When They Win
TOBIN: Let me tell you how much I hate basketball.
KATHY: Oh my god.
[“NANCY” HORN FLAIR INTRO MUSIC PLAYS]
TOBIN: When we had to play basketball in seventh grade, there was, like, a required skill set. You had to be able to do a layup. I can't do a layup to save my life. [KATHY LAUGHS] I can't do a free throw. Free throw?
KATHY: Yeah? Yeah.
TOBIN: Free throw. I can't dunk. I can't do anything! So here's what I did instead. Shout out to Erica and Doug, who were also in my P.E. class. We formed our own cheerleading squad [KATHY LAUGHS] that just stood on the sidelines [BOTH LAUGH] and cheered, “Positive!” Attitude! Positive! Attitude!” [BOTH LAUGH]
KATHY: Oh, I hope there was a routine to go with that.
TOBIN: We made a pyramid. [BOTH CRACK UP LAUGHING]
[THEME MUSIC PLAYS]
VOX 1: From WNYC Studios, this is “Nancy.”
VOX 2: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: So, Tobes, we’re not great with sports.
KATHY: But you know who is good at sports? Like really good? Andraya Yearwood. She's in high school. She lives in Connecticut. And her family …
KATIE: They're all athletes. Both of Andraya's parents have athletic backgrounds. Her father played football at Macalester College, and her mom, um, now actually does fitness stuff. So, they're a very athletic family.
KATHY: This is Katie Barnes.
KATIE: I'm a writer-reporter for ESPNW and espn.com.
KATHY: You have a very cool job.
KATIE: [BOTH CHUCKLE] It’s the magic four letters.
KATHY: Yeah! So, Katie, you’re the one who introduced me to Andraya. You wrote a piece about her for ESPN magazine. How did you find out about her?
KATIE: I first became aware of Andraya because of a article in the Hartford Courant. I live in Hartford, and I'm based in Connecticut. And so I get local news sometimes, and, um, I read the article and just thought that she was a really cool kid.
KATHY: Like Katie said earlier, Andraya’s family is very athletic. She and her siblings all have to play a sport each season. No exceptions.
[UPBEAT RHYTHM MUSIC PLAYS]
ANDRAYA: I began running track in about seventh grade. Yeah. Seventh grade. Um, middle school. Yeah.
KATHY: This, of course, is Andraya.
ANDRAYA: So, I had already done, like, gymnastics, dance, swimming … Like, all these — football, even, I guess — all these other sports … And I was like, “Now what do I do?” I don't want to do them again if I already I did them. So, I was like, “Oh, like, let’s try out track.” And I’d, like, say it, like, really light-heartedly, like, I have memories of, like, I’d skip the warm-up lap sometimes. [LAUGHS] Or, like, not do all the drills. I just wasn't into it in middle school. But then, in high school, everyone has their own event that they do, like, like, “You’re a sprinter, a jumper, thrower.” So you can really pinpoint on that one area which you're really good at.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
KATHY: High school track was also different because, for the first time, Andraya was able to run on the girls’ track team.
KATIE: She started to come out to her parents, um, and begin the process of socially transitioning late in middle school. And so going to high school was an opportunity to kind of reset. She got to introduce herself as Andraya. She was known as Andraya.
KATHY: The policy in Connecticut lets the school districts decide what is the appropriate category for their athletes to compete in. And you can’t discriminate based on gender identity or gender expression or sexual orientation.
KATIE: And so, in effect, what they have done is said, “Yo, schools! You decide what you want to do. But by the way, if a kid is telling you that they are a transgender girl they get to compete with girls.” Like, full stop. So you don't have to do any kind of name change, any kind of birth certificate change, any kind of hormones, certainly no surgery.
KATIE: So it's a very inclusive and open policy, and Connecticut has that policy, and so do 16 other states, including the District of Columbia.
KATHY: So, Andraya being trans wasn’t an issue for her school. And it wasn’t an issue for the rest of the people in her life, either.
ANDRAYA: No one treated me differently on the track team. Um, yeah, I was like any other girl on this team. Nothing else really changed. Most kids in the school knew I was transgender. I dunno, it just wasn’t, like, a shock. I think everyone kind of expected it. I think if I was still on the male team people would be like, “Why you still on the male team?”
KATHY: Did you anticipate it being weird, like, the first day of workouts?
ANDRAYA: I think I did, yes. Um. ‘Cause obviously, I'm a freshman. I don't know any of the sophomores, or juniors, or seniors, so I didn't know how they would — I only — I knew only the kids in my grade. So I knew — I didn't know how they would react to me being on the track team, but everybody was fine with it. I think no one said anything, or anything like that.
KATIE: And so she was able to really build on those relationships and be affirmed in who she is as a person. And that, of course, comes out, you know, in athletic competition, in that you're not dealing with all those mental burdens and mental difficulties that you might be if you were — if she would in a different situation.
ANDRAYA: A lot of the positive stuff is like in-person, like, at track meets, for example, people that I don't know will come up to me like, “Oh, good job, Andraya,” or, like, “Andraya,” like, “you’re really good at track.” It’s actually really heartwarming. And things like that.
[LIGHT TECHNO JOURNEY MUSIC PLAYS]
KATHY: So, basically, things were good for Andraya. Only very occasionally did she have to confront negativity.
KATIE: I was actually there doing an interview when she received her first negative social media comment about her being trans. She [PAUSE] hands me her phone and is like, “Oh, this happened today.” And in the comments on an innocuous picture — she is standing, not even in a track uniform … think there's another friend that’s, like, on her back — and there's a comment. Someone that she doesn't know said something about how she should leave running to real girls. And I remember asking her if this is the first time this had happened, and she said, “Yes.”
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
KATHY: And it wasn’t like there wasn’t any attention on Andraya’s story. Local media picked it up. The Hartford Courant did that story that Katie read. There was some local TV. But mostly, Andraya was able to live her life unbothered.
KATIE: So I was spending time reporting on a number of transgender athletes, and the high school level is paying particular attention to two athletes — Andraya was one of them, and the other was Mack Beggs, a transgender boy who wrestled in Texas. [PAUSE] You know, when I was in Texas, I was at a wrestling meet, and I could hear kids talking in the stands about Mac. And it was not friendly. It was not nice at all. And there were a couple of people that were standing up for him. But I was shocked about how brazen the criticism was, and how loud it was. And for Andraya that kind of negativity just was not present — at least, during that first year, her freshman season. It was, you know, people whispering on the side. It was not people in her face, and not even on social media that much, aside from the comment that I witnessed that day.
KATHY: Then, her sophomore year, everything changed.
[ATMOSPHERIC MUSIC PLAYS]
KATIE: She had won State indoor season in the 55-meter, and similarly to what happened the year prior, it was pretty quiet. There wasn't anything huge in terms of media coverage. But then when outdoor season starts, Andraya is no longer running alone as a transgender girl.
[BEAT FOR MUSIC]
KATIE: Terry Miller is another runner in Connecticut who is a transgender girl, and she started competing in the girls’ category during sophomore outdoor season. She's the same age as Andraya. And they compete in the same class.
ANDRAYA: I thought it was so cool that I wasn't the only transgender athlete running, like, I thought … and even, she reached out to me on Snapchat and was like, like, “What can I do to start transitioning within my school?” like, “What did you do? In your transition process that can help me?” And I helped her through that. And we — we actually became really close. I thought it was — I — I got really excited that I had someone to share this experience with. Before, I didn't have anyone. And it also showed the impact that I was having on other transgender athletes like she — she had told me that if it weren't for me, she might not have done it. And that just was also very heartwarming, and it made me want — again, want to push to continue to do what I've been doing.
KATHY: So, Andraya was really happy to have Terry competing. But, having two transgender girls running in Connecticut suddenly brought a lot of attention to them, especially because they were both winning.
KATIE: The two of them went 1-2 in the state that year and all hell broke loose after that [In other words, they won first and second place in the same event]. And so almost every time there's a conversation about transgender athletes at the high school level, you will almost always see “runners in Connecticut,” and that refers to Andraya and Terry.
KATIE: You know, there's a reason that there are 17 states with this policy, and we only talk about one state. With two athletes. They certainly are not the only transgender athletes competing in the state of Connecticut, and they certainly aren't the only transgender athletes competing in those 17 states. But they're the ones that are winning.
[A BEAT STARTS]
KATHY: Coming up after the break, Andraya goes from high school track athlete to someone being debated in Congress.
[THE BEAT ENDS]
TOBIN: “Nancy” will be right back.
[MIDROLL MUSIC PLAYS]
TOBIN: And we’re back!
KATHY: So, it’s Andraya’s sophomore track season. Terry Miller is another high school sprinter. They compete together, they’re both winning. And all of a sudden, it’s national news …
[CLIP FROM GOOD MORNING AMERICA PLAYS]
GOOD MORNING AMERICA HOST: Now, to a GMA exclusive. Two transgender high school runners — well, they’re kicking up dust in Connecticut, taking the top spots at the state girls’ championship, leaving parents wondering if they have an unfair advantage. Lindsay Davis is here. Now, you sat down with the track stars to talk all about this.
[CLIP FROM GOOD MORNING AMERICA ENDS]
KATHY: Oh my god.
NGOZI: I mean, before we were, like, just, you know — people recognized that she was competing, people recognize she was winning, and people recognize she was transgender.
KATHY: This is Ngozi, Andraya’s mom.
NGOZI: We had a couple of, you know, “whatever” articles written, but, you know. For the most part, low-key. Lower-key than than it is now. Now? Like, we got the — the president's son tweeting about us. [LAUGHS]
KATIE: I was wondering if you saw that.
NGOZI: Trump’s son tweeting about us. What's so funny is when I saw I was like, [CLAPS, LAUGHING] “Oh, yes! Look at us!” But then I was like, “Oh — oh yeah.” [LAUGHS] Right?
KATIE: It's definitely conservative media that is the most interested in this story. Breitbart News, Buster's Newsmax, um, and that'll even filter up into Fox News.
[CLIPS FROM CONSERVATIVE NEWS OUTLETS PLAY]
CLIP 1: Before these athletes get on hormones, then they have all the athletic capabilities of — of men.
CLIP 2: And in Connecticut, these parents have said, it’s not fair.
CLIP 3: I think it’s important that they have an opportunity to compete, but I think they’re — they’re better served — if they haven’t started the hormone stuff — if they compete with their sex.
[CLIPS FROM CONSERVATIVE NEWS OUTLETS END]
KATIE: We went from a place her freshman year where the criticism was simmering — it was, you know, quiet; it was whispers; um, it wasn't exactly a full-throated campaign — to, over the course of two years, I think, really culminating with the petition that came out of Glastonbury, um, that was aimed to force the Connecticut High School Association to change their policy and effectively remove Terry and Andraya from competition. It went nowhere, didn't get a whole bunch of signatures, but it was really the first time that Andraya — and Terry — had to confront the fact that there were people who really didn't want them to run.
KATHY: Andraya’s competitors who have a problem with her, what exactly are they upset about?
KATIE: There's a certain feeling that they're not getting something that they feel belongs to them, or that should be theirs, because somebody has an “unfair” advantage, not just a regular athletic advantage.
[LIGHT AMBIENT MUSIC PLAYS]
KATIE: I mean, it's dressed up as a concern about fairness. I think that there are folks who … certainly feel that they should be on a podium, and that they just missed, and if Andraya and Terry hadn't been running, they would’ve been on it. And there are folks who just feel that it doesn't matter what Andraya and Terry do, that they shouldn't ever be allowed to compete, period.
[LIGHT AMBIENT MUSIC ENDS]
ANDRAYA: I think that within track there are unfair advantages, like, in itself. For example, people [BREATH] may have personal trainers that could then further help them run faster or get stronger muscles, things of the sort, while others may not. And that would, in turn, cause people who have personal trainers to run faster, right? So I don't think me apparently having an unfair advantage, really. Well, I don’t think it should be singled out.
[JAZZY, MELANCHOLY NARRATIVE MUSIC]
KATHY: For now, the Connecticut Athletic Association is holding firm on their inclusive policy. And despite the ongoing media attention, Andraya says she really doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about herself as a transgender athlete.
ANDRAYA: I don't think that with friends, and my family, that it rarely ever comes up, because I think they are used to it. It depends on the situation, but averagely I don't talk about all that much at all.
KATHY: Plus, she has bigger things to worry about.
[START OF PROM PREPARATION AUDIO]
NGOZI: Hello! Come on in!
KATHY: The day Katie and I went to interview her, her mom was helping her get ready for prom.
ANDRAYA: After this interview, I’m supposed to do my hair. And after my hair is done, I’m supposed to go to the West [INDISTINCT] Mall and get my makeup done at Mac, and after that I'm going to my dad's house to, like, take pictures, like, in front of his house, then prom. And then after prom I’m supposed to be hanging out with Malay and Courtney at … a hotel party!
NGOZI: What! Oh my god! [NGOZI AND KATHY LAUGH] Why am I just hearing about this?
ANDRAYA: I dunno …
NGZOI: I’m so glad you asked, ’cause I wanna know! [KATHY LAUGHS] You didn’t say anything about a hotel party! Whose hotel party? What hotel?
[END OF PROM PREPARATION AUDIO]
KATIE: You know, like, that’s just who she is. Like, she likes to kind of push the envelope a little bit and — I mostly deal with adults. So, you know, I interview adult athletes. And, for me, it really underscored how young she is. And not, like, in a bad way! It’s not that she's juvenile, or she's immature. Quite the opposite. But that, when we're having these conversations about transgender athletes at the high school level, that's it important to remember that they're teenagers. And she'll be like, “Oh, well, I'm not going to let other people keep me down. I'm just gonna, like, keep doing what I need to do. Like, I don't care what other people think.” But also, like, she's a teenage girl. Of course she cares what other people think in a certain regard.
KATHY: And for Ngozi, all the attention definitely has an impact.
NGOZI: I think I internalize it more than she does, because that’s my child. You know, that I brought her into this world trying to protect her. You want to keep your children away from those things that might harm them.
KATIE: Have you ever experienced negativity in person?
NGOZI: [LONG PAUSE, BREATH] Not directly to me. But I've been at track meets where I've heard comments. We were in New Haven — was it New Haven? No, we were in Hartford … at a track meet, a smaller track meet — indoor season — and there was these two girl track athletes that were just, you know, making comments about Andraya, how they thought it was unfair. Dah dah dah dah dah. And, you know, I tried to keep calm, right? Because they’re kids, right? But the girl kept going. So I said — I turn around — I said, “Excuse me.” I said, “You know, I totally respect your opinion, but I'm Andraya’s mother, and I would appreciate it if you kept your opinions to yourself at this point.” And so, you know, she was like, “Oh, oh.” And so, actually thirty minutes later, one of the friends came up and apologized for — for that … eh, it wasn’t, like, an outburst. But again, just the vocal display of disrespect. And so, you know, for me it's — it’s, you know, again, nothing direct. I'm waiting for the moment [LAUGHS]— waiting for the moment, right? It's funny, because sometimes I'm looking for someone to say something to me. I'm looking ‘cause I — because I — I just — there’s so much ignorance out there, and I think people just need to be educated. But yes, no one directly. Always kind of a surrounding type of noise, type of atmosphere. I find it a very passive-aggressive type of way to handle the situation, and I am in no way passive-aggressive. So that frustrates me, right? If you want — if you want to say something, here I am! You know, not that I would let my daughter engage in something like that, but we — you know, we're not trying to hide. This is not some, you know, game we're playing. And so I think if you're going to be true to your beliefs and your opinions, again, stop playing games. Let's hash it out, you know?
KATIE: I mean, a lot of the criticism that is leveled against Andraya is that, you know, her running isn't fair.
NGOZI: I hate that word sometimes.
KATIE: Why do you hate that word?
NGOZI: “Fair” is — it's about context, right? It's about how you look at the situation. And I think, that that usage of the word fair is very one-sided on their end. You know, you don't want her to run, right? I mean, this is what she does, to — you know, to enjoy and to be who she wants to be. Is that fair? And does not allow her to do that because you allow your child to do that? Why can’t my child do that? So the term “fair,” I think, is subjective. It's very subjective.
[ETHEREAL MUSIC PLAYS]
KATHY: Ngozi has three other kids, all with different activities, but she goes to as many of Andraya's track meets as possible. She wants Andraya to know that she's got support.
NGOZI: I try to be with her as much as possible. Like, right next to her. ‘Cause oftentimes, if there is a clear path, I'm running with her. I'm running right down the sideline with her. Especially when she's doing the 100 meter. Now, I might not make it to the end [LAUGHS] as quickly she does. And I’m loud, and I’m emotional. But that’s all that nervousness, and all that, you know, kind of built up, coming out, through the race. Um, and, to me, it’s a very emotional moment, right? It’s very emotional for her to do her races, again, knowing that the world is watching, in a sense. And knowing that there's some that wanna critique and criticize and say she shouldn’t, but then also being elated and overjoyed that she did.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
[SOUNDS OF CHEERING AND THE ANNOUNCER AT A TRACK MEET: “100 DASH, WITH A TIME OF 12.6 SECONDS, FROM CROMWELL HIGH SCHOOL, ANDRAYA YEARWOOD!”]
KATHY: We met up with Andraya at the Shoreline Championships.
KATIE: What’d it feel like to win the 4x1 — nope — the 100-meter? That’s what I wanted to ask you.
ANDRAYA: Um, it felt really good. I didn’t get the time that I wanted, so that’s, like, you know, upsetting.
KATIE: Hmm. What did you run today?
ANDRAYA: A 12.6.
KATHY: What time did you want?
ANDRAYA: Like a 12. A really low 12.
KATIE: Like a 12.2. What do you have to run to get into Nationals?
ANDRAYA: [LAUGHS] A 12.0.
KATIE: [KNOWINGLY] Uh-huh.
ANDRAYA: Not doing very good. [KATIE AND ANDRAYA LAUGH] And the last time I ran here, which was like two weeks ago, I got a 12.3, so I don’t know what’s happening.
KATHY: A couple weeks after that meet, Andraya and Terry competed in the state open. But unlike in previous years, there weren’t any major headlines about whether it was fair for them to compete …
KATIE: Because they didn't win. Um, Terry was disqualified because of a false start, which happens to lots of athletes, and Andraya placed fourth in the state open. The times that we've seen Andraya and Terry get the most media coverage, it's when they have placed first and second in their respective races, and that didn't happen in the state open this year. And that's why we didn't see the coverage and the headlines that we'd seen in years previous. When transgender athletes lose, it doesn't fit the narrative that they are dominant and that they are stealing opportunities from cisgender girls. If an athlete who is trans is just like every other athlete that wins and loses sometimes, then how can you say that they are so dominant? And so when it doesn't fit the narrative, there isn't the coverage. There isn't the outrage, because there's nothing to be outraged about. But it creates this double-edged sword for these athletes where, you know, if they do win, it's not because they worked hard or because they’re talented. It is because they are — have an “unfair advantage.” And when they lose, there's no acknowledgment that they're just like everybody else.
KATHY: Knowing that there’s been a lack of coverage recently made me think back to our conversation with Andraya, because I was surprised that she actually doesn’t want the attention to stop.
ANDRAYA: ‘Cause I think the issue is, we need to talk about the issue. And if I run — if I stopped running, then, again, the issue’s going to go dead, and I wouldn't want that to happen. So, like, I have to keep running in order for people to keep talking about it.
KATHY: I just — I feel like that's so much pressure for a young person to take on. I think when I was a teenager there's no way that I would have been — been able to take on something like this.
KATIE: You know, if Andraya had come out the first time that she ran against cisgender girls in track and run, like, I don't know … a 12.5, and taken fifth place, this might have been a non-story. But that's not what happened. And so, I think, there's no way that this was going to play out any differently, from a media scrutiny standpoint. That doesn't change the fact that, you know, Andraya didn't do this because she wanted media attention. Andraya runs track because she likes running track, and she runs track within the girls category because she's a girl, and the fact that those things are controversial is beyond her control. [LONG PAUSE] Andraya has never really been a very confrontational person. But that doesn't mean that she's not strong. Ngozi tells the story of this time that Andraya wore a Cinderella backpack to school. You know, that’s something that she just did. She likes Cinderella. She liked this — this backpack and so she would wear it. And she was getting a lot of grief from kids making fun of her and telling her that she shouldn't be wearing that, and so on and so forth. And Andraya just, like, looked at them, and then walked away. Some people might read that as her cowering, or might read that as weakness. But I actually think it's the opposite. It shows such strength and determination to not let people keep her down. But also just to have the will to turn away and not waste your energy, takes a tremendous amount of strength and energy. And as long as she continues to be on the track, and continues to run and be competitive and be who she is, she's winning.
[HOPEFUL ETHEREAL MUSIC PLAYS]
KATHY: Katie Barnes is a reporter for ESPNW and espn.com.
[MUSIC FADES OUT, THEN CREDITS MUSIC STARTS]
TOBIN: Alright, that’s our show. Credits!
KATHY: Our producer —
TOBIN: Zakiya Gibbons.
KATHY: Production fellow —
TOBIN: Temi Fagbenle.
KATHY: Editor —
TOBIN: Stephanie Joyce.
KATHY: Sound designer —
TOBIN: Jeremy Bloom and Jared Paul.
KATHY: Executive producer —
TOBIN: Paula Szuchman.
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: “Nancy” is a production of WNYC Studios.
[CREDITS MUSIC ENDS]
TOBIN [SARCASTICALLY]: Hey, it’s Tobin. You probably forgot about me because Kathy totally rubbed me out. Anyway, we’ll be right back. [KATHY LAUGHS]