Sophia and Caroline talk about the latest happenings all around the sports world before welcoming on their first guest (22:01), Dr. Jen McGovern, who is an assistant professor of sociology and a faculty athletic representative at Monmouth University.
Twitter: Click here!
C: Hello, everyone, and welcome to our second episode of Forward Progress. I’m Caroline Mattise.
S: And I’m Sophia.
C: Today, we have a lot to get to. We have our first official guest for the podcast. We’re going to go over the latest happenings in sports, talk about what’s new, who to follow. So let’s get started.
C & S: This is forward progress.
C: All right, so first to start off the podcast, let’s just talk about some of the difficulties in making a podcast that we learned from Episode one.
S: You and I can talk a lot.
C: Of nonsense… That I then have to later delete and edit out.
S: And the editing process is super hard.
C: So much credit for people who do this for a living. Visual audio producers who know how to edit and I mean videos, you’ll see a 15 second video and it takes them 30 hours to make. So kudos to all of those creatives.
S: Also, our last podcast, we were talking for over an hour probably of recorded material, and the pod was like less than 20 minutes. And most of it was like me losing my cool because it was late at night and I was tired. I was getting silly and losing it, like trying to hold it together.
C: And you took two bathroom breaks.
S: I know.
C: It’s all right. We’ll get better. We are not podcast professionals.
S: It’s going to be way more fun when we have other people to talk to.
C: Yeah, of course.
S: So super excited to have our guest on today. All right. Let’s get into our major headlines from this past week, the U.S. Open finals. Oh, my God. Naomi Osaka comes back from being down on the first set, and she attributed it totally to mindset and attitude. She said the first set, I had a negative attitude and then I checked back in with myself, so to speak, and said, I need to be grateful to be here. There’s so many people that would want to be here right now. I need to step it up. And I also can’t lose this in under an hour. So that was like a funny way of saying it. But I love that she just said I had a positive attitude and I was grateful to be there and taking advantage of the moment. That’s such a cool way to describe why you were able to bounce back from such a devastating first set.
C: The announcers throughout the tournament noted how positive Osaka’s attitude had been in comparison to other tournaments and just how she’s really grown since she first got on the tour and since winning her first Grand Slam title. So this was her third Grand Slam title and her second at the U.S. Open.
S: And she’s only twenty two. She’s not even twenty three yet and birthdays. And then she’s going to be playing some awesome tennis for a really long time. You are upset that Victoria Azarenka lost, which is really interesting to me because you know so much more about her tennis than I did. I love tennis because you played tennis. I don’t love tennis for any other reason than that you play. And so I was like, oh, I want to know a little bit about this because I know that you care about it and you’re so amazing at it. So it’s like, oh, I need to be invested in tennis. But I didn’t know Azarenka’s story. And it was cool watching the match kind of from both sides, not just watching from Naomi Osaka and just because she was wearing masks and speaking on, you know, social justice. I think there are a lot of people that were now tuning into the tennis final because they knew Naomi as this figure and a voice that was in conjunction with or in alliance with Black Lives Matter. And so that might be the reason why. The same reason I’m like, hey, I’m not really into tennis, but I’m really into what Naomi is doing pre all of her matches, which is wearing the names of certain victims of police brutality, like Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor and Tamir Rice as she wore on the final. So that was really cool. But it was also cool texting you about the match and you saying, you know, different things about Azarenka, because I had no idea truthfully anything really about her story, so.
C: She battled some injuries, was up and down in the rankings, gave birth to her son Leo, and so it was just really cool to see her come back, make it to the final. She played in the semis against Serena Williams. And so that was the first time two mothers had been in the semifinals and then to make it to her first final in seven years. You know, this is a really big milestone to come back when there’s so many young players like Osaka breaking through the ranks, winning multiple majors. So it was just nice to see her back.
C: OK, so you mentioned Osaka, her movement and support for social justice, we mentioned in the last podcast that she went to Minnesota after the murder of George Floyd, marched in the protest, spoke up as other tennis players and athletes have done and are continuing to do and speak up for those who do not have a voice. After winning the U.S. Open, one of the commentators asked Osaka what kind of message that she wanted to send from wearing the mask, from speaking up, from talking about it, and she responded with a question and said, well, what is the message that you got? Because she…
S: Like a boss.
C: She wanted to spark conversation and she even said, someone sees it, they retweet it, that’s another person who sees it, who might talk about it, have that conversation.
S: And she even acknowledged the fact that the names on the masks were victims in America of police brutality and just understanding that racism is global understanding. Again, last episode we touched on it just a little bit, but intersectionality and the ways that it affects people’s lives differently than the multiple intersections of race and gender. And I think not only so young and represents herself so well and represents Japan incredibly well, and she did more than speak out. She wore her heart on her sleeve and it was more than the names of victims on a mask. It was so much deeper than that.
C: But I want to go back to something that you mentioned, Osaka playing for Japan and being born in Japan. It is really difficult for people of mixed race growing up, lots of bullying, discrimination.And the commentators were talking about this. This is how I learned of it. They were talking about it during one of her matches. Her last name is Osaka, which is the city that she was born in Japan.And so they use Osaka as her last name so that she would face less bullying and less discrimination in school because she is of mixed race.
S: Oh, it’s also interesting because I think, you know, even if you’re not from Japan and I can understand what that might mean of taking on the last name of a city, I think we can still understand how names that sound of a certain nationality, I should say, and they sound from, you know, from a certain place. And we might think, you know, a certain way about them based on stereotypes and just ideas that are false.
C: Moving over to the men’s final. That was a certified nail biter.
S: Four hours long. Oh, my.
C: It’s crazy. This is why people want the men to only play best of three like the women. So matches aren’t crazy long and the players aren’t cramping up in the tiebreak of the fifth set when they’re trying to win their first major.
C: The two divisions of men’s wheelchair tennis, their final was also today, so men’s quad tennis and then the men’s wheelchair singles.
S: What is men’s Quad’s Tennis.
C: So quad tennis is the distinction when athletes have a physical impairment of their legs, their lower body, but they also have a physical impairment of one of their arms or their upper body. So sometimes it could just be in their hands or restrict in motion where they have difficulty holding the racquet. Sometimes their racquet is taped or strapped to their hand. So it’s a different qualification than men’s wheelchair tennis. OK, so Dylan Allcott, wheelchair athlete who spoke up when the wheelchair events were not originally put into the plans for the 2020 U.S. Open, he was in the final.
S: You can read more about Dylan Alcott, where?
C: In my latest article for Best Available Player, check out the plug, the plug, the plug. You have to plug your own stuff man, and that’s how the pros do it.
C: In the men’s wheelchair final, which also went to three sets tiebreaker and the third set, Kunieda from Japan, ended up pulling through winning, getting his seventh U.S. Open title and overall his 24th grand slam for men’s wheelchair singles.
S: Wow. Wait, Serena has 23, right?
S: Take that Serena. (laughs) No, I’m just kidding. Cut that out. I feel like she’s going to come for me if she’s listening to our podcast. We have a big you know, you’re listening to our podcast. We love you. We love your daughter.
C: Yes, Olympia, the youngest owner of a professional sports team.
S: Yeah, Olympia’s the youngest owner of a professional team at two and a half.
S: In other news, let’s talk about some of the other sports highlights that we have from the past week, England and Brazil both announced that they have been paying their men’s and women’s team the same amount, although Julie Foudy, former U.S. women’s national team player and captain, and now she works for ESPN and also has her own podcast. Anyway, Julie Foudy came out and was a little skeptical because you got to read the fine print here of what they’re going to be paid the same as always, going to be for every tournament, every appearance, World Cups, those kinds of things. So we’ll see if it’s across the board. Equal pay for the men and women of the England national teams and Brazil for their soccer teams as well.
C: Ok, as a football coach, how do you feel about the NFL and select college teams being back in?
S: Play well, I mean, obviously upset that I can’t be one of the college teams also playing, I think it’s disappointing, especially after all the progress that we were making, forward progress that we were making in the off season. It was awesome. But I’m excited. I’m I’m looking forward to hopefully playing in the spring, but I’ve loved what I’ve been seeing so far, at least from the NFL side today. And it’s exciting. And I think, honestly, I thought it would be a little weird without fans because there are some sports that are more affected by fans and others. I think with tennis, it’s kind of weird because you have to be quiet during the points anyway or during play anyway.
C: So and just to know if you’re not playing at the majors or like a major tournament, if you’re playing on like another tour, there are basically no fans anyway. Yeah. Some of the best players in the world. There’s not a lot of fans.
S: Yeah. I think tennis and golf, it’s weird because like you don’t have fan noise anyway when you’re playing, whereas with football it could probably have like huge swings in the way that, you know, emotions play into the game and all that stuff. But honestly, I was watching the games today and it was super fun. And then also I saw Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans. He was wearing a suit on his way to get on the plane. His suit was covered in names of victims of police brutality. I mean, covered.
C: Naomi said that it’s unfortunate that seven masks so the number of matches that she played is not enough.
S: I think with the NFL, it’s kind of unique because, you know, when you look back at 2016 and Colin Kaepernick and Kenny Stills and Malcolm Jenkins among many players, that now and then one of the white players that now that was outside of football was Megan Rapinoe. And, you know, it’s a bigger statement then than it is now to speak out against racial injustice because it wasn’t popularized. Now we’re seeing and I use popularized this in this lack of a better term because now we’re able to talk about it. I mean, the fact that you and I get to talk about this, you know, people’s jobs were at risk then for sure.
C: And the WNBA is asking that, too, is like, what does that risk when you’re kneeling now?
S: Like, what does that risk that was at risk when Kaep was doing it, when when other guys were doing like what is at risk? And that’s the testament of a protest, is the more you’re risking, the more it means. And what are you willing to risk?
C: When Pinoe took a knee, you know, then she sat out a couple of games and there was speculation around was it a punishment for kneeling on and on and on?
S: Yeah. And she was dealing with an injury at the time. And then she and then she met Sue. There were so many things going on that were changing. I mean, she’s talked about it, though.
C: No, I know, I know. But this year, I think Crystal Dunn is one of the athletes who spoke up and said as a black woman, she was so grateful for Megan for having done that. But it was really hard to watch her do that and know that she couldn’t do that because her job would be even more at risk.
S: Jess McDonald and Crystal (Dunn) being black players, they couldn’t have done the same thing and kept their jobs. And Pinoe has also acknowledged the fact that she’s had so much privilege being a white person, standing up against anti black racism and has called out institutions that have rewarded her for doing so. When we saw her acceptance speech when she went to Sports Illustrated calling out the fact that they don’t have enough black writers, black editors, black athletes on the cover. But I mean, she’s called out the very people that are congratulating her. And it would be a mistake for her to just take those awards or take that spotlight and say, oh, yeah, it’s all me. She always reflects back the people that deserve to be heard, that need to be heard. I think the interesting thing about this is we know through studies that white people are more likely to listen to other white people talk about issues of race, that white people are less likely to be open to listening to people of color, talking about issues of racism and so Pinoe talking about racism [00:04:00] or standing up against anti-black racism and for unity and for equality, not just in her own sport. Right. Because we could talk about equal pay with England, Brazil and Sweden. But she’s not just fighting for her own team. She’s not just fighting for Crystal Dunn, Jess McDonald, and Lynn Williams and all of her black teammates. She’s fighting for equality across the board, which is super remarkable about Pinoe. And then Pinoe will always make it about the people she’s fighting for, never about herself.
C: Very well said.
S: I think it’s so cool that equal pay for Brazil and England and Sweden is cool and stuff, but this only happens if men speak up. And so I think what’s cool about the NFL is speaking up about racial injustice. And and then also the New Orleans Saints coming out with a video and saying that during their season they’re going to project the say her name campaign. And similar ways that the WNBA has done already is tremendous because the platform [00:15:00] that they have is so much bigger than the platform that women athletes have currently as it stands today. So it’s massive and it’s not understated and it can’t go that way. And we recognize that the fight is hand in hand. And it’s also the job of NFL players and players in any league to never make it about them and always make it about the people that are not being heard and the people doing the work every single day. But, yeah, it’s super cool seeing people be more than athletes. It’s awesome. I love it.
C: Yeah. Just don’t look at the comments of posts, though, that earlier. No time.
S: You can’t read the comments, OK? You can’t do it. Don’t you just have to know better and do better.
C: It’s always the people with no avatar. Mm hmm. OK, is there anything else that you want to talk about next?
S: Nneka (Ogumike) and the Sparks WNBA action playoffs are happening. Sparks of the three seed, which means they’ll get one game over by the top two seeds get a double bye and the Sparks are the three and four seeds, so they get a single buy and then they don’t have to play in the first single elimination games, which honestly, I’m not a big fan of single elimination. Sounds like so much pressure. I hate it. But anyway, last episode I mentioned Nneka (Ogumike), who is the president of the Players Association for the WNBA. Nneka plays for the L.A. Sparks, currently averaging thirteen point three points per game and four point eight rebounds per game. She’s also battled some injuries, but those are some really good numbers. She’s playing with Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, Seimone Augustus. I mean, she’s playing with some top notch players. Look out. I think they could upset the Aces and the Storm to win the title this year. I know. I’m going against my story. Your first second. OK, my personal foul this week is a defender for the Chicago Red Stars, Sarah Gorden. You follow her on Twitter and Instagram. She has a nonprofit. It’s called Hood Space. I’m shouting out Sara Gordon because during the NWSL Challenge Cup, she started this campaign and it was #PassItOn. She said that she was going to donate X amount of money for every completed pass. And then another teammate said they would donate money for every tackle that they had. And then coach said every time he yells at the players during the game, the announcers had said every time they mentioned Sam Kerr because Sam Kerr was a former red star, is now playing for Chelsea. And so she’s a massive star, one of the best players in the world. Anyway, Sarah Gordon started this campaign to raise money for an organization in Chicago called Get Yo Mind Right Chi. They do a ton of work in supporting mental health. They raised over fifteen thousand dollars for this organization. Sara Gordon is incredible. She’s a mom. She’s playing elite, high level soccer. So cool making a difference on and off the field. You can support her nonprofit. You can support her. Watch the NWSL. The Fall Series has started. More details where to watch the NWSL go follow them on Twitter as well, and then they’ll show you links. Some of it is on Twitch. Some of it’s on CBS All Access. My person is Sarah Gorden for the week. Caroline, who do you got?
C: This week, I want to shout up Jean-Baptiste Alaize, who is a French track and field athlete who specializes in the sprint events as well as the long jump. And you know what? I got to bring on my French accent. Alaize is a two time Paralympian, and he also took the bronze medal at the London 2017 World Para Athlete Championships. And he is featured in the new Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix, which showcases various Paralympic athletes, their stories, their achievements, and the overall struggles and trials that the Paralympic Games have faced most recently. Alaize story stood out to me because of what he had to overcome as a child and how [00:09:00] he lost his leg. In 1994 in Burundi, Alaize witnessed his mother being murdered and his attackers also attacked one of his legs, which later had to be amputated. In 1998, he was adopted by a French family and moved to France and at the age of 14, he was exposed to athletics. First, he actually participated in equestrian sports before he came into track and athletics. He really enjoys participating in the long jump because of the feeling of flying that he gets through the air. He just has that sensation of flying and that sensation of freedom. To learn more about Jean-Baptiste Alaize, let’s follow him on his social media, watch the Paralympic Games next year. Watch Rising Phoenix, learn more about his story and the stories of other amazing Paralympians. There are so many amazing athletes and amazing Paralympians out there that have yet to have their story told.
C: Now that we’ve gone over what’s happened in the last week with sports, let’s go ahead and introduce our first official guest of the podcast. Sophia, you want to do the honors?
S: Absolutely. I’m so excited that she’s on and that she agreed to talk to us. She’s taught you and I so much in the classroom, but also away from it. Our first guest is (drum roll) Dr Jen McGovern. She’s a native New Yorker who grew up in Queens, has lived in Connecticut, L.A., Philly and now New Jersey. She’s a former collegiate track athlete and competed in the 1999 Track and Field National Championship for steeplechase, which we will get into. She’s a massive baseball and soccer fan, Top Chef wannabe, as she would proclaim herself. And she’s a current assistant professor of sociology and serves as a faculty athletic representative for Monmouth University. She’s done and continues to do extensive research on how race, gender and class impacts sports and uses applied research to engage [00:11:00] and provide sport fitness opportunities to underrepresented populations. So excited! Buckle up, put on your running shoes, however you listen to podcasts cause get ready. Jen McGovern is coming on. I can’t wait.
C: Thank you, Dr. McGovern, for joining us and being our first official guest on our podcast.
S: So the first time I met you, I was accidentally put in the wrong class, but I think it was the right class because I was meant to meet you. You had torn your ACL, I think, a month prior to this class, and you like hobble in on your little crutches. And you explain, you tore your ACL in a pickup basketball game with some faculty and students, was it?
J: That’s right. Some students wanted to challenge the faculty to a basketball game, and two of my colleagues needed a third to make it three on three. And they invited me to their team. And I subsequently tore my ACL.
S: That’s when I knew we’d be friends. Only hard core athletes would tear their ACL in a pickup basketball game.
J: I‘d like to remind all the listeners that I made the shot that I tore it on.
S: You’re an athlete, but beyond tearing your ACL, you started track in what I think is quite a weird way. You were doing it on the weekends of your senior year in high school and then somehow make a Division two track team in college. So rewind and talk about kind of your journey in sports and what you were playing as a young kid and then how you end up on a track team but only running on the weekends.
J: Growing up, the sports that were most available to me in the area where I lived in where really little league, and that meant softball for me at the time as the only option and soccer. And besides that, we really didn’t have too many options. But I remember just watching the Olympics as a kid and I loved the Olympics. I was obsessed with watching the Olympics. I love seeing all the different sports and all the different athletes from all different countries. And I always wanted to run track because I saw it on TV and it looked cool, but there was really no way for me to do that. And my parents didn’t really know how to sign me up, even if there was and there probably was something that existed. I played soccer and I played softball. But as I got older, more and more girls started dropping out of soccer. And at one point I was the only girl on the team and I wasn’t getting any playing time at all. And it was really frustrating for me because I was working hard and I was practicing and then I just wasn’t getting into the games. And so my dad was trying to look for other opportunities for me and my mom as well. And they found this other soccer team in a different neighborhood. But they wouldn’t take me because I wasn’t from that neighborhood. So they kept looking and looking and they finally found a basketball team in another neighborhood and they actually would take other players. So they said, like, do you want to play basketball? I’m like, fine, I don’t care. I just wanted something, you know, and started to really like basketball. And the league that I played in was Catholic youth organization. So they’re really big in New York City where I grew up. And my dad, having seen this, I thought, wow, this is amazing. All of these kids are playing in this Catholic youth organization or CYO League, and we don’t have one at our church. So after that, my dad and some of his friends actually started one at our church. And the reason that that’s important is because they had track and you were allowed to run track up until ninth grade. And so in ninth grade, that was the first year my church had the CYO and I could run track. So this is amazing for me because I finally got to to do this. And I did cross country and I loved it. It was super fun. Only problem is that my high school didn’t have a track team and also that you couldn’t do the CYO after ninth grade. So I was sort of like left again without an opportunity. By the time I reached senior year, I was playing in my high school, softball in the spring, basketball in the winter. But it wasn’t doing anything in the fall. And in my senior year they decided to start a track team. So I went out for cross-country only. I did pretty well at it and I really liked it. But I couldn’t play in the fall and in the spring because of basketball and softball. But the coach was just trying to start the team and said, hey, you were pretty good in cross-country. I don’t care if you can come to practice every day. I know you’re playing basketball. I know you’re playing softball. When you’re free and you don’t have a game for those other teams, can you come and run? So that’s what I did and that’s how that part started.
S: Well, you certainly mentioned a lot there, going back to the other teams that you were on when you had coaches for each of those leagues, who were your coaches or was your dad always a coach or as you were growing along and having to jump around for different teams? What was that experience like, not having that consistency or not being led by, you know, maybe one person your entire life?
J: My dad was always my softball coach. He was awesome. And he’s actually remained a coach for young girls. Even still to this day, he loves coaching, coaching girls in softball. But he admittedly would say that he didn’t know anything about other sports. I did not have a good experience on that soccer team that I told you about when I was one of the only girls, because the coaches were just very dismissive of me, particularly because I was a girl that wasn’t the experience with all of my coaches. But just in this particular setting and then basketball, I had these great coaches that they saw me as this new person who had never played before. And this one coach said to me, you know what? Can you come early to practice? One day I want to go over how to do a layup with you. And I was really scared because it was this older man and I feel like I had nothing in common. And sometimes he would yell because he got excited and that was really scary that I would have to go to the gym. He was super kind and super patient and took an hour to show me extra skills. So I’m super grateful for people like that who saw my potential and said, like, come on, we can work on this.
S: Yeah, I think that’s so cool because the coaches that each one of us have had has influenced us in one way or another as to what we do or how we perceive ourselves. And we can approach scary things and do something that we never expected us to do. And you talked about your college track coach. So eventually, you know, you go on, you take all of your experiences and you get to Sacred Heart University, where you did your undergrad and your college track coach had a very unique relationship with you and he really vouched for you. Can you talk about that relationship and how it influenced your experience in the event that you were actually able to do in college, which most people probably don’t know a whole lot about?
J: Well, to start, he took a chance on me. You know, I wasn’t planning to do any sports in college because I wanted to go for academics first. And Sacred Heart was a school that was close to my home. I really like the campus and they had given me an academic scholarship. So when I went there on my orientation, I met a runner on the team and we were talking about cross-country and some of my times. I told this runner that I didn’t have a ton of experience. He suggested that I write to the coach and contact the coach because they took walk-ons. And so that’s what I did. And from the first contact, the coach was awesome. His name is Christian Morrison and he’s still at Sacred Heart and said, yeah, that would be great. In fact, he said, I’ve had really good experiences with people who play different sports in high school because by the time they get to college, they actually have a really unique set of experiences and a different sort of athleticism than maybe someone who only ran and that’s the only thing they did. So he encouraged me to come out for the team and I did. And I made it. And I certainly wasn’t one of the fastest runners. But very quickly I got an injury and so it took me a while to recover. That made me even slower. And in the first year, once I started recovering, he would always say, oh, how about you try this event? How about you try this event? Now, deep down it’s because he wanted enough points to win the meet and we all know that coach. So for example, there was a race walk. Nobody ever enters the race walk. Even if you enter and just technically get around the track and do it right, you’ll score points and that will help us win. So I was always willing to try new things and I said, OK, that’s fine, I’ll do the race walk.
C: So is that like speed walking?
C: Aww Sweet!
J: Yeah. And so I did that and I liked it. But it wasn’t until spring track when we had the steeplechase and that’s what Sophia was referring to. Maybe it’s an event that people didn’t know about. And so the steeplechase is a distance race where not only are you running around the track, you have to jump over hurdles. And one of those hurdles actually is followed by a water pit. So you’re jumping over hurdles and you’re jumping over water. And it’s definitely a little more strenuous, both mentally and physically, than just an average distance race. And I had seen it on TV growing up and I always wanted to do it. And so when we got to outdoor track, I asked Coach, hey, this is the event that I want to do, he said, and I’m going to use his voice here. Well, Jennie, unfortunately, we won’t have that event for women in all of the meets we go to. Right. So he was very serious and he was just honest with me and says, I believe that you can do it, but I just want to let you know, like, there’s not a ton of opportunities out there. Mostly this is a race for men. But he didn’t believe that it was a race that should be for men. He was just saying, like, that’s how it is. But again, he wanted to win the meet. So whenever it was on the list, if it was even an option, he’d say, do you want to run it? And of course, coach, of course I want to run it. And in fact, we actually had a home meet and he deliberately scheduled the steeplechase and he made sure that we could have a women’s event. And so he was really good throughout my four years. Once he saw that I was good at it and liked it, he was really, really good about always trying to go the extra mile to find a meet that had it and to take me to a meet that had it. Sometimes he would even call up the race director, so let’s say it was like a couple of weeks before the meet, he’d call up the race director and say, hey, I noticed that you’re not offering women’s steeplechase. I have an athlete who wants to do it. Do you think it’s something that you would be willing to put on the program? My coach was particularly proactive in that way, so I’m much appreciative to him of that.
C: Hold on, I would just like to note that Sophia thought you invented the steeplechase ahead of this.
S: No, I did not!
C: While we were recording the first podcast, you said she invented the steeplechase, so
S: I did not.. you probably have a recording of me doing so, but..
J: I didn’t invent it. There’s an article that I have in my office. I think it was the first time it was official.
C: So that’s the bib that you have framed in your office.
S: That was in 1999
J: 1999. I went to the national championships in 1999 for steeplechase. That’s largely a result of, yeah sure. A lot of my hard work that I put in a little bit of luck. Also a good deal of my coach putting forth the effort in communication to get me into the right meet. And there was this one time when I was right on the precipice of running a really, really good time and there’s just not enough meets to run the steeplechase. And it was really hard to get a good time because you couldn’t consistently do it. And someone who runs the mile, they could run it week after week and have a lot of competition and have a lot of opportunities. I just didn’t, I just didn’t have that. And so one particular point in time, my coach was looking at the schedule and towards the beginning of the season, the whole team goes to the meet, usually takes a bus, but towards the end of the season, only a small amount of people go and usually take a couple of vans. And there was this one particular meet and he realized the meet that the whole team was going to was about maybe an hour or two away from this other meet that was going to have the steeplechase in it. And so he made one of the vans. The whole van went with me to run in this meet where I could run the steeplechase. So essentially, instead of leaving campus Friday and going to the big team meet, we left campus on Friday, went to the meet just for me, and then all got in the van and drove to the other meet for the whole team. That was pretty cool that he would do stuff like that.
S: Did you ever see steeplechase before you were asked to do the event?
J: I did not see women doing it, but I saw it at the Olympics.
S: Yeah, you just saw the sport and were like, I can do that.
J: I just always wondered why women didn’t do it, because it looked super fun and women were doing all of the other track events. Well, actually, maybe not when I was watching it as a kid, because some of them were. But even now, when we look at the list of Olympic events, like steeplechase was the most recent one added, and that was only in 2008. It’s only been run in the Olympics for the last few years. It was not on the Olympic program. And more recently, before that, the last couple events were added in the 2000s like the pole vault in the hammer throw. These are some of the more recent ones. Men had been doing those things for quite some time and women had been doing them, but just not in the Olympics.
S: And when did you learn that while you were running track and you were interested in and you’re like, why aren’t people running this or why do people not know more about this? Or in particular, why do women not know about this or why aren’t they offering the event? Or is this something that you learned later on in your studies as you were going on and learning about sports and soc(iology) and all these other things?
J: I knew when it was happening, why they weren’t offering it. I don’t think I understood it in a bigger sociological sense until later. So one of the biggest reasons that was often given is this like circular logic that we’re not offering it because women aren’t going to sign up for it. Well we can’t sign up for it if you’re not offering it. So that’s why my coach would often call and say, no, I have someone who wants to run it, you know, and he even told them she doesn’t care, like she’ll run with the men on the track, just run the event. But a big reason, and I learned this while I was in college that people would often give was that they just didn’t have the equipment. And so the standard height for men was just thirty six inches. And if you look at the hurdles, for example, the hurdles are proportionally smaller for women than they are for men, which has to do with the average heights of people. Right. No matter what someone who’s tall, if you’re a tall male or a tall female body person, you’re going to have a different advantage. But on average, men are taller than women. So the hurdle heights are different. And the steeplechase heights were based on the hurdle height. And hurdles, if you ever seen them, they’re adjustable. But the steeplechase are these big, huge, heavy barriers and they were not adjustable. And so if you would ask people why they weren’t doing it, they would say it’s because they didn’t have the equipment and they couldn’t lower it to the women’s height. Some of the very first races were actually done at the men’s height, and some of the first races I did were at the men’s height, which did make a big difference because you are allowed to step on the barrier as you jump it, but you can be technically more efficient if you can hurdle it. I could not hurdle the men’s height. I had to step on them. I actually could hurdle the women’s height ones. Sometimes you would get these weird combinations where they would say, well, we don’t have the hurdles that can go up and down. So instead we’ll only run two thousand meters instead of three thousand meters, which was the men’s standard. So you’d get meet’s that would say, well, run two thousand meters, because we don’t have the right barriers, or sometimes you’d say, oh well, we’ll let the women run it, but they won’t be able to go over the water jump because that one barrier is not adjustable, but all the other barriers are. So it was a huge equipment issue. And because the Olympics hadn’t made it an official event, different tracks and different universities, different colleges weren’t scrambling to get new equipment for an event that wasn’t sanctioned by the Olympics. And the NCAA often follows the Olympics, too. And so it wasn’t an NCAA official event at their championships until 2001. So you just had such a wide variety of equipment issues and that was often cited as a reason that they weren’t offering it. But sometimes I think it was just an excuse.
S: It’s so interesting that you talk about physical barriers to not competing as opposed to these, you know, we often talk about these imaginary barriers, these gendered barriers or barriers of race.
J: They don’t work alone. Right? I mean, I think the ideological barrier is somehow women not being strong enough to do it was definitely behind that, “Why are we going to put our time and money and effort into getting this new equipment right, because women can’t do it anyway.” So I think they almost kind of reinforce each other. And so then you never saw women doing it because they don’t have the right equipment or they were on the equipment that was like too big or not. Right. So then you look at them and say, oh, see, their form is terrible. Like, well, we’re proportionally built a little bit differently, but we’re running on hurdles that were built for on average different heights. So it was kind of a combination of both.
C: I ran hurdles in junior high. I would run the three hundred. And so the one time one of the hurdles towards the end of the race didn’t go down all the way. So I nicked the top of the hurdle and ended up falling, just because I was accustomed to the five hurdles in front of it that were certain height. And then that one was taller.
J: Yeah. And actually, if you ran hurdles, then you know how important the consistency is with training, even just that one race, you probably got some nasty track burn. But just imagine week to week, never knowing what you’re going to get until you showed up to the track. How high the barriers were going to be if they were going to let you do the water jump or not. This one particular race I ran, I actually think it was in the national championships that they later discovered that the water jump was either too short or too tall or something like they just could not get it right.
S: Proportionally, is that like moving the goalposts in football or like moving a basketball hoop in its height during a game?
J: I think it would be more similar to a different size ball. So like the NBA and the WNBA have a slightly different size ball and you get a feel for it in your hands and shoots, it comes off the same way. If you were to win that game, replace it with a different ball, everyone would probably figure out how to do it. But you might see some mechanical issues as well because they have a different feel for it. It was probably more similar to that.
C: Ok, we want to talk a little bit about how does sociology relate to sports and how does it overlaps?
J: Well, sociology, in its essence, is the study of human behavior. But unlike psychology, which might look at an individual and their brain and their individual decisions, sociology is going to look at people and their behavior in a bigger context. So like in the context of relationships or groups or bigger societies and systems, I would say that the reason it relates to sports is because for the most part, we don’t play sports by ourselves. Even if we were someone who went for a run alone or hit a ball with a racquet against the wall, it’s still part of a larger system. We know how to do that. And throughout its history, sports has been very integrated with societies. You know, many societies would actually teach their values through sports. Sports have been instrumental in including and excluding people. I think a lot of Americans know the story of Jackie Robinson as the first African-American player in professional baseball. He wasn’t. There were people before him. But in terms of kind of the modern day game and what we know and if you hear people talk about that story, they’ll often talk about the fact that it had these larger meanings for society, about integration and possibility. And so that’s why sport is so important, because it does have the ability to take on this kind of larger social significance and meaning. Sport, in its essence, is about people. How do they organize sport? How do they play sport? Who do they include in it? And so sociology is a good lens from which to study that.
S: Mic drop. (hahahaha) That was good. I wish I could say that so succinctly why I studied soc(iology) in terms of how it fits into coaching.
J: You’ll get better at it. I mean, remember, not only did I study it, I actually have to explain this to students in my classes. So, I mean, I only recently learned what a Nickelback is. So not the band, look at the photograph. No it’s a position in football. I don’t really know the positions of football and I can’t explain them like Sophia can.
C: So, you know, so I have heard Sofia in meetings and she has explained very well how she applies her sociology background and degree into coaching. And I think you did a really great job with that.
J: And Sophia, you were a sociology student. And I’ve also read some of the things that you’ve written about how you do apply sociology. So it’d be awesome if maybe you explain that a little bit to some listeners who maybe they’re not familiar with the study of sociology, but they’re super familiar with coaching. And you can kind of put what I said in the definition. I said to like a real life application.
S: For me, especially during a time when race was being talked about by people that don’t normally talk about this. I think talking about race and class and gender and intersectionality is really a little easier for the three of us, but most certainly for you, Professor McGovern, because we have to talk about it all the time. So it’s really normal, whereas for America in general and society, it’s really uncomfortable to talk about race because we’re not trained to talk about it or we aren’t socialized to talk about it. So for me and how I use what I’ve learned in the classroom working as a group, it’s about people. And so if life and soc is about people, so is football. And the foundation is trust, but also trust in each other, and it doesn’t come from me being a woman or me being a white Hispanic person, and I don’t have this natural kind of thing that will tie me to my players because I don’t look like them. If you had to boil down what a coach is, they’re there to make you better. It’s not about me. It’s never been about me. And if it becomes about the coach, you’re not able to do the best job that you possibly can. So for me, it’s how do I best understand the people that I’m working with? How do I bring value to their lived experience? They know that I care about them and what they have been through. And then how do we move from there and get better every single day with the understanding that our lived experience is going to affect the way that we perform, the way that we socialize with our teammates, do all those kinds of things.
J: Yeah, and that’s something else that you’ve said before, is that people come from different groups, people come from different backgrounds, people are influenced by different relationships. And as a coach, getting to know that aspect of someone is part of what makes them tick. And then you’ll be able to use that information to help them get better, which will then help the team get better. So that’s a pretty practical application of how we might use sociology just in that profession. We can really think about it more broadly throughout the sports landscape as well.
S: Yeah, I think getting to know your athletes is really important. It’s really important, understand what’s important to them and where they’ve come from and who they learn from. You know, for me, I played on a team with all boys. I was the only girl ever on the field for eight years of my baseball career. And I learned more about myself in that time than I ever did in school than I ever did playing on girls teams in basketball. And that’s informed my lived experience now on a team with all men. So I’ve lived in the space, this is the most comfortable that I’ll ever get. And the same of you running steeplechase and having someone vouch for you in that space and trying to make space for you. Now you’re saying, hey, I want to make space for people and I can do it through my applied research and trying to make sure that underrepresented populations are getting to know the thing that I love and the reason why I am where I am, because it’s so connected to sports, not just the education you received on a scholarship, but the kind of community that you were able to establish in sport.
C: All right. Let’s just get to some fan questions! We’re the fans. OK, well, first we want to know if you have any podcast recommendations and book recommendations of things that you have recently read or listened to. Or maybe you just think the general population needs to give them a try.
J: I‘ll do a podcast first. I definitely have my favorites. Five years ago, you couldn’t get this much sport in terms of podcasts that wasn’t Major League Baseball and hockey. So it’s really come a long way and that we can actually listen to some of this. I do have my favorites that I listen to on a regular basis, but a couple that I really liked recently, ESPN 30 for 30 does a great job. And their series called Heavy Medals, which was looking at the USA gymnastics, was excellent and very sociological. And I really kept thinking about it long after the podcast was over. So it’s a little mini series, which reminds me that there are other mini series that they really liked a few years ago was on Bikram yoga and I would definitely recommend checking that out. It may not be competitive sport, some of the things we’re talking about, but it’s still very much talk about physical fitness and the ways that different social issues can impact. So those were two kinds of sport ones that I love. Two other ones that I listen to this summer. I think people should check out. I actually just recently finished Nice White Parents, which was produced by cereal in The New York Times. Really fascinating look about education and racial equality through the lens of one particular public school, very layered, very nuanced, really, really good, good reporting. And then one last one that I would recommend was called This Land, and it was about a particular court case and how that court case would affect Native American rights. And I just really like that one because it’s not something I grew up learning a lot about. And it was really fascinating to learn and hear about all these legal issues and how they’re affecting these communities in particular books. I read more this year than I did in most years, mainly because of the pandemic. I’m currently reading a book called Algorithms of Oppression, which talks about the ways that particularly Google searches, but sometimes we have technology and it seems like technology is neutral, but that in fact, humans have to program that technology. And when they do, they do with certain assumptions that mean that technology can also reinforce some existing stereotypes. So that’s what this book is kind of looking at. And I’ll confess, I’m about midway through, so I’ll check back in with you when it’s over. But another book I love that I read this summer was called Radium Girls. It was something I never, ever learned about growing up. But essentially it’s the story of a number of women who around the time of World War One, they worked in factories, painting instruments and watches with a type of glow in the dark paint, and later found out that this glow in the dark paint was dangerous to their health. But the story is about their fight to actually have the company that had them doing the work, compensated for all their health issues, but just a fascinating story of the way things like race and class and gender kind of all come together. So those are some that I would recommend.
S: Ok. I know you said you saw a lot of sports. You watch the Olympics, but what’s a sport you wish you knew more about or that you saw growing up?
J: So many of them will run out of time here again, I used to watch the Olympics growing up, so that was how I saw all these different sports that I never saw. Two In particular that I could think of that I thought were interesting. One was team handball. I don’t know if you ever saw this is essentially like I guess you would call it a combination of soccer and basketball and volleyball. Like, just honestly, you just throw a ball into the net. I just was fascinated by it just because it was different. And it seemed like a combination of stuff I was already doing and I wanted to learn how to do it. But the other thing that just fascinated me growing up was speed skating. I used to love watching the Winter Olympics as skiing was interesting, but I didn’t really catch my eye like speed skating. I love the idea of being able to go really, really fast on those skates and the funny outfits that they would wear that almost look like swim caps, you know, with the goggles, and they would swing their one hand like this. And around the time I was growing up, there was a really popular women’s skater named Bonnie Blair that won a lot of medals for the United States. And I just would love to watch her skate because she was so competitive and so driven. And then just off the court, when she would get interviewed. She just seemed like so nice and down to earth. So I always wished that there was a way for me to learn speed skating. I feel if you don’t grow up in maybe Minnesota, this is not something that you could find access to. Anyway, I could probably list about 10 to 12 more, but those are the first two to pop to mind.
C: All right. And then our last question, what would your ideal ice cream sandwich be?
J: Well, I’m never going to turn down an ice cream sandwich. I’m not an animal. Right. I was thinking about this a little bit, especially after I heard your first podcast. And I feel like the ones that I like most are the ones that have a memory. For me, the best ice cream sandwich ever is not even sold anymore. I’m so mad about it. So Trader Joe’s used to have this ice cream sandwich with two chocolate chip cookies with like chocolate chip ice cream with little chocolate chips on the outside. They still have the same box. So they try to trick you and you think, oh, this is the ice cream sandwich I always know and love. But no, it’s different type of cookie. It’s a different ice cream and the chips aren’t as good. So I don’t even buy that ice cream sandwich anymore because an impostor of the original, which you cannot get anywhere.
C: We know sequels are not as good
J: Right. I’m very disappointed. And, you know, for any big fans of Trader Joe’s out there, if you know the original what I’m talking about. But the other one that I always think about is I lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years, and when I first moved out there, a friend of mine was trying to take me to all these different places in Los Angeles that were like, oh, well, you got to try this and you got to try this and he take took me to this one place called Degrease. And they make homemade fresh baked cookies. And it’s right near UCLA’s campus. And like, you walk in the door just like smells of the cookies and it’s so awesome. And you get to choose two cookies. You can choose two different ones if you want. I don’t like to do that. You can choose two cookies and then you choose your ice cream and then they make it for you right there. And so you can have all sorts of different combinations. So I haven’t been there in many, many years. I haven’t lived in L.A. for many, many years. But I love it because it just reminds me of the kindness of all the people that I met when I was out there just saying, oh, you’re not from here, but we’re going to show you all the things we love. And we love this. So it just has a good memory for me. And I would love to go back there and have some more.
S: That’s so lovely and thoughtful like you and not surprising at all. I think that kind of sums it up for us. We learned more about you, I think, now than we ever knew before. Thank you so much. Yeah. Thank you so much for being here. Good luck this semester. Everything. I just want to thank you for everything you did for me as a professor, because I think there aren’t a lot of people out there that will go out of their way to help you. And we’re going to make time for you and give you corrections as you go along the way. And then also be there for you when you’re not doing super well in school or you’re struggling or even after you graduate like you’ve been a person that I can certainly go to and and Caroline the same. So thank you. You are making a difference in sports. It might not be in the ways that we talk about athletes or coaches, but you are making a difference. And there are a lot of kids that are going to learn a lot of things from you and they’re going to be exposed to sports. And I think that’s cooler than anything that a lot of other people in sports are doing.
J: So I appreciate both of you doing this and especially since I had both of you in class in previous years. And I know you were both taught communication minors with different majors. And so it’s really neat to see graduates of Monmouth University getting their voice out in the world and using the things that they learned, not just in my class, but in all their other classes and putting their voice to the things they care about. So that makes me proud as a professor and also as a Monmouth professor. So I wish you the best of luck on the podcast. Going forward, thank you, even though I’m going to be the all time best guest.
S: You already are cause you’re out first one. So by default, best guess,
C: You’re the best guess we have had.
J: I never would be the first guest.
C: Forward progress is produced by Caroline Mattise with a little help from Sophia Lewin and is brought to you by Best Available Player. Find more podcasts, articles and video content related to sports and entertainment on bestavailableplayer.com. All the music in this podcast is by James Barrett, a good friend and an even better musician. Be sure to check him out on your favorite music streaming platform. And because we’re all about inclusivity and accessibility, each podcast of Forward Progress will be transcribed and available on bestavailableplayer.com.