rupert Murdoch’s Herald Sun tabloid. The cartoon by Mark Knight shows Williams having a tantrum on the court at the U.S. Open after she lost to Naomi Osaka. Knight’s drawing has been compared to racist Jim Crow-era and Sambo cartoons, illustrations, ubiquitous during the U.S. Jim Crow era. And Williams is drawn with exaggerated features, large lips, stomping on a tennis racket, while a pacifier lays on the court. In the background, the umpire, Carlos Ramos, asks a petite blonde Naomi Osaka, “Can you just let her win?” The cartoon has been widely condemned by artists, activists, civil rights leaders. The National Association of Black Journalists called the illustration “repugnant.” Take this on, Amira.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yeah. And so, one of the things is, the illustrator has doubled down and said, “There’s nothing about race or sex going on in this cartoon.” And I think that the critique of this is spot-on. It’s an awful, awful drawing, and I don’t even like to see it in circulation to put that in people’s eyesight on their feeds. Naomi Osaka is certainly whitewashed. Now, she does have blonde tips, but you’ll notice her skin is light, and Serena Williams is drawn out of size. Her lips are full. It does look like a Sambo cartoon. And I think it also plays up this trope of aggressive black womanhood, angry black woman stereotype, that unfortunately many drew embodiment from over the weekend during Serena’s frustration and her outburst.
But I think that that cartoon, in and of itself, is emblematic of so much of the reason why this conversation occurs around Serena, because she has acted as a conduit for these conversations about race and sex together. Her body is often scrutinized, whether it’s comparing her to a man, saying she’s too muscular, whether it’s policing her curves or, as we just saw, the French Open banning her catsuit, which was also working as a way to control for pulmonary embolisms that she has faced in the past, and certainly almost killed her after the birth of her daughter, and that kind of scrutiny on her body and the ways in which her body has come under this kind of criticism for somehow transgressing the sport for being too big, too strong, too muscular, too black. Part of what is so harmful and hurtful about this cartoon is that it plays like completely on that trope while invoking imagery from the Jim Crow era that was used historically to depict African Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, and this issue, for people who aren’t following the sport, after she played in that, what’s called a catsuit, the French Open saying they’re going to ban that, as you said, she also said it was for medical purposes to stop her blood clots. And the fact that she is a mother, who just recently had a child, who makes it to the finals of the U.S. Open is astounding
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yes, it certainly is. It’s been a remarkable comeback. And I think that even with the catsuit ban, it wasn’t the ban necessarily in and of itself which was outrageous, but it was the word choice used to describe it, which is this idea that somehow that was disrespecting the game. And it came just mere days before Alizé Cornet, who is a French player, was penalized again for taking her shirt off very quickly after a heat break when she realized it was on backwards, whereas we just even saw this weekend male players who sit bare-chested for many minutes courtside without any warnings or anything even being said to them. So I think that’s one of the reasons why this conversation has dovetailed with that one, which is: Is there this kind of double standard that’s perpetuated within tennis?
And Serena Williams, and Venus, has been on the frontlines of moving this conversation forward. It was Venus Williams, with the aid of Billie Jean King, who, for instance, got equal pay at Wimbledon. So there’s a long history of the Williams sisters using their platform and pushing for gender equality in the sport of tennis.
AMY GOODMAN: Now I want to go to Colin Kaepernick, and, of course, there’s a direct connection, Nike, of course, choosing the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback to be the face of its “Just Do It” campaign. In 2016. Kaepernick began protesting police brutality and racism by taking a knee during the anthem before NFL games, sparking these ongoing league-wide protests that continue to this day, so many football players taking the knee. But Kaepernick was not re-signed to the 49ers after the 2016 season, in what was seen as retaliation for his activism. Last week he posted an image from the Nike campaign which reads, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.” Serena Williams was asked last week about Kaepernick becoming the face of Nike’s recent campaign.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, he’s done a lot for, you know, the African-American community. And it’s cost him a lot. And it’s sad, but he continues to do the best that he can to support. And having a huge company back him, you know, through—it could be a controversial reason for this company, but they’re not afraid, and I feel like that was a really powerful statement to a lot of other companies.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Serena Williams was featured in this video, Colin Kaepernick’s “Just Do It” video, women making history, with Colin commenting on how incredible the Williams sisters are. But I wanted to ask you, Amira Rose Davis, about this ad, that has clearly taken the NFL by storm and the country by storm—Colin Kaepernick in black and white, Colin Kaepernick looking out over, you know, all of America, in a sense, but also him, in a sense, validating Nike, which has been so long criticized for going overseas to Asian countries like Indonesia, paying slave wages to its workers. If you could talk about capitalism and sports and the terrible bind that Colin Kaepernick has been in and yet has so risen above it?
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yeah, certainly. I think that it’s been very interesting to see. Now Colin, like you said, has been blackballed by the league, so, on one hand, this is a way for him to continue making money. Nike gave a huge donation to his Know Your Rights campaign. It actually echoes back to 1968, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos did their protest facing blackball and not a lot of employment opportunities. It was actually Puma who stepped up and supported them and gave them contracts. So there is definitely a history here.
I think some of the trepidation on the part of people who support Kaepernick and are wary about capitalism’s intersection with athletic activism is: How does this change the game? How does this change the parameters of his protest? Does it reduce it to, you know, an act of resistance is now buying Nikes? Nike has definitely gone out of its way to appear to position itself against the NFL, announcing this campaign mere days before kickoff, buying an ad slot during the Thursday night kickoff opening game of this season, but there is no way that Nike and the NFL are rivals. In fact, they have a contract together through 2028. And so, the positioning of it has been certainly interesting.
I will be watching to see the way Colin is able to kind of move forward with this brand ambassadorship. But I think the thing with Nike, and one of the things even connected to Serena that we have to be mindful of, is that while, on one hand, there is this kind of fear that this is going to somehow mute Colins’s activism, and certainly we’ve seen many corporations think that protest has been profitable—this is Pepsi’s failed commercial, for instance, or the proliferation of Che Guevara shirts—the idea that we can commodify resistance in some way. And I think, yes, it’s along the lines of that. But as you pointed to, it covers up a lot of problems with Nike as a corporation. They have obviously had a long history of slave labor, child labor in developing countries.
When Michael Jordan was at the height of his career as their brand ambassador—”Be Like Mike” was everywhere—other NBA player Craig Hodges was very persistent in saying, “Hey, we should boycott Nike because of the conditions of their sweatshops. And more than that, we should create our own shoe company and sell it back to the black community and do it like that.” And Michael Jordan was very hesitant to speak out politically. And Craig Hodges, after being so politically active and continuing to call for a Nike boycott, found himself out of the league and not picked up in free agency when he was still in part of his prime career.
And so I think there is this kind of duality to the corporation that has this history on one hand, and also put out some of the first ad campaigns geared to getting girls into sports, if you remember the “If You Let Me Play” commercial from the '90s which was really formative in encouraging young girls to get into athletics. But just this past week, they released an ad down in Mexico featuring Mexican women Olympians running through the streets of Mexico navigating sexism and overcoming it, boxing it away, flipping over it. And this is part of their “Just Do It” campaign, as well. And I think it's interesting, because it comes on the heels just mere months out from a massive report about sexism in the upper echelons of Nike that has resulted in the ouster of many top Nike officials and has a forthcoming lawsuit from women who feel like they’ve been targets of sexism and sexual harassment within the corporation. And so, while they’re filming this video in Mexico, they might as well have also filmed it in their boardroom, apparently, and filmed their female execs running through trying to navigate the sexism there. So, I think there is that duality to it.
And lastly, to wrap it up, to bring it back to Serena, it’s interesting because on the other side of things, in the gendered look of it, one of the reasons Serena is able to have a platform and speak out forcefully, whether it’s about sexism in tennis or police brutality or whatnot, is because she has—she’s one of the few women with a large endorsement deal like that, compared to, for instance, WNBA players, who have been persistently and consistently talking about police brutality and kneeling for the anthem and shutting down press conferences, saying, “We won’t take any question unless it deals with police brutality.” And they’ve been subject to fines. They’ve been, you know, under the radar. Their salaries are already very paltry. A lot of them have to play overseas to even compensate it.
So, while there’s a lot of anxiety around how this will somehow mute or water down Kaepernick’s protest, on the other hand, it is Nike’s endorsement of Serena that gives her the platform to be kind of unapologetic and speak out as she wants to.
AMY GOODMAN: There’s so much there. And, Amira Rose Davis, one of the things you’re doing is writing a book about black women athletes during the Jim Crow era. And this must be an astounding moment for you, because here we are in 2018, and you’re wondering, “Wait, are we in 2018, or are we in my history book?” But if you could share with us—
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —some of your observations before the book comes out, some of the people that you profile that we may know nothing about?
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yeah. So I think there’s a duality to what I’m looking at in my book, as well. On one hand, I’m trying to uncover the people we don’t know, the longer history of black women’s athletics, from the start of the 20th century, and there is a very long and vast history there. I’m also trying to reconstruct the idea of people we might only know their names–Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudolph, for instance. And these women, like Serena, took on a life of their own as a symbol. They were used to promote ideas about citizenship, to—you know, Alice Coachman was the first black woman to have an endorsement deal by Coca-Cola in 1952, and her image was used to refute Soviet propaganda that the United States—during the Cold War, that the United States didn’t treat black people well. And so, there’s a way that their images as athletic black women living the American dream have been used certainly to promote ideas about citizenship and about the nation.
But on the other hand, they also have been sites where you see all this anxiety around policing black bodies, policing bodies of women, have come to bear, whether it’s what they’re wearing on the field or how they can be feminine and mix that with playing a sport. And so there’s a lot of anxiety around how they wear their hair. A coach I profile, Coach Temple, for instance, wouldn’t let his track girls talk to reporters until they had powdered their face and pressed their hair after a race, had to play up their heterosexual inclinations.
So, on one hand, what I’m looking at is this long history of black girls and women who played the game, but also the box drawn around them and how they were able to play and what they had to do, how they had to contain themselves in order to be seen as respectable. And certainly that conversation is echoing all around us today in the wake of this controversy.
I think the other part of my book that I’m looking out for is rethinking Title IX. Certainly one of the things that I profile is the vast opportunities in athletics for black girls and women before what we commonly have come to think of, the sporting revolution. And I think that one of the things that happens in the wake of Title IX is that these black programs at historically black colleges and universities start having resources taken away as they can’t recruit against schools with larger budgets. It mirrors essentially what happens to black college football after integration. So there’s a few stories here, but certainly there’s echoes of them all around us today, and I’m constantly like, “Oh, longer epilogue!”
AMY GOODMAN: Can you share a few names of people through the Jim Crow era, black women athletes, that we don’t know about?
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Certainly. So, I’ve talked a lot over the last year of a woman named Rose Robinson, who was a high jumper and ran track in Chicago. And one of the reasons she’s of note is because she, at the Pan Am Games, refused to stand for the national anthem. Later, although being tapped by the State Department to go on a kind of ambassador tour, she refused to do so, saying, “I don’t want to be a political pawn in your game and your attempt to sell a bill about America that I don’t believe to be true.” And this is an early aspect of athletic activism.
And then somebody like Wyomia Tyus, whose book Tigerbelle just came out last week, which is a memoir that everybody should go check out. And she has certainly a big story to tell. She was a track star in ’64 and ’68, first person—black, white, male or female—to go back to back in the 100 meters as a gold medalist. She is a track and field legend. And one of the things that Tyus allows us to access is what it was like to grow up not only in the Jim Crow South but at this dominant program headed by Coach Temple down at Tennessee State.
And certainly one of the reasons why we might know Tyus’s name is she was a member of that famous 1968 track and field team down in Mexico City, and her protest has been kind of understated in the wake of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Certainly their protest overshadowed everybody else’s. But one of the things she did was wear black protest shorts. She and her fellow teammates dedicated their medals to Tommie and John after the race to stand in solidarity with them and their protests. And so, that is a very interesting story, and I profile her in my work, as well, and look at her, both her career as a Tigerbelle and her post-Olympic career, when we look at black women navigating, trying to create professional opportunities for athletics, as we move into the latter part of the ’60s and the 1970s.
So, Wyomia Tyus, her book Tigerbelle is out now. Rose Robinson certainly is one of the earliest activist athletes that we can think of. And I think it’s important to use those stories, along with names we might be more familiar with—Wilma Rudolph and Althea Gibson—who broke color barriers, color line barriers, but to think about: How does that trouble our understanding or deepen our understanding of the long history of athletic activism in this country and the long history of black women as athletes?
AMY GOODMAN: And as we wrap up, Amira Rose Davis, your podcast, which is amazing, Burn It All Down, why did you choose that title?
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yeah, basically we like to burn things down. There’s a lot that we love about sports. All of us, we have—there’s five of us: Jess Luther, Lindsay Gibbs, Shireen Ahmed and Brenda Elsey. We have three journalists, two professors, and we cover a wide range of topics and expertise. And we love so much about sports. We all are avid fans of—I’m a football fan. Shireen is our resident Canadian so she loves hockey. Brenda and Shireen together got soccer completely covered. So we all love many, many things. But what we don’t love is the way that sexism and classism and misogyny creep into sports constantly.
And so, one of the things that we do on our podcast each episode is we have a proverbial burn pile, where we throw all the toxic things that happen in sports onto that pile to say, “You know, we don’t have to accept sports with these racist cartoons. We don’t have to accept sports with institutions turning their back on victims who have spoken out with sexual harassment allegations. We don’t have to support sports if they’re blackballing Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick.” We can call those things out, while loving sports at the same time. So that’s why we burn things down.
And if you want to join our flamethrower community, you can certainly come find us: BurnItAllDownPod.com. We’re on Facebook. We’re on Twitter. And we have many hot takes. We have interviews with athletes, coaches, managers, scholars. And we really like to have these critical conversations on sports, and we always bring a wide range of perspectives to it. And we like to burn—we like to burn things down.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us. Amira Rose Davis, she is co-host of Burn It All Down, the podcast. She also is an assistant professor of history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University, currently working on a book titled Can’t Eat a Medal: The Lives and Labors of Black Women Athletes in the Age of Jim Crow.
That does it for this segment. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.