In This Episode
- This weekend’s Super Bowl LVI comes as the NFL is being sued by Brian Flores, a former head coach of the Miami Dolphins who has accused the league of racial discrimination in hiring practices. To discuss the lawsuit and racism in the NFL, we’re joined by Tyler Tynes, a staff writer for GQ who covers the intersection between race, politics, and sports.
- The nominees for the 94th Academy Awards were announced yesterday and Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up” is up for Best Picture. The climate change satire has been a huge hit for Netflix, though the critical response to it has been more mixed. David Sirota, who co-wrote the screenplay, joins us to talk about the movie and how the climate catastrophe gets covered in media.
- And in headlines: A new Freedom Convoy blockade emerged at the U.S.-Canadian border, Peng Shuai spoke to reporters in her first sit-down interview since last year, and federal agents arrested a couple for conspiring to launder $4.5 billion in stolen cryptocurrency.
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Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, February 9th. I’m Gideon Resnick:
Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, where we want to congratulate U.S. Olympian Nathan Chen for setting the highest short program score in figure skating history.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that might have been cool, Nathan, but you hadn’t gotten the congrats from WAD yet, and that’s what really counts.
Josie Duffy Rice: Here’s your real gold medal. We offer it to you as the number one scorers of figure skating.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, the reaction to a disconcerting interview from Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. Plus the DOJ announces its largest ever financial seizure of stolen cryptocurrency from two terrible millennials.
Josie Duffy Rice: But first, this weekend is the Super Bowl, and it is arriving at a time when the NFL is kind of in hot water. Last week, Brian Flores, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL, alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices. He said quote, “The NFL remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black head coaches, coordinators, and general managers.”
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and Flores claims that the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants conducted these sham interviews with him in order to satisfy the Rooney Rule, which requires that team officials interview minority candidates for coaching and senior leadership positions. Included in his lawsuit are text messages exchanged in late January with Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots—also a man who has no intact hoodies. According to Flores, in late January, Belichick texted him congratulating him for being named the head coach of the New York Giants. There was one small problem, Flores hadn’t actually interviewed for the job yet. The lawsuit claims that the Giants had decided to hire a different non-minority Brian, Brian Daboll, on January 23rd, despite scheduling an interview with Flores for January 27th. Flores also claims that he was fired by the Miami Dolphins team owner Stephen Ross for refusing to purposefully lose games or tank in order to improve the team’s position in the NFL draft.
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s yet another scandal in the NFL, which has a long history of discrimination—Colin Kaepernick, anyone? And the issues in the organization don’t stop with racism. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that women within the NFL organization still experienced gender discrimination, saying the league had quote, “a stifling, deeply-ingrained corporate culture that demoralized some female employees, drove some to quit in frustration, and left many feeling brushed aside.” Here to talk to us about Flores’ lawsuit and racism in the NFL is Tyler Tynes, staff writer for GQ who covers the intersection between race, politics, and sports. Tyler, thanks for coming on WAD
Tyler Tynes: Yeah, for sure. Thanks for having me.
Gideon Resnick: The teams that Flores is talking about ended up being maybe, unsurprisingly, very defensive in their statements after all of this. Some even went so far as to say that Flores’ comments were, quote unquote “defamatory”. Yet we also saw other Black former NFL coaches like Tony Dungy, Marvin Lewis starting to share similar experiences. So how rampant is this in the NFL, and what more don’t we know about what goes on like this?
Tyler Tynes: You know, I think it doesn’t matter whether Brian Flores wins this lawsuit or not, you know, the precedent that’s being set with the fact that he’s filing it in general is something that hasn’t done before. And regardless of what he’s claiming, you know, we don’t need evidence that racism happens in the NFL. We don’t need evidence that racism happens in hiring, and intention with hiring, because it happens everywhere. And there is long documented data, anecdotal evidence, and data paid for BY the NFL to prove that there is a problem, both with nepotism and the general idea of who should have these jobs from the top down.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Tyler Tynes: So regardless of Brian Flores, Marvin Lewis, Hue Jackson, Tony Dungy, all of these people know what happens when you become a Black head coach or a Black coach in the NFL. It’s a long wait before you get to glory.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that’s a great way to put it. So where do you see this going? Do you see more coaches joining the lawsuit?
Tyler Tynes: Not particularly. I think it is a very noble thing a lot of people are asking for these coaches, right? It’s that you’re asking for a very gilded sect of people, a job market where you really don’t get second chances nor third, and barely get the first to join something like this. It takes a lot of bravery, and I think we should be a bit more empathetic to the coaches who will probably line up to not do this. I’ve talked to so many coaches around this and I’ve covered this issue for a very long time and it’s more split than I think we give credence to that a lot of these guys don’t want to step up for this because they know what the consequences. They know that this is the only way they can feed their families. They know that this is their job of choice and that to speak out against the NFL means that you will never have a job again in the NFL. And the penalty for that is so immense that I don’t think some people are willing to do that. And it shouldn’t be on them either to have to do that. You know, what white coaches are going to sign up to this class-action lawsuit to prove that this happens? You know what I mean? So why do we have to always ask the question of these black coaches who are already disenfranchised? Let’s ask, like is Bill Belichick joining this. Let’s try to figure that out.
Josie Duffy Rice: Right.
Gideon Resnick: Right. He’s joining in one way that that his texts are there. This past weekend, the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, said: it’s unacceptable there are so few Black head coaches in the NFL. He also said the league would review its diversity and equity policies. Given everything that you said, Tyler, what did you make of that and what changes actually need to be made and could be made to change this?
Tyler Tynes: Every change. You need a new league from the top down, you know? I think we have enough evidence to kind of see over the last 10 to 12 years that football is not for the Black body, it’s not for Black people. Because the only thing that we have been seen to be good enough for is as crash dummies, as labor, as people who will never rise to be the leaders of men, the head coaches, the GMs, the owners of these teams, right? That, it doesn’t really matter, you know what the outcome of something like this is, and it doesn’t matter what Roger Goodell said, either. I am sure Roger Goodell will review the practices and tendencies like they do every offseason. I’m sure he does feel bad that this is happening, but the power within professional football belongs to the owners. It doesn’t belong to Roger Goodell. He is an employee of the NFL, a well-paid one, albeit. And so the people who can change this are those who own teams. It won’t matter if there are 30 Black head coaches in the NFL, as long as there are no Black people who are in the ownership group, we still have a massive issue in how we think about football.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And it seems like one of the workarounds, I guess, to that central problem had been the Rooney Rule, I guess. And I think that like this sort of exposed how easily that could be corrupted. So is there anything can be done with that? Is anybody following that rule? Like, is there any sort of precedent to that?
Tyler Tynes: No. I mean, nothing can be done with it because it’s working as is. You know what I mean? I think the thing that’s wrong in all of this is the idea or the assumption that something has been exposed. There is at least 40 years of great quantitative and empirical research data on why we have a problem with hiring in the NFL, and the central issue in that problem that when you create job titles, that when you think about how these jobs are supposed to work within football, that the envisioning and the idea, the silhouette, even for this job is not Black people. It is not anyone who is not a white guy. Because the idea of who a coach is to these people doesn’t look like me, right?
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Tyler Tynes: That’s just the baseline. The Rooney Rule came to be off the threat of legislation from Johnny Cochran to Cyrus Mehri in 2003, after taking quantitative data from a professor at the University of Pennsylvania that said that Black coaches were doing well but not getting the same opportunities. Off the threat of legislation, the Rooney Rule was born. And the only thing the Rooney Rule does is says that you can get in the room. So the question of has something exposed is nothing, because the Rooney Rule as intended is working. People are getting job opportunities. The problem is they’re not getting fair ones.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I wonder, do you see this as a potential turning point, or does a turning point really exist for the NFL? I mean, we saw what happened to Kaepernick, we’ve seen the league kind of clumsily wrestle with racial politics over the past couple of years, and often very clumsily. What do you think is going to come out of this and what do you expect to happen moving forward?
Tyler Tynes: I think when you consider the last decade of protest and really how this springtime of athlete activism has kind of come into vogue within the United States, and internationally too, this is the worst time to be a league like the NFL. This is the worst time to be the NBA who has, you know, a policy about The Star-Spangled Banner, you know, in their actual legislation of how the league runs. It’s a bad time to be against Black athletes, because it’s clear that the world is listening in a way that, you know, for past Black power movements for Black athletes, maybe they weren’t in the same way. Right? There is a focus on this right now. So if you’re the NFL, you better make good on some of your promises to the people that you are already kind of setting out to do right by. So again, it doesn’t matter what happens to Brian Flores, the precedent is that he did something at all. You know, it’s hard to not have respect for somebody like this who’s willing to risk their entire livelihood on making a point and being right. The question shouldn’t be What have you done lately, what’s going on here? The question should be what drove him to this level of madness? What drove him to the point to say Fuck my career, fuck this, I have to do this for my kids, for the people behind me, for the coaches I know was struggling—that should be where our focus is. What made you do this?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. A depressing but accurate way to summarize where we’re at. Tyler, really appreciate you taking all the time today.
Tyler Tynes: Yeah. Thanks, man.
Gideon Resnick: In other news about things that play on our televisions on Sundays and are meant to distract us from deep systemic problems at the core of their industry’s great transition, the nominees for the 94th Academy Awards were announced yesterday.
[clip of Oscar nominations] Here are the nominees for Best Picture. Belfast: Laura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacic, and Tamar Thomas, producers.
Coda: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi and Patrick Wachsburger, producers.
Don’t Look Up: Adam McKay and Kevin Messick, producers.
Drive My Car: Teruhisa Yamamoto, producer.
Dune: Mary Parent, Denis Villeneuve, and Cale Boyter.
Gideon Resnick: Love that entire thing. The other five nominees in the Best Picture category were King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, and West Side Story. Looking at the hard numbers, The Power of the Dog led the way with 12 nominations, followed by Dune with 10, and The Power of the Dog’s director Jane Campion, became the first woman to ever be nominated twice for Best Director—which is crazy that’s only now. But one of the other major questions is whether a streaming service may finally win Best Picture this year. The pandemic has battered movie theaters and hastened the shift to streaming platforms like Netflix. And this year, Netflix has two movies that are up for Best Picture: The Power of the Dog and Don’t Look Up. Don’t Look Up, the satire that is about the climate catastrophe despite not mentioning said climate catastrophe once received pretty mixed reviews from critics. And if you were on social media around Christmas, you may have seen people expressing some, shall we say, strong opinions about this movie. Yet it was a really huge hit for Netflix, becoming the platform’s second most successful movie ever, at least in the extremely 21st century metric of hours watched.
Josie Duffy Rice: For those who have seen the nominations, in the screenplay category, there are two names credited for Don’t Look Up’s story: Adam McKay, the director of movies ranging from The Big Short to Anchorman, and David Sirota. Sirota is a journalist, a former adviser for the 2020 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and the founder of the publication The Daily Poster. So yes, you may be confused about why he’s in the mix here.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. To find out and to talk about the movie and how our climate catastrophe gets covered in media, I spoke to Sirota yesterday. Here is our conversation:
Gideon Resnick, interviewing: So first of all, congrats on the nominations. Best Original Screenplay for Don’t Look Up, Best Picture, among others. What does this mean to be nominated? What is your day been like so far? Tell me how you found out.
David Sirota: Well, this is quite a plot twist in my own life. I’m a journalist. I’ve worked in politics. This is my first foray into writing movies, so I’m sort of having an out-of-body experience. I mean, everyone I know is incredibly excited. I’m very excited as well. And what I’m really excited about is that I think this should give the movie even more of a boost in terms of getting it in front of as many people as possible so that it can spark the kinds of conversations that the movie already has sparked. And I think it’s sparked conversations about climate change and about how we respect science and about the media and about corruption. It sparked all those conversations through a movie.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and you talked about this, but you know your background is in politics and journalism. How did you and Adam McKay end up linking up for this and how did you draw on those different backgrounds to actually make this happen?
David Sirota: The way this movie came about was the idea, and the germination of it was I spent election night 2016 with Adam, and it was obviously a very disturbing and bad election night. Soon after that, Vice came out, and right after Vice came out, I said to him, I said, Listen, you know, you have to use your super powers of comedy and politics, the intertwining of both, to deal with the climate crisis. And he said, Yeah, you know, I know, but I’ve been able to figure out exactly how to do it. We were kicking around ideas and then I had written a couple of stories about something on climate, and it really sometimes feels like an asteroid is headed towards Earth, and nobody cares. And he said, Wait a minute, maybe that’s the germination, maybe that’s the seed for the movie. And so we started spit-balling ideas. I was like, Oh, you know, the president would go try to address the crisis, but there would be a government shutdown and they can’t pass a bill to get the funding necessary. Comes back a month later, says, Hey, I’ve got a script. What do you think? And I gave him some notes and he revised it again. And then he said, You know, I think Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence are interested in doing this. And I was sort of like, Yeah, yeah, sure. You know, of things in Hollywood, like things are always sort of in development. And then all of a sudden he was like, We’re doing it literally now, they’re sending over the papers for you. It’s happening. And I was like, Wow.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And this really did get polarizing reactions, like to say the least. So were you, were you expecting that?
David Sirota: I knew it was going to be polarizing because anything that you make about the here and now, especially anything about the here and now of politics and culture, people are going to react in a passionate way. This movie it’s about now. And so people are going to have their feelings right now. And I actually think that it’s a good thing. Whether you like the movie, whether you hate the movie, the fact that it has spurred those conversations and discussions and the thought and the discourse—that’s what a film is really supposed to do.
Gideon Resnick: You’re talking about the genesis of this and saying, like, it’s sort of like a comet is about to hit Earth. I think that people like on an intellectual level understand climate change in that way. And yet there has been this enormous struggle for popular entertainment to wrestle with climate change and to actually presented in work that is mass consumed. Why do you think that is? And are there other things that you think have done that well?
David Sirota: Look, climate is a tough issue because it’s fast moving geologically, but it’s slow moving in some ways in our lives, although it’s accelerating now. I think climate change is also a scary issue. That part of climate denial, I think part of the reason it has traction, it still has traction, is because it offers a comforting message: Hey, nothing’s happening, nothing to worry about. I know this thing is scary, but hey, it’s not really going to happen or it’s not a big deal or it’s not urgent. So you see the appeal of climate denial, but I think lots of us know that that’s false comfort. And so I think this movie says explicitly, It’s false comfort. It uses this as an allegory to say this crisis really is urgent. And I think part of the comedy of our movie is that you’re laughing in some ways because the movie is saying things that you know to be true, but that, you know, we don’t really talk about a lot, right? Like our frivializing media, how it frivializes everything. And I find The Daily Rip Show to be one of the funniest parts of the movie because it’s like we know that that’s how so much of the media operates, so to see it so explicitly in a funny way, we’re like, Yes, I recognize that. That’s a thing that I recognize in the world that I know we don’t talk about a lot. There’s kind of a release to that. And the hope is that the release then begins to get us past denial. And what we’re trying to dramatize is is that this isn’t 30 or 40 years from now, it may not be six months of an asteroid, but it’s right here and now, and there are people trying to warn us about it and the longer we ignore the Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence character, the worse it’s going to be for us.
Gideon Resnick: I’m curious because now that you’ve had this foray into the industry, what to you is more toxic, D.C. or Hollywood?
David Sirota: Oh boy, they’re both fun houses of mayhem and confusion. Look, I would say I have a lot more experience in Washington, DC. Washington DC is a place most of us know is broken in various ways. What I’m focused on in my journalism and one of the themes in this movie is to shine a white-hot spotlight on how decisions are made in Washington, how they’re often made without the public as the focus, without the public really being represented. I think that we need a whole hell of a lot more of that kind of accountability journalism, that kind of accountability media content, to constantly put pressure on the people in that city who are running the government to actually deliver for us.
Josie Duffy Rice: The Oscars are on March 27, so you have plenty of time to catch up, but that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: The Ottawa trucker protests continue to escalate after a new blockade emerged at the U.S. Canadian border yesterday, effectively cutting off most traffic at Canada’s busiest bridge to the U.S.. The bridge is crucial to sustaining Canada’s automobile industry, and the blockade could seriously disrupt its supply chain if it continues. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been heavily criticized for not taking enough action against this so-called “Freedom” convoy, took to Twitter to condemn the truckers yesterday, saying quote, “They don’t have the right to blockade our economy or our democracy or our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop.” Meanwhile, far-right activists around the world are hailing the Ottawa protesters as heroes of the anti-vax movement. Right wingers in New Zealand and Australia have even staged similar protests, with thousands of protesters using their vehicles to disrupt traffic over pandemic restrictions. Plans for a trucker protest in the US are also gaining traction online—because why not? According to the New York Times, anti-vax activists are already plotting on Facebook and are expected to announce an action soon.
Josie Duffy Rice: Chinese tennis star Pung Shuai spoke to reporters at the Beijing Olympics on Monday in her first sit-down interview since last year. Shuai disappeared from the public eye in November after she took to social media to accuse a former high-ranking Chinese government official of sexual assault. In Monday’s interview Shuai completely backtracked on all of her claims, saying she never accused anyone of assault and that the whole thing was, quote, “an enormous misunderstanding.”
Gideon Resnick: Wow.
Josie Duffy Rice: The three-time Olympian also announced in the interview that she would be retiring from tennis, and thanked her fans for their support. Thus far, the interview has reignited international concern about her well-being and safety, as many wonder whether or not she’s acting of her own free will. Mark Ventouillac, one of the two journalists who interviewed Shuai, told The Associated Press that he wasn’t sure if she was speaking freely during their conversation. The Women’s Tennis Association, the organization that led the charge to defend Shuai back in November, also was not convinced. Steve Simon, the association’s CEO, released a statement yesterday calling for a formal investigation into Shuai’s claims and demanding to meet with Shuai privately to inquire about her well-being.
Gideon Resnick: Just a scary situation all around. On Tuesday, the evil sleeping giant who may come to life again once he hears the word Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, took a very minor stand. He joined a small group of Republicans in pushing back on the Republican National Committee’s vote last Friday to censure representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their participation in the House investigation of the January 6th attack. At the RNC’s winter meeting last week, the committee also characterized the January 6th attack on the Capitol as quote, “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” Whoa! If you are Mike Pence and you’re listening and for some reason, this hurts you in a way that you cannot describe, just know that we disagree with the RNC here at WAD. In an address to the press Tuesday, Mitch McConnell called January 6th quote,” a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election from one administration to the next.” McConnell did reiterate his confidence in the RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel—no relation to Ronald McDonald—however, he expressed concern at the targeting of quote unquote “moderate” Republicans like Cheney and Kinzinger.
[Clip of Sen. Mitch McConnell] The issue is whether or not the RNC should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority. That’s not the job of the RNC.
Josie Duffy Rice: In what the Department of Justice is calling its largest financial seizure ever, federal agents arrested a young couple in Manhattan Tuesday morning for conspiring to launder $4.5 billion in stolen cryptocurrency. The couple, Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan, were linked to a 2016 cyber breach of cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, in which they allegedly stole almost 120,000 bitcoin, then valued at about $71 million. The DOJ was able to seize more than 94,000 bitcoin, now valued at $3.6 billion—take that any haters who thought bitcoin was uncool back in 2016, when the real heads were smart enough to steal it in giant quantities. I am that hater. DOJ officials made the seizures through search warrants after tracking how the couple had attempted to hide the money on various personal and business accounts. It didn’t take long after the announcement of the couple’s arrest for the internet to discover that they had committed an even worse crime: posting rap music videos on YouTube. It turns out Heather Morgan, who goes online by the alias “Razzlekhan”—what a name—had left behind a multi website trail of cringe, including a TikTok in which she gives entrepreneurial advice, a personal website in which she describes her art as quote, “something in between an acid trip and a delightful nightmare” and articles on Forbes about how to protect your business from cyber criminals, which if anyone’s going to tell you how it might as well be someone who is allegedly a cybercriminal, allegedly.
Gideon Resnick: Makes sense.
Josie Duffy Rice: Not convicted yet. We’ll see what happens. Like many millennial icons, Morgan is a multi-hyphenate and it’s hard to describe her. So here she is, describing herself in one of her many works of digital content terrorism. Remember that until recently, this person had over three billion dollars.
[clip of Heather Morgan] And many things: a rapper, an economist, a journalist, a writer, a CEO, and a dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty ho.
Josie Duffy Rice: No. No. No.
Gideon Resnick: The interesting thing about all of this too, in terms of the timing, is that she’s also performing the Super Bowl halftime show. I don’t know if that’s going to be possible given the recent developments, but that’s pretty, I’m excited. That’s going to be good.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that’s the low point in my life, I think. That recording.
Gideon Resnick: It can only go up from here. So that’s—
Josie Duffy Rice: That’s true. That’s true. That’s true.
Gideon Resnick: We love Razzlekahn can hear it WAD for sure. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, delete your entire internet presence before the DOJ blows up your spot, and tall your friends to listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re in the reading, and not just cybercrime tips from accused cyber criminals like me, What A Day is also a nightly news letter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Gideon Resnick, interviewing: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And Lady Gaga was snubbed!
Gideon Resnick: That’s right. She worked on that accent day in and day out.
Josie Duffy Rice: I got to say, I feel like if she had never said that, she could have got a nomination. But the accent, when you know how much work went into it, it’s not that impressive.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: Wasn’t a great accent.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, with writing support from Jocey Coffman, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.