News flash: female athletes talk trash too.
Given all the impassioned tweets and hot takes and pearl-clutching that flooded social media after yesterday’s NCAA women’s basketball national championship game, which LSU won over Iowa, 102-85, you’d be forgiven for thinking verbal altercations were a new development in women’s sports.
In case you missed the latest big sports conversation piece: with the victory in hand, LSU’s Angel Reese covered her face in front of Iowa star Caitlin Clark, whose stellar long-range shooting and general on-court dynamism have made her the breakout player in women’s college hoops. Reese was in fact mimicking Clark’s “you can’t see me” gesture, which she had deployed during an earlier NCAA tournament game.
Reese followed this up by approaching Clark and pointing to her ring finger, a less subtle level of taunting. “I’m about to get a championship ring,” Reese was saying. “And you’re not.”
Reese’s antics generated the predictably vile responses. Barstool’s Dave Portnoy called Reese a “classless piece of sh-t,” while Keith Olbermann called her a “f-cking idiot.”
What such commentators failed to heed—or just ignored—was Clark’s own reputation as a trash-talker. During Iowa’s game against South Carolina on Friday night, for example, Clark waved off a South Carolina player during one possession, basically daring her to shoot the basketball.
So there was some context behind Reese’s actions. Olbermann, for one, apologized on Twitter Monday morning for not being informed about the backstory, and then proceeded to call out both Clark and Reese. “Women’s hoops has now achieved parity with the men: its stars can be classless winners who are willing to overshadow their team’s victories.”
The racial dynamics here were lost on no one, especially Reese. When Clark, who was white, waved off a South Carolina shooter, her dismissal of another player’s ability seemed to be celebrated. But when Reese, who is Black, went at Clark, she was derided white male commentators.
Reese defended herself on Sunday. “I don’t fit the narrative,” she said in her postgame press conference. “I don’t fit in a 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 say nothing. So this was for the girls that look like me, that’s going to speak up on what they believe in. It’s unapologetically you. That’s what I did it for tonight. It was bigger than me tonight. It was bigger than me. Twitter is going to go on a rage every time, and I’m happy. I feel like I’ve helped grow women’s basketball this year.”
Reese, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the women’s tournament, reveled in her newfound notoriety. She retweeted a LeBron James endorsement.
“and no I’M NOT KEEPING IT CUTE,” she wrote on Twitter. “I LOVE BEING A BLACK QUEEN.”
For her part, Clark didn’t seem too bothered by Reese’s actions, saying after the game she had “no idea” Reese was taunting her. “All you can do is hold your head high, be proud of what you did, and all the credit in the world to LSU,” Clark said. “They were tremendous, they deserve it.”
Reese and Clark are clever enough to know that rivalries drive interest. That audiences are still debating this a day later is only a boon to the women’s game, which was already having a moment. Average viewership on ESPN for the national semifinals on Friday night was 4.5 million, up a remarkable 66% from a year ago. The 2023 NCAA women’s basketball tournament set an all-time attendance record with 357,542 fans. The previous record was 334,587, set in 2003.
Reese, a sophomore, and Clark, a junior, will both be back playing college ball next season. If TV execs and administrators at LSU and Iowa aren’t yet planning a rematch … what’s taking so long?
By the way, UConn and San Diego St. play tonight, at 9 p.m. in the NCAA men’s title game.
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