I was rooting for LSU to beat Iowa in the Women’s College Basketball National Championship game, the same way I was rooting for South Carolina two nights earlier to beat Iowa. The same way black folk rooted for Jack Johnson to knock out James J. Jefferies, the way black folks rooted for Jackie Robinson and the and Brooklyn Dodgers, the reason why Ernie Banks once told me that he, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron wanted to beat the far less integrated American League every year in the All-Star Game. The reason why black folks across the United States rooted for Doug Williams to win Super Bowl XXII.
This is a country whose foundation was laid on slavery and segregation against blacks. Blacks were once told that we were not good enough to compete on the same playing field whether it was in the board room, classroom, or in athletics. There was no way I wanted to see what seemed like an all-white Iowa squad beat an all-black LSU team. That’s the way the history of this country has forced many black Americans to think when it comes to a competition like this. And because of that, many sporting events in the history of the United States have been about race, whether we wish to admit it or not.
Once it became clear in the final seconds of the semifinal game that South Carolina was going to lose to Iowa I watched closely to see how Iowa reacted. I wanted something to be mad about. But from the moment the outcome was no longer in doubt, through the final buzzer and through the postgame coverage, where several broadcasters gave Caitlin Clark props, trying to get her to speak glowingly about herself, to play into all the hype, Clark refused to gloat. Instead, she kept turning the attention towards her teammates and the many Iowa fans who had made the long trip to watch them play in Texas. After watching the postgame coverage, which lasted nearly an hour, I couldn’t be mad at Clark and the Iowa team. I was left thinking how humble they were when they could have boasted big time about knocking off the #1 overall team, who were also the reigning National Champions, and had not lost a game all season.
I still wanted LSU to beat Iowa in the championship game. A game that ended up being the most watched Women’s basketball National Championship game ever. The fact that it was an all-black versus all-white matchup probably had something to do with it. The game being broadcast on network television and not exclusively on cable for the first time since 1995 surely did not hurt either. I noticed people who were into this game who I’d never heard talk about women’s basketball nor their National Championship Game. When LSU won it was the outcome that I wanted. However, Angel Reese’s insistence on stalking Caitlin Clark in the final seconds of that game and rubbing the victory in her face was bad sportsmanship. Yet, instead of an honest conversation about sportsmanship most in the Black community have avoided the issue and made it strictly about race, which is wrong. While at the same time tearing down and dragging another young lady-student athlete, to create a false narrative that she is a disrespectful competitor in order to justify Reese’s unsportsmanlike antics.
When Reese gave the “You can’t see me” hand gesture it was the match that lit an already charged situation that was laying just beneath the surface. She gave people something to criticize her for and to be mad about. Had she handled herself like every other woman and male athlete at the end of a championship game there would have been no controversy. There were some racists who went too far with the language they used towards this young lady on twitter. Those people have been exposed and dealt with. That doesn’t however mean that what Reese did to spark outcry was justified. If Caitlin Clark had been talking trash or disrespecting Angel Reese throughout the game, then no one would have had a problem with her taunting and stalking in the final seconds. But that was not the case. Clark did not say a word to Reese during the game. Sportsmanship is a real word, and there are some who should look it up.
After the game when asked why she did what she did to Clark at the end she didn’t say that Clark did anything to her. Reese said that she did not like how Clark “disrespected her SEC girls South Carolina” and that Clark disrespected her teammate, Alexis Morris. Caitlin Clark never disrespected Alexis Morris. In fact, there is a TikTok video going around online from the Final Four of a giddy Alexis Morris anxiously preparing to meet Clark for the first time, in the hallway of the arena. Clark walks by and Morris tells Clark how great of a player she is, and Clark graciously acknowledges her. As far as Clark disrespecting South Carolina, a game that had nothing to do with Reese and LSU, that is also not true. In no way did Clark disrespect them.
The only slight that there was, if we are going to call it that, was Clark telling her teammates to leave open one of the South Carolina guards, in a bit of showmanship, because she didn’t believe the guard could make the shot. This is something that we’ve seen teams do to Russell Westbrook this season to try and get in the head of a shaky jump shooter. No one had a problem when Draymond Green and others did it to Russ so why should anyone be upset that Clark made the gesture? More importantly, why is that anything for Angel Reese on another team to be mad about? And guess what? Iowa won the game, something no other team had been able to do against South Carolina all season!
When LSU played South Carolina the one and only time this season, on Super Bowl Sunday, in a game that was nationally televised, South Carolina embarrassed LSU in an 88-64 beatdown. Angel Reese, who is dubbed the Double Double Queen, had her worst game of the season finishing with 16 points and four rebounds. The only other game this season in which Reese did not finish with a double double was against Georgia in the SEC semi-final where she only played 20 minutes in a LSU blowout win. And this is who Reese is calling her “girls” who she wanted to avenge so much?
Furthermore, the clip of the incident in which Clark can be seen making the same gesture towards Hailey Van Lith, that so many people broke their necks trying to scramble to find, to have an excuse for Reese’s behavior, shows how weak the argument for Reese is. Van Lith, the girl who Clark got into it with from Louisville, is another white girl, and is a known instigator who was talking lots of trash to Clark.
In fact, after Louisville’s victory over the University of Texas in the second round of the tournament, Texas guard Sonya Morris approached Van Lith on the handshake line in disgust and had a verbal altercation with her. This is the person who Angel Reese’s defenders find a clip of Caitlin Clark waving the “you can’t see me” gesture towards in order to condone what Reese did. It falls very short of the mark. The idea that people were upset because it was women and not men involved is another ridiculous narrative that has come out of this. Trash talk has been happening in women’s basketball throughout its history, which has spanned generations. No one has ever criticized women ball players for trash talking. The people who were bothered by Angel Reese’s antics weren’t bothered because of trash talk; they were bothered because it was bad sportsmanship.
During the Sue Bird-Diana Tuarasi simulcast on ESPN+ they were even stunned by what Reese did. We know that Taurasi is not just one of the greatest women ball players ever but one of the biggest trash talkers as well. After Reese did the gesture to Clark the first time Bird and Taurasi laughed it off as a little trash talk, giving her the benefit of the doubt, not wanting to criticize her on national television. However, when Reese stalked Clark and continued to do it as the final seconds ticked off the clock Taurasi said “Alright, you did it once, I mean that’s going overboard.” Then as the two teams went through the handshake line and LSU head coach Kim Mulkey stopped Clark to say a few words to her. Bird and Taurasi gave an awkward look like they were trying to avoid the elephant in the room, and not have a real conversation about what they just witnessed. That was all you need to know if you are trying to run the lightweight narrative that people have a problem with Reese because it was women and not men involved in the trash talk.
In front of the media contingent after the game Reese said “All year I was critiqued about who I was, I don’t fit the narrative, I don’t fit in the box that y’all want me to be in. I’m too hood, I’m too ghetto, y’all told me that all year. But when other people do it y’all don’t say nothing. So, this is for the girls that look like me, that’s going to speak up on what they believe in, it’s unapologetically you, and that’s what I did it for tonight. This was bigger than me tonight.”
I tried to search and google for any of these negative comments that Reese says have been said about her during the course of the season. Of course, I could not, because if a member of the media who is covering women’s college basketball ever wrote or said anything like that about Angel Reese, they would have lost their job. Secondly, the members of the media who spend their life covering women’s college basketball should not be accused of using that type of language to describe her. Because women’s college basketball is not something that a lot of media is running over themselves to cover. So, the ones who do spend the time to take interest in and cover the sport should not be chastised as if they are a bunch of twitter trolls. The hate that Reese is referring to comes from Twitter users and not the media. Maybe Reese, like a lot of young people, should spend less time on social media and spend more time differentiating that from the actual media who covers them.
When Angel Reese talks about the importance of young girls watching the example she sets, which is why she behaved the way she did, she acts as if she is the first woman that looks like her to play great in the tournament and win a National Championship. Yet there has been a long line of women who look like Angel Reese who have had great performances en route to winning a National Championship. Reese is just the next one in line. None of them acted the way she did, because when a game is over it is time to show sportsmanship and give love and respect to your opponent. The essence of the sports ideal is to win with magnanimity and lose with grace. Maybe if Angel Reese had watched as closely to Lisa Leslie, Brittny Griner, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Candace Parker, Aaliyah Boston and others as she hopes young girls are watching her now, Reese would have set a better example of how to behave when she was crowned champion. Both Reese and Clark are returning to school. I hope that Iowa and LSU can run it back. This time I will be rooting for Iowa.