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Go ahead and pinch yourself, Washington. Can you remember the last time we had this many teams to root for?
In our local sports roundup, we’ll discuss the latest on the Mystics and the Nationals, the success of the Spirit post-World Cup and the continued downfall of the Washington football team.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- Kevin Blackistone Visiting Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland; National Sports Columnist, The Washington Post; Panelist, ESPN’s Around the Horn
- Ava Wallace Sports Reporter, Washington Post; @avarwallace
KOJO NNAMDIThat was Charlie Slowes and David Jageler providing the play-by-play for a critical moment in last night's Nats game. Go ahead and pinch yourself, Washington. Can you remember the last time we had this many good teams to root for? Today, we bring you our local sports roundup, and we're talking the latest on the Nationals and the Mystics, the success of the Spirit post-World Cup victory and, yes, the continued downfall of the Washington football team. Joining me in studio to discuss all of this is Ava Wallace. She's a reporter for the Washington Post, covering local college sports and the WNBA. Ava Wallace, thank you for joining us.
AVA WALLACEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIKevin Blackistone is a panelist for ESPN's Around the Horn. He's a sports columnist for the Washington Post and a visiting professor at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College in journalism. Kevin Blackistone, good to see you again.
KEVIN BLACKISTONEGood to see you, man.
NNAMDIKevin, what does last night's victory mean for this team, going forward?
BLACKISTONEOh, it means everything. And, by the way, you read that journalism resume part of my life, but the most important thing for this show right now is the fact that, you know, I was born in (unintelligible) hospital...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Born and raised in Washington.
BLACKISTONEYes, grew up in Petworth and Chillum.
WALLACENo way. Me, too.
BLACKISTONEThere you go. I mean, this is the most exciting conflagration (laugh) for teams in this city that I can ever remember. I mean, we've got the Mystics playing tonight to win it all, the Nationals advancing again with a grand slam in the 10th inning that catapulted me off of my couch last night, and had Marilyn, my other half, yelling, what is going on down there? She could care less about sports. So, I mean, I'm absolutely thrilled. And the momentum that this team has going to play the Cardinals, I think, is absolutely tremendous.
NNAMDIAnd I'm brandishing my D.C. flag tattoo. (laugh)
BLACKISTONEThere you go. There you go.
NNAMDIBut why is this moment in particular so significant for the Natioinals?
BLACKISTONEWell, it's significant because they've never advanced in the playoffs. First of all, they got to the wild card one game knock-out, and they survived that. And now they just beat, arguably, the best team in baseball, the team that was picked to win it all, 106 wins. The Dodgers had Clayton Kershaw, the pitcher of his generation, who they got back-to-back homeruns on, to tie it up, and the fact that this team started out the season so poorly.
BLACKISTONEIn a lot of ways, this playoff season and last night epitomizes what this team has been all year long, right, just a comeback team. A team that, I hate to use the cliché, but just will not die. And it's given us all life.
NNAMDISo, can I stop singing the Dusty Baker blues? (laugh) Been singing it for two years.
BLACKISTONEYeah, I know, I know. This is a nice salve for that.
NNAMDIYeah, this is really -- Dusty Baker, for those of you who did not know it, was the former general manager of the Nationals. And he lost his job two years ago, and a whole lot of people were upset about that. But, I think you're right, this is the salve for it. Care to comment on all this, Ava, even though you don't cover baseball?
WALLACEI was singing the Dusty Baker blues right along with you, (laugh) because we loved dusty in my family. So, it is a nice salve. And it was so funny, I think maybe just last week that, man, the Nats had so many good teams who were supposed to be able to do this, that you start to think, huh, maybe this is the one that could, after all of that expectation. So, it's a great sports story that way.
NNAMDIMax Scherzer was nearly speechless after the game. All he could say was, this team, man, (laugh) this team. Tell me about this team, Kevin. Who are some of the key players, here?
BLACKISTONEWell, Max Scherzer is obviously one of the key players. I mean, he's one of the greatest pitchers we've ever seen. He got hurt the latter part of this year. He's been battling back from injury. He had a big performance coming out of the bullpen. He had a big start. We've ridden his coattails. Howie Kendrick, on Yom Kippur, atoned for his sins (laugh) during this playoff when he had three errors, a boneheaded base running...
NNAMDI(overlapping) On defense, he hasn't been great.
BLACKISTONEHe has not been great. Zimmerman, who's been the face of this franchise for 15 years, had a monster homerun earlier. Soto, the young left-fielder, has made you forget about Bryce Harper. Michael A. Taylor, who some of us have started calling Michael K. Taylor, because he struck out so much, comes in relief of an injured Victor Robles in center field and shows his gold glove possibilities and, more importantly, was getting on base and making things more difficult for the Dodgers. So, there are a lot of...
NNAMDIAnthony Rendon did what he does. (laugh)
BLACKISTONEAnthony Rendon did what he does, and the Lerners (laugh) owe it to this city and to Anthony Rendon to back the Brinks truck up to him (laugh) and allow him to take as much as he wants. (laugh)
NNAMDIAva Wallace, you're a D.C. native also, aren't you?
WALLACEYes, and I know we're not going to leave this room without talking about Stephen Strasburg.
WALLACEOh, my goodness, how good he's been for this team. Game two, I watched that game two, and I just could not -- it was incredible how well he was pitching. And, you know, he had a rough night last night, but the team really came through for him. It was really fun. It was really, really fun to watch. And you knew you couldn't go to bed, either. (laugh) Nobody went to bed. I was on Twitter with all my friends online, and everyone was up and watching and waiting, because you know that's how this thing works with the Nats.
NNAMDIAva, I'd like to turn now to basketball. For listeners who are unfamiliar, bring us up to speed on the Mystics. Why should Washington be paying attention to this team right now?
WALLACEOh, boy, because they could bring the first title to this franchise that has really been about unmet potential, I guess, since they were founded in 1998 in the WNBA second season. It's been a lot of disappointment for Mystics fans over the years, so to have the chance to win this title for the franchise, the second major sports championship in the city -- in 16 months, also -- it's a pretty big deal. And you get to watch some generational talent, talking about Clayton Kershaw. You get to watch Elena Delle Donne in the meantime. Even though she's the star of the Mystics franchise, she's got an injury right now, a back injury.
NNAMDILet's talk about that for a second. She has a herniated disc in her back that is apparently very painful, but she's still been playing in the first game and the last two games more than 20 minutes a game, right?
WALLACEYes. And it's pinching on a nerve, too, which is really the problem. Yeah, she said that she feels like there's a pole, someone stuck a pole through the top of her head that's going through her back, which cannot be fun. But everybody's pretty banged up in these playoffs. So, they're playing the Connecticut Sun, one of their main players, Alyssa Thomas, who graduated from the University of Maryland, has two torn labrums, one labrum per shoulder. You might notice it tonight if you watch her take a free throw. You can definitely see it. But everybody's banged up, and nobody's not playing, because this moment is big. Connecticut doesn't have a title, either, so it would be a huge moment for both franchises.
NNAMDIAnd for Elena Delle Donne, who's been the MVP for the last two years in the WNBA and just missed out last year, I guess the team, in a lot of ways, wants to win it for her, right?
WALLACEFor her and for their coach and general manager, Mike Thibault, as well, who's been a coach in the league for 17 years. He was with Connecticut before he came to the Mystics, and a championship is kind of the thing that's missing from his resume, as well. So, yeah, there's a lot at stake, here. Kristi Toliver, another Maryland grad, could get her second title, but it's going to be a big night.
NNAMDIThe Mystics moved to a new space this year, the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast Washington. I know you've both been there. What has it been like for them in this new stadium?
WALLACELoud. (laugh) Very, very loud. (laugh) It's just like an echo chamber in there. It's 4,200 seats, which is pretty itty-bitty for sports. But the good thing that players say they like is, you know, you get 3,500 people in there, you don't even really have to pack it. And the other team is screaming their lungs out to be able to hear each other. So, that has made a huge difference for them in terms of home court advantage.
WALLACEAnd they've got all the facilities they could want there. They have all the training facilities, all the medical facilities. It's a practice facility that they share with the Wizards. So, nobody has to run around D.C. to get treatment or see doctors or anything like that. And the team loves it. They cannot stop raving about it.
NNAMDIKevin, you've written about the Mystics, as well, and, as we said earlier, you and Ava are both native Washingtonians. What does it mean that their new Entertainment and Sports Arena is located in Southeast?
BLACKISTONEWell, it's huge. And, by the way, I've also been there just as a fan, as well, just buying a ticket and going to a game.
NNAMDIIt always amazes me when I see a sports writer buying (laugh) -- like when I see a movie reviewer buying a ticket for a movie, it's like (all talking at once)...
WALLACENo, it's better when you don't have to work, when you can go and just watch. Come on.
BLACKISTONEI know. You know, it is my fandom. It is my fandom, and I love being a fan. And it's really cool to have reason to go to the other side of the river. It's a great complex, as Ava just pointed out. You know, it's sad, in one sense, that it is tied to this entire issue of gentrification in this city, because we know when you go there and you see the entire Saint Yves complex, that housing is being developed around there. And you just hope that there's a good equilibrium for affordable housing, and for not displacing many of the longtime residents in that part of the city. But it exposes that part of the city to people who otherwise may not go there. And hopefully they'll continue to come back.
BLACKISTONEAnd also, you know, Southeast is rich in terms of the basketball culture in the city, with Berry Farms just down the road, where the great summer leagues take place. And hopefully, that will be able to survive, but I have my doubts given that, you know, developers are pushing out the folks in the Berry Farms housing community with vouchers the last couple of years so that they can develop that.
NNAMDIThat's where people used to go to see the likes of Kevin Durant play...
NNAMDI...during the summertime. What's the atmosphere like at these games?
WALLACEIt's really good.
NNAMDIIn addition to being loud.
WALLACEYeah, I think the last time that I was here we talked about it, if the fan base is going to migrate from the old arena in Chinatown to this one. And I have seen a lot of the diehards cropping up. They've still got their courtside seats and everything. But also there are a lot of new people at Mystics games. And I think a huge part of that, of course, is that they made the finals last year for the first time and got a lot of new fans that way.
WALLACEBut the atmosphere is great. They've really embraced D.C. culture, also. They had a go-go night that I was at that was fabulous. They do (laugh) swag surfing with -- I know people don't know what that (laugh) -- I'm not going to explain it. But, you know, they get the crowd into it, and they've embraced kind of the local roots and everything. And the Mystics have been really -- on media day this year, in May, before the season started, they made a point to say, we know we're moving into someone else's neighborhood. And we definitely want to make an effort to reach out and include everybody we can.
BLACKISTONEYeah, and Natasha Cloud should be pointed out as one person who has been speaking out about gun violence, particularly in the Southeast quadrant of the city. And I think she has a section of the -- she has a number of seats for each game which she donates to survivors of gun violence.
NNAMDIIndeed, I was going to ask you to talk about the Mystics, as you describe them, Kevin, not just good athletes, but good people, about their activities off the court, particularly Natasha Cloud, who we talked to about her activism around gun violence on this show before.
BLACKISTONEExactly. I mean, she has embraced this community. She is a part of it. You know, she went to Maryland, I believe, her freshman year, before transferring and finishing up at St. Joe's up in Philly. But yeah, she has not shied away from that community. I don't think any of the women have. They really have embraced it.
BLACKISTONEAnd, you know, interesting enough, 50 years ago, the ABA team was here for just a season, the Washington Capitals. And they did not necessarily embrace the Northeast neighborhood, which is now an REI, but used to be the old Uline Arena where they...
NNAMDI...and Washington Coliseum.
BLACKISTONE...and Washington Coliseum, where they played for a year. And, if I'm not mistaken, the star of that team, Rick Berry, came here kicking and screaming, and really did not want to be in D.C. at that time.
NNAMDIOf course, Tom Sherwood, who is our resident analyst on the Politics Hour, had to ask the political question. (laugh) Tom Sherwood tweets to ask: if the Mystics win can we expect an invitation to the White House? Would it be accepted? What do you think, Ava?
WALLACENo and no. (laugh) I don't even have to ask that question. First of all, I don't think it would be extended, and that's purely based on history. I wrote a story. I don't think an WNBA team has been invited to the White House yet. If they are invited, I don't even think the Mystics would shy away from that question. I don't think they would be going. They've been pretty outspoken about their opposition to this presidency and a lot of things that are going on right now.
WALLACEThat's something that they don't -- they don't shy away from the politics, that's for sure. Mike Thibault is a coach who definitely encourages his players to be aware of what's going on around them. He takes good advantage of being in Washington, D.C. They visited the Supreme Court this year, and then afterwards, had a conversation about that, how that was hard for a lot of players to be at the Supreme Court with all that was going on. So, they talk really openly about a lot of this stuff in the locker room.
NNAMDIMystics and Spirit seem to be getting more coverage than they have in the past. You've been a part of that. What are the reasons for it?
WALLACEWell, this summer, in particular, the reason was the Women's World Cup, and that was just a huge groundswell, which is, I think, something that we see pretty much every time there's a World Cup. This year, I think it felt a little bit different. I think a lot of people were talking about it less as kind of a blip on the map and more of a movement. So, obviously, it remains to be seen if that continues. If our extra coverage -- I know just being as a Washington Post reporter, we definitely upped our coverage in the Mystics and the Spirit.
WALLACESo, it'll be interesting to see if we can capitalize on that, especially going forward into an Olympic year. That's something that the WNBA is very aware of, like, hey, we have a national women's team that's pretty good, too. (laugh) So, they're really into promoting these basketball players this upcoming season.
NNAMDIKevin Blackistone, before we go to break, we should talk about the men's team, as well, because you have written that there have been occasions in the past in which the women's team has seen clearly that they're not being treated in an equitable manner with the men's team. So, you can talk about that, and what are the Wizard's prospects this year?
BLACKISTONEWell, the Wizard's prospects are not very good. (laugh) My old buddy, Tommy Shepherd, who I've known forever, has taken over the general managership. And he's done, I think, an admirable job thus far getting rid of some weighty salaries, contracts that they needed to get rid of. And I think he's done a good job drafting so far, with Rui Hachimura. I think he can be a star player in this city, and a player that people will embrace.
BLACKISTONEBut they have a long ways to go in order, I think, to get back to where they were in the late '70s, when they were a title contender and a title winner. And as far as the treatment of the women's team, even in the WNBA, but just women in general in sports right now, you know, the whole equity pay argument has really, I think, resonated and, I think, has made a lot of sense to a lot of people.
BLACKISTONEAnd I know that, right now, with the women's soccer team, that issue is moving through a court out in Los Angeles, and also possibly will be moving through a court in San Francisco where Hope Solo, the former goalkeeper, had filed -- before these women filed their lawsuit, had filed a very similar lawsuit. So, there are a lot of people under pressure in terms of those who run sports under which men and women are under the same umbrella to provide fairer treatment to the women.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about why Washington is not necessarily primarily a football town (laugh) anymore. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. What do you think about the Washington football team? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the winning sports teams in Washington, with Ava Wallace. She's a reporter for the Washington Post, covering local college sports and the WNBA. Kevin Blackistone is a panelist for ESPN's Around the Horn, a sports columnist for the Washington Post and a visiting professor at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. I'd like to start this time by going to Brandon, who is on the G.W. Parkway. Brandon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRANDONHello, everybody. What a beautiful, fall, curly W day it is. (laugh) How are you?
BRANDONYou know, it's so funny driving down to work. A lot of the sports radio stations in the area are making a concerted effort -- they've been doing this for the last couple weeks -- to not talk Redskins. It's almost eerie, because, as you guys know, the Redskins have run everything in this town for the last 20 years. Maybe it's because they're the last team to have such great success. And it just makes me so happy, (laugh) because they're such a disaster. And for something so great to happen last night, and for us to focus on that is just so cool. It makes it feel like a real sports town, finally. So, I guess my question is, do you guys see sort of a move away from Redskins culture, especially if they make the World Series or, God forbid, actually won it?
NNAMDIHave you been out to the stadium lately? (laugh) I think you'll see the move starting right there, but I don't know. Go ahead, Kevin.
BLACKISTONEYeah, I think people have absolutely made the move, I mean, for a number of reasons. I grew up in a family that had season tickets, and I think my fandom for the team evaporated at least 10 years ago. I can't even go to the games now. I don't even watch them very closely, except as a journalist. I have no enthusiasm for them for, as I said, a number of reasons, one of which you mentioned by using their name. And it's interesting that when the Cardinals arrive here to play the Nationals, they're going to have a pitcher on their team, Ryan Helsley, who is of Cherokee Nation descent.
BLACKISTONEAnd you may have noticed in the past couple of days that he raised his objections to Atlanta fans using the chop signal sign in the stands, because he felt it was an insult to his heritage. And, actually, the Atlanta baseball team players decided to at least take half a step in his direction and said that they would not use it -- fans would not use it when he was in the game. So that's another reason for me that this team has become kind of a nauseating presence.
BLACKISTONEBut the fact of the matter is, I don't need them. The Nationals carry me through the year. You said they were the last team of great success. I beg to differ, because we had a Stanley Cup winner here just two seasons ago, and the Capitals are as poised to win it again this year as they were two years ago. We have the Mystics on the brink. We have the Nationals advancing. That gets me through 12 months of the year.
NNAMDIAva, you grew up here in Washington, also rooting for the Washington football team?
WALLACEI, like many other Washingtonians, grew up in a Dallas Cowboys household, (laugh) like many, many other people in the area, although not many I went to high school with. But I think there's a difference, and it's the difference I see between the Wizards and the Washington football team, where it's different when the players maybe aren't right, the coach something wrong. But when it's pretty clear at this point that the problems with the team comes from ownership, that's a different effect on the fan base.
WALLACEThere's not a lot of hope there, basically, when, you know, you get a quarterback as good as Dwayne Haskins in the conversation for months and months as, how are we not going to mess him up, (laugh) rather than how are we going to use him. That's pretty indicative of where things are right now.
NNAMDITory in Washington, D.C. wanted to comment on the football team. Go ahead, Tory.
TORYHi. Yes, I just wanted to say that I think a couple reasons why the Washington football team is going downhill as far as popularity is the name. And the attitude of the owners that don't -- well, of Snyder, doesn't want to change it. And he's not a well-liked guy. He's not well-liked where he lives in Potomac. He's just not a good dude, so I think that his reputation over time has also put people off.
NNAMDIKevin, why do you call Dan Snyder the worst owner in professional sports?
BLACKISTONEOh, and that was 10 years ago. (laugh) People are just catching up. Well, one, because he purchased a gold-plated professional sports franchise. You couldn't -- one could not imagine someone losing with it. And the fact of the matter is, he has lost with it. And, as Ava pointed out, his stewardship as an owner has been horrific. He has fired coaches right and left. He's sometimes had general managers who he undercut. His team has performed worse and worse, it seems, every year. The hope has been sucked out of the team. FedEx has turned into, arguably, the worst NFL fan experience in the league.
BLACKISTONEThere's just nothing to embrace about this team. And the caller is absolutely right. The attitude that he has taken -- sounding like George Wallace in the schoolhouse door as to why he would not consider changing the name of the team -- was really a final straw for me.
NNAMDIPresumably, you never get invited into the owner's box. (laugh) Fred emails us: D.C. United made the MLS playoffs, as well. Don't leave out the beautiful game. Glad you brought that up, although Wayne Rooney's going to be gone after this season.
BLACKISTONEAfter this season, but they start the playoffs next Saturday, October 19th, against Toronto.
NNAMDIThanks for reminding us, Fred. Here's Paul, in Silver Spring. Paul, your turn.
PAULHey, thanks so much. One of the things I wanted to say, I'm a blind person who likes to go to sporting events. And the thing that frustrates me about women's sports, it is really hard, if ever, to find good play-by-play, particularly radio play-by-play, of women's sports. I honestly don't know if the Mystics have play-by-play. I have not followed the team. I'm excited for them, and I think this is great.
PAULBut something that the Nationals did -- even where there is play-by-play, something the Nationals did was give out these lanyards that people have probably heard about, with a radio headphone attached. The good news about that is it means you're in sync with the game. I went once to a Maryland game, and the radio was like 30 seconds behind the game. So, I was clearly one play behind what was happening.
PAULSo, I bring all this up to say, A, I'd love to hear people talking about -- and maybe your reporter can talk a little bit more about the experience of women's sports and why there aren't more efforts to try to bring play-by-play to the game. Because, frankly, I think it's a way more exciting game when I have been able to hear play-by-play. And two, can we do something about getting radio's synchronized at any of these sporting events? So, that those of us who are blind can come and enjoy the game, along with our peers, and keep up with what's going on and not be a play behind.
NNAMDIPoint well taken. Ava Wallace?
WALLACEYeah, it's a really good point and kind of part of a bigger picture that I hear from a lot of fans of, you know, all stripes of why I can see -- I got an email this morning. We have a widget on the Washington Post, where you can see all the scores of all the teams playing that day, all the games going on that day. WNBA's not included on that, because the company we use doesn't include the WNBA. It's kind of in that same realm of when you have a women's team, they're usually the last to be brought onto, whether it's getting on local radio, or getting their own play-by-play. In terms of coverage, they're kind of always left behind, if not just one step behind.
WALLACEAnd it's something that the league knows they need to address, and it's something that their major partners, ESPN, knows that they need to address, as well. Everybody's aware of it. It's just kind of, like, okay, what's going to push us in that direction to make sure we actually get that coverage? But it's a huge problem across all facets of women's sports.
NNAMDIPaul, thank you very much for your call. Andy tweets: I have season tickets to the Mystics, and they are without a doubt the best team I've ever cheered on. They're fun, they have heart, and, man, can they play. Our toddler knows the names of the players (laugh) and cheers for them. Cannot wait for tonight. Polly emails: one key point about the Mystics games, the tickets are affordable, so it is great for families, which also sets the tone in the arena. And, finally, here's Sally in D.C. Sally, you only have about 30 seconds left, but go ahead, please.
SALLYMy husband and I agreed to become Nationals fans in 2005 when they arrived, because we were fighting over baseball since we got married in 1998. (laugh) And today's season turned around -- this year's season turned around on our wedding anniversary, May 24th.
NNAMDISo, you're saying that the Nationals saved your marriage? Is that what you're saying (laugh) ?
SALLYI am. I am. He was a Yankees fan and I was an Orioles fan, and we would get into knock-down, drag-outs.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for that, and thanks to the Nationals for helping to save your marriage. (laugh) Ava Wallace is a reporter for the Washington Post, covering local college sports and the WNBA. Ava Wallace, thank you so much for joining us.
WALLACEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIKevin Blackistone is a panelist for ESPN's Around the Horn, a sports columnist for the Washington Post, and a visiting professor at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, and one of the few sports writers I have met who have read the great cricket book, "Beyond the Boundary," by CLR James.
BLACKISTONEOh, CLR James, absolutely.
NNAMDIGood to see you again, Kevin.
NNAMDIToday's sports roundup was produced by Julie Depenbrock, and our look at land trusts was produced by Laura Spitalniak. Coming up tomorrow, on the Politics Hour, Virginia Senator Jeremy McPike will be here to talk about the Democrat's strategy going into the November 5th elections. And Maryland's comptroller has a lot to say about the construction project at the Bay Bridge. That's all on the Politics Hour tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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