W. Kamau Bell, The Reluctant Optimist

W. Kamau Bell, The Reluctant Optimist

On this episode of the Edge of Sports podcast, W. Kamau Bell on where he finds hope and Cheryl Cooky on gender in sports.

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Edge of Sports: W. Kamau Bell, the reluctant optimist
byThe Nation Magazine

In this episode of Edge of Sports, host Dave Zirin highlights two takes on the gender politics of sports culture. Dr. Cheryl Cooky joins the Ask a Sports Scholar segment to discuss the history of sports and gender equality, as well as her book, No Slam Dunk: Gender, Sport, and the Unevenness of Social Change. Finally, W. Kamau Bell climbs aboard for a special interview looking back on his career as a media personality, from the early days of Totally Biased to United Shades of America.

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On this episode of Edge of Sports, host Dave Zirin highlights two takes on the gender politics of sports culture. Dr. Cheryl Cooky joins the Ask a Sports Scholar segment to discuss the history of sports and gender equality, as well as her book, No Slam Dunk: Gender, Sport, and the Unevenness of Social Change

Also on this episode, W. Kamau Bell climbs aboard for a special interview looking back on his career as a media personality, from the early days of Totally Biased to United Shades of America.

Dave Zirin: [00:00:00] Hey, edge of sports fans. Uh, thank you so much for being patient. I know it’s been a while since we’ve had a show. I just wanted to let you all know that this episode of the Edge of Sports Podcast is a taping, a live taping of my new TV show, uh, edge of Sports tv over on The Real News Network. The podcast is still sponsored by the nation.

Our guest is Kamau Bell, and I hope you love it. Stay frosty.

Age.

Welcome to Edge of Sports, the TV show only on the Real News Network. I’m Dave Zon, and this week we have TV host, comedian and documentary filmmaker a. A guy who’s just killing it these days. W Kamau Bell. Also in ask a sports scholar. I’m talking to Professor Cheryl Cookie at Purdue University in a segment that we call, ask a Sports Scholar, [00:01:00] and I have choice words about Ja Morant and this country’s sick, hypocritical, and altogether racist relationship to the gun, as well as some final thoughts about someone whose name, if you don’t know it, you will, Victor Wema.

But first, as promised, we have director and executive producer of the H B O documentary, 1000% me growing up mixed, as well as the four-part Peabody Award-winning Showtime docuseries. We need to talk about Cosby. You won a rack of Emmys for his award-winning C N N docuseries, United Shades of America, a show that was canceled and we are going to speak about that.

He is the A C L U, celebrity Ambassador for Racial Justice. W Kamau Bell.

Kam out Bell. Thanks so much for being on edge of Sports,

W. Kamau Bell: man. Thanks for having me. You know, you know I love you.

Dave Zirin: Uh, right back at you, buddy. So, uh, first question for you, I gotta ask it. It’s not a question really. It’s more of a joke that I [00:02:00] made up and I figured you of all people would appreciate this as a master of the comic arts.

Uh, so what’s the difference between Kamau be and Meryl Streep? Oh my God.

W. Kamau Bell: What’s the difference between I, I don’t know. I don’t even, I can’t even, my brain is broken.

Dave Zirin: Kamal’s got a bigger trophy room. Uh, so that’s, so, so that actually leads into my first question. You’re getting Oh. A lot of shine right now with your projects, and I know it wasn’t always that way.

You’ve been in this business a while, so how do you understand that yourself? What is it about 2023? What is it about the kind of work you’re doing that’s getting this kind of attention and uh, recognition?

W. Kamau Bell: Uh, I mean, you know, I, I was always the kind of comedian who, especially when I started to really figure out what I wanted to do, that I cared about the outside world and also was always the kind of comedian who didn’t do it the way that I was told [00:03:00] we were supposed to do it.

So, I never moved to la I didn’t audition for a bunch of things. I didn’t, which I’m none of that’s bad. But like I look at that like a lot of my friends or people, my peers, Where they moved to LA and they audition for stuff and they get some things, they don’t get some things. And you can sort of seem like, like I’m with my kids all the time.

I know that guy in that commercial. You know what I mean? Like I know that guy in that movie, or the voice of that cartoon animal is like a friend of mine, you know? So it’s like that. I didn’t do that stuff. And so I just sort of followed my nose and then found myself surrounded by people who, who eventually trusted me to do things that I had no qualifications for.

And then it’s like the, the man meets the moment, or the moment meets the man suddenly it’s like that weird, twisty. Journey I took prepared me to do things that I didn’t know that I was preparing to do. You know? So I think it’s like, and now we’re in this era where, Then it became cool to care. I don’t know if it’s cool to care anymore, but it became cool to care for a while, and suddenly I was a guy who had been caring for a while.

So like, it was like, oh, that guy cares. And he is funny. I, I want to care and be funny. So, yeah. Now I think it’s like the, [00:04:00] you know, I mean that, that thing has been over quoted, but the 10,000 hour rule I did my 10,000 hours of being me and now, and now the world is ready for

Dave Zirin: it. Nice. Uh, you’re giving me an image of studio executives, like in the movie, the player gathered around a table saying, we need someone with that caring feeling.

Exactly.

W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. I, that definitely happened. I mean, who’s got that care vibe years ago? I mean, you know, my, uh, show the bell curve. I did. That was, which is the thing that, the project that really broke me through. I remember being in a manager’s office, a very powerful show business man. Well, he worked very powerful.

Management company. He was not powerful at the time, but it was like a management company that I really wanted to be a part of. Cuz they had everybody, they had every comedian and he was, he was just sort of like, yeah. I know a lot’s happening with you and there’s something here, but you could tell he is like, I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do with it.

Like, I can’t, like, like people laugh when you say things, uh, but they’re, you’re not saying things I normally expect people to laugh at, and I know that people are starting to talk about you, but I, [00:05:00] I don’t know what to do with like, it was, he didn’t say that, but that he never signed me, so clearly he didn’t know what to do with me.

Dave Zirin: Mm. You know, I want to talk to you about the docs that you have out, especially the most recent one. I am a thousand percent. Me first. I, I guess gotta ask uh, someone, cuz you were talking about how you came up and I know someone who was important to your early career was, was Chris Rock. Sure. Uh, you mentioned, uh, totally biased, uh, your talk show Yeah.

That Chris helped facilitate. Uh, here’s my take on. Totally biased. So this is an agree or disagree question. Okay. You know, it was once said about Velvet Underground’s first album. That, and you probably know this quote that, yeah, it only sold a hundred copies, but everybody who bought it started a band and that’s how I feel about.

Totally biased. The legacy is profound. Your thoughts years after the cancellation as you look back. Yeah. Last

W. Kamau Bell: year was the 10 year anniversary and it’s sort of like, it didn’t sneak up on me. I knew it was coming, but it was just sort of like, It to, to know that people are still talking about it. Like I still hear about it.

[00:06:00] And also it’s that thing now where I, I’ve talked to like fully grown adults who are like, I was a child. I’m like, oh my God. Like it, and people, and I’ve talked to people who literally said they, it helped them get into movements and help them get into like, uh, career and activism and, you know, and, and, and I certainly think that like, At the time when it was over as much as it hurt to look up, like within a couple years and see John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Samantha B.

Now, the difference between me and them is that they all went to John Stewart University. So they had like a different level of, of, uh, education than I had about being a TV host. And then to see like, you know, Robin, the had a show, like it felt like, mm-hmm. You know, maybe I was the, the John the Baptist who got his head chopped off.

But then, but then a bunch of Jesuses came behind me and, you know, I, I definitely know this show had an impact and still has an impact. Dwayne Kennedy, who, you know, friend of, a good friend of mine who works on the United Shades of America is always like, we should start at the, we should get it back together.

He wants to start the band up. I was like, dude, you are the one who wanted it to end. [00:07:00] So it definitely, you know, the New York Times wrote an article. Few years ago about it as a way to sort of say like what the impact of the show had been. And yeah, a lot of people were on that show. Like Hari went on, obviously Hari Klu with the, you know, the problem with APU is a doc that was literally inspired by a segment from totally biased, uh, you know, guy Braham has had, has a career.

You know, we have, uh, you know, it’s funny. Hassan Minaj, we were like, EP kept trying to figure out how to get him in, but we couldn’t. But he was definitely in those, we were talking about him in those writer’s rooms. Uh, par Shela. It just, the, the people who were on that show, many of them have gone on to do lots of great things.

Oh, Kevin Avery, a young man named Kevin Avery, who went on to write for the first two seasons of the John Oliver Show and win two Emmys. So it definitely felt like the people who worked on that show and really had a, and really got where trying to do, have gone on to have careers. That makes me very proud.

Dave Zirin: Yeah, I know Kevin Avery, of course, from the World famous Denzel, its podcast. Yes, yes. Which, uh, explores all manner of the films of Denzel Washington.

W. Kamau Bell: Denzel Washington is the greatest actor of all time period. That is the

Dave Zirin: podcast ab [00:08:00] Absolutely. Uh, and you know, John Stewart University, I, I was actually the, a mascot, um, the, the Fighting Hasids.

Uh, yes. No, but, but let, let me ask, let me ask you this. Uh, I am a thousand percent me. You’re, you’re coming off this Peabody winning Cosby documentary. Mm-hmm. That shook things up from a news perspective in terms of people. It became a news story that you made this doc and so assumedly, you could have probably picked your project coming after this out of this success, and this is where you went talking about.

Mixed race kids and how they navigate the world. Why? Why was that the choice

W. Kamau Bell: for you? I mean, it really wasn’t like I started working on a thousand percent me when we were still in, like, I. Post-production on the Cosby Doc, like we were still like wrapping it up and I got, and HBO approached me and said, have you ever thought about doing it directing a [00:09:00] doc about your mixed race kids or doing something about your mixed race kids?

They didn’t even really know I was working on this Cosby Doc. Cause it was just not, we hadn’t made any announcement about it. They sort of just thought, oh you United Shades, he could do something about his kids. And so, I was like, oh, well I actually am directing now. And so, and then I was like, I could do, and so they, HBO o docs are the greatest people in the world and so they just basically let me experiment and it became this way to like experiment on when we started, started filming it, it was really just like HBO O gave us some money and said, see what you can do.

See what, see what you come up with. So there was really a, it was both a low pressure situation because HBO O didn’t have a lot of demands and a high pressure situation, cuz me and Melissa decided our kids could be in it. And our kids and our, and friends of my oldest daughter, Sammy, were in it. So it was like we were using our community to sort of experiment with, but also, No, it’s, this was not the pressure of the Cosby Doc, so really it was like, it was like a relief to, to work on this.

And you gotta remember, the Cosby Doc hadn’t come out yet, and I was like, that Cosby Doc might end my whole career. So at least I have this, at least this will come out after my career, after my [00:10:00] career is ended. And it will be a totally small, tiny thing that probably no one will ever notice in the wake of the end of my career.

And so it was really like refreshing to work on. And then the, and then the Cosby Doc came, came out and it actually did not end my career. And people appreciated it. And it, and you know, I’ve had survivors from who were in the doc say they felt like it helped alter the narratives around them and the way in which they’ve been, they, the media and then even trolls, deal with them in a different way now for a lot of them.

And so, I was just like, yay. And then I realized, oh, that’s where a thousand percent meat is coming out. And I really still thought, oh, this is a tiny thing that involves my kids and their friends. It’s not gonna get the, it’s not gonna get that attention. But then I started getting excited about the fact that it was such a different feeling than the Cosby Doc, that it was gonna let people who maybe hadn’t heard of me before, maybe the Cosby Doc, was first thing they ever saw that I was involved in, to know I’m not just that guy.

And so for me it was really great to know that like, it wasn’t like I was the next, now I’m gonna take down somebody else. [00:11:00] And the fact that the mixed, that a thousand percent me is actually hopeful in a way that most of my work isn’t actually, like there’s hope in it, but it doesn’t sort of end in rising hope the way a thousand percent

Dave Zirin: me does.

Yeah, I was thinking you might do a Michael Landon doc after Cosby. Just Yeah. All, all eighties sacred cows. Yeah. They’re all highway to hell. The Michael Landon

W. Kamau Bell: story, I go to the white dad. Yeah.

Dave Zirin: The father ons different strokes That could make a hell of a doc. Oh my God. The Conrad Bain story. Um, yeah. But let’s, let’s take it to, to the dock itself.

You know, I, I would look you right in the eye and tell you the truth if I thought your kids dropped the ball. And I would do it happily. Your kids are so cute and they’re so good in this doc. Uh, and I’m sure you knew that before you turned the camera on that this would be a winner. What were the conversations like with you and your partner, Melissa, though, about do we do this?

Do we not do this?

W. Kamau Bell: I mean, a lot of it came out of the. So I guess I’ll just [00:12:00] back up and you know this about me and you’re some probably in similar positions sometimes. You know, a lot of people love me. A lot of people hate me, A lot of people, a lot of people can’t stand me and they let me know in various ways.

And especially after the Cosby Doc, there’s a lot of heat around me that I really was like, I’d be in airports and people would look at me and I would just be like, oh, what is this? It, is this the moment? You know what I mean? Uh, and then I’d be like, well, at least they went through security. So they don’t have a weapon, I don’t think.

You know, like, but there would be just But you’re in Texas. Yeah, yeah. True. I’m just kidding. Not really. So, uh, but yeah, so it was really about like, do we, we, so we’d worked hard to keep our kids out of the spotlight of, of my career, and this was a choice to put them right in the middle of it. But we just knew if we were gonna make a doc about mixed race kids and not include our kids, it would just seem dishonest.

And also our kids would be mad at us. Like they would just be like, why? How could you talk to my friend, not talk to me, and. Our kids have been my, around my career enough, the two, I mean, all of them, but especially the two oldest ones that they sort of, they understand what they’re looking at, they [00:13:00] understand like they’ve been on set of United Shades.

They, so there’s a little bit of excitement of like, oh, we finally get to participate. And even down to the, like they, we had to, we rented houses to film in. And we, and they brought like stuff from our house to set, decorate, and they were excited about decorating the set and they brought games so that the other kids could play games while they were waiting to be interviewed.

And they, you know, they brought UNO cards and they, there was a trampoline at this one house and all the kids were in the trampoline. They were like hosting the kids, you know. That’s amazing. And so they really wanted to be a part of it and really were a part of it. And so it really was just like, it’s like jumping into the deep end of a pool.

Just like, you know, you clo you grab your nose and you jump in and you just hope it works out, you know? So, and do everything you can to protect yourself. Wear some floaties if you can’t swim, but, you know, so that’s what we did and, and. It was scary. I mean, it was scary up until the moment it came out.

It’s still a little bit like every time I get a, uh, tagged in a comment on Instagram about the doc, I’m like, don’t say anything about my kids. You know? So, but you know, it just, they are really, I. My [00:14:00] oldest daughter, as she says in the doc, wants to be like, she wants to be a musician. So for her, it feels like the beginning of her career.

For Juno, she’s more like me. Like I like attention, but I don’t like everybody looking at me, which is kind of how I, I would, I like attention, but don’t look at me while I’m getting attention. And so she has like, her big struggle is like, I was so young back then, even though she’s like, Two years older now, but yeah.

But they have really enjoyed it. Even my youngest kid, Asha, who’s who was three when we filmed it, just likes the fact that she’s in it. She just likes seeing her face in it.

Dave Zirin: I, I turned to my wife during it and I said, Juno’s nickname should be Juno Carson, like Johnny Carson, but Juno Carson delivers the line so well the timing, yeah.

So

W. Kamau Bell: good. I was like, no, she’s good. We actually call her Kamau Jr. I call her Kamau Junior. Okay. Cause I feel very, like I, I can see her brain working, but it doesn’t always come outta her mouth. Cause like I used to be like, I don’t know if I should say this, but, but yeah. But yeah, Juno’s Juno’s definitely.

Juno definitely did the thing. Comeau

Dave Zirin: Jr’s better [00:15:00] than, uh, Juno

W. Kamau Bell: person. Um, but you wouldn’t have necessarily known Kamau Jr. You don’t, you don’t know Juno like I do, Dave. I mean, you

Dave Zirin: know That’s true. Yeah. Just a little less. Yeah. I, I saw her in a dock and was like, she’s funny. Yeah. She’s, um, well, que question for you on, on, on the issue of doing it in the Bay and focusing solely on the Bay.

I remember seeing your standup, you introduced me to the concept of Bay Area Brown. And what that means. Mm-hmm. And how, how much of a conscious choice for, for you was like, I’m staying in the Bay because there’s a very specific set of circumstances here. Mm-hmm. Or was it more just like, this is my kid’s milieu and I wanna explore that?

W. Kamau Bell: No, I mean, we definitely, when we first started talking about it, and this is how, it’s sort of like I said, H B O was like, whatever you want, however you wanna do it, let’s figure it out together. And so of course we were like, oh, we’ll fly all around the country and talk to mixed race kids all around the country.

Then we shot the first weekend in this sort of like developmental shoot and we talked to like, I don’t know, seven or eight kids that weekend. [00:16:00] And after it was over, I was like, I think we’re done. Like it felt like we had already had enough for the film or we had the core of the film and I knew if we flew around the country, the film was never gonna be like four hours long.

It wasn’t gonna be f, it wasn’t a four part thing. It was only gonna be one part at the most. It could have been like maybe an hour and a half. So it was like, I know from United Shades. If you shoot too much, you’re just using less of anybody, or you’re gonna cut people out. You know what I mean? You’re gonna just, you’re gonna end up wasting time and resources and people’s time.

So it’s like if the, what we have here is enough to dev, turn into a film. And also, let’s remember when we started filming, it was October, 2021. Covid was still, I mean it’s still still Covid, but it was like, Oh, it hasn’t gone away yet. You know, actually, actually I, my first case of Covid I got, during the time we were filming, like, it was just like, so there was also a thing about like, it’s just really hard to go out into the world and film right now.

And I was also filming United Shade, so I knew that it was hard to be out there and also to talk to kids. So it felt like we have enough here [00:17:00] if we’re, if this is good, if we do a good job, if HBO is open to it. Hopefully we can make more. And we actually, at one point, I put in one of the early edition, one of the early Rough Cuts volume one, and they were like, take that out.

I was like, all right. I tried. I tried. Yeah. But yeah, so we, and then it became about like, I. The Bay Area is a really special place. I mean, it’s been like a lot of places, it’s been affected by a lot, but it is a very special place. And there is something specific here, and I don’t want, and I wanted people to know this is the Bay Area.

Don’t think this is mixed. It very became important to be like, this is what’s happening here. It’s not the same for mixed kids in Appalachia for mixed kids in Alabama, for mixed kids in the Bronx. You know what I mean? So I want, or mixed kids in like Idaho, you know what I mean? So it really felt like a time to lean into the Bay Area, inness that I.

I like, you know, I love being living here and being here, and it was an opportunity to really lead into what I love about

Dave Zirin: it. Yeah. You know, you know, I don’t have to tell you that there are a lot of folks these days who are feeling a little bit down [00:18:00] Yeah. About the present and even about the future.

Mm-hmm. How did working with these young people and interacting with them to this degree, did, did that change your perception at all about where we’re going?

W. Kamau Bell: I mean, I, you know, I always feel like. Uh, Juno told me recently, she’s like, they’re doing a, some sort of unit in her third grade class about, about optimists, and she’s like, guess who I chose to write about?

And I was like, who? She’s like you. I was like, huh. Wow. And I am, I an optimist. And so I like the fact that she sees me that way. Well, at the same time, I think the only way to hold on for me to hold onto optimism is if I think we are doing the work. Mm-hmm. To get us to a better place. So for these kids, I am so happy they feel so like, especially at their young ages, so turn like tuned into the world and so like accepting of who they are.

But also as we show in the film, by [00:19:00] the time you get to some preteen kids and some teenagers, That feeling of acceptance starts to get pushed by the outside world. Absolutely. And so, absolutely. To me, it’s like if we all do the work for these kids, then they can stay in this special place, but we got, we all gotta do the work.

So, you know, we, we definitely live in, we definitely live at a time where, you know, if Rhon DeSantis is the next president. Mm. I mean, you know, I, I, I I think it’s more likely Trump is president from jail than Ron DeSantis is president. Honestly, I believe that’s true. But, uh, yeah, I mean, we’re definitely living in a time where like hard fought things we thought we want are being taken away.

Dave Zirin: Yeah. I don’t think Ron DeSantis is ready for prime time. Uh, and you’re starting to see that in local elections in Florida as well? Yeah. Yeah. Uh, uh, LGBTQ pride as we’re doing this broadcast, uh, in Tampa was just canceled. Um, so that there is a lot that I think people are going to resist when it comes to him going on the national stage.

That

W. Kamau Bell: is what is so weird [00:20:00] about, I mean, can we talk about that for a second? Yeah, please. That is what’s so weird about Florida. Florida is a state that is super l lgbtq separate from the DeSantis park. It’s super l b lgbtq friendly. It’s got a lot of different types of people there because of like, especially cuz of southern Florida.

It’s a very diverse state. There’s a lot of like, Celebrities and wealth there because of the tax. Like it is a very diverse, like upwardly mobile like state with a lot of, I mean, there’s definitely conservatives there, as I’ve seen in the United States of America, but it’s like he’s acting like Florida, isn’t that?

Mm-hmm. Exactly. You know, he’s acting like he, like, he’s like he’s the governor of like some state in the middle of the country that doesn’t have diversity and doesn’t have an LGBTQ community and doesn’t, and also doesn’t have an economy based on those things.

Dave Zirin: Mm-hmm. No, that, that, that’s a great point.

Indeed. I mean, my mom’s from Florida, so, you know, and, and she grew up with, uh, people who are from the Dixie South basically. Yeah. So it, it was Dixie where, where she grew up, like back of the bus, all, all of that. [00:21:00] And a lot of expat Cubans. Yeah. And who are, who are not exactly friendly to progressive politics.

No. And a lot of Jews. Yeah. So I think it’s kind of a unique sauce. You know, factor in, uh, factor in Haiti now and factor in countries that aren’t as resistant, as resistant, uh, to progressive politics as Cuba. I mean, it’s, it’s a, it’s its own soup for sure. Yeah.

W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. And, uh, he’s pretending like it, he’s pretending like it’s a thin broth and it’s not like, that’s why I think it’s so strange about it.

No,

Dave Zirin: it’s gumbo. No doubt. Um, I would be remiss if I, if I, I can’t let you go without asking you about United Shades of America. One of my favorite shows, I mean, so incisive one. Enough awards to, uh, make the aforementioned Meryl Streep, you know, very angry. Um, yes, I heard she’s Vicious Come awards season. Um, so why was it canceled?

What

W. Kamau Bell: happened? I mean, it, [00:22:00] uh, you know, I mean, CNN canceled. I mean, when they canceled Tucci, I was like, oh man, like Ucci won the, my last two, the last two interviews I was up for, he won them. Right? So, and his show was doing well, like, so forget, just forget United Shades and whatever it was doing. Stanley Tucci show was doing well for C Nnn and doing the thing that that show was supposed to do winning awards.

It won a bunch of, it won, I don’t dunno, it won like three or four Emmys in the, in the two seasons it existed. So it’s clearly not about, these shows not doing well, it’s about the entire direction of the network changing. Mm-hmm. So think when I got to cnn, I got there because, and I really felt like I could be there cuz of Bourdain.

Mm-hmm. There was like, and the news section of CNN was over here and, and I was in Bourdain town. Right. And I got to follow his show. You know, I got to go with him to Kenya before he passed away. Like that’s what drove me to cnn. Bourdain wouldn’t be at c CNN right now. Right. You know what I mean? And so for me, if you’re, if you don’t want [00:23:00] that spirit there, Then I’m happy to go because there’s that, cuz I don’t do the, I don’t do the rest of this stuff.

So when I knew, when I knew, you know, and I sort of knew, you know, it’s one of the things where you sort of know, you sort of see the writing on the wall before the public sees the writing on the wall. So we started and I was really happy the Cosby Doc in some sense was coming out. Cause I was like, it will define me in a new way for a lot of people and gimme something to, if it goes well that was, we kept saying if it goes well, and luckily it did go well enough.

So it really was a sense of like, I’m already headed a different direction. So by the time the general public and some people really, the funny is I was in CNN last week cause I did a couple appearances for a thousand percent. Me, there were people in the building who don’t know the shows off like so, like they didn’t really make a big deal out of it and I didn’t make a big deal out of it.

But yeah, like it was just, if it was like we’re keeping every show except yours, it would feel like something if I might feel, I might feel a type of way. Although I’m also like, if you don’t like me, I don’t like you. But it was the fact that they sort of cleared out the whole, they cleared the whole deck and are clearly going a different [00:24:00] direction, and that’s not a direction I’m headed.

Yeah,

Dave Zirin: and I can’t really understand why a news network would attempt to appeal to the very people calling in bomb threats to their headquarters. That seems like an odd,

W. Kamau Bell: it is a very difficult thing. I mean, it’s a very sort of like, you know, I don’t know. They, they, it’s been very publicized. They have people who own lots of stock there, who want, who, who feel like Fox News has gone too far.

And so they want to, they want to, they want a, a, cnn, Fox News, whatever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Good luck to them. There’s a lot of good people in that building. I, I, I know I did good work for them and I know I did a thing on their network that nobody else was doing and maybe nobody else could do. And so I feel very proud of that work.

And I also know. That, uh, because I don’t stop working, I’ll be fine.

Dave Zirin: Uh, Kamal, you’ve been so generous with your time. One last question for you. I do like asking people what they’re reading these days. Uh, and I’m reading a book, I’ll just shout out Jessica Luther recommended it to me, BoomTown, about the [00:25:00] history of Oklahoma City that draws in the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Uh, it’s, it’s an incredible, uh, fever dream of America. Told through the lens of Oklahoma City. Great book. Well, what, what’s you reading these

W. Kamau Bell: days? Command. I’m just reaching for it cause I actually, it’s kind of a homework assignment cause I’m doing an event with Kwame Alexander. Ah, but it’s, uh, it’s why fathers cry at night.

Uh, and it’s written, it’s like some of it is poems, some of it is letters, some of it is essays about being a black father. And I happen to, uh, have opinions about being a black father. So this is what I’m reading right now. Wow.

Dave Zirin: Everybody check that out. Why fathers cry at night? Powerful title. Yeah, no,

W. Kamau Bell: for sure.

It’s one of the things you’re like, I dunno if I want to read this, cuz I’m, it’s making me cry right now.

Dave Zirin: Hell with night. I’m two in the afternoon. Yeah. But Yo, Kamau, I really do appreciate it man. Thanks so much for joining us here on The Real News Network and uh, edge of Sports Man.

W. Kamau Bell: No problem. Thanks for having me.

The last dance is one of the great documentaries of all time. All right, good talking

Dave Zirin: to you Next time, Michael Jordan, let me tell you. Okay. [00:26:00] We’ll be back right after this and now I’ve got some choice words. Okay. Look, Ja Morant holds the attention of the entire sports media right now, and for all the wrong reasons.

The 23 year old All-Star Memphis Grizzlies guard was seen brandishing a gun while laughing and listening to music in a car, riding in the passenger seat while an alleged friend was live streaming the party over Instagram. This comes just two months after Morant had been suspended from the team and was compelled by the N B A to enter counseling after also showing off a gun on social media.

And that came on the heels of a series of accusations that Morant had, among other things, flexed the gun during an alleged assault. Now, he has been suspended indefinitely from the Memphis Grizzlies and all team functions, John Morant, the $200 million point guard, the face of the franchise. The person that [00:27:00] Daley Memphian columnist Chris Harrington said to me is, quote, the most important person to the city since Al Green.

Is in danger of throwing it all away. Yet anyone being pious about morant’s behavior or arguing that he deserves some kind of maximum sanction is engaging. I believe in some all N B A hypocrisy. I do not defend treating a gun as a fashion accessory, but I am wondering why Morant is subject to this level of scrutiny, ensuring more time in some therapeutic clinic while this country’s gun addiction rages out of control.

Why aren’t g O p politicians who arm their kids to the teeth for Christmas card season or sport AR 15 lapel pins where flags used to go, compelled to lie on a psychiatrist couch. This country’s gun addiction is fostered not by young black men, but by a far right drunk on fear with visions of race war dancing in their heads.

Ja Morant [00:28:00] deserves the attention. But he doesn’t deserve to be a symbol for a country that glamorizes fetishizes and even deifies the gun, not when we have arrived at a place where these weapons of war have more right to exist than school children. Our culture has been long poisoned, and Ja Morant is a product of that culture.

Look, everyone should read Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz’s book loaded a disarming history of the Second Amendment to understand that the embrace of the gun didn’t begin with the marketing of the AR 15 or rap music, or even with the founding of the nra. It started with Western expansion when barbar was justified by vicious racism and the ever-present terror that the oppressed might come looking for, payback when all the dust and debate is cleared.

The book makes clear that the roots of the Second Amendment lie in a romantic ode to white vigilantism. The support for this kind of violence [00:29:00] is seen in presidential wannabe. Ron DeSantis is raising money for Jordan Neely’s Killer, which only escalates the probability of more death. And here’s a shocker.

The NRA has not stepped forward as of this discussion to defend Morant’s right to bear arms. It would actually be smart politically if they did. But racism trumps a political strategy, especially when their billionaire Nazi memorabilia collecting dark money backers demand it. The fact of the matter is that until we develop the mass political will to truly challenge the valorization of violence by the N R A, the gun manufacturers and the fascist right, the bloodshed will continue.

So please spare the sanctimony about morant. He may very well need help, but if he needs professional assistance to wean off his weaponry, then we are going to need a mental health marshal plan for the rest of [00:30:00] us. For a nation that bans book bags before guns, a collective trip to the couch could not come soon enough.

And now I just wanna end with a segment that I’ve decided to call. Hold up, wait a minute. Okay. Look. Victor Wema, the seven foot five French teenager, who is the most highly touted and hyped incoming N B A player since LeBron James, if not ever, will be going to San Antonio. The N B A lottery balls fell in place and the Spurs franchise forever changed overnight.

I love this landing spot for the man they call Weby. Greg Popovich, their Hall of fame coach has had experience with two all time greats described coming into the league as can’t miss prospects, David Robinson and Tim Duncan. But here’s the thing about can’t miss prospects. Sometimes [00:31:00] they miss, especially when in an organization that doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing.

Ask Luca Doni, a generationally great player who didn’t even make the playoffs this year because the Dallas Mavericks front office made a series of moves that gutted the franchise. Nothing is guaranteed, but Greg Popovich knows how to coax a Hall of Fame career out of a potential hall of famer. And for that reason alone, I’m thrilled with this because it gives us one of the most beautiful and rare things in sports.

Seeing someone with limitless potential actually given the space to play like the sky is in fact the limit. Victor Wema, Greg Popovich, San Antonio, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

And now it’s time for our segment. Ask a sports scholar. This week we have the co-author of several [00:32:00] books, including No Slam Dunk, gender Sport, and the Unevenness of Social Change. She’s also a professor of American Studies and Women’s Gender and Sexuality studies at Purdue University. Her name is Cheryl Cookie.

How are you? I’m

Cheryl Cooky: doing great, Dave, thanks so much for having me on the show.

Dave Zirin: I’m thrilled to have you. I’ve been reading your stuff for a long time, so you were definitely a target for us in terms of someone we wanted for this segment. Well, I, I’m really interested in, uh, the title of one of your books, uh, because I think sometimes we’re taught that social progress is this linear formation.

Particularly in terms of, of racism, oftentimes it’s taught in terms of, I refer to it as segregation integration, celebration. Mm-hmm. Uh, and yet you write very specifically the unevenness of social change. What do you mean by that? Especially in regards to gender and sports.

Cheryl Cooky: Yeah, I think Dave, you hit the nail on the head, [00:33:00] particularly when we talk about the, the stories and the narratives that we like to tell about, uh, progress and, and history in the sense of there is this real investment in a kind of, uh, view of history as happening in a sort of upward and onward progressive trajectory in a very sort of linear.

Upward fashion, right? So we go, and I hear this from students, I hear this from people I talk to. It’s like, before Title IX women didn’t play sports. Um, and, and certainly that’s, that’s not the case. I think what we were, um, thinking about when we’re using that term, the unevenness of social change, is the ways in which progress and, uh, resistance or progress and.

Stagnation happens simultaneously. And so there’s moments of history. I think each moment in history when we’re talking about sports and whether it’s, you know, the focus is on women and [00:34:00] women’s equality or racial equality or the intersection of, you know, kind of multiple, um, social locations. What we’re really looking at are these, um, moments that can really be best characterized by.

The sort of tensions and struggles between, um, advancing and moving forward and maybe the kind of forces of backlash or resistance to that, um, progressive change. And so that’s really, I think what we were trying to capture, um, in the book is, is the ways in which. Um, a kind of, uh, idea or perspective of progress happening in a linear fashion is really simplistic and erases a lot of the, the nuance in terms of how really important, um, advances get made throughout history, um, but are also kind of corresponding or, or happening alongside of, um, you know, uh, oppressive, um, restrictive, um, resistance to that

Dave Zirin: change.

Mm. [00:35:00] What’s something that you’ve learned by studying coverage and commercials related to women’s sports and related to gender? What’s something you’ve learned that you th that either really surprised you or you think would really surprise our audience?

Cheryl Cooky: Gosh. Well, I think the one thing that really surprises people, um, when they first hear about it is the longitudinal study, uh, that I’ve conducted with, uh, Michael Messner at the University of Southern California and some of our colleagues throughout the years.

Uh, which in that study, what we found was that when we were looking at our particular, um, sample that we focused on, which was televised news and highlight shows, That. In fact, over the course of the 30 years that we’ve been studying, um, that particular, uh, area, the coverage of women’s sports has not significantly changed in any meaningful way.

And in fact, um, the latest iteration of the study was published in 2019. The coverage of women’s sports was very similar, if not, um, less [00:36:00] than, uh, the coverage in 1989 when the study first, uh, took place. And so I think that’s a really surprising piece for people. Um, as a component of that study, um, we’ve added on.

Online media and social media. As the media landscape has changed and how people, um, uh, produce and consume data has changed. Um, and in fact, looking at legacy media, um, in those, again, in those spaces of online and social media, not a whole lot of coverage of women’s sports, and in fact, it doesn’t exceed double digits.

Um, and so we think maybe, oh, well there’s more coverage online or there’s more coverage on social media, and, and that hasn’t been the case. Where I think, um, the changes happening is, is really in the kind of niche spaces for women’s sports. And I think that’s been one of the areas that’s been most surprising for me is the ways in which in this current moment, um, those who are, you know, producing content, uh, the decision makers and those who are responsible [00:37:00] are now women.

Women athletes, former women athletes, um, women who’ve worked in the industry in legacy spaces, male dominated spaces, who are now either creating their own content, their own platforms, um, and really sort of taking the reins and, and instead of waiting for change to happen, um, they’re actually making the change happen for themselves, which I, I think is, is surprising in a good way.

Dave Zirin: Mm. Angel Reese, Caitlin Clark. LSU versus Iowa. Mm-hmm. NCAA women’s finals, higher ratings than the World Series. Are we seeing, if not a revolutionary change, an evolutionary change in terms of the popularity of women’s sports? Gosh, I hope so.

Cheryl Cooky: Um, yeah, if you follow the, the, um, NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament this year, gosh, what an exciting event.

What a, I mean, high quality product. Really interesting stories you’ve [00:38:00] mentioned. Um, you know, I think that we are on the precipice of change. Um, I think maybe the, uh, NCAA final Fours is a kind of snapshot or, uh, maybe a, a piece of that. Uh, I don’t know if it’s necessarily the driver. I have, um, somewhat mixed feelings about the, not so much the event itself, but the ways in which the media.

Um, and, and social media conversations sort of framed that event. And I think the, um, you know, on the one hand, the, the story between Angel Reese and Caitlyn Clark really resonates, I think with much of the narratives around, um, sports that we tell, you know, the kind of rivalry, the, the two teams or the two athletes who are, um, you know, kind of, uh, you know, Competing against one another at this high level, and it, it brings a kind of excitement.

Uh, it’ll be interesting to see how that translates into next year with respect to ratings and coverage and, and, um, uh, social media [00:39:00] content. So, So I think, you know, I think in some ways it’s, it’s, um, uh, a, a good thing, for lack of a better word, right? That, that we’re seeing women’s sports covered in those kinds of exciting ways and through those narrative structures.

At the same time though, I couldn’t help but be reminded of, um, a paper that I wrote, and it’s in that book, um, no slam Dunk with some colleagues. Uh, that was on the Don Imus, um, incident in, in 2007, I believe. And the ways in which the, at the time we were looking at print media, but the ways in which, uh, print news media covered, um, the final four event and, and ways that really focused on the controversy of Don Imus’s comments about the Rutgers, um, women’s basketball team, which were, uh, racist and sexist, um, and classist and, and, uh, Um, problematic on a number of different levels.

Uh, and that actually garnered more coverage than the tournament itself. And so in some ways, I feel like that controversy between Angel Reece and Caitlyn [00:40:00] Clark resonated in a, in many ways with what we saw, you know, back in 2007. Um, particularly the ways in which the kind of, um, uh, racialized and racist mm-hmm.

Um, commentary happened where you have legacy sports commentators, um, you know, calling, uh, players. I don’t know if I can swear on the show, but, you know, effing idiots and, and, and, you know, disparaging, um, her, uh, angel Reese. And particularly what we’ve seen in the research is that, um, black women, women of color, um, often face a different kind of, um, uh, scrutiny, a different kind of lens that’s both, um, you know, kind of speaking to racialized sexism and, and gendered racism.

And so it was unfortunate to see that happen. So that’s why I’m a little bit lukewarm. Um, in terms of whether this is sort of evolutionary or revolutionary, I think it’s definitely speaking to, um, larger changes that are happening. But also, again, I think echoing that theme of unevenness of social change is [00:41:00] really also speaking to some ways in which kind of racism and sexism are still permeating these

Dave Zirin: spaces.

Hmm. I, I will say as a note of hope, of course, that the ratings preceded the controversy, which is a, a good thing. It wasn’t going into the game’s a. Professor Cheryl Cookie. Yo, thank you so much for joining us here on Edge of Sports here at The Real News Network. Really do appreciate it.

Cheryl Cooky: Thank you for having me, Dave.

Always a pleasure.

Dave Zirin: Well, that’s all the time we have for this week for the Real News Network. This was Edge of Sports. I’m Dave Zon. Dave Frosty people. We are outta here. Peace.

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