Jemele Hill on “The Cursed Olympics”—and Simone Biles choosing her peace  

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey y’all, it’s Brittany. So I worked on a vaccine education campaign a few months ago, and it was specifically geared toward Black communities, the same communities that journalists and commentators had been labeling as “vaccine-hesitant.” Those journalists were well-intentioned, and they took into account the history of how our medical apartheid system has systemically abused Black people and understandably made us suspicious. But we consulted with doctors for the campaign and a Black medical school professor named Dr. Kimberly Manning, she said something that really shifted our approach. She said we shouldn’t be calling reluctance to get vaccinated hesitancy when often it’s actually vaccine deliberation. What she was actually saying was that there are large pockets of people with legitimate questions that deserve answers, not condescension. And y’all I’m not talking about these extreme anti-vaxxers whose minds are already closed shut. You know, the ones who, like, pull down strangers’ masks in grocery stores. I’m talking about the folks who have valid concerns and fears. And there are many of them. Maybe they’re wondering about the effects of the vaccine on fertility or their own pre-existing illnesses. Maybe they’ve been victims of disinformation campaigns and they’re genuinely confused about what’s best for them. Part of me wanted to dismiss her suggestions entirely. And I’ll be honest, because those of us who could access the vaccine and who took it and have been taking this pandemic seriously all along, our exhaustion can give way to anger and understandable frustration at those we think have not done the same. I don’t know. In the end, do we want to be proven right or do we want to be effective? I don’t know anyone who responds well to shaming and what we’ve been doing ain’t been working. As of Sunday, the country is seeing 52,000 new cases daily on average. That’s a 170 percent increase over the previous two weeks. So if you love someone who is truly in deliberation, the experts have some advice. Start by listening, be empathetic and acknowledge the validity of their concerns, recognize that disinformation is everywhere. So ask what’s really at the root of their fear. Meet them where they are and help them find the factual answers that they need. We’re not going to get through this if it’s not together. So instead of judgment, maybe let’s try on a little bit of love and choose the warm light of truth. 


On the show today, Jemele Hill. I’ll be talking to the sports journalist about these so-called “Cursed Olympics” and why Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka don’t always know — 

Jemele Hill What’s really bothering people when they are reacting so vehemently and angrily to what they’ve done is the fact that these two women have said, I choose me over your entertainment, over your ability to watch me perform. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up, but first, it’s your “UNtrending News” . 

OK, so we have an all Olympics version of the news today. First up, I am loving the teenage girls who swept the street skateboarding competition. 

Olympic Announcer This contest is now led by two 13 year olds. This is crazy. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham There was the show stopping Momiji Nishiya from Japan who took home the gold medal. The silver medal went to Brazilian Rayssa Leal. You may remember her from when she went viral back in 2015 when she was only seven for skating in a fairy costume. I really haven’t been feeling the Olympics that much this year, but I am here for these young girls and their breathtaking tricks. 

Next up, good news, paralympic athletes will now earn the same pay as their Olympic counterparts. Paralympians will now receive thirty seven thousand five hundred dollars for each gold medal earned, compared to the mere seventy five hundred that they used to receive. But while Paralympians and their supporters are celebrating finally equal pay, many have pushed back against the US Paralympic Committee’s decision not to allow Becca Meyers, a U.S. swimmer and six time Paralympic medalist, to bring her mother to the Games as our personal care assistant. Meyers, who is deaf and blind, said the committee had previously approved her mother to be her PCA, but due to Covid there are now, quote, “limits to non-essential staff in place.” Non-essential? Meyers points out that a trusted PCA is essential for her to compete. Here’s what she said. 

Becca Meyers No athlete on Team USA should ever feel afraid. And I’ve talked to a couple other blind and visually impaired athletes and they are scared to go. We are in the year 2021. We can do better. I just don’t understand why we are still fighting for our rights as disabled people. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Look y’all, you know how I feel about this. If the games aren’t equitable for everyone, then we shouldn’t be playing them until and unless they are. Period. End of story. 

Next up in the news, last Wednesday, Quinn, who is a midfielder for the Canadian women’s soccer team. They became the first out transgender athlete to ever compete on an Olympic stage. There are other trans athletes set to compete, including New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. However, there is still some trans athletes disqualified this year for their testosterone levels. Quinn spoke to the press ahead of the games about their mixed emotions. 

Quinn I have the privilege to be able to continue to play my sport after coming out as trans, but unfortunately for some folks, they can’t play the sports that they want to. We see trans women being excluded from sports, and I think even the sporting realms that I continue to operate in need to change. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I’m glad to see things changing for the better. We still got a long way to go. And finally, some athletes have been protesting uniform conventions that they feel sexualize their bodies. So last week, the Norwegian Women’s Beach Handball team showed up to the European Beach Handball Championships in shorts instead of the required bikini bottoms. The men’s handball players wear shorts and full-length tops while the women are mandated to wear sports bras and underwear. And so the women showed up in shorts and their team was fined nearly eighteen hundred dollars. Here’s what team member Tonya Lurstaad had to say. 

Tonya Lurstaad We want to grow the sport that everybody can feel that they can participate. But because of the body insecurance I think a lot of women just saying, no, I don’t want to do this. And that’s really sad. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham There’s since been an outcry of support for the women, including from pop singer Pink, who says she’ll be happy to pay their fines for them. Then over at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, four German women gymnasts took a similar stand when they came out in full-body unitards instead of their usual revealing leotards. Your body, your choice, it extends to the Olympic stage, too. No one should be forced to perform in their underwear if they don’t want to. So let’s get rid of these outdated rules so that women of all body types feel comfortable playing sports and can actually choose what they play sports in. 

Coming up, I’ll be talking to Jemele Hill about how the Olympics are failing Black women athletes right after this short break. 

And we are back. The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games took place last Friday, in front of a sea of empty seats. Tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic torch, which was very cool. But outside of the stadium, there was no cause for celebration. 

Olympic Protesters (Chanting in Japanese.)

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Protesters showed up and were chanting things like “Go to hell, IOC” and “Cancel the Olympics.” 

Olympic Protesters (Chanting in Japanese.)

Brittany Packnett Cunningham They feel it’s irresponsible to be holding an international sporting event amidst a global pandemic. And they’ve got a point. This week, Tokyo reported its highest-ever daily number of new coronavirus cases. And since the beginning of July, one hundred fifty-three people connected to the gains have tested positive for Covid. And this virus certainly is not the only problem looming over these Olympics. There are policies that discriminate against athletes of color, unfair mental health burdens placed on in particular Black women athletes. And of course, there’s the problem with the institution of the games itself. Here to break it all down for us today is sports journalist and my friend Jemele Hill. She writes for The Atlantic and is the host of the podcast  Jemele Hill is Unbothered. And y’all know, we got into all of it. Jamele, thank you so much for joining us. I’m so thrilled to talk to you. 

Jemele Hill Well, I am thrilled to talk to you — you too. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, this is a wild time. So many people have dubbed these Tokyo Games the “Cursed Olympics.” Do you agree? Like, how cursed have they been so far? 

Jemele Hill Well, I think the reason people have said that is because there’s just been a lot of resistance to even having them at all. And there’s a serious Covid situation right now in Japan. A lot of the local residents did not want the games there. And considering the amount of restrictions that were placed on these athletes, the fact that there’s no crowd, what are we doing this for? I know the answer. The answer is money, is why we’re doing this. But at the same time, these games don’t feel particularly good. They don’t feel the same. You know, usually, the Olympics are very much a feel-good moment. It’s an opportunity, despite all the chaos in our country, for us to come together. And it doesn’t feel like that’s happening or has happened. We haven’t had that moment where everybody’s like, oh, my God, this is amazing. I mean, certainly, there have been athletes who have performed well and all of that, but it hasn’t been that one galvanizing moment. And I think because that hasn’t been there and the feel of this Olympics is so different than the previous ones. That’s why you have people calling it the “Cursed Olympics.” 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So there are so many things that I want to get into about these Olympics. First off, I want to talk about how the Olympics generally treats athletes of color. I mean, you’ve argued that a lot of Olympic policies like banning swim caps designed for Black hair, banning the use of cannabis are actually discriminatory. Write that down. How so? 

Jemele Hill Well, of course, we understand why performance-enhancing drugs would be part of the Olympic drug policy because they don’t want anybody to to interfere with the sanctity and the integrity of the competition. But with marijuana, it didn’t really make a lot of sense, especially as a world, not just America, we moved toward a more progressive attitude about marijuana use. And there are 40 countries where some form of legalization regarding marijuana is in play. So there’s that part of it. And what you quickly discover once you start peeling back the layers and looking at the policy and the conversation around it and why it was established that the Olympic Committee was more or less concerned about how it looks and not necessarily why it’s being done. And any time you start dealing with or establishing rules and policies based on perception, that’s when it tends to impact people of color, Black people specifically, you know, more than anyone else. I think that what happened to Sha’Carri Richardson brought it again to the forefront only for people to realize that as many of the conversations we’ve been having across professional sports leagues in America about marijuana use, I mean, I don’t think the NBA tests for it anymore. And that’s something that they kind of started within the last couple of years. So, unfortunately, she had to pay the price. But there’s a big opportunity here for the International Olympic Committee, for the U.S. Olympic Committee for them to become more progressive. Unfortunately, that’s not their strong suit. You know, it took them, I don’t know, 50 years to actually acknowledge and somewhat apologize to John Carlos and Tommie Smith for sending them home from the Olympics after they raised the fist at the ‘68 Olympics. You know, before this Olympics started, they basically established a rule that told athletes they weren’t allowed to protest, to speak about or to do any sort of gesture that might bring attention to social injustice. So they’re not as progressive as people think because they want to protect the money. They also are protecting an ideal that is outdated. And that’s probably the most polite way that I could say it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham We don’t have to be that polite because you tweeted that Sha’Carri Richardson’s disqualification from the Olympic track team due to marijuana and the banning of Soul Caps was, quote, “Sending quite the message to Black women.” Now I know the message, but I want to make sure everybody knows, what is that message? 

Jemele Hill Well, coming into the games, I think it’s pretty fair to say Black women wear the face of these Olympic Games. Between Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, and Sha’Carri Richardson We — we were the ones whose faces were — were on these Olympics. And, you know, I know that a policie’s a policy and a rule is a rule. And it’s amazing to me how many people suddenly go all law and order in moments like this. And she understands that she took full responsibility for her actions. To me, whether she smoked weed because of what happened with her mother passing away or just because mentally that’s how she chose to cope, my answer would still have been the same. And so between you know that and just some of the other things, you know, that we were seeing, it just felt like with the Soul Caps, with the response to Gwen Berry, that it just felt like very much Black women in particular were under attack. And the Soul Caps thing is really quite egregious, because when you look at the committee that made that decision, nobody’s Black, nobody’s a woman. Certainly, you know, no Black women at all. It’s like you see very much what can be very problematic about the Olympic process is that a lot of the people who make these decisions on these committees, for various governments, they’re diplomats. They’re not necessarily athletes, damn sure aren’t Black. And so what you find is there are all these pockets of, frankly, inequity. I mean, everybody — it’s hard not to point out the fact that Sha’Carri Richardson is not in the Olympics, but there’s an Olympic fencer who right now is under investigation for multiple sexual assault allegations, multiple and was allowed to compete. His own team went to the Olympic Committee and said, “We do not want this guy around us. He is a threat to our safety, a threat to the safety of others,” and they still allowed him to compete. Instead, they came up with a safety plan. How does that happen? Okay, and so that person is in Tokyo right now, but Sha’Carri Richardson isn’t. And so I need “rules are rules” Twitter to be all over that, the same way that they were all over Sha’Carri Richardson? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I will say his name, considering that Alen Hadzic is on the men’s U.S. Olympic fencing team. He’s facing accusations of sexual impropriety by three women, including incidents that occurred from 2013 to 2015. He’s denying these. But I want to make sure we’re clear when you say that he’s allowed to go to Tokyo because he’s not only allowed, he got to fly separately and stay on his own outside of the Olympic village. I mean, I don’t know how much more clear it could be that there are two sets of rules here. 

Jemele Hill And keep in mind, you know, USA Gymnastics went through a horrific scandal with Dr. Larry Nassar, who will rot in prison, thankfully, for the rest of his life, because he was violating young girls in USA gymnastics and was allowed to do that for years. And all the checks and balances that were supposed to be there, none of them worked. So there were a lot of young women, Black women included, Black girls who were violated by not only him, but the process itself. And so they created this other process to supposedly make sure that doesn’t happen. And lo and behold, you have in the same USA Olympic world, you have another process that is enabling a potential abuser. And people could say like, “Oh, well, you know, innocent until proven guilty,” this ain’t court. Okay, you’re representing your country. All right. And so I would argue that because you care so much about perception and care so much about the athletes who are being sent to Olympic competition and want them to represent the United States in the best light possible, how is it that somebody who is accused multiple allegations, you know that he’s dangerous enough that you need to develop a safety plan but good enough to represent the country? That math ain’t matching, okay? Not at all. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham In particular, it really seems like Black athletes, Black women athletes are viewed as either symbolic trophies, tools of victory or completely disposable, right? That there’s no in-between. There’s — there’s no room to be human. So on Tuesday, we know that Simon Biles withdrew from the women’s team gymnastics final, citing mental health and continued to cheer on her teammates. She said she was inspired by people like Naomi Osaka and others. I’m curious whether you think this is a tipping point for Black women athletes and the extra stress and often discrimination that they have to deal with and a paradigm shift in saying we’re not going to take this anymore? 

Jemele Hill You know, and I mean this as a compliment. So I certainly want young people to take it this way. These young people now are built different, they built differently than us. And I love it because we came from a generation of women and it was — it’s conditioning. We all had to learn of survival, of when the world is kind of crashing, our own world is crashing, that we have to suck it up and take it. And we have to put on a show of strength, even if we do not feel that way and we learn to be the best maskers, the best fronters in the world. And we get to a point. In our lives, hopefully, where we realized that that wasn’t the best course of action, that maybe had we been allowed to be vulnerable or felt empowered enough to tell people “I can’t take it anymore” or “This is enough, I’m at my limit,” then that might have saved so much of us mental health struggles down the line. And what people don’t have a respect for is what it takes to be not just a professional athlete, but what it takes to be a great professional athlete. And this is something that requires a level of mental fortitude, a mental strength that most of us ain’t equipped with because these are different people. All right. Simone Biles has literally been the best in the world at her sport since 2012, 2013. I think she’s the best athlete in the world right now, man or woman, okay? And yet it took to me a enormous amount of strength, courage, whatever other adjective you want to put in there, for her to say “Mentally, I’m not right.” Because the expectation — people have to understand what the expectation is for Simone Biles. Because she is the greatest gymnast ever, facts, don’t at me, don’t debate me. She is. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham There is no debate 

Jemele Hill No, there is no debate. Right. So because she is, the only person she’s really competing against is herself and she’s so far ahead of her competition that we expect to see something extraordinary every time she performs. And I don’t know how many athletes in the world have the same level of expectation placed upon them. And so she did this vault. It looked shaky and she knew it seemed like that she was not where she needed to be to compete at the level that she’s used to competing at. And I think that’s okay. And what I do see is a lot of people rushing to be loud and wrong, trying to use this as an opportunity to devalue her, to knock her down a peg or two, to discredit what she has accomplished. She has nothing left to prove. So she knows her body and she knows her mind. And what she said about needing to deal with, you know, some mental health issues should be respected just as much if she has said “I tweaked my ankle.” And it was the same with Naomi Osaka, because what’s really bothering people when they are reacting so vehemently and angrily to what they done is the fact that these two women have said, “I choose me over your entertainment, over your ability to watch me perform.” And a lot of athletes don’t do that. They think about, “Okay, well, I got to do it even though I’m not feeling right, whether that be mentally or physically, because other people want to watch me, other people are dependent on me.” And what I love about what both of these women have shown is that they have chose to protect their peace over being used for entertainment. And that is something a lot of us need to learn in our respective fields. And we’re not performing above crowds, but a lot of us, every day we choose a job, we choose a personal situation over our own peace of mind. So just watching them do this inspires me. And I think a lot of young athletes, because I even see it in entertainment, like a lot of young people, are so much braver and better at expressing that, than I think my generation is.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham It’s deeply inspiring to me, too. And I think to your point, when we are not willing to put ourselves first, our physical health suffers, our mental health suffers, our families suffer. I mean, Black women Olympians and women athletes in general also face greater burdens when it comes to child care. So we talked on the show last week about track star Allyson Felix and her new initiative to help other Olympic moms pay for child care. What more needs to be done to properly, systemically address this issue? 

Jemele Hill Well, I think, you know, the one thing that allows the Olympic Committee and allows these governing bodies that have their hands in the Olympics to get away with basically not treating Olympic athletes with kind of basic dignity is the fact that we only pay attention every four years and shame works. We have seen this many times that shame does work. And I have a feeling if there were just more eyes and more awareness before this four years shows up and it’s the Olympics that they would not be allowed to get away with what they get away with? I think about the U.S. women’s national soccer team. And while they haven’t always been successful, but the amount of awareness that they have drawn to how they’re treated versus how their male counterparts are has been very eye opening for a lot of people. It’s given, you know, the governing Olympic body for women’s soccer, they have faced a lot of criticism and a lot of scrutiny because of it. And so I think that’s kind of our responsibility, the media, for one of keeping that same energy so that behind closed doors and in secret meetings, they aren’t able to devalue these athletes. I mean, you know, the fact that, you know, athletes didn’t feel very supported. I mean, I understand that there was Covid restrictions that kept that from being a reality. But, you know, to not be allowed to bring a spouse, to not be allowed to bring a babysitter. I mean, the child care issues alone were just like, you know, as if, you know, there weren’t women competing that had children that have families that they had to be responsible for and look after is just — it just let you know — it gives you a window into who is making these decisions. And it’s often people who cannot relate to anything these athletes are going through at all. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. So beyond athletes, I want to touch a bit on the world of sports journalism. The reporter Maria Taylor is currently covering the Olympics in Tokyo in her first assignment for NBC after her exit from ESPN. And I know that you worked for ESPN for over a decade, so you may know that world pretty well. Can you shed some light on what the landscape of sports journalism is for Black women today? 

Jemele Hill Not good. You know, that’s probably —

Brittany Packnett Cunningham In summary, it’s not great. 

Jemele Hill Not Great. Not great. Just to give you an idea Brit, when I first became a sports columnist in 2005, I was a sports columnist at the Orlando Sentinel. At the time, I was the only Black female sports columnist at a daily newspaper in North America. I was the only one out of 405 daily newspapers. And it stayed at that number pretty much the whole time I was a columnist there. And when I moved on to ESPN as a sports columnist, by the way, they did not hire me to be a sports broadcaster. They replaced me in Orlando with a Black woman. So it went from one to one. Okay, and so fast forward, you know, it’s now 2021. And while I honestly cannot think of a Black woman that is a sports columnist at a daily newspaper, I don’t know that there’s one. And, you know, most of the diversity in our business is centered at — in the bigger places, at ESPN, The Washington Post, New York Times, you know, these places. And in sports in particular it’s still like 85 to 90 percent of the jobs are held by white men. You don’t have a lot of Black women who are in a position of —  high profile positions like Maria Taylor is in. And, you know, much like it, it applies to whether you’re in sports broadcasting or working in an accounting office is you know that for us to even get to a level of a Maria Taylor, not only what we had to go through along the way, but the level of just what our resume had to look like, you know, what we had to achieve to do. We knew we had to do more. That’s the only way a Maria Taylor happens, she has to do more. We’re talking about a two-sport athlete. You know, she was a volleyball player and a basketball player, impeccable credentials. And so she had to be that to get to where she was. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Meanwhile, of course, the controversy in her exit is that her former colleague, Rachel Nichols, was heard venting that she believed that Maria Taylor got her promotion at ESPN because ESPN felt pressure on diversity as if she was some kind of affirmative action hire. 

Jemele Hill Yeah, I mean, those — those remarks were — were really unacceptable. I mean, that’s probably putting it mildly. But they were — they were obviously unacceptable. But this is where I blame ESPN management as well. This is really kind of a management story. And the fact of the matter is where they failed is that they had two capable women. I mean, because Rachel is in NBA circles and in reporting circles very much has established a reputation as a good reporter, good journalist. But at the same time is that you have two women in this job and you promised them both the same thing. One of the women, you put it in her contract, okay? And so what I would say to Rachel and I haven’t talked to her and I’ve known Rachel for years, I wouldn’t classify us as friends, I would say we were friendly is somebody who often has positioned herself as a — as an ally. It wasn’t about her giving up something. To me, it was about what you just said is the fact that, you know, Black women, people of color, we have to hear that shit all day about how we only got some place because of diversity, because somebody felt the pressure, because of whatever like, even though our resumé says quite differently, you know? And so, again, if it was that easy to get to where we are, how come there ain’t more of us? All right. If it was just a matter of we just need to be Black and women, you’d see us everywhere. But you don’t. You don’t because they ain’t checking for us. That’s why. So it’s always more for us to overcome. So, yeah, I mean, it’s a lot of layers to this. I mean, certainly there’s a conversation to be had about, you know, white people saying one thing in public, saying another thing in private, which we all knew. I mean, we knew that. Right? This ain’t no surprise to anybody Black. Not a surprise at all. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Before I let you go, I want to — I want to go back to the Olympics and really zoom out and talk about the games in general. I mean, you already mentioned some of them, but the problems we talked about are not new. The games have a very long history of racism, of sexism, of misogynoir. And we know that host cities often end up displacing poor people and houseless people to build stadiums. It exacerbates existing inequalities. So my question really is, is there any hope for the Olympics or — or is it like time to just burn it all down once and for all? 

Jemele Hill You know, it is tough because, you know, I got into sports journalism because I love sports. And actually the thing I love most about sports, you know, yes I love to see great athletes perform and do great things. The one thing about sports that makes it a little bit different than other functioning parts of our society is that it’s one of the few things that actually brings us together. And, you know, we’re a very segregated society. But when you love the same team, you root for the same athletes. It tends to knock down walls. And so because of that, I still feel like there’s a lot of hope because of sports empowering people in a way that we don’t see in other parts. You know what Naomi Osaka is able to do with bringing this conversation about mental health even more into focus. Simone Biles, same thing. Despite the fact they will be receiving criticisms, I still think is doing way more good than harm. Now, listen, these kids understand that they are the product. And as long as they understand that, I think there is always hope that these systems will be changed, because if they don’t, they’re going to risk extinction. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I’m so grateful for the way that they are shifting paradigms. I will be honest with you, though. I mean, considering all of the inequities and challenges within the institution and the fact that Japan is being exposed to a raging virus, I’m finding it a little tough to really engage with and enjoy the Olympics this year. Do you have a vision for kind of what a positive future can possibly look like for celebrating global athleticism? 

Jemele Hill Well, you know, I think it is important and I understand how you feel because it reminds me of my relationship with the NFL, especially after all the — everything that happened with Colin Kaepernick. But you know what I try to keep in mind watching the Olympics is that there’s a lot of Black athletes that are competing in this. And a lot of them want our support. They deserve our support. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. 

Jemele Hill And so for them, I still have been watching a lot of the Olympics for, you know, women’s basketball and the women’s three on three tournament, for men’s basketball, for so many, you know, for Samon Manuel. And so for that reason, I’m okay with — with watching the Olympics, even though I can’t stand some of the systems that have, you know, subjugated some of our people in the process. I’d also say just in terms of global sport, you know, we have to keep in mind that the history of sport globally and in this country is that it’s been able to push society before it was ready to be pushed. I mean, Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947. As almost, you know, 20 years before we got the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. The Williams sisters fighting for equal prize money at Wimbledon long before Wimbledon wanted to do it. So it’s way too many examples of sports actually being such a positive change agent. And I think this can still happen, you know, at a global level and still does happen. I know that the negativity is — is sort of easy to be drawn to, but there’s still a lot of great stories of athletes using their platforms to accomplish and bring attention to some amazing things. You mentioned Allyson Felix. There’s a lot of people that didn’t even know that was an issue and now they do. And so I always think that there’s beauty and inspiration in the awareness. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Well, Jamele, I’m very hopeful that the future of this is much more of what you have been describing and much more of what these beautifully human athletes have been pushing for. I’m looking forward to see what they create. 

Jemele Hill Oh, yeah, same here. Thanks so much. It was a pleasure to join you. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Jemele Hill is a contributing sports writer at The Atlantic and the host of the podcast, Jemele Hill is Unbothered. Look y’all, by the time I spoke to Jemele, I had been fighting off ashy dudes on Twitter for hours. I had posted some Simone love and pointed out the immense hypocrisy in the critical response to her leaving the team competition. And not surprisingly, I got some awful responses in return. But still, I — I am so inspired by Simone and Naomi and so many of the other Black women athletes who are not only at the top of their game, but who are downright refusing restrictions on their humanity. Like Jemele said, “The choice to protect your peace of mind over being used for entertainment.” That’s revolutionary. Whether you’re a gymnast who can flip four times in the air or like me, you’re someone who can’t even flip an omelet on your own. All of us are deserving of the room to breathe. As Jemele said, sports can be a vehicle for cultural, political and societal change if we’re smart enough to embrace the changes as they come. So shout out to all the Black women, all the marginalized athletes who are challenging so many of these old, arcane, outdated ways of just playing along. Whatever the future of the Olympics or global athleticism looks like, I just pray it’s more equitable. And as far as I can tell, the next generation is well on their way to changing the game for the better. 

That’s it for today, but y’all know, never for tomorrow. 


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I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.