In This Episode
Jason Concepcion breaks down the cringeworthy optics of the Cleveland Browns’ acquisition of quarterback Deshaun Watson- while the former Texans signal caller faces a bevy of sexual assault and misconduct allegations- with Andrew Beaton, NFL reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, the controversy that surrounds transgender collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas’ competitive swimming career boiled over after Thomas won the NCAA swimming championship last Thursday. ESPN’s Katie Barnes joins Takeline to discuss what Thomas’ victory means for the future of trans and women’s sports. Boxer Evan Holyfield (8-0, 6 K.O.), son of four-time heavyweight world champion Evander Holyfield, joins the podcast to discuss his part of the new Discovery+ Series LEGACY: In the Shadow of Greatness, which chronicles the beginning of the young fighter’s professional career.
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Jason Concepcion: Hello and welcome to Takeline. I’m your host, Jason Concepcion. Ugh great and substantive and interesting show this week. I’m talking first to Wall Street Journal NFL reporter Andrew Beaton to discuss the Cleveland Browns recent trade for Deshaun Watson, signing him to a five year, $230 million, nearly fully guaranteed contract. Despite the fact that Watson is currently facing civil lawsuits from 22 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, sexual assault, a range of bad activities. Later, producers Zuri Irvin and Ryan Wallerson and I will just kind of like unpack this entire sad story. After that, I’m talking to Katie Barnes of ESPN about the reaction to NCAA swimmer, University of Pennsylvania student Lia Thomas, who just became the first known transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division One title after claiming the 500 meter freestyle event over the weekend. And then finally, I’ll speak to Evan Holyfield, son of four time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and one of the stars of Legacy in the Shadow of Greatness, which premiered earlier this month on Discovery Plus.
Jason Concepcion: On March 11th, grand jury in Texas decided not to pursue charges in numerous sexual misconduct and sexual assault cases against now former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Several days after that, the Cleveland Browns traded for Watson and then announced that they would be signing him to what is essentially the richest guaranteed contract in NFL history $230 million, meaning that should Watson be suspended due to the repercussions of any of the 22 ongoing civil cases that still remain against him, he will lose only one million dollars of the massive $230 million payday. The Browns released a statement saying in part. We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun. We should add here that they are not the only ones, you know, New Orleans, Atlanta, et cetera. A lot of other teams were exploring trading for Deshaun. Part of why clearly the Browns landed Deshaun was they were willing to sign him to this massive guaranteed contract. We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision. Our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved, yada yada yada. We also understand that there are still some legal proceedings that are ongoing. That is a reference to the 22 ongoing civil litigations against Deshaun, and we will respect due process. OK. Joining me now to talk about this because we’ve been talking about this in the pre pro meeting that we had is my producers Takeline producers Zuri Irvin and Ryan Wallerson. It’s interesting to me this because there are two ways to see this either Deshaun is not legally guilty, but did do the acts that he is accused of doing by, again, 22 different women in these cases, and more so that didn’t bring cases but have been interviewed by various outlets. Or he is like the victim of a massive extortion scheme by various predatory massage therapists, in which case a crime has occurred. And it is that these women are conspiring to defraud a very famous athlete from millions of dollars and hurt his his career in ways that it would be actually like hard to measure. And in which case it would be interesting to me that Deshaun doesn’t seem too like concerned about that. Like the thing it makes it crazy to me is if, in fact, 22 women were involved in some sort of vast conspiracy, like if I was Deshaun Watson, I’d be like screaming from the mountaintop about different ways that I would be like going forward to clear my name, including investigators, including urging the FBI to get involved. I just wish sometimes that people would say, “You know what? I think he did it, but I don’t care.” because that’s where I feel like we’re at. I feel like a lot of people are like, I think he did it, but I don’t care. It’s it’s worse to me that people are willing to believe that 22, which is an immense number, 22 different women are lying about this in ways in which their stories all line up. And in doing so are like opening themselves up to ridicule, to societal pressures, to damage to their reputation, to fans of Deshaun Watson like harassing them, should their names come out. It just is. It doesn’t make sense to me logically that you could come to that conclusion but clearly many people are.
Zuri Irvin: Yeah, I think it’s we know that sexual assault survivors, we know that it’s difficult for them to come forward in times like these when we know that they don’t have a lot to gain. And also, I think the timeline of this might be a little important. I mean, we’d have to assume that they would know that just on what was going to sign a 230 million dollar contract, to then take advantage of a year later down the line, which again, seems unlikely. So I don’t know. I think if you take that into account it would have taken for some of these survivors to wait a year and then presumably take advantage of this contract, which again, I’m not defending.
Ryan Wallerson: That’s what makes it so unbelievable for me as well, because if you think about the endeavor that they would have had to take on starting from a year ago and then coordinating their stories the way that they have within the investigation that’s been conducted, that their stories are so similar. It’s just like acting classes, like collaboration.
Jason Concepcion: And in which case, right, this is like an immense conspiracy, which is the thing that is like, OK, so if you believe that like, it’s this. Rusty Hardin, Deshaun’s lawyer, did say last year sometime that Deshaun had been interviewed by the FBI regarding this case. Now he’s the only source for that. The FBI’s involvement has not appeared in any other reporting in the New York Times, the Sports Illustrated. Anywhere else, the only person that says the FBI is looking into Deshaun being extorted is Rusty Hardin, Sean’s lawyer. OK. So who knows? But like if you believe that, then why aren’t? Why aren’t the FBI getting to the bottom of it? Clearly, like if you know, we’re not talking about like ISIS or Russian spies, right? We’re talking about like regular people who would presumably have been texting and emailing and contacting each other about like making this plan. It couldn’t be that hard to crack this case, right? And if it were the case, wouldn’t this gigantic sports media engine be eager to investigate and to blow open a story of this nature? Wouldn’t Adam Schefter be like, Man, I can’t wait. I can’t wait to pursue the story that finally clears Deshaun Watson’s name and shines a light on this network of predatory women who are preying on millionaire athletes? Wouldn’t there be any like an uncountable number of journalists and investigators ready to dive into this case to reveal that? And yet, where’s that it?
Ryan Wallerson: They’d be dueling each other to break that news, like literally dueling each other to the death because it’s very clear that somebody is guilty of a very serious crime here, whether it’s Deshaun Watson and his just lifestyle and very problematic, disrespectful lifestyle. Or, you know, this conspiracy of intent to come together and defraud this famous NFL quarterback.
Jason Concepcion: And here’s the other thing. When Deshaun was deposed last week, he took the fifth twice. What does that tell you? Pleaded his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself in court. So what does that tell you?
Zuri Irvin: Because I think about I mean, we’re talking about not pointing the finger at the Cleveland Browns per se, because several teams are going to go after Deshaun Watson, no matter what. But I think about the culture of what it means to be a fan of the NFL and and like, how culpable are we as fans to create an apparatus that allows a guy like Deshaun to skate free? Do you ever think about that?
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, I think about it all the time. Like we’re talking about the NFL right now was the last NFL postseason was probably the most entertaining in anybody’s living memory, right? The league is a $10 billion league on the way to a $20 billion league. We’re all a part of this. And I think everybody who likes the sport watches the sport talks about the sport should on some level, interrogate their own relationship with it. OK, so 22 women have accused Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct, including forced oral sex, exposing himself and other types of unwanted touching. Deshaun then countered through his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, that oh, his. Here’s 18 other massage therapists who say that Deshaun was absolutely the perfect gentleman during the massages. You’re an athlete, you’re a professional athlete body is the temple. Do you have like 40 different nutritionists or 40 different trainers? Like, why does Deshaun Watson have 40 odd individual women who he has contacted many through Instagram? For the purposes of massage therapy, wouldn’t you just have like two or three that are your trusted ones and that you just keep cycling them according to availability? Why 22 plus 18? Why that many? What does that tell you?
Ryan Wallerson: It tells me that either something is wrong and he’s looking for the right person or he likes the revolving door?
Jason Concepcion: Right? He has a muscle pull that is just is is devastating.
Ryan Wallerson: Unsolvable.
Jason Concepcion: His body is like on the verge of breaking down.
Ryan Wallerson: So, so he thinks he’s going to find, you know, finally, the relief to this Age-Old issue on Instagram in someone’s DMs.
Zuri Irvin: Also also doesn’t finding 18 counter witnesses almost raise more questions?
Ryan Wallerson: Yes. Absolutely.
Jason Concepcion: Absolutely it does, yeah.
Zuri Irvin: How ready you should be to have a bunch of corroborating counter witnesses at the drop of a hat. I think it probably tells you that you were ready for some criminality coming your way. Some justifiable criminality.
Ryan Wallerson: On both levels. It shows that you were prepared for it. Also, it just shows us the sheer quantity of women you’ve engaged with on this level.
Jason Concepcion: The other thing that Rusty Hardin and Deshaun Watson and some of his supporters said, Oh, well, you know, it was this was during, you know, a couple of times and it was tough to set times, tough to schedule a massage therapist and yada yada yada, which makes it even crazier because now it’s like 40 women in a in the space of like a year. I mean, do the math on it. That’s like, how many is that a month? It’s like three point something, three point sixty five a month. Again, I guess like the one conclusion we can definitely come away with is that is that Deshaun Watson loves massage. And like, why? Why does he need it this much? All of which to say, it’s it’s just crazy to me that the logistical hoops that people can jump through to say, Oh, “these are gold diggers”, “this is all false”. “This is not true.” They are really, really astounding when the kind of easiest explanation charges aside, and we could talk about how underreported sexual assault is, how under convicted it is the shame involved in coming forward and all the reasons that victims don’t come forward and or that victims maintain contact with with a person who has victimized them for. You know, that is all stuff that happens and often like that evidence is then used against victims when they speak up, but it just is. The simple explanation is right there that he very likely did this and that the evidence, the witness accounts of 22 different women tell us that
Zuri Irvin: And he’s going to get away with it.
Jason Concepcion: He’s going to get away with.
Ryan Wallerson: And then the other side of that is that the NFL, the league, the owners and to a great degree, its fans simply don’t care about this type of activity.
Jason Concepcion: I think we don’t care. I think we don’t care because sports is supposed to be like, we think about it as an escape. Like, how many times have we said it like during the pandemic? Oh, it’s great to have the NBA back. Oh, so great to have the NFL back. That was like, you know, like it was, you know, world was crazy, and I just got to turn that on and feel normal for a second. And I think that, you know, that has always been the case. COVID or no is sports are an escape, and people don’t want to think about the other stuff that goes on with it, whether it’s traumatic brain injury or sexual assault or racism or whatever, they don’t want to think about it. They just want to see the ball go in the hoop or the ball going into the end zone. And that’s it. They don’t want to think too much more about it.
Ryan Wallerson: It’s like, what’s the what’s the counter to lose your great escape?
Jason Concepcion: Yeah.
Ryan Wallerson: They’ll be able to sleep better at night. No, people aren’t making that choice.
Jason Concepcion: Last week, a grand jury in Texas decided not to indict Deshaun Watson. Now former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on charges of sexual misconduct, sexual assault from 22 different massage therapists. A few days later, the Cleveland Browns acquired Watson and signed him to, you know, the richest, fully guaranteed deal in NFL history. Joining us to unpack all the football angles to this is Wall Street Journal NFL reporter Andrew Beaton. Andrew, welcome back to Takeline.
Andrew Beaton: Thanks so much, Jason.
Jason Concepcion: Andrew, so the Browns have given Watson a five year, $230 million contract. It is the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history. I don’t know if this is necessarily the way the NFL wanted to make history, but here we are. What’s your just knee jerk reaction to this deal, to this signing the culmination until the until the civil cases get underway of this part of the Deshaun Watson saga, I guess we’d call it.
Andrew Beaton: I think my reaction is, I think it’s pretty telling when it’s been a bizarre last year where he wasn’t suspended. He wasn’t hurt. But he just didn’t play the whole year. He was basically on paid leave without being on paid leave. And there’s all these pretty ugly troubling concerning whatever you want to call them, allegations, against him from 22 women in civil suits. And there wasn’t really much hesitation around the league as a whole to try and trade for him.
Jason Concepcion: Right. We’re criticizing the Browns, and we should, but you know, there were, you know, New Orleans was involved. Atlanta was there is a lot of teams that were trying to get Deshaun Watson.
Andrew Beaton: Right. Teams were lining up for him, and they were the team that convinced him to waive his no trade clause there. They ponied up in terms of draft picks. They ponied up in terms of a massive contract. And, you know, they were just the team that quote unquote won out in this lottery. But there’s a lot of teams that wanted to win. So the Browns put themselves in this position by offering the most and getting him to go there. Remember, he had a say in where he could go because he had a no trade clause and could say, All right, this is where I’m waiving it.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, perversely, I think you could argue and some have that he had the most leverage ever in history for any NFL player.
Andrew Beaton: Yeah, I mean, he he had an extraordinary amount of leverage because it’s the nature of football, right. We know how valuable quarterbacks are, quarterbacks like him, who are this young and this talented? Yeah, it’s hard to think of an example of one who a team willingly traded and has become available this early in his career. So on the pure football side, this was a rather unprecedented opportunity for a team to get a quarterback of his caliber.
Jason Concepcion: Of course.
Andrew Beaton: But we all know the reasons why this opportunity existed. One of them is because even right around when these accusations first started coming, he had already wanted out of Houston anyway.
Jason Concepcion: That was a weird situation in the sense that it was a little confusing at the time because he wanted out. And then this happened. And then there were all sorts of really bizarre allegations and and conspiracy theories regarding the Texans involvement in these, which was all of which is silly. But it was kind of like a weird, muddled beginning to all of this.
Andrew Beaton: It set off as just a completely strange year, and we live in this kind of sports world where we want to separate off the field stuff from on the field stuff. But this was a situation where it was pretty hard to separate the two.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah.
Andrew Beaton: Because they want to trade him eventually. But on the other hand. Teams were a little leery of wading into the market while they wanted to see how everything is going to play out. But the Texans don’t want to trade their most valuable asset on the field for pennies on the dollar. So it just kind of created the stalemate. And then all of a sudden, when you see the grand jury convened, they come out and say he’s not going to be indicted. Everybody leaps into action, it’s like, oh, you know, it might there might be 22 civil suits with women accusing him of really terrible behavior. But once the charges were dropped, that’s when the race began.
Jason Concepcion: So you mentioned the 22 civil suits and the deposition and the grand jury’s decision to not press charges. Watson is being taken to court by 22 massage therapists. That’s not everybody who has accused him of wrongdoing, but the wrongdoing ranges from what I guess would be indecent exposure to sexual and unwanted touching to sexual assault in a couple of cases. Deshawn gave a deposition. He pled the fifth twice, which draw your own conclusions there. I ask this not to like let the NFL off the hook, but you know, what is your sense of the understanding of how this how this appears to people around the league? You know, I think the league has done a lot of work in recent years to try and at least give lip service to understanding issues around violence against women, et cetera. What are people connected to the league? What are their feelings now after this deal?
Andrew Beaton: I mean, I think there’s a lot of queasiness going around right, and it’s not hard to understand why. And to be clear, you know, all these things still have to play out, right? But the league at some point is going to have to make a decision on him. And they’re sort of spared from that last year because of that whole bizarre situation where he didn’t want to play for the Texans and the Texans were seemingly just OK, paying him to not play for them. And so they’re kind of spared that decision because they didn’t actually ever have to choose. All right. As the National Football League are, we comfortable letting Deshaun Watson take the field while all this plays out, but at some point they will have to make that decision and they will have to decide if they are suspending him for how long they’re suspending him. And, you know, this is a league where they’ve had to make those choices before, you know, Kareem Hunt is another guy that the Browns have signed after he was cut by the chiefs. I mean, if you want to connect dots, feel free. But the point is the league has been faced with these decisions before, and they had this kind of strange, lucky happenstance that they didn’t have to do it yet on Deshaun Watson, who was set up to be one of the faces of the league college football star charming. And now at some point, presumably maybe before next season, they’re not going to be spared from having to make that call.
Jason Concepcion: So Rusty Hardin, who is Watson’s lawyer, has given voice to the kind of the often used defense against things like this, which is some of these accusers are making this up for money as a kind of extortion scheme. And he said, Rusty Hardin did that, you know, the FBI interviewed Watson and may have interviewed a few of the women. Rusty Hardin is the only person that’s ever said that I haven’t found any other corroboration that the FBI was involved in this. So whenever I hear things like, Oh, here’s these, these women are out for money. But then when I get to 22, I think, well, that’s like a legitimate, if that’s true, that’s like legitimately a vast criminal conspiracy. You know, not to say that all of them conspired, but maybe two or three or some here. If that were true, wouldn’t Watson want the FBI to get involved in it? Do you have any indication that that is happening, that there is a case moving forward to break this, according to Watson, like, you know, criminal, vast criminal conspiracy of predatory people looking to extort a millionaire athlete.
Andrew Beaton: I mean all I know is that what Rusty Hardin has said about this publicly. I do not have any information about this. This bust coming. And as you said, 22 is a large number, right?
Jason Concepcion: Yes.
Andrew Beaton: That is one of the things that I think lurks in everybody’s mind about this case because we all very much understand that there is a due process. Everyone gets that. And Deshaun Watson should and will get his due process. Yes, but as you weigh the kind of so-called stink of making a trade like this before that due process plays out, that 22 number is something that’s a little hard to get out of your head
Jason Concepcion: To kind of build on that. In addition to the 22, that have filed civil suits against Watson. There were 18 massage therapists who testified that they were treated in a similar fashion to Watson, that some of them had discussed it, and the word was kind of out amongst the network of massage therapists said, Hey, watch out for this. 18 of those did not decide to press charges. He had that together. That’s 40 women. In your experience covering. Pro athletes, you know, their body is their temple, it’s worth millions of dollars to them. How often how how common is it for a professional athlete of the kind of like quality and sought after ness of Deshaun Watson to have 40 plus different like health therapists like I can’t think of any professional athlete that I’ve ever covered or known about that has had like 40 different dieticians or like 40 different trainers like that seems a high number, no?
Andrew Beaton: It does seem like a high number,
Jason Concepcion: many contacted, I would add, through Instagram.
Andrew Beaton: Yeah, I think if you were to ask Deshaun Watson’s team about this, I’m not going to speak for them, of course, but that one of the points that they have laid out in the past is that a lot of this happened during the onset of COVID, when everything was way worse in that regard.
Jason Concepcion: Just couldn’t book a massage at that time. It was so crazy
Andrew Beaton: That’s what we’re all thinking about in March 2020.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah.
Andrew Beaton: But it is true that we see with athletes over and over. I mean, maybe Tom Brady and TB Twelve is the chief poster child of this. But most of the best football players, basketball players, any sort of Olympian, they’re obsessive over what they put in their body about how they treat it, how they treat it. They might believe in all sorts of witchcraft and snake oil, but their routine is their routine. And very often it’s they they believe to the bone working with this one trainer working this one physio. So it is another thing that stands out as, OK, maybe a little bit of a red flag here.
Jason Concepcion: So the NFL is a $10 billion league. We’re heading towards 20 billion. Gambling we have seen at almost any price points is something for which the league will come down with the full force of its of its powers, the violence against women, sexual assaults, things of that nature. It’s still up in the air about how they will treat that with any kind of force or any kind of like predictable objectives. Do you think that this does anything to the way people view the league or as the NFL’s just too big of a juggernaut at this point?
Andrew Beaton: I think they’re going to probably going to have to spend a lot of time answering questions from women’s groups, from all sorts of advocacy groups. And you know, if you think back to the time of, say, after Ray Rice, the league had to do a lot of answering for that, and deservedly so. And I think depending on what happens here, that’s very possible its going to happen again because I think one of the things that has really raised an eyebrow about this entire situation isn’t just that we know Deshaun Watson will step on an NFL field again, or even that a team traded basically its entire future for him with all those draft picks. But they also gave him a raise, right? And so when you add all of these things together, it paints a pretty uncomfortable picture about what NFL teams value and because obviously his cases could go any sorts of ways. But they’re undecided right now, and there’s a lot of accusations. And so they’ve sort of decided to plow through that
Jason Concepcion: The Browns released a statement last week saying in part, our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of the situation in the complex factors involved. And is there any kind of indication about what that process looked like, what it was beyond, obviously kind of trying to quantify his impact on the field and what he might do to their salary cap once they sign him off to this massive contract? Was there any is there any kind of indication about what the shape of that investigative process was?
Andrew Beaton: I mean, presumably they took the time to hop on Google and maybe flip through twenty two lawsuits. One of the things that are that the lawyer for the accusers have pointed out is the Browns didn’t reach out to him and make of that what you will. I mean, I’m not sure if reaching out to him would have been that much more valuable, say than, you know, reading the lawsuits and reading for yourself what these women have accused him of. But I think it all points to a picture of this was a football decision, and you can try and paint it every which way. But this was a football decision.
Jason Concepcion: And I guess we should ask this following question then, considering that what do you what do you expect of the Browns next season with Deshaun Watson as quarterback?
Andrew Beaton: Well, I think it’s a really interesting thing because he sort of had his pick where to go? Mm hmm. And presumably some things, such as the money the Browns offered him and, you know, a pretty talented roster lured him to a place like Cleveland over a place like Atlanta or New Orleans. But the AFC as a whole is extraordinarily stacked. And now he walks into a division for God, knows how long that will have both Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson.
Jason Concepcion: Yep.
Andrew Beaton: And so it’s not like these are easy days for the Browns in terms of who they have to face. You have to face those guys four times a year. I’m never betting against Mike Tomlin, no matter even if Mitchell Trubisky is his quarterback.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah.
Andrew Beaton: So, yeah, it’s possible that the Browns going pretty much either way, especially given the fact that we know Deshaun Watson is really good. We also know that he went four and 12 the last time he was on the field for the Texans. Yep. So it’s not like he’s one of those foolproof cheat code Patrick Mahomes guys that you can slot in and say, All right, double digit wins, what seat are they going to be in the playoffs? He’s not quite at that level. Not at that tier, or he hasn’t shown to be. So there is some risk here for Cleveland in terms of how much it paid for him, knowing that there’s a chance he’s suspended for a good chunk of the season. And if you’re in that sort of dogfight and you’re missing him for, say, eight games, then is it a playoff team this year? I don’t know.
Jason Concepcion: He has Andrew Beaton, NFL reporter for The Wall Street Journal. We did not cause him to miss dinner this time. Andrew, thank you for joining Takeline.
Andrew Beaton: Thank you. Got to come over for dinner sometime.
Jason Concepcion: [AD].
Jason Concepcion: On Thursday, Lia Thomas, who is trans, won the NCAA Championship in the 500 meter freestyle swimming event. The victory was was marred and continues to be marred by the debate around her competition and her ability to compete in these events. Here, to discuss what Thomas’s victory means for the sport and the future of trans athletes in sports is Katie Barnes, award winning journalist for ESPN. Katie, welcome to Takelne.
Katie Barnes: Thanks for having me, Jason.
Jason Concepcion: Tell us about what essentially are the objections to Lia’s competing in these events.
Katie Barnes: The biggest thing is that Lia, unfortunately, sort of stepped into a bit of a perfect storm where we’re having an ongoing national debate about transgender people, generally speaking. And a lot of that debate is focused in sports and particularly around transgender women competing in women’s sports. And so for Lia Thomas, the core of much of the criticism that she receives is rooted in the fact that prior to swimming on the women’s team at the University of Pennsylvania, she spent three seasons on the University of Pennsylvania men’s team, though it is worth noting that one of those seasons she had under, she had begun hormone therapy. So the fact that she was already competing on a relatively elite level, meaning Division One Athletics on the men’s side and then transitioned to compete on the women’s side and transitioned after going through a testosterone driven puberty. And so all of those things together have really created a controversy around, you know, the science when it comes to transgender inclusion, women’s sports. And you know, what is fair, what is unfair, whether or not she should be allowed to compete, although it is worth noting that she did satisfy all the rules and policies put in front of her.
Jason Concepcion: And also, you know, she came in fifth in the eight and last in the 100. It’s not like Lia was out here dominating the field in every single race she competed in. It’s very interesting to me that the way this conversation is often framed is like people are like. They profess to be fine with trans athletes competing, but they are clearly are not fine with them winning. Do you think that that is the case here?
Katie Barnes: Oh, there’s no question about the fact that when it comes to how we talk about transgender athletes, you know, the ones that we focus on, the names that we know are all of those who win.
Jason Concepcion: Right.
Katie Barnes: There are plenty of athletes that have competed, for example, at the high school level whose names we will never know. But instead, you know, we’ve heard of the runners in Connecticut Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, who won state championships. And they are transgender girls, right? And that same principle applies to Lia Thomas. And I think you can point to the fact that, you know, when we first learned about Leah Thomas, it was because she put up, you know, really good times in the 200 and the 500 free at the Zippy Invitational all the way back in December. And when that happened, there was a lot of fervor around the idea that, oh my god, if she’s swimming this fast in December and is within 10 seconds of Ledecky in two seconds of Missy Franklin, she could beat those records. And so what was interesting at the NCAA tournament was to actually see a lot of those questions be answered in terms of what does it look like when Lia Thomas would swim on an elite level competing for national championships? And the reality is she wasn’t the most impressive swimmer in the pool, actually, that went to Kate Douglas from UVA. So
Jason Concepcion: You talked about the requirements that an athlete needed to fulfill in order to compete. Could you tell the audience what those, what those were?
Katie Barnes: Yeah, I think there’s a misconception around transgender women and women’s sports in particular, whereas I like this idea that, you know, you could just decide to be a woman one day and then compete immediately.
Jason Concepcion: Right, right. It’s a very simple decision. And why didn’t you make it sooner?
Katie Barnes: Exactly.
Jason Concepcion: You should have made the right. Why didn’t you do this earlier instead of like, you know, pussyfooting around and like dragging your feet?
Katie Barnes: Right, exactly. It’s not like it’s a hard internal question or anything,so.
Jason Concepcion: Right.
Katie Barnes: You know, I think, but there is that fear that this boundary, if we blur this boundary between, you know, sexes and between genders, then that also means that it’s going to be very permeable. People are going to be able to move back and forth with ease, and that’s not actually the way the policies have been developed. And so for Lia Thomas, for her to compete in the women’s category at the beginning of the season, what she needed the policy at the NCAA was essentially that you had to undergo 12 months of testosterone suppression, and it was a policy that was announced in 2011. It was old policy, but had been governing, you know, NCAA sports for a decade. But then in January, the unsteadily came out and said, Actually, we are going to kick our policy to the national governing bodies of each individual sport. So we’re going to have a sport by sport policy approach, and it’s effective immediately. And we don’t exactly know what this is going to mean. So then everybody was like, Well, what’s USA swimming’s policy? What’s it’s like because that is the governing body for swimming and USA Swimming updated their policy and came out and said for elite swimmers in the way that they categorized that is if you are USA swimming member, if you are swimming at a designated elite event, which the NCAA championships is not one or if you want to be eligible for American records, which starts at the ages of 13 to 14.
Jason Concepcion: Mm-Hmm.
Katie Barnes: You have to undergo 36 six consecutive months of testosterone suppression and be under a threshold of five nanomoles per liter, which that’s just your level of free floating testosterone. For context, previous levels at the international standard have been 10 nanomoles per liter. And, you know, a typical person assigned female at birth, you know, is under five nanomoles per liter. Most are under three animals per liter. Just for context. And so that was the policy. But then the NCAA said, “You know what, we’re also not going to accept that in full.” And so for Lia to be eligible to swim at championships needed to be compliant with the old NCAA standard, which is 12 months of testosterone depression and submit a one time testosterone serum level of under 10 nanomoles per liter within four weeks of competition.
Jason Concepcion: I can’t help but thinking is as you realize that the number of things that are needed to comport with in order to successfully compete, that just the conversation around this. I would imagine if I was struggling with my identity, larger issues after that about what I would want to do with my life after transitioning. That even this kind of, you know, seemingly removed, kind of like data driven, almost like medical conversation would be something that would dissuade people as a kind of like soft barrier to even thinking about getting involved in college athletics if they were transitioning.
Katie Barnes: Yeah, I mean, I think it, you know, anytime we have policy. Of course, there are barriers. I don’t necessarily think that when it comes to, you know, when it comes to elite competition that, you know, barriers are bad. I think there’s an ongoing discussion around what what policy is appropriate at what level of competition. So, for example, the NCAA has this policy that applies to all divisions of its sports. Well, for Division One, that makes sense. Does it make the same amount of sense for Division three? I think that’s an open question, and people are asking those questions around policies. You know, what’s appropriate for an individual? One may not be appropriate for high school and on what’s appropriate for high school may not be appropriate for elementary school. And certainly what’s appropriate for elementary school isn’t going to be appropriate for Olympics. But I think what’s happening across the country is we’re seeing the conflation of those discussions. You know, it’s possible to have a very serious, nuanced discussion and really dig into all of the different delineations between what people believe, but one that’s not happening on Twitter, obviously. And to my surprise, Twitter is not the forum for nuance, you know? But it’s not really happening around this issue in a public sense. And in Atlanta, you can see that where you had protesters who had one very specific opinion. And then any time there were eight of the students and the swimmers were sharing the student athletes, like when they were sharing their perspective, it was it was different. It was a little bit more nuanced. It was, you know, I have empathy for Lee and who she is as a person and I’m trying to focus on my race. And even for folks who perhaps weren’t as supportive of Leah swimming in the women’s category, you know, they would painstakingly say, Well, it’s not about, you know, transgender people. Whether or not that holds true, I think, is also an open discussion. But all of these issues and nuances are being conflated into the same thing. And that makes it really hard to have a discussion culturally about something that is so complex as this is.
Jason Concepcion: You mentioned the protesters, what was what was the atmosphere like there in the gym?
Katie Barnes: You know, Thursday, which was the first day that Lia swam. It was really tense. You could feel the anxiety, that was Lia’s best event, the five hundred. She was favored to win, and there were protesters outside from two different organizations one Save Women’s Sports. The other was the college chapter of Concerned Women for America. There were also other megaphones and their bullhorns, and they held a press conference. Barbara Earhart, who was a state representative from Idaho, flew in for that. She wrote the short HP 500, which was the first bill to be enacted into law that restricted transgender athlete participation in the country. So she was there, and then there was a small group of counterprotesters that were Georgia Tech students, actually, and they kind of rallied the troops as it were and came out and stood apart and there were confrontations between the two sides. There is video evidence of, you know, some of the same women sports folks interacting with the Georgia Tech students. I personally witnessed one member of that protest go over across the street and like, have a really combative discussion argument, I suppose, is the best way of putting it. And so it was not particularly friendly, certainly on the first day. And as the week went on, now inside the pool, you know, everybody just kind of had a collective sigh of relief that it mostly felt like, as for me, it was exciting. You know, it was noticeable that Leah didn’t receive as many cheers as other people did. That was definitely true. There were a couple of instances where there were boos that were audible. One parent, or maybe not parent, but one person in the crowd yelled Cheater before one of her prelim heats. So it was not a particularly welcoming environment per se. But, you know, it also wasn’t. It wasn’t as hostile as I thought it could have been, either.
Jason Concepcion: You mentioned the special interest protesting group Save Women’s Sports. Concerned Women for America. You know, I think that the natural kind of inference from the titles of those groups would be women’s sports are under siege now by, you know, waves of trans athletes that might come and distort the sport. How many trans athletes are there in NCAA sports?
Katie Barnes: Well, that’s hard to answer. I will say that in Division One Women’s Sports, Lia Thomas is the only known transgender woman who’s competing and her career just ended
Jason Concepcion: Right. Out of?
Katie Barnes: Thousands.
Jason Concepcion: Yes. So would it be fair to say that like this particular issue and not just within sports, because clearly I think this is this dynamic is taking place in in the broader conversation around the relationship this country has with with trans people. Clearly, this is this issue is being magnified in terms of the actual impact on the sport in terms of like the fairness for other athletes. If you want to frame it the way that some of these protest groups would frame it like this is, as you just said, the one known trans athlete in this sport has just exited the sport. So we’re done right. We’re good. Are we good?
Katie Barnes: Well, no, I mean, I think people who are opposed to transgender women competing women’s sports would argue that, OK. It was one athlete, but look at what one athlete was able to achieve. Look at how many spots and opportunities you took away from cisgender women. That is the argument that would be made. I do think it’s fair to say that. When it comes to transgender women and girls who win, they receive disproportionate coverage, which I think in turn makes it seem like a bigger issue than it is in terms of just the numbers of transgender women and girls that are participating in sports. But we know that those numbers are miniscule, even if you know we took the most generous statistics and interpreted them at the high school level. There would be like, you know, if you do the math, it’s possible statistically that there would be like 35000 transgender athletes. There are not 35000 transgender athletes. But for argument’s sake, let’s say that that is the number that exists. Well, there are eight million high schoolers that participate in sports. So when you do that math, that’s point four, four percent. And so you know it, it likely it’s actually probably a fraction of that percentage because for so many reasons, it’s hard for transgender kids to start playing sports. Once you become a high achieving athlete and realize that you are trans, it is hard to continue to compete. You have to make decisions about your career. And I think the other side of that coin is Isaac Hennig, who’s a Yale swimmer. He’s a transgender man. He has continued to participate in the women’s category because he has started hormone therapy. That’s how he’s able to remain eligible, and he has to make a decision between how he’s going to compete. And you know what? He’s what his career is going to look like moving forward. As you know, a guy and women swimming. And so, you know, trans athletes are constantly confronted with these questions. Never mind the fact that, you know, we’re still talking about Trans Mountain trans women when we have an increasingly large number of people that are identifying a gender expansive ways and fluid ways, like what does a sporting apparatus that’s built on a binary that is committed to having hard lines between those binary categories? What does that look like when not everybody fits that know that is continuing, I think, to pose, you know, just fundamental cultural questions to us as a society. I mean, that’s really what we’re grappling with. I think one of the reasons why sports has become such a vehicle for this conversation is because of its relationship to gender. It preys on our fundamental cultural beliefs around gender. And that, I think is particularly confounding for the general populace. As you know, this debate rages on.
Jason Concepcion: Lia’s has been pretty taciturn, and she’s spoken about the impact of the attention on her, on her mental health and how she tries to, you know, essentially block things out. But she hasn’t spoken that much about about her, her feelings and her thoughts regarding the the events. Any idea where her path takes her from here?
Katie Barnes: Yes, she has said that she would like to continue swimming if you’d like to swim in the 2024 Olympic Trials, whether or not that happens. We’ll see. Policy is a moving target right now and not just at the collegiate level. Also at the international level, there’s an expectation that FINA, the International Federation for Swimming, will be releasing some sort of a policy within the coming months because the International Olympic Committee has asked them to do so as all of the international federations to develop their own policies. So what that’s going to look like, I think, is, you know, it really is really interesting for the better part of a decade. You know, the policy is for transgender athletes and eligibility, and both the NCAA and Olympic level competition have been sort of settled like we knew what those were. And that’s no longer the case and they’re going to vary by sport. And so what that means for Lia will be interesting. But, you know, moving forward, I I wonder if we will hear from her. She hasn’t said very much other than a couple of interviews in the last few months. And now that everything is over, maybe we will hear from her, but I don’t know. It’ll be interesting for sure.
Jason Concepcion: We’ve been talking with Katie Barnes, award winning reporter for ESPN. Thanks for joining Takeline.
Katie Barnes: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Jason Concepcion: [AD].
Jason Concepcion: Discovery Plus’s Legacy in the Shadow of Greatness puts you in the shoes of athletes who are the children of famous athletes, and one of those is Evan Holyfield, a light middleweight with a record of eight no with six knockouts. He is the son of Evander Holyfield, who of course, became a household name in the 90s for his many fights, including beating Mike Tyson in 1996. Evan, thanks for coming on. In the Shadow of Greatness has really given people a chance to kind of like, understand what it’s like to begin the progress of an athletic career coming from a person who is has a lineage at elite athletics. What made this project write for you?
Evan Holyfield: Well, firstly, I kind of came to the pipeline with them to find out for my brother, and he was asking me if I wanted to be a part of that. And of course, I just jumped on the opportunity because, you know, of course, his brother, Elijah, and I know you want to step into anything into anything wrong again. You know, why not? Why not just help out? So that’s pretty much where it was for me, and it’s kind of changed over time.
Jason Concepcion: Do you remember one? When did you get serious about about fighting, about boxing? Your father says, your father Evander Holyfield, says he got you into the fight game at about eight. But when did you really start thinking seriously about pursuing it in a real way?
Evan Holyfield: I got to say, like, probably towards like eighth grade, ninth grade, because when I had my first fight in April, mom took me out and she made me play every other sport. So that’s like she was hoping I’d have another passion. So, you know, I did football, track, wrestling, swimming, gymnastics like taekwondo and I played. It was like literally every single sport I possibly could play. By the end of the day, you know, terms like eighth, ninth grade, you know, I for some reason, they’re like two thousand, like 12. Those are a lot of like young prodigies, child prodigies coming up, you know? So I remember seeing that a lot on YouTube. And, you know, my brother was getting ready. You know, my brothers, my so you know, he’s going to my friends is so I remember college football was a big thing for him, too. So it really wasn’t about what was happening in the ninth grade. It was about what was going to happen the next four years. That’s the way he was thinking. So like, you know, I seen I seen him like, you know, standing best, always time to do that. So, you know, I kind of like when to find for myself, you know, I really wanted to find something to really go in and really invest my time. And I had really came on. I really came into and I was like, I’m going to do a boxing, you know what I mean? Like, I always interested in a boxing. At the time, HBO boxing was still a big thing, and they had fighters like Canelo Pacquiao. Yeah, you know, Kovalev said, you know, those are the fighters I was watching, you know, and it really kind of inspired me to know, really want to box. But one other box that really made me, you know, really go all in because I know I understand what boxing the box is now like. You know, I into sports like, you know, Jesus kind of kids just hop in, you know, you may be able to do, you know, like basketball, you know, basketball, you know, you see kids go outside and shoot the basket, you know, you got a good shot. You play on a basketball team. Most likely, you know what I mean? You can learn on the job. But boxing, one of those things like this kid’s boxing box is just like eight years old in on, a man said. By the time they come to, like the age of 13, 14, 15, it really doesn’t matter who they’re boxing, why these kids could beat up Roman because, you know, at the end of the day, it no matter how strong you are, it’s about the skill is the skills that you learned that sets you apart. But I have what I should be on is boxing name Earl Spencer, and he’s a world champ. You know, he was 2012 Olympian stuff like that. He was is that his video was highlighted that he started boxing at the age of 15 years old. Wow. And when I heard that, I said now I was like 13. He was like 12 or 13, as I was like, Oh yeah, hey, he made it. He made it to the Olympics. So I still have a chance, you know what I mean? I’m not too old. You know, there’s a gap. There’s the gaps not too big to, you know, to cover, you know what I mean? So I went downstairs and I told my mom first badasses wanted to do boxing because, you know, Earl Spencer talked about he could hit football and all he did was boxing. So I was like, You know, this is the recipe. You know, the comment that everybody who’s, you know, successful in athletics is, you know, pretty much just all zoned in and focused on, you know, the one sport. Even I was in the first year with my brother, Elijah. He had quit Boxing Day just to go to the to just play football. So, you know, I’m seeing that firsthand. And even my dad, my dad, said, Bubba, stories about this. I was like, Yes, this is the way this to go. You know, I to all my mouth was, no. To see where it takes, you know what I mean? And first couple of years when I first heard boxing, you know, like a days, like 12, 13, it was kind of like discouraging, you know what I mean? Just going to the gym every day .
Jason Concepcion: In what way?
Evan Holyfield: Like I could say, it was an iencouraging by the people who I had around me. I say that because I feel like the people around you really kind of do make or break you. You know what I mean? Literally, we have like friends around you and they’re like real complacent or real easy to quit. You know, you’ll find yourself doing the same thing. You know what I mean? And I feel like I’m at the time. I had a lot of people around me who were, you know, older than me, you know, especially at the boxing gym. You know, it’s not one on one specific age group, you know, it’s not like I’m just around a whole bunch of high schools. I’m around a lot of grown men, people from different backgrounds, because when I started boxing, I started boxing in Bankhead. And if you don’t know you’re from Atlanta, you know, Bankhead’s the hood. It’s like where TI’s from stuff like that. So like it was really adjustments, you know, getting to know them, too, because, you know, they looked at me as like, I was just, you know, a snobby rich kid or whatever. And you know, that’s what they, you know, assumed of me. Until they got to know me and stuff like that. So like, literally, I would go to the gym every single day. And if it wasn’t for these people around me that were encouraging me to keep to keep me going, I was getting umm I was getting beat up every day. You know, I was going to practice, you know, I do, the drills ah the drills was the fun part, you know what I mean?
Jason Concepcion: Right? Yeah. Yeah,.
Evan Holyfield: Yeah, yeah. So they talk about running and stuff and they say like doing all that running and stuff was normally the hard part for boxers. That was fun part for me because I could do all that well. I could run. I’m really good in shape. I could do the drills, but it was like when it came down to sparring, you know, those kids were getting the um you know were getting the better piece of me, you know?
Jason Concepcion: And yeah, I bet if like if I’m a sparring partner at the gym and I get a chance to show the son of a famous world champion like I want to make my name for myself, I would imagine dudes were going after you.
Evan Holyfield: Yeah. You know, they was going after me every day because it wasn’t like my mom was bringing me in to practice. My dad, my dad started bringing me into practice for, like, you know, the first couple of months of me boxing, you know, so until i like started like getting more comfortable you know with the atmosphere of the boxing gym you know and stuff and stuff like that. So my dad was taking me, you know, these people would be boxing me and sparring me and you know, they’re always coming their hardest. Because you know, these are like literally are my dad’s like a hometown hero for people in Atlanta. So like these are ummm for some of the kids or some of the people I’m boxing these are this is like literally a person who they’re looking up who they’ve been looking up to so they’re not going to look bad in front of him. You know what I mean?
Jason Concepcion: Yeah.
Evan Holyfield: So but at the same time, people taking it easy on you is not going to make you any better. So, you know, at the end of the day it always made, without that it wouldn’t make me the person who I am today because, you know, it really taught me how to persevere. And, you know,and really jus push through the things and you got to look at the bigger picture sometimes. Cause you know, if you focus on the small things and what was going on every day like, you know, I was doing good at everything except sometimes in sparring you know, somebody get somebody get off on me, you know, and the boys would get off one me. But I come back the next day, and what really kept me going was, I may land like an extra punch or something like that two extra punches. Or, you know what I mean, I may have caught him lacking for like, you know, a couple of seconds or something like that and I’d be like, Oh, yeah, you know, I’m getting better, you know, if I could just build on top of that, I can, you know, clearly, I’m going somewhere and I just kept doing that.
Jason Concepcion: In the series, you talk a lot about how you saw your dad more as a dad and less as a boxer, like that’s the way you of course, interact with him as as you, as your dad. But of course, he was the defending heavyweight champion at the time when you were born. What do you remember about his career from when you were growing up?
Evan Holyfield: Man, when I was growing up, I felt like you know, when you’re young, you don’t be paying attention to some things, you know?
Jason Concepcion: Yeah.
Evan Holyfield: So like um, I know I remember, I used to go to some of his camps some of his training camps, and um you know, I used to regret. To this day, I kind of regret not paying attention as much as I should have. You know what I mean? Because, you know, I’d be more so um consumed with what was going on around me with my brothers and sisters. But as I got older and stuff, you know, I definitely started watching his fights and stuff and um when I was younger, he was just more so just a dad to me, you know, just somebody who I used to love on. And only looked at as a parent, I was completely oblivious of all the achievements and all that he has done and stuff like that. But it really wasn’t until I wanted to become a great boxer myself. That’s when I had to really soak in all that he’s actually done. And you know, anybody wants to be a great you gotta you know, look up to somebody. And honestly, he was the first person to
Jason Concepcion: You’re 8-0 right now with with six knockouts. I think your dad only had 29 knockouts for his entire career, over almost 60 fights. If you were to scout yourself, what is you know what? What, what’s your style? What’s your style of fighting?
Evan Holyfield: Um, I don’t know. I feel like that’d be pretty hard because, you know, sometimes they scout you kind of funny because, you know, we think of um people. Let’s say you want to get you want to try to this girl or whatever. You always look at your Instagram profile to see what other, what other people are seeing type deal. So, you know, it’s kind of weird your boxers do the same thing in such a way. I guess some boxers will look up themselves to see what footage of themselves will pop up. You know what I mean? To see what all footage is available on themselves, you know? And so I do that a couple of times and I’ll be trying to scout myself. And I feel like from a personal perspective, if I was going to scout myself. I’d say, like, you know, its moreso of a blending powder of like, I can box. And I could fight, but I feel like I’m the more I use my feet is what really sets me apart from most of these boxers out here because I’m I feel that I can um I have the ability to create more, you know, on the go than, you know, most people. But I can I can I can really shape and shift to what I need to do, but I feel like my feet is really what sets me apart.
Jason Concepcion: Goals for 2022? How often do you think you want to fight? And what route do you want to take as you as you climb the mountain?
Evan Holyfield: My goals for 2022 is, you know, of course, everybody wants to stay undefeated. You know, that’s number one. And but number two is, you know, just having an active having an active year. And I wanted to get some type of accolade or recognition for, you know, some of the fights that I’ve done, you know, like I want to aim for prospect of the year or something like that. So I know that doesn’t come easy and it’s going to come by staying undefeated and, you know, is just keeping the fights rattling off this year, you know. Hopefully I get to the end of the year and I look back and um look at my boxing record and tell and say, you know, I really made a big leap this year.
Jason Concepcion: He is Evan Holyfield, a undefeated light middleweight. The show is Legacy in the Shadow of Greatness, and you can watch it on Discovery Plus. Evan, thank you so much for joining us.
Evan Holyfield: Thank you for having me.
Jason Concepcion: That’s it for us. Follow and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe to Take Line Show on YouTube for exclusive video clips from this episode, plus my digital series All Caps NBA, which airs every Friday. Check it out, byyyye. Takeline is a Crooked Media production. The show is produced by Ryan Wallerson and Zuri Irvin, our executive producers are myself and Sandy Girard engineering, editing and sound design by the Great Sarah Dubalaska and the folks at Chapter four and our theme music is produced by Brian Vasquez. Mia Kelman is on the Zoom for vibes, and the vibes are fantastic all the time.