Why you should care
It’s engaging — and enraging — listeners.
“Any female voice that can be added to the mix in sports is an exciting moment.” It’s the third episode of the nascent feminist sports podcast Burn It All Down, and co-host and sportswriter Lindsay Gibbs is discussing the news that broadcaster Beth Mowins will become the first female play-by-play announcer on a nationally televised broadcast in NFL history in Week 1 of the 2017 season. A groundbreaking — and ceiling-shattering — achievement.
Gibbs and her co-hosts — Jessica Luther, Shireen Ahmed, Julie DiCaro, Brenda Elsey and Stacey May Fowles — are similarly making their own voices heard in the male-dominated world of sports podcasting, and people are paying attention. Burn It All Down debuted in May 2017 out of the discussions the six women were having in a private Twitter group about issues that bisected feminism and sports and, specifically, the bad takes they were reading and hearing on those subjects. Now seven episodes deep, each installment of the podcast includes “The Burn Pile” (the co-hosts identify a news item that is sexist, inequitable or just plain repugnant and “throw it on the burn pile”), “Badass Woman of the Week” (Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman was the focus of one such segment) and, more recently, “Listener Mail.”
The simple fact is not many current podcasts, male-hosted or not, are talking about women of color in sports media.
“About six months ago, we started to say routinely, just joking around, ‘When we start our podcast …,’ and eventually we just decided to do it,” says DiCaro, sportswriter and a host on Chicago sports radio station 670 the Score. “We feel, especially on issues of social justice in sports, that women’s voices just are not heard the way that we would like them to be.” Indeed, of the current top 50 sports podcasts on iTunes, only three are hosted or co-hosted by women.
And yet, reception to Burn It All Down has been factional. Despite a four-star rating overall on iTunes, the distribution is almost entirely one-star and five-star ratings. Maybe that’s because the podcast “makes the right people mad,” advice given to DiCaro by one of her Twitter followers and which is in some ways the podcast’s mantra. “The content is tough to stomach and a bit whiny at times,” complains a one-star reviewer. Some previous topics tackled on the podcast: FIBA’s overturning of the ban on headscarves, the troubling silence of women in sports media and the state of women’s professional sports. The simple fact is not many current podcasts, male-hosted or not, are talking about women of color in sports media. (And yes, there is a list.)
But not every negative review comes from a troll, DiCaro acknowledges. The group takes legitimate criticisms on board “and we try to do better next week,” she says. For example, they’re looking to upgrade their audio equipment and improve their editing skills. And despite the feminist tilt, not every moment of airtime is spent smashing the patriarchy. The women offer smart, insightful commentary on topical and complex sports issues such as the bad economics behind the new Oakland Raiders stadium in Las Vegas, the suspension of Toronto Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar for a homophobic slur and the New York Jets’ hiring of Collette Smith as a defensive backs coach.
We all have the freedom to choose how we allocate our time — and our data bandwidth. But for a growing group of podcast listeners, especially women, Burn It All Down represents a needed addition to the sports media landscape. Can’t stomach it? Don’t listen.