In This Episode: When the people in charge fail our kids. (At least sometimes, the people in charge of those people step in, and make things right.) It’s the lead story in this week’s newsletter (click the image to see it larger). And what, really, is the lesson kids learn when sports gets high priority, but the things that they’re actually in school to learn are cut? There’s a direct connection to this week’s Honorary Unsubscribe here, and we delve into both the school story, and that “awe-inspiring” Honorary Unsubscribe.
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- KUSA Denver’s report on the cheerleaders being forced to endure pain, despite their protestations. Note that the TV station has a warning at the top: “Editor’s note: the video included in this story is difficult to watch and may not be suitable for all viewers.” (Note this report isn’t the basis of True’s story: that was from reports by the Denver Post, here and here.)
- The Honorary Unsubscribe of WWII spy Jeannie Rousseau.
- The Washington Post’s 1998 interview of Rousseau is here (but note: as an older story, it’s behind a paywall.)
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Randy: Welcome to Uncommon Sense, the podcast where we delve a little more deeply into the stories and issues discussed in the thisistrue.com newsletter. I’m Randy Cassingham.
Clare: And I’m Clare Angelica.
Randy: This week we’re discussing the lead story from issue 1211 of the newsletter, which will be included on the show page at thisistrue.com/podcast9. It’s called, “Save The Cheerleader, Save The World.”
Clare: If only were it that easy.
Randy: It might be. Do you know what the reference is?
Clare: You can refresh my memory.
Randy: Hah! Gotcha. It’s the basis for the series Heroes.
Clare: Oh, right. I’ve seen some of that.
Randy: I’ve only seen a few episodes myself. Particularly the one where my friend, David Lawrence, was in. He was the Evil Puppet Master.
Clare: Oh, cool, which one? Which season?
Randy: Toward the end.
Clare: I didn’t watch that far.
Randy: It was starting to wind down and they brought him, and they liked him a lot, so they kept him on there.
Clare: Oh, cool!
Randy: Once they got rid of him, the series went downhill.
Clare: It just tanked.
Randy: So, about the cheerleaders. This is in our capital city, Denver, Colorado. And apparently East High School in Denver is known for its cheerleading squad. They probably do the competitions and all that. So this is about an incident that apparently happened in June at the school’s Summer Cheer Camp.
Clare: Cheer Camp!
Randy: Were you a cheerleader?
Clare: I was not.
Clare: I wasn’t that peppy in high school.
Randy: Gotta be peppy, yes that is true. So Channel 9, KUSA in Denver, obtained eight videos in which multiple cheerleaders are pushed — forced to do splits and every one of them is screaming in pain, asking them to stop. And that sounds pretty horrible, and parents complained about this. They put the blame on coach Ozell Williams. The girls were asking him to please stop as he verbally and apparently physically forced them into doing the splits, even though they didn’t want to.
And even though several parents complained, the school didn’t do a thing about it. And they specifically complained, they said, to assistant principal and athletic director, Lisa Porter.
Clare: What I thought was interesting was that he had fellow cheerleaders, in the camp, participants, holding the girls down, while forcing them to do the splits. There’s a bit of intimidation or fear going on there, would be my guess.
Randy: Well, certainly peer pressure.
Randy: So this happened in June, but this didn’t actually hit the news until late August. And that’s because apparently the parents went to the media and took these videos to Channel 9, to show them, because the school wouldn’t do anything about it.
Clare: And they claim they didn’t know, which I think you mentioned, in the first week a parent had sent a video to the–
Randy: Apparently very early on, they sent at least one of the videos to Lisa Porter, and complained, and nothing happened. And they complained, and nothing happened, so they went to the TV station. And even if the school officials didn’t do anything about it, Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg did do something about it: he immediately put five school officials, including a district official, on administrative leave. But by the next day, after this started going around on the news and Denver Post picked it up, which is where I’ve found it out about it, they fired the coach. Meanwhile, the Denver Post says, the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper reported that Williams was fired from his job as a paid consultant by the Boulder Valley School District after similar complaints in 2016. So, it’s not like he didn’t know that maybe this would be controversial–
Clare: That you’re not supposed to force people and hurt them?
Randy: Yeah. So Boasberg said, “We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy. We do not and will not allow any situation in which a student is forced to perform an activity or exercise beyond the point in which they express their desire to stop.” What about the videos? “With regard to certain videos,” he says, “I cannot state strongly enough, as the superintendent of the school district and as the father of two high-school-aged daughters that the images and actions depicted are extremely distressing and absolutely contrary to our core values as a public school community.”
Now, you would think that the school officials would have a similar attitude about that, but apparently not. He suspended not only coach Williams, but also principal Andy Mendelsberg, assistant principal and athletic director Lisa Porter, that we’ve mentioned, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis, and the district’s deputy general counsel, their lawyer, Michael Huckman — all placed on administrative leave.
Clare: Wow. He’s taking care of business.
Randy: So even if the school officials didn’t do their job, assuming that they did in fact know about this incident, the superintendent did do his job. And he didn’t take very long to do it, apparently.
Clare: I commend him for that. He acted quickly and got it done.
Randy: So the girls shown in videos were saying, “Please stop!” screaming in pain. It sounds pretty disturbing.
Clare: Yeah. I don’t think I need to see it. Reading it’s good enough.
Randy: And actually reading it about, which I did, to research this story, I didn’t actually looked at the video because I didn’t think– I thought I would be disturbed by it. I didn’t really want to do that. And Boasberg said, As part of the investigation, the school district is “looking into internal communications to ensure that such oversights like controversial information not working its way to the top,” hello! “does not happen in the future.” They did look at coach Williams application to the district, it included positive references, but didn’t happen to mention that he worked in Boulder, or that he got fired from there.
Clare: Oh, that’s interesting information.
Randy: So, Clare: you’re a woman.
Clare: Last time I checked, yes!
Randy: I wanted to get your reaction of my tagline on this story.
Clare: I’ll let you read it again and then I’ll tell ya.
Randy: “How to tell society hasn’t grown up yet? When everyone in power ignores screams of ‘Please stop!’ because only females are complaining.” What’s your reaction to that?
Clare: I had a guttural reaction to that tagline.
Randy: So, what do you mean by guttural?
Clare: It was like a punch in the gut. It was instinctual and it rared up that fight or flight feeling that we all get.
Randy: Because that’s really what I thought about this. I mean, the girls complained, they were ignored, they were pushed down–
Clare: For months.
Randy: Their mothers complained, and they were ignored. For months. I don’t know what else to take that. Once it hit the news, OK. Then the guys jumped in and things happened.
Clare: Promptly. But it took two months to get it there. Or more.
Randy: Yeah, before the person in power had actually found out about it, because the women — even the assistant cheer coach was a woman.
Clare: Was a woman and didn’t do anything about it.
Randy: And she even ignored it.
Randy: So, do you think that women get caught up in that same craziness that we can’t pay attention to women? That even women do that?
Clare: I think so. And it’s fear or intimidation or there’s all kinds of emotions and feelings you can put on that, but they get caught up in it just as much as guys do.
Randy: That really sucks.
Clare: I know! We’ve got to stand up for each other. C’mon now!
Randy: So, hopefully that helps women stand up for each other, too. They’re not imagining this, and I’m seeing it, and I’m commenting on it, so maybe that can change.
Clare: Right. And some of then might just be shock — like, “Wow, I’m really seeing this happening in front of me.”
Randy: Yes, but they’re not doing anything for two months? I don’t know. That’s just…
Clare: It’s true.
Randy: That kind of hurts. And I think those girls feel really let down that even the women that were in charge ignored them.
Clare: Yeah. I agree. I wonder how many are going to come back to cheerleading after that. I guess it depends on the coaches and how much changes.
Randy: One of the bigger issues isn’t just these girls who were apparently hurt, but I think that schools put way too much emphasis on athletics to begin with. I thought schools were there to teach kids about reading, writing, arithmetic, science, not football and rah-rah cheers.
Clare: I agree. And not every student is athletic. I loved art and writing in high school and those are the first things to be cut. Music, a lot of times.
Randy: Right. So while football is well funded and apparently these cheerleaders were going to competitions and stuff, so they needed transportation, and uniforms, all that’s nicely funded. But art, music? That’s not funded.
Clare: No. It’s cut, it’s gone a lot of times.
Randy: So why is that? I think it’s because we put emphasis on the wrong things. We hold up professional athletes as some kind of heroes, and I actually prefer different kinds of heroes myself. And that’s what the Honorary Unsubscribe is about.
So let’s talk about the Honorary Unsubscribe. I don’t actually have a whole lot more information then what was in that Honorary Unsubscribe this week for Jeannie Rousseau. You just read that — you hadn’t quite caught up to the Honorary Unsubscribe yet. So you read it just before we started recording, you had some reaction to that.
Clare: Oh, she gave me goosebumps. Incredible, incredible lady. And lived a long, long life.
Randy: She died August, 25th, at age 98. And what she was, most people even in France didn’t know about, she was a spy in World War II. She actually got information about Hitler’s V-2 guided missile program to London, even identifying exactly where the plant was, where they were developing it. And the Nazis had just amazing fortifications to protect it. So, one bombing run wasn’t enough. I think the British did four different bombing runs on this over the course of a year. And it didn’t destroy the whole complex, but it did slow the Nazis down. So, she probably saved thousands of lives.
Clare: Yeah I would think so.
Randy: And one of the reasons that people didn’t know about what she did during the war came out in a 1998 article in the Washington Post, which I was able to see. And that concluded, “she dodged most reporters and historians and reluctantly accepted a special medal from then CIA director James Woolsey in 1993.” Woolsey had heard about her because the text of her report about the V-2 appears in the book “The Wizard War” by Reginald Jones, who was the chief of Britain’s intelligence efforts relating to science during World War II. So the citation she got from the CIA “lauded her for brilliant and effective espionage and for courage that is truly awe-inspiring.”
Clare: She was captured twice? And was in three different internment camps.
Randy: It was actually two concentration camps and, get this, a “punishment camp.” When the concentration camp isn’t punishing enough they send you to a punishment camp. Yet, they didn’t break her.
Clare: No, that’s incredible!
Randy: And she was slight pretty young woman in her 20s when all this happened. And the Nazi interrogators couldn’t get her to talk.
Clare: I get goosebumps again hearing that. That’s incredible.
Randy: It’s mind blowing. Or as the CIA said, “truly awe-inspiring.”
Clare: Being young and cute, she had a good tactic. And it worked.
Randy: Yes. So she used that to her advantage to get information. She got herself invited to parties of German officers in Paris and said things like, “Oh no, that can’t be true what your saying!” And they said, “Let me show you on this written report here!”
Clare: It got them to show her the drawing of the rocket. I forgot the name.
Randy: Yeah, the V-2 rocket.
Randy: I actually have a little excerpt that’s been translated into English. And I’m not sure who did the translation, she may have done it herself, since she was an expert of languages. I don’t know if English was one of them. But she was sending this report to London, so the best way to translate it is to translate it yourself, so you are sure that you’re saying what you want it to say, but let me read you just a little section of her report to London about the V-2 rockets:
“It appears that the final stage has been reached in developing a stratospheric bomb of an entirely new type. This bomb is reported to be 10 cubic meters in volume and filled with explosive. It would be launched almost vertically to reach the stratosphere as quickly as possible, initial velocity being maintained by successive explosions. The trials are understood to have given immediate excellent results as regards accuracy, and it was to the success of these trials that Hitler was referring when he spoke of ‘new weapons that will change the face of the war when the Germans use them.'”
So they knew, right from that report, that Hitler was coming up with something new and he definitely intended to use it.
Clare: And they trusted her. Her memory was incredible and they trusted her. Her information was quite accurate, which I thought was … she’s an amazing woman. Fun read.
Randy: And that’s a good point. Her contact, her handler, if you will, as a spy, was Georges Lamarque. And apparently he was known to the British and trusted by them. So he actually put a little foreword on this report that Rousseau wrote. And he says, “This material looks preposterous. But I have total faith in my source.” So he was vouching for her. He was trusting her. And good thing, because she was totally right. Another little part of the report says, “A German officer estimates that only 50 to 100 of these bombs would suffice to destroy London. The batteries will be sited so that they can methodically destroy most of Britain’s large cities during the winter.” That’s one hell of a threat.
Clare: Wow, yeah.
Randy: So, no wonder this was sent directly to Winston Churchill and he personally ordered that site to be bombed. Pretty amazing stuff. When you have somebody like this woman versus even an absolute sports star? There’s no question in my mind who I think is a hero.
Clare: Me neither. Absolutely none. There’s life after Cheer Camp.
Randy: There is. And there’s something more to aspire to.
Randy: And that will be it for this week. If you’re not already a subscriber to This is True’s text newsletter you can sign up for free at thisistrue.com.
The show notes for this episode, with the story and the links discussed this week are at thisistrue.com/podcast9 — that’s the digit 9. I am Randy Cassingham.
Clare: And I’m Clare Angelica. Thanks so much for joining us on Uncommon Sense.
Randy: We’ll talk at you later.
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